FOXBORO — Eight weeks ago this New England Patriots franchise, it was noted in many media outlets (and water coolers) across America, was running on empty.
What we’ve come to realize is that was more due to wishful thinking than astute analysis.
It must’ve slipped a few people’s minds that the greatest football coach of all time, Bill Belichick, still was coaching the Patriots.
The world is sick of the Patriots, Belichick’s press conferences and Robert Kraft’s celebrity pals. We get it. We don’t always like the press conferences either.
Now, another “good” team, the Detroit Lions, was placed in front of the Patriots, and we get another box-to-wire, never-in-doubt snore, 34-9.
We are four weeks into the Super Six Schedule From Hell — Chicago, Denver, Indy and Detroit, with Green Bay and San Diego on deck, a.k.a. the Death of The Dynasty, and the Patriots are not only the best team in the weakest division in the NFL’s creation, but they have never been better.
Sure, the Patriots have been 9-2 before. Some of those previous successes, though, we later found out in January, were as much a product of smoke, mirrors and Tom Brady.
The Nov.-24-2014-Patriots don’t have a glaring weakness. A few months ago, there were too many weaknesses to mention, beginning with no deep threat, no experienced offensive line coach, no healthy Rob Gronkowski and, worst of all, no defense.
Somehow, everybody figured, Brady would turn this chopped liver into a fraudulent AFC East champ.
Well, not only is Brady an MVP candidate but the offensive line might be the best two-way unit — run-blocking and pass-blocking — in the league.
The stable of running backs could probably withstand a major injury. The defensive line stops the run, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner might be the best cornerback-combo in the league. The linebackers, an alleged weakness after Jerod Mayo’s season-ending injury, has been stabilized by Tennessee Titans scrub Akeem Ayers.
Then, there is Rob Gronkowski’s MVP run (why would he be left alone, ever. Why?). There is Brandon LaFell’s ascension to No. 1 wide receiver. There is Julian Edelman playing every bit as good as Wes Welker played.
But the most striking aspect of this Patriots is that they have morphed into the perfect Bill Belichick team.
The Pats can win any they want.
The can run the ball 44 times one week (last week), and dominate. They can throw the ball 53 times in one week (yesterday) and dominate.
Of course, the coach bolted from that observation like the Road Runner.
“I don’t know. We just try to do what we think we need to do to win,” he said. “I don’t know about any other team or league trends. We’re just trying to win a game.”
This is the goal. Keep the other team guessing.
“We were thinking they were going to run the ball ... then they passed,” said Lions safety Quin Glover. “Brady does a great job of finding mismatches in whatever coverage dictates.”
There is a special teams element, too, the one none want to talk about. The game probably turned in the Patriots favor for good on a 66-yard punt in the first quarter. Julian Edelman still looks like the most creative punt returner of all-time. And Stephen Gostkowski has missed one field goal in 25 attempts. One!
Anyway, Belichick is back to doing his best work, as a schemer. You have a strength? Forget about it. You have a weakness? See you Sunday.
The Patriots don’t fall into the matchup “nightmare” category. They can and will adjust, usually with a heavy dose of the unexpected.
“I love the gameplans because they’re always different,” said Browner. “We can play a lot of zone or we can play a lot of man-to-man. It’s amazing how versatile we are.”
The best of the best of Patriots past probably came during the 2004 Super Bowl run. That’s when the Patriots held the No. 1 offense in the NFL, the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts, to three points. A week later they put 41 points up on the No. 1 defense in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the AFC Championship.
That’s what this feels like, albeit two months earlier.
“We feel good, but honestly we haven’t done anything yet,” said Revis. “This season has a long ways to go. A lot could still happen. Heck, we have Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay next week.”
We know. And we can’t wait.
Email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.