Gritty, not pretty: Belichick goes back to roots

James White runs for more yards after a first-half catch against the Panthers.

Other than Tom Brady’s cliff jump with his daughter, the New England Patriots have been drama free. No rifts. No Alex Guerrero issues. And no big changes.

Even Julian Edelman’s injured hand, which normally would be reason to fret, doesn’t matter.

Is it a honeymoon after Super Bowl title No. 6?

Or is it because the Patriots might be as good as ever, even without Rob Gronkowski, who had arguably the least productive year of his career in 2018?

One of the underpublicized stories from the 2018 season, really the Super Bowl victory over the Rams, was how the Patriots defense stoned one of the best offenses to only three points in the finale last February.

In 14 of their 19 games, the Rams scored 29 or more points. And 10 of those were 33 or more, which included a 54 and 48-point effort.

Not to harp on old news, but this Patriots’ defense should be every bit as good as the one that dominated its last nine games.

And the offense?

Better. Yes, better!

The offensive line will have to figure out the replacement of Trent Brown, who took about three months to become very good.

Easy? No. But last year’s first round pick, Isaiah Wynn, was originally penciled in as the starting left tackle before his Achilles’ injury in August, and should be ready to ascend to the role in 2019.

Which brings us to the other “sleeper” story in the Super Bowl and really the entire playoffs, the Patriots running game.

Then-rookie Sony Michel scored six touchdowns, averaging 112 yards in January and February. Rex Burkhead added three touchdowns, including two against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC title game.

Mr. Clutch, James White, was able to sort of take most of January and February off -- he did haul in 15 Brady passes for 97 yards in the dominating win over the L.A. Chargers.

Lest we forget the most important element of a grinding Patriots attack, full-back James Develin, who seems to be a key blocker on every key score or big run.

Well, you can add ex-Alabama star Damien Harris, which the Patriots appear to have stolen in the third round, to a healthy, athletic and young stable of running backs.

Controlling the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball, mixed in with some clutch quarterback play ... wow, where have we seen that before?

Bill Belichick and the Patriots rode that combination to a dynasty -- three Super Bowls in four years (2001, 2003-04).

There are other players of interest to watch, including first round pick N’Keal Harry (wide receiver) and third rounder Chase Winovich (linebacker), as well as second-year middle linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley.

But watching Belichick and the Patriots go back to their roots, low-scoring (four wins in 2003 were 17-6, 9-3, 12-0 and 12-0), ball-control, tough and, of course, winning football.

You can email Bill Burt at

Recommended for you