As the confetti fluttered down onto the turf in Atlanta following Super Bowl LIII, Bill Belichick looked down from the podium at perhaps his finest achievement to date. They had stifled an explosive Los Angeles Rams offence, holding them to a solitary field goal. Jared Goff never looked comfortable under persistent pressure as the Patriots’ secondary cut off his long-range options. Without Todd Gurley to depend on, he completed only 50% of his passes.
They struggled offensively but did more than enough, utilising Julian Edelman’s MVP performance to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Rob Gronkowski’s clutch catch put the game beyond doubt in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady’s most reliable receivers defeated a fearsome Rams defence.
Patriots don’t rebuild, just reload
Belichick is not one to rest on his laurels. The retooling began immediately.
Listen, we can talk about the retirement of future Hall Of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski retiring after the Super Bowl. His loss would affect any team, but he missed a lot of game time with injuries and wasn’t quite at the same level as previous years. We can go over the loss of Trey Flowers on defence. He was their best pass rusher last season. Chris Hogan and Trent Brown will be missed on offence, as will Cordarrelle Patterson on special teams. At this stage though, what’s the point? When is the last time the Patriots lost a player that they couldn’t replace?
They’ve brought back Jamie Collins as well as acquiring Benjamin Watson and Demaryius Thomas in free agency. N’Keal Harry, Chase Winovich, and Yodny Cajuste arrived through the draft and may all start on opening day. Isaiah Wynn will return from an ACL injury. The Patriots have already rebuilt, some people just haven’t yet realized.
Let’s not forget that Brady is still in Foxborough, despite Max Kellerman’s insistence since 2016 that he will ‘fall off a cliff’. The man simply never ages.
The talks after their Super Bowl LII loss to the Philadelphia Eagles have fallen silent. The ‘Greatest Of All Time’ candidate will lead the offence once again, surrounded by more offensive talent than the year previous. Edelman and Phillip Dorsett join Harry and Thomas as receiving weapons. Sony Michel is only getting better with experience. He could be a steal in fantasy football if he avoids sharing too many touches with James White and Rex Burkhead.
The offensive line may take a step back without Brown, but will likely remain one of the top 10 lines in the league. Wynn joins Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon to protect the irrepressibly brilliant Brady.
Defensively, Collins’ return is ideal considering his familiarity with Belichick’s playbook. The loss of Flowers will hurt for sure, but with Michael Bennett now in New England blue, they won’t lose too much production on the defensive line. This is the position with the least depth on the roster, but under Belichick’s guidance they should continue to disrupt offences.
Collins joins Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy as leaders among the linebacking group. Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung continue to hold down the position at safety, while Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty provide continuity at cornerback.
Josh McDaniels returns for another year as offensive coordinator to provide consistency on both sides of the ball. The Patriots will relish the doubters coming back for another year, just so they can prove them wrong.
Old is Gold
In 2018, the Patriots were the third oldest team in the NFL. They laughed in the face of Father Time. Now New England have youth coming to their own backyard.
They face three young quarterbacks in the AFC East, which they will look to exploit for an eleventh straight divisional title. It’s a stranglehold that they have no interest in letting go in the near future.
Are any of these teams truly ready to dethrone these Pats? It seems unlikely. The Jets look closest, but lack depth in skill positions. The Bills need more out of Josh Allen in the passing game. The Dolphins are in full rebuild mode. The Patriots have each of their numbers, no matter what the Miami Miracle told you.
Belichick, Brady, Watson, Thomas, Bennett, and Gostkowski are all 33 or older. Age is the biggest arrow in the quiver of the Patriots’ critics, and it will be drawn early, ready to be shot out on media should they look less Patriot-like in 2019. What are the chances of that though?
Likelihood of reaching the playoffs: 99.9%. The only thing that has ever stopped Tom Brady was injury.