<:article data-aop=”article” itemtype=”http://schema.org/NewsArticle” itemscope><:section data-aop=”articlebody” itemprop=”articleBody”>FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady will go down as one of the greatest winners in NFL history, but the New England Patriots quarterback is seemingly like Joe Average when it comes to the shifting winds in a what-have-you-done-lately culture.
Brady was so horrific on Monday night he was benched. Social media reaction included fans suggesting he is finished. Some are wondering whether it’s time for the Patriots to move on.
“Man, it’s sports,” Brady told USA TODAY Sports after Thursday’s practice. “Win, and they’ll be back.”
The real question is can they win again?
It’s not just about winning the huge game against the unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night.
© Greg M. Cooper, USA TODAY Sports Greg M. Cooper, USA TODAY SportsIn the Patriots’ world, winning means winning big. Even now, nearly a decade since the franchise last won a Super Bowl. The high standard has not changed.
Yet the sluggish start (2-2) makes me wonder whether The Patriot Way still works.
This goes way beyond Brady, whose 59.1% completion rate is on pace to be the lowest of his career.
Bill Belichick’s personnel moves in recent years go hand-in-hand with Brady’s struggles.
As de facto GM with final authority over personnel, Belichick has fallen short of supplying Brady with the best supporting cast that can be squeezed under the salary cap.
Brady, 37, isn’t as accurate as he used to be. I saw it last year, when it was easy to point to the lack of precise route-running from young receivers as a reason. He’s missing even more now.
But some of Belichick’s decisions are also haunting the Patriots, whose offense has taken a deep plunge in productivity. Even with a defensive touchdown on the books, the Patriots rank 24th in the NFL for scoring at 20 points per game. Last year, New England ranked third in the league in scoring.
Belichick’s offense could sure use Logan Mankins to help shore up the O-line. LeGarrette Blount would add punch to the running game. Wes Welker would be a reliable blitz-busting target about now.
But that trio is gone, with varying levels of economics — and undoubtedly varying levels of ego — playing into Belichick’s decisions to part ways with them.
Maybe Brandon LaFell will continue to look like the best complement to Julian Edelman, who actually emerged as the best fill-in for Welker last season. Edelman deserves much credit for climbing from a bottom-of-the-roster specialist to play a key role. But think of all the veteran receivers — hello Chad Ochocinco — that Belichick tried that didn’t work out.
And the jury is still out on Aaron Dobson, a second-round pick last year who is apparently in the dog house this year.
The Patriot Way used to work well enough. They would cut a Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy or Richard Seymour while they were still impact players and keep winning. It was the antithesis of the Raider Way — sign older players who were no longer impact players.
But at the moment, the Patriot Way is tied with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins for first place in the AFC East that the Patriots have owned for more than a decade.
Now what? It’s still early.
Belichick has long been, for my money, the most resourceful coach in the NFL. He won the first of his three Super Bowl titles with a team that included 21 free agents.
The challenge now is for Belichick to win — and win big — with the hand he dealt himself.