Opinion: Don’t be foolish — writing off Tom Brady and Patriots would be same old mistake

Go ahead, write off Tom Brady. Again.

That’s just foolish.

Sure, there’s a hot quarterback in Lamar Jackson who has the Ravens heading into the stretch run as the NFL’s team to beat. Baltimore, the only franchise that has twice eliminated the Patriots from the playoffs on their own turf during the Brady Era, won’t be intimidated. And after the then-historic Patriots D saw ghosts whizzing by it during that early November thrashing, there’s just no way Bill Belichick’s unit can pull a Chargers stunt from last season and contain Jackson the second time around … if it comes to that.

Besides, the Patriots O-line is such a battered mess that assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia can’t even begin to figure out a way to better protect Brady, who’s looking more like he’s 52 rather than 42.

Have you seen his stats? Not the six Super Bowl rings, but the stats, man. Brady, who has thrown more passes (486) than any other quarterback this season, ranks 29th in completion percentage (61.1%) among eligible players. His 88.5 passer rating is nowhere near the standard that, um, Kirk Cousins has set (114.8) despite the Vikings veteran’s big-game troubles. I mean, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, have been more efficient than the guy they used to back up.

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The patterns look rather ugly. Plus, Rob Gronkowski isn’t coming out of retirement to save the day. Brady will have to make do with Julian Edelman, James White, Sony Michel, midseason pickup Mohamed Sanu, rookie N’Keal Harry, tight end Matt LaCosse and others.

Where’s Randy Moss when you really need him?

Too bad it didn’t work out with Josh Gordon (now with the Seahawks) or Antonio Brown (now in NFL limbo), because Brady could sure use an electric receiver. Brady was so bullish on Brown that he was willing to bring the four-time all-pro into his home compound for apparent hands-on cram sessions to make it work.

When someone asked Brady the other night whether his supporting cast (read: receiving corps) is talented enough to take the Patriots where they want to go (read: Super Bowl winner’s circle), the quarterback was so diplomatic with his vanilla, read-between-the-lines response.

“We’re battling, we’re trying as hard as we can and hopefully we can make enough plays and be the best we could be,” he said.

Brady didn’t answer the question. And he didn’t stick around any follow-ups as he abruptly ended the news conference – which still had a lot more life than what Belichick offered a few minutes earlier.

Now here come Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. And somebody’s got to cover Tyreek Hill, arguably the fastest player the Patriots will have seen since Lamar. Kansas City nearly beat the Patriots in the last AFC title game, but with Frank Clark now on the front line and the fabulous Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, on the back end, Andy Reid will bring a better defense to Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Did you see what the Chiefs did to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the cold weather during a 40-9 romp? They’ve got ways to cover for a 30th-ranked run defense.

Then, there was Sunday night. Deshaun Watson’s night. The Patriots looked like a team stricken by the flu, all right. Missed tackles on back-to-back plays in the second quarter boosted an 88-yard touchdown drive. Watson later burned Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones on consecutive long TD throws (only one counted), while former Belichick assistants Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel burned their former boss with creative X’s and O’s.

But put a fork in them?

New England is set up a bit differently from other teams.

As bad as the Patriots looked in H-Town, it was only one loss. The missed tackles are correctable. The blitz pickups beg for more consistency, but the pressure could have been worse. As it stands now, the Patriots are 10-2, same as the Seahawks, Saints, Ravens and 49ers.

But in this week-to-week cycle that captures the appeal of the nation’s most popular sport, overreactions are as inherent to the equation as head-scratching rulings from the NFL replay command center. At midseason, some people were hailing the Patriots defense in the realm with the 1985 Bears. That was a stretch, given the sample size against some awful offenses to that point.

Now what with that unit? It’s not the ’85 Bears, but not chopped liver, either. No need to overreact.

“Simple,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “Come out and try to beat Kansas City Sunday. That’s what it is for us. Got four games left, we’ve got to find a way to win. I don’t care how it is. Ugly, score a lot of points, don’t score. This time of year, the good teams, the teams that will be there at the end, find ways to win. We’ve done that here before.”

In other words, wait and see.

Maybe this won’t wind up as the year the Patriots win a seventh Super Bowl, but that is hardly a fait accompli. There’s still a quarter of the regular season left, then a bye week for four teams that will be lucky the NFL – unlike the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball — doesn’t require its champions win an evenly prescribed number of postseason games when compared to a wild-card hopefuls.

So, in some regards, the Patriots have it set up just like we’ve seen it before. As much as it’s natural to desire something fresh and new – like Jackson, the Saints escaping more postseason heartbreak or Russell Wilson without The Legion of Boom – they’ll have a chance. These seasons are always works in process. Part of Belichick’s wisdom is the resourcefulness to craft teams year-to-year, with week-to-week twists, given situational circumstances.

Remember last year? The Patriots were ripe to be written off in December with back-to-back losses at Miami and Pittsburgh. Brady looked like toast. But somehow they survived and won another crown.

I know: They didn’t even crack 14 points in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever. The TB12 Method has an expiration date, just like every player who laces up the cleats. There are emerging stars and threats lurking. The odds are against the Patriots.

But this won’t be settled until January. Things are off, but a few more Sundays are still on the calendar. They don’t have to win by scoring 50 points. It’s the Al Davis thing: Just win. If anybody deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s Brady and Belichick. Again.

Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

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