Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Life without Gronkowski: The song remains the same

An ominous cloud hangs over the six weird little states that comprise the region of the United States known as New England.

Not because of anything to do with that evil bitch Mother Nature - rather, a nefarious, distorting gloom that has enveloped the region in deference - a curious abdication of hope that has actually been occurring each Sunday since the beginning of September and has seen the region's professional football team finish their contests before sparse crowds.

with paper and pencil, Belichick is the quintessential on-the-fly tactician
Not that the New England Patriots have been playing bad football - on the contrary, they stand at 10-3 and on the cusp on yet another AFC East division title - they just have not been playing sixty minutes of good football, often falling behind and relying on quarterback Tom Brady to lead them back to victory.

Nobody likes change, particularly New Englanders, where tradition is everything and attempts to change anything is met with rude discontent and often physical redress - so when quarterback Tom Brady started the 2013 season with an essentially brand new set of receivers to throw to, the masses were uneasy.

And why not?  Brady is approaching middle age and, consequently, retirement - and his trusted pass catchers from the recent past were all either in different area codes, on the skids or in the poke - and only one would be coming back.

Rob Gronkowski was recovering from arm and back surgery and represented the hope that Patriots' fans clung to as they watched Brady struggle to find common ground with his new receivers - a chemistry and synchronization with them that takes far more time than what he and the fan base were willing to accept, but had no choice but to assent to coach Bill Belichick's master plan.

Brady melted down on National TV one gloomy night in September - something that needed to happen, like every story needs a point of contention for the hero to overcome - hitting rock bottom, as it were, coming out of that narrow victory with a new sense of purpose and the knowledge that the team had to do whatever it could to survive until the new kids became one with Brady and the All Pro Gronkowski returned to tie the whole thing together.

And survive they did - in fact, doing more than just surviving as they compiled a 5-1 record before Gronkowski was cleared to play, their lone blemish an ugly 13-6 loss to Cincinnati in which Brady was leading the team down the field in a monsoonal deluge in an attempt to even the score before running out of time.

Gronkowski returned, but not much changed on a philosophical level because as Patriots' fans know all to well, tragedy can befall a team at the drop of a hat, and their most lethal weapon had proven to be brittle over the course of his young career...

...and now that he is broken again and lost for the rest of the season, Patriots fans needn't live shrouded under the gloom of that ominous cloud of despair, because while Gronkowski's loss is mourned. the fact that Belichick stuck with his new pass catchers and never strayed his determined course means that the Patriots, while wounded, have a very viable plan B to fall back on.

And that Plan B is nothing more than sticking with the original blue print that Belichick built for his team in the offseason and in training camp - and he can do so because he never swayed from his scheme and convictions.

Only now, free agent acquisition Danny Amedola seems to have healed from his groin issue that plagued him during the first half of the season, and H-Back Shane Vereen has returned from the broken wrist that sidelined him for 10 weeks - Julian Edelman has remained healthy and is one of the top receivers in the league while the trio of rookies have been productive and are the verge of breaking out into something proper.

So while Gronkowski's impact can not be overstated, his loss is something that the Patriots can overcome due to the consistency of the Philosophy and scheme - for which Belichick's dogged determination can be attributed.

The Patriots went 5-1 without Gronkowski, Amendola and Vereen, relying on rookie receivers and well-timed sparks from the running game with Brady running the show and counting on a defense missing several key pieces to slow down opposing offenses just enough to give their own offense a chance to pull out the victory...

...and they went 5-2 with the same ideology while they had Gronkowski in the lineup, and they will continue to win in the same manner now that Gronkowski is on the shelf yet again.

It is dangerous to discount the talent on this New England offense, and even more so to doubt Bill Belichick's ability to prepare that talent for battle, as he is without question the quintessential game-plan specific and on-the-fly tactician in the game today - perhaps ever, and anyone who thinks that he and Brady can't put this team on their shoulders and make a deep run towards a championship hasn't been paying attention all these years.

Because when it comes to the New England Patriots, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

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