Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fundamentals waning, Patriots need to get back to simple football

Rob Gronkowski got up from the turf at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday Night, having just dragged three defenders into the end zone for a typical Gronk-ian effort that makes him one of the most feared and dangerous tight ends in the National Football League...

...and even in a game where his New England Patriots were getting blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs, fans of the team and of the the excitable man-child could gain a small measure of solace in Gronkowski's traditional "Gronk Smash" spike that causes thousands of those little black rubber pellets to spray into the air.

But there would be no spike, just Gronkowski tossing the ball to the side and walking dejectedly toward the sidelines - and in many ways, that was worse than the 41-14 shellacking that the Patriots took at the hands of those Chiefs.
Patriots' players have had the offense taken away from them

It was a brutal thing to witness - that, plus the fact that the pass came from the arm of back up quarterback Jimmy Garopollo, as sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady sat by himself on the Patriots' sideline, unceremoniously benched for the first time in his 15 years as a starting quarterback.

Brady's aura is gone.  The play-by-play announcers for Monday Night Football were stunned, Mike Tirico stammering out objective sentence fragments and Jon Gruden looking to be on the edge of tears, all the while a 60" flatscreen monitor positioned behind them focused on Brady, who had the look of the last kid to be picked for a playground pickup game.

So there was no joy in Kansas City for Patriots' fans - no silver linings to be had, no moral victories and no excuses - but one has to wonder why a player with such a zest for the game of football as Gronkowski has would simply rise to his feet and completely dismiss the ball as if it meant nothing to him.

That is the issue here.  Not so much the lopsided loss, nor the manner in which everything came crashing down on the Patriots, but in the way that the leaders of the team fell into such a funk that not even the terminally happy Gronkowski was immune to it's dour repercussions.

Long after the game had been decided on what could only be described as a "bull goring the matador, and then stomping him into the ground" parable, former Baltimore Ravens' linebacker (and good friend of Brady) Ray Lewis shook his head sadly and looked directly into the camera during the post-game wrap up and called out his old friend for not putting up a fight to stay in the game after being benched...

...Lewis' words ringing true in Brady's post-game press conference, where the dejected field general seemed to be in no mood for disagreement.

"They told me I was coming out" Brady said after the game. "so..."

Then when asked how excited he was to get back out there and start getting ready for next weeks' opponent, Brady gave a dismissive and perhaps even droll "We have no choice."

Yes, Tom, you do have a choice.  You can choose to either sit and look like the spoiled rich kid who didn't get his way, or you can get off your butt and lead this team.

For the past handful of seasons, Brady has been hearing it said over and over that he needs more weapons around him, that he needs a deep threat and by not having them, coach Bill Belichick is wasting Brady's golden years on a bunch of stiffs - but the fact of the matter is that Brady is surrounded by good players - good, fundamentally sound players - players that know that game and hustle and grind...

...players who deserve more from Brady and the coaching staff than what they are getting, which is consistently being put in a position to fail.

The Patriots have lost touch with the most fundamental concepts in all of football, which starts with running the ball - choosing instead to do the opposite, which is dropping Brady back into a pocket that is being overwhelmed by the oppositions' pass rush because they have no reason to play the run, and as a result, the immobile Brady can't get out of his own way, let alone dodge 280 pound defensive ends.

"Certainly running the ball and stopping the run is important to the physical toughness of the team" Brady said in a lucid moment during his post-game presser, seeming to call out the coaching staff for calling all of 16 running plays on the night. "You just lose control of the game and it becomes one-dimensional like it did in the third quarter."

Perhaps that's where the disconnect is, why Brady didn't argue to stay in the game when benched, and why Gronkowski didn't even bother with his aesthetically pleasing "Gronk Smash" after pulling one of his patented cave man run and catch plays for a touchdown - perhaps they know that they have the talent on this team to win, and that the powers-that-be haven't allowed that to happen thus far in the season.

Brady and Gronkowski were just the most visible examples of the "The coaches don't care if we are put in the position to fail, so why should we" syndrome, but if there was ever a time that the New England Patriots needed their franchise quarterback to be that franchise quarterback, that time is now.

No pouting, no submissive blindness, no excuses.  Brady can't just sit back on the notion that the coaching staff and personnel men for the Patriots haven't surrounded him with weapons, he needs to be a leader - not just on the field and in the locker room, but also in the manner in which he deals with the coaching staff...

...because after years of service to the franchise, one would think he has a voice in the meeting rooms and amongst the coaching staff, and if he feels that things need to be done differently, he should speak up and demand that the team start doing things the right way - the Patriot way.

The Patriot way is fundamentally sound football, not the atrocities that we've witnessed since the first kickoff of the season.  The Patriot way is running the football to set up the play action, not the fancy and exotic blocking schemes that has taken away the aggression from the offensive line and made them no more than speed bumps for defensive players on their way to nail Brady.

The Patriots way is physically dominating the line of scrimmage, utilizing drive blocking to wear down the defense and to set up Brady with a relatively clean pocket on play action - and until Brady demands that the offense be given back to the players, fans of the team best be prepared for many more performances like Monday night.

And, worse yet, no enthusiastic Gronk spikes...

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