Sep 30, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots helmet during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots: Can They Still Be Competitive?

It all started when the New England Patriots lost Wes Welker in free agency.  While somewhat shocking, it wasn’t a terribly disconcerting notion considering they still had their dual tight ends threats in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.  Unfortunately for the Patriots, their unwavering faith in assuming these two standout superstars would be ready to compete come the start of the regular season was a conceded mistake.  Between Gronkowski’s chronic injury discrepancies and Hernandez being brought up on first degree murder charges, the New England Patriots, for the first time since Tom Brady became the starter, appear to be an anemic offensive force that lacks the crucial weapons that has made them consistently successful year in and year out.

While the departure of Welker may have been a depressing omen, the Patriots believed they had acquired a better slot receiver in free agency.  Danny Amendola, formerly a receiver for the Saint Louis Rams, was apparently the Patriots attempt to replace their prolific slot receiver who eventually signed with the Denver Broncos. Although Amendola has a similar skill set that is akin to Welker’s style, in his last two seasons with the Rams Amendola was more of a liability than a reliable offensive weapon.  During that time span, Amendola missed twenty regular season games, making his unique and underappreciated skill set simply irrelevant.  As of now, Amendola appears to be fully recovered from his season ending triceps surgery which came as a result of him dislocating his clavicle during the first game in October of the 2012 season.

Even if Amendola were to come back healthy and athletically poised to play with one of the best quarterbacks in the league, he can’t be fully relied on to bail Tom Brady out of sticky situations every single down.  Without the dominant presence of Gronkowski and Hernandez, the Patriots receiving core lacks the experience and overall consistency that has made them an intimidating and favored opponent.  With the exception of Michael Jenkins and Amendola, it becomes very hard to determine who can be the most efficient and reliable receiver, particularly because of the lack of veteran leadership.  The tight end position is also in a state of utter disarray with Jake Ballard as the only active tight end besides Gronkowski who has garnered decent playing time to be considered an adequate replacement.

Of course, a team can’t be even remotely competitive without a superb passer to guide them to the Promised Land.  Only one month away from his 36th birthday, Tom Brady is an aging veteran who has proven to be a dynamic passer who has a fine tuned offensive mind allowing him to quickly pin point open receivers at a moments notice.  However, Brady’s impressive quarterback efficiency can at least be partially attributed to his numerous security blankets that have effectively bailed him out in several precarious situations.  Now, without these offensively gifted comrades, Brady will have to rely on his skills as a proficient passer rather than looking for the easy dump off to his slot receiver.  This is easier said than done considering Brady isn’t getting any younger and also took a pay cut for this upcoming year so the Patriots could retain the likes of Wes Welker and even Brandon Lloyd who proved to be an exceptional receiver in his own right.

Even with these disappointing losses, the Patriots have the advantage of playing in one of the easiest divisions in the NFL.  The Buffalo Bills still lack a reliable quarterback and the New York Jets are a bare bones franchise that is in danger of being the worst team in the league.  However, the Miami Dolphins, a team that quietly finished 7-9 during the 2012 regular season are poised to make a surprising comeback of epic proportions.  During free agency, the Dolphins were able to bolster their defense with the acquisition of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe from the Baltimore Ravens along with adding a key offensive addition in Mike Wallace.  The Dolphins also have an aspiring young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who had glimpses have brilliance with his confident demeanor and powerful arm strength that made the Dolphins a threat in the deep passing game.

In the end, despite the Patriots bleak outlook after losing all of their offensive components, it’s hard to fathom the notion that this team will be terrible or even just mediocre.  While they may still be a decently competitive team that is based solely on Tom Brady’s proven capabilities, without a reliable receiving core that has made this team an offensive juggernaut, the Patriots will inevitably become an underwhelming team that simply can’t meet the lofty expectations fans and sports fanatics have had for them for the last decade.

Tags: New England Patriots

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