When the New England Patriots were at the top of the NFL, Bill Belichick was getting more out of players that had been considered lost causes than anyone else had in their entire careers. He patched together a team of castoffs and molded them into a dominant team that won hardware. Their “Island of Misfit Toys” philosophy worked for them…but now it might be what’s keeping them from getting back to the top.
As New England began dominating football, Belichick and the Pats coined the term “The Patriot Way” to describe how everyone sets aside their individual goals to do what’s best for the team. It led to players doing things differently than they had ever done them before in their careers, acting selflessly and it was effective. The team was winning. But winning championships made players feel like they should get rewarded for their efforts with big deals. Unfortunately for them, that didn’t fall under “The Patriot Way.”
Whenever a player became too big for his role and demanded more than what the Pats wanted to give, he was shipped out or allowed to walk. It happened to Richard Seymour and most recently to Wes Welker. The team doesn’t feel like they need “star” players because they have more cogs just waiting to be inserted into the machine that is “The Patriot Way.” The trouble is that those new cogs are proving to be inferior to the ones that left.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than at wide receiver. The talent of the pass-catchers available to Tom Brady outside of the tight end position has been steadily declining over the years, culminating in Welker’s defection to the Denver Broncos this offseason. New England picked up Danny Amendola to replace him thinking it would be just that simple to replace Brady’s favorite target over the last several years. But after Week 1, Amendola was sidelined leaving little more than scraps in the receiving corps for Brady to work with in Week 2 against the New York Jets.
Without Amendola and while still awaiting the return of Rob Gronkowski, New England went into their Thursday night divisional showdown with Julian Edelman as their most reliable pass catcher. As it turns out, he may have been their only reliable pass catcher as rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins both were huge disappointments as they dropped sure touchdowns during the game. At one point, Brady became visibly angry as the rookies ran the wrong route near the goal line and let a third down pass fall incomplete.
It turns out that it’s more complicated to sustain success in the NFL than just plugging anybody with two hands and a pulse into the lineup. Belichick and the Patriots’ continued belief that they are the smartest guys in the room and every move they make will work out has led to the multiple flameouts in the playoffs and losses in their last two Super Bowl appearances. “The Patriot Way” is a thinly veiled power trip that has prevented the Patriots from getting back to the top of the NFL.
Tom Brady needs help and getting a surgically stitched together Rob Gronkowski maybe in Week 3 may not be enough. Unfortunately for Brady and the Patriots, seeking out proven (and often expensive) offensive weapons just isn’t part of the “The Patriot Way.”