Edelman facing huge challenge
Maybe it’s just me, but the way the last two seasons have gone for the New England Patriots, it’s almost like Lady Luck has taken a long vacation from New England.
The triumphs, magical feats and successful gambles by people like Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Mike Vrabel and Randy Moss seem to have given way to infamous developments, bad moves and tragic circumstances synonymous with names like Billy Sullivan, Chuck Fairbanks, Tony Eason, Ray Hamilton and Darryl Stingley.
When did this team become snakebit again? The most talented team that could never quite put it all together became the model for all NFL teams over the last decade, but now things don’t just seem to work out as often. The Patriots have gone from the “tuck rule” and “snow bowl” — games that snatched victory from seeming defeat — to 11-5, but still out of the playoffs last year.
The most recent example of this turnaround came Sunday when beloved, fearless, workhorse receiver Wes Welker tore two knee ligaments making a cutback move without even being touched in a meaningless regular-season game. Has the Patriots’ “era of good feeling” ended?
This season has been a study in bad luck, bad moves and bad karma — from the no-show second half in which the Patriots forgot how to play offense after halftime and gave a game away to the New York Jets, to the head-shaking, second-guesser’s paradise loss to the Indianapolis Colts, to the constantly overloaded injury list to Welker.
The team that always seemed to catch a break now only gets bad ones.
Maybe it all really is a cyclical thing, but it makes you wonder — especially if you’re a fan who still remembers their favorite team being known more for players they could’ve gotten (Jerry Rice) than those they did (Trevor Matich was taken with the pick they got from the 49ers for Rice) and Pro Bowl talent that didn’t translate into wins or titles.
Smart money still says the Patriots will beat Baltimore and advance into the conference semifinals, but don’t bet the farm after that. At least, don’t do it if you’re relying on Lady Luck. Judging from recent events, she seems to be jealous of Gisele and playing the role of a woman scorned.
— Andrew Neff
Pats’ offense needs to shine vs. Ravens
There were 231 players chosen ahead of Julian Edelman in last spring’s NFL draft.
He was the New England Patriots’ seventh-round choice. The former Kent State quarterback set the school record for total yards with 3,190 in 2008. He averaged 151.7 passing yards and 114.2 rushing yards per game.
Now he has been thrust into the spotlight.
He has been compared to Wes Welker and now he will have to replace the fearless, undersized receiver who caught an NFL-leading 123 passes. And Welker missed two earlier games to injury and virtually all of Sunday’s loss to the Texans in which he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Edelman has exceeded expectations, catching 37 passes for 359 yards despite missing five games. He suffered a broken forearm. He had 10 catches for 103 yards against Houston.
He will also probably replace Welker as the punt returner.
Don’t expect Edelman to be as productive as Welker because Welker and quarterback Tom Brady had a special chemistry.
But don’t be surprised if Edelman puts up some noteworthy numbers in Sunday’s playoff game against Baltimore.
He’s hard-nosed and elusive.
Where he may struggle is when Brady is being pressured. Welker knew how to break off his route and find some open real estate. He also had an uncanny ability to get beyond the first-down sticks.
Seventy-one of Welker’s catches produced first downs, second only to the Colts’ Reggie Wayne (73).
The 6-foot, 198-pound Edelman will work diligently with Brady this week and the Patriots are as healthy at running back as they’ve been all season.
They may look to run the ball a little more and nine players caught at least 14 passes this season.
Randy Moss will get double-teamed but he will need to fight through the double-teams. He has to provide a presence.
Brady, reportedly playing with three broken ribs and a broken finger, will have to get rid of the ball quickly and find different receivers.
The offense is going to have to win this game because the defense is too inconsistent and too prone to fourth-quarter collapses.
— Larry Mahoney
Belichick’s creativity will be put to the test
Bill Belichick has followed up one of his most successful seasons as a football coach with one of his more curious.
A year ago, the New England Patriots failed to make the playoffs, but an 11-5 record without Tom Brady and with a replacement quarterback in Matt Cassel who hadn’t played since high school truly represented an effort of coaching genius over physical matter.
But the 2009-10 regular season will be remembered less for an AFC East championship than for a failed fourth-and-two call at Indianapolis, the inability to maintain leads late in road games, and the curious use of Brady during Sunday’s finale at Houston.
Brady has been reported with everything from a broken finger to three cracked ribs to shoulder woes — not to mention the memory of a knee injury that sidelined him in 2008.
Yet he played and then he didn’t against Houston, not only in the first half but also in the second half. There have been alibis made, such as getting backup Brian Hoyer some reps in two-minute-drill situations, or getting Brady more acclimated with rookie slot receiver Julian Edelman knowing that he’ll be the replacement for Wes Welker, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the game.
That Welker played at all is not at issue here. He was healthy entering the game and suffered his season-ending injury not as the result of contact, but while making a cut after catching a pass.
That Welker won’t be available next weekend is the bigger issue, because making up for his 120-plus receptions and 1,000-plus yards will be one of the primary challenges facing Belichick and his staff as they prepare the Patriots to host the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday’s first-round playoff game.
During the coming weeks Belichick will be charged with developing offensive balance, demanding that an up-and- down running game take some of the pressure off the suddenly shorthanded passing game. He’ll also need to get the defense to pick up the slack for a slightly less dangerous offense, initially by stopping a powerful Baltimore running game.
Should nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linemate Ty Warren be able to play Sunday, that would be a big step toward the latter goal.
New England is 5-0 in its history against the Ravens, including 3-0 at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots are undefeated this season.
New England should survive its game against Baltimore, but to advance deeper in the playoffs will require yet more creativity from New England’s resident genius.
— Ernie Clark