The sky is falling for the Patriots. Just as people have started to come to terms with the loss to the Steelers, Josh Gordon is taking his ball and going home. In fact, this bad news is finally enough to get Belichick’s bedrock philosophy back in vogue. Bulletin board material is here, and just in time too.
Gordon is Gone
News story: Josh Gordon says he is stepping away from football to focus on his mental health; he is facing a potential suspension for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the NFL's drug policy. https://t.co/MiPiW5u8FL
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) December 20, 2018
The details are still leaking out, but Josh Gordon appears to be looking at a suspension of some sort. On the face of it, this is really bad news. The Patriots have had trouble at receiver ever since Danny Amendola signed with the Dolphins last off-season.
Furthermore, the Patriots have five losses for the first time since they lost six in 2009. That was the dreaded ‘I just can’t get this team to play the way we need to play’ team from A Football Life.
Things look bad. So how is this a good thing?
Bulletin Board Material
Remember the halcyon days of the beginning of this Patriots dynasty? Remember when teams took the Patriots lightly? The Steelers are the masters of gifting Belichick with material to rial the troops.
During the 2001 Super Bowl run, the Steelers were happy to announce that their bags were packed for New Orleans and the Super Bowl. The Patriots walked away with a 24-17 win in the AFC Championship.
The media at large was enough for Belichick in the runs to the 2001 and 2003 Championships. No one gave the Patriots a chance against the Rams in 2001. The hype machine for Peyton Manning was in full force in 2003.
There was a regular cornucopia of bulletin board material. Belichick simply plucked it out of the air.
The End Of The Underdog
By the time Rodney Harrison was flapping his arms in the waning moments of the 2004 Championship against the Eagles, it was clear this motivation tactic was wearing thin. The Patriots were favored in the game against the Eagles. They had to dig deep to find little used wide receiver Freddy Mitchell declaring he didn’t know the Patriots defenders’ names.
In every playoff game since, other than perhaps an AFC Championship in Denver in 2016, the Patriots have been favored. The media has begrudgingly given The Belichick’s their due. Brady is now the GOAT. Loosing to the Giants in two Super Bowls wasn’t enough to knock the luster off the great and powerful Patriots.
What Is Old Is New Again
It has been distressing to see Tom Brady go weird, and seemingly get Garoppolo traded. To see Gronk looking mortal, and more interested in retirement and the WWE, than preventing miracle game loosing touchdowns. Sure-handed Julian Edleman is dropping passes. It looks like the Patriots are slipping, from the D to the QB, the special teams to the coach.
However, right now there is an opportunity Belichick has been looking for. For the first time since 2003, the Patriots will be overlooked in the playoffs. Some are saying they might not even make the playoffs. This is despite the AFC East standings, which show the Dolphins two games back with two to play.
Bulletin board material has materialized, and Belichick will put it to maximum use. Need to break through to an aloof Brady, an unmotivated Gronk, a shaky kicker, or struggling D? No problem.
The Road Ahead
Currently the Patriots sit at 9-5. That leaves them fourth in the conference. But what was true yesterday is true today. The Patriots have the Jets and Bills left. The Texans, who sit in third at 10-4, have the Eagles and Jaguars. The Patriots hold the tie-breaker over Houston. The Patriots are entirely capable of going 2-0 and ending at 11-5. The Texans are entirely capable of going 1-1, and ending at 11-5.
Because the two top teams in the league, the Chiefs and Chargers, are in the same division, whichever ends with a worse record is the five seed. Divisional winners go one through four.
With bulletin board material at his back, Belichick could be looking at the Number 2 seed. He could also be looking an AFC Championship game at home, if the Charges go to KC and win in the Divisional round. Win that one, and the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl.
Belichick just got his secret weapon back. The rest of the league will see it soon enough.
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