The Patriots have gone from six-time NFL championship staff to a rebuilding one making an attempt to scratch out an AFC wild-card berth in simply two years. It is no coincidence the Tremendous Bowl 53 win over the Rams additionally marked the final recreation for the mix of quarterback Tom Brady and tight finish Rob Gronkowski.
The ultimate New England connection for the long run Corridor of Famers was key to that victory. Whereas Brady and Gronkowski have re-created that chemistry as Buccaneers, successful one other ring collectively in Tremendous Bowl 55, the middling Patriots proceed to wrestle with out their offensive execution and veteran management. They completed 7-9 final season and are 1-2 going into the Week 4 recreation vs. the Bucs.
Given the character of coach Invoice Belichick, he nonetheless would possibly downplay how a lot he misses his long-time incomparable duo. However because the staff’s de facto normal supervisor as effectively, his personnel strikes because the two painful Patriots breakups show there’s some regret for not discovering a technique to maintain Brady and Gronk glad collectively on his staff.
With some assist from the 5 levels of grief, here is a glance again at what Belichick has carried out from submit Gronkowski to submit Brady to attempt to assemble a respectable offense to enrich their nonetheless sturdy protection and particular groups:
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Taking flyers on tight ends and large wideouts
Gronkowski introduced his “retirement” on March 24, or slightly greater than a month after the Tremendous Bowl. In April, Belichick added big-bodied Austin Seferian-Jenkins and five-time Professional Bowl vast receiver Demaryius Thomas. Later that month, the staff used a first-round decide on large wideout N’Keal Harry and in Might as soon as once more added 2004 first-round tight finish Ben Watson.
With Jacob Hollister traded to the Seahawks early and Seferian-Jenkins launched in June, the Patriots additionally traded for tight finish Michael Roberts and signed tight ends Stephen Anderson and Eric Tomlinson proper earlier than the season.
None of that labored to make up for no Gronkowski. At vast receiver, neither did the short-lived tenure of one other future Brady Buccaneer, Antonio Brown nor an costly commerce (for a second-rounder) to get Mohamed Sanu. Harry hasn’t helped a lot in any respect along with his sturdiness points since being drafted.
The Patriots could not discover the best substitute receiving assist for Brady’s last season with them with out Gronk. It set them down the expedited path of shedding Brady as a free agent after the season. They denied the actual fact they wanted to be extra aggressive to accumulate actual offensive talent vs. making an attempt to piecemeal some satisfactory weapons.
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2020: Anger, bargaining and melancholy
Specializing in protection, leaders to compensate for no Brady; extra tight ends
Brady was one foot out the door earlier than he threw his last cross at house for the Patriots, a decide six towards the Titans within the 2019 wild-card playoffs. Brady hand-picked the Bucs due to their promising assist system to show he lots left passing into his 40s.
The Patriots in the meantime, appeared to not need to handle changing him out of spite. Whereas Brady was leaving in free company, they labored on holding different key gamers, led by defensive again Devin McCourty, security Patrick Chung and guard Joe Thuney.
After Brady was lengthy gone, Gronkowski formally was again within the league and traded to the Buccaneers to proceed this profession. The Patriots drafted a slew of hybrid defensive gamers to reload Belichick’s entrance seven, however additionally they drafted two tight ends, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.
They performed it cool at quarterback, making it really feel like Jarrett Stidham was the inheritor obvious to Brady. Then they hedged their bets with Cam Newton with a really late June signing. They have been hit with key opt-outs (Chung, linebacker Dont’a Hightower), varied accidents and COVID-19 points, together with Newton.
The duct-tape methodology got here unraveling. A minimum of with Brady minus Gronk, they may do sufficient to win the AFC East once more and get into the playoffs. With out him, they have been a shell of a staff, making an attempt to fabricate a special fashion of offense with Newton and wanted monster performances from protection and particular groups to win most of their video games.
For the primary time in 12 seasons (or 2008 when Brady torn his ACL in Week 1), Belichick’s staff did not win the division, timed with the rise of the rival Payments. The unhappy actuality set in that the Patriots have been between the overachieving Dolphins and overhauling Jets with the make-up of their staff. Belichick’s philosophy of plugging in his kind of gamers offensively and defensively to “Do Their Job” did not apply or wasn’t as efficient with out dominant abilities comparable to Brady and Gronkowski entrance and middle.
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Drafting of Mac Jones, splurging on Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, enjoying for future
The Patriots lastly realized they wanted to truly spend sources on offense to show the web page from Brady and Gronk.
They first reacquired a favourite offensive lineman, Trent Brown with Thuney (Chiefs) too costly to maintain. Then they signed the 2 greatest tight ends on the open market, former Titan Jonnu Smith and former Charger Hunter to related sizable contracts. They saved the bargains for 2 new versatile vast receivers, former Raider Nelson Agholor and former 49er Kendrick Bourne. Additionally they stored Brady’s favourite receiving again, James White.
Smith and Henry are large, sturdy blockers — albeit smaller than Gronk — who’ve some good athletic receiving traits. Agholor was signed a a Julian Edelman inside-outside kind and Bourne as a fringe pink zone menace, enhances to fit discover Jakobi Meyers.
After giving offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels a lot wanted reinforcements and extra alignment choices, quarterback was the remaining void. All of the Patriots had left to do with their foreshadowing was use a first-round decide on a robust QB class.
They did not attain for Tua Tagovailoa or attempt to steal Jalen Hurts within the 2020 draft. At No. 15 total in 2021, they stood pat, not leaping just like the 49ers or Bears to get Trey Lance or Justin Fields. Tapping into Belichick’s favourite school program, Alabama, they took Mac Jones, the profitable nationwide champion successor to Tagovailoa and Hurts.
The Patriots stole Brady within the sixth spherical of the 2000 draft, taking him extra as Drew Bledsoe’s developmental backup. He proved to be an elite starter along with his gritty, cerebral play mixed with additional laborious work to turn into one of many all-time correct passers. Greater than 20 years later, Jones had that profile within the trendy passing recreation as an environment friendly pocket distributor of the ball everywhere in the area. Strictly talking about his bodily body, Jones is a extra athletic Brady.
New England went from two years of limbo with out Gronkowski and Brady to accepting they weren’t coming again. Whereas that pair discovered a special type of rejuvenating groove with the younger, loaded Buccaneers, the Patriots wanted to maneuver ahead with their very own youth motion, or danger being buried behind the Dolphins and Jets for some time.
Belichick wouldn’t have six rings with out Brady, however final season offered concrete proof Brady may have received a number of with out Belichick. He introduced Gronkowski and Antonio Brown alongside for the Tremendous Bowl experience he did not get to have with the Patriots. The Patriots additionally missed Brady as the last word recruiting drive and Belichick needed to take command of that once more.
Brady and Gronk left to have a ton of enjoyable, whereas Belichick needed to get again to severe enterprise to have a shot at a successful staff once more earlier than he retires. It simply took two years to wipe away the digital tears.