The Patriots have gone from six-time NFL championship workforce to a rebuilding one attempting to scratch out an AFC wild-card berth in simply two years. It’s no coincidence the Super Bowl 53 win over the Rams additionally marked the final recreation for the mix of quarterback Tom Brady and tight finish Rob Gronkowski.
The closing New England connection for the long run Hall of Famers was key to that victory. While Brady and Gronkowski have re-created that chemistry as Buccaneers, profitable one other ring collectively in Super Bowl 55, the middling Patriots proceed to battle without 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 Bill Belichick, he nonetheless may downplay how much he misses his long-time incomparable duo. But because the workforce’s de facto normal supervisor as effectively, his personnel moves because the two painful Patriots breakups prove there’s some regret for not discovering a solution to maintain Brady and Gronk pleased collectively on his workforce.
With some assist from the 5 levels of grief, here is a glance again at what Belichick has carried out from put up Gronkowski to put up Brady to attempt to assemble a authentic offense to enrich their nonetheless sturdy protection and particular groups:
Taking flyers on tight ends and large wideouts
Gronkowski introduced his “retirement” on March 24, or somewhat greater than a month after the Super Bowl. In April, Belichick added big-bodied Austin Seferian-Jenkins and five-time Pro Bowl broad receiver Demaryius Thomas. Later that month, the workforce used a first-round choose on huge wideout N’Keal Harry and in May 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 broad 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 much in any respect together with his sturdiness points since being drafted.
The Patriots could not discover the correct alternative receiving assist for Brady’s closing season with them without 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 amass actual offensive talent vs. attempting to piecemeal some satisfactory weapons.
2020: Anger, bargaining and melancholy
Focusing on protection, leaders to compensate for no Brady; extra tight ends
Brady was one foot out the door earlier than he threw his closing go at house for the Patriots, a choose six towards the Titans within the 2019 wild-card playoffs. Brady hand-picked the Bucs due to their promising help system to prove he loads left passing into his 40s.
The Patriots in the meantime, appeared to not wish to deal with changing him out of spite. While Brady was leaving in free company, they labored on protecting 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 had 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. At least with Brady minus Gronk, they may do sufficient to win the AFC East once more and get into the playoffs. Without him, they had been a shell of a workforce, attempting to fabricate a special type 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 workforce didn’t win the division, timed with the rise of the rival Bills. The unhappy actuality set in that the Patriots had been between the overachieving Dolphins and overhauling Jets with the make-up of their workforce. 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 without dominant skills resembling Brady and Gronkowski entrance and middle.
Drafting of Mac Jones, splurging on Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, enjoying for future
The Patriots lastly realized they wanted to truly spend assets 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 comparable sizable contracts. They saved the bargains for 2 new versatile broad receivers, former Raider Nelson Agholor and former 49er Kendrick Bourne. They additionally saved Brady’s favourite receiving again, James White.
Smith and Henry are huge, 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 purple zone menace, enhances to fit discover Jakobi Meyers.
After giving offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels much wanted reinforcements and extra alignment choices, quarterback was the remaining void. All the Patriots had left to do with their foreshadowing was use a first-round choose 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 faculty 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 together with his gritty, cerebral play mixed with further exhausting work to develop into one of many all-time correct passers. More than twenty years later, Jones had that profile within the fashionable passing recreation as an environment friendly pocket distributor of the ball everywhere in the subject. Strictly talking about his bodily body, Jones is a extra athletic Brady.
New England went from two years of limbo without Gronkowski and Brady to accepting they weren’t coming again. While that pair discovered a special sort 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 without Brady, however final season offered concrete proof Brady might have gained a number of without Belichick. He introduced Gronkowski and Antonio Brown alongside for the Super Bowl experience he did not get to have with the Patriots. The Patriots additionally missed Brady as the last word recruiting power 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 profitable workforce once more earlier than he retires. It simply took two years to wipe away the digital tears.