The New England Patriots have lorded over the NFL for nearly 20 years. The end of that reign is now in sight more than ever before.
Everything is either setting up for the greatest tour de force in Patriots history. Or it’s finally their inevitable demise.
On Thursday morning, Josh Gordon announced he would be stepping away from football. The period of time has been undetermined, although reports say the NFL might help make that decision for him via suspension.
For Gordon, the hope is that he finds peace. For the Patriots, the question is how they move forward?
Should the Patriots climb back into contention, this might be their greatest achievement yet. New England is without a star on defense and has a deteriorating offense. The AFC is getting better around the Patriots, with the Chiefs, Chargers, and Texans all viable contenders with superior records.
Punctuating the tension is an utterly tumultuous year in Foxborough.
The Patriots have lost back-to-back games in December for the first time since the 2002 season. The first loss in Miami came after an odd kickoff return to end the game, but that play was made possible by a rare tactical mistake by coach Bill Belichick. In addition, quarterback Tom Brady made a tactical error of his own at the end of the first half that cost the Patriots a field goal.
The following game against Pittsburgh was uglier from the perspective of the New England offense. The Patriots scored only one touchdown and that came after a blown coverage by the Steelers. Throw in the fact that tight end Rob Gronkowski can barely run these days and the New England offense is in trouble.
This comes after Brady spent most of the offseason away from New England for the first time in forever. That’s because the rift between Brady, Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels grows. For much of his career, Belichick challenged Brady and the Hall of Fame quarterback responded with greatness. These days, a dismissive wave of the proverbial hand is what Brady is giving Belichick more often.
This is compounded by Belichick being agitated with owner Bob Kraft, who facilitated Jimmy Garoppolo being traded to the San Francisco 49ers against Belichick’s wishes. Brady wanted Garoppolo gone, and Kraft sided with his superstar. It didn’t go over well.
Then there was the near-exit of McDaniels, who accepted the Indianapolis job only to double back at the 11th hour. How invested is McDaniels, knowing he’s waiting out Belichick for his next promotion?
In short, the Patriots have been straining for more than 12 months to hold back the end. It’s not getting any easier.
With Gordon, the Patriots had a deep threat to stretch defenses. Without him, they are looking at a barren depth chart that includes Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and 32-year-old Julian Edelman. In its current state, that list of names isn’t scaring anybody.
At 41 years old, Brady can’t cover up the warts in the fashion he once did. New England is old and slow. Nothing is changing that. Gordon was the one target who wasn’t either of those things. Now he’s gone.
The only reasonable hope in New England is that Brady once more bends back the hands of time. In conjunction, Belichick and McDaniels must find a groove with Brady, forming a power trio that can navigate the increasingly rough waters of January.
As for Gordon, his life has slowly been becoming more chaotic in recent weeks. While in Miami, he was hounded by agent Drew Rosenhaus to re-sign as a client. On Wednesday night, Gordon and girlfriend Dylan Gonzalez got into a heated argument about his alleged infidelity and split up.
None of that is suggesting Gordon turned to substance abuse to cope. It’s simply stating that everything in his life wasn’t going smoothly, and the 27-year-old decided to step back before the spiral got out of control. Good on him. At the same time, Gordon was told before making that decision that he was facing a suspension.
Ultimately, only time will bring answers. Gordon hopefully has most of his life ahead of him. There’s reason to believe that with or without football, his days can be bright.
The Patriots, however, don’t have that same luxury. Most of its dynasty days are long gone. The sun is setting behind them.
Now it’s up to Brady, Belichick and McDaniels to furiously race for one more storybook ending.