Patriots fans will hate to hear this, but it’s true.
It could be worse.
Sure, you have a broken toe and a 52 inch plasma screen TV that needs to be replaced after the temper tantrum that ensued when Rob Gronkowski wasn’t able to get his hands on the Patriots’ last-ditch Hail Mary as the Super Bowl clock ticked down to zero.
But as we come to accept the fact that the Patriots simply didn’t make that one play here or one play there that could have been the difference, we should also take the time to realize that while time to win another Lombardi Trophy with Tom Brady under center is waning, it still exists and truthfully, there is always next year.
This season, more than anything, was considered to be a bridge year. No one really gave the Patriots a chance to win the Super Bowl. After the Patriots lost back-to-back games to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants, no one gave them a chance to come close.
It wasn’t that it was believed that this team was bad, but that it was still in the building process. Even if they overachieved, that still remains true. The building blocks are still in place.
Before you start throwing one of the half-empty beer cans that are strewn around your house following your Super Bowl party at the screen, consider these points:
1. The four most explosive weapons on the best scoring offense in the AFC will be back next year. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez are all under contract and it’s almost guaranteed that Wes Welker will be back under the franchise tag.
2. The offensive line that protects the most important weapon will still be strong. There are questions about whether or not Brian Waters, who was tremendous all season and played very well in the Super Bowl, will be back and Dan Koppen is also an unrestricted free agent. But especially on the edge the team is deep with Matt Light, Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Volmer. Should Waters, who was considered by Pro Football Focus to be the second-best right tackle in football, return, he and Logan Mankins make up one of the best guard tandems in football.
3. The defensive line turned out to be a strength this season. Once the liability of Albert Haynesworth was gone, the Patriots’ defensive line became quite formidable. Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, easily the most improved Patriot and maybe one of the most improved players in the league this season, were a handful for any offensive line, while Brandon Deaderick proved to be a useful addition once he came off the PUP list. Love is a restricted free agent, but as an undrafted player is most likely to be retained by the Patriots.
4. The Patriots are all set at inside linebacker. When Brandon Spikes is healthy, he is an incredible force in stopping the run. Having a player who can charge forward, plug a hole and drive a running back backwards next to him allows Jerrod Mayo to do what he does best, which is a little bit of everything else.
Now, I’m not trying to blow sunshine up any orifices that are not meant to see the light of day. There are questions that remain about this team, most of them on defense. They still need pass rushers, as Mark Anderson, Rob Ninkovich and Andre Carter are all unrestricted free agents. They need help at safety, as clearly James Ihedebo and Sergio Brown are not a real answer next to Patrick Chung. While guys like Sterling Moore and Kyle Arrington showed some flashes, the cornerback play is a concern.
In addition to that, there’s the question of whether Steven Ridley is ready to be a consistent contributor to this team, as it is likely Benjarvus Green-Ellis will be gone. There’s uncertainty about who the number-two wide receiver, who is really the fourth option in the passing game, will be.
But the Patriots had a lot of these questions this year and they made it to the Super Bowl. They didn’t just make it, they were about five minutes from winning it.
Which brings me to my biggest point: The Patriots have two first-round and two second-round picks in the upcoming draft. Say what you will about Bill Belichick’s draft history. We all know it. There have been some bad picks. But he also picked up Gronkowski, Spikes and Hernandez in the same draft two years ago, stealing Hernandez in the fourth round.
There are no guarantees. There is no easy road back to the Super Bowl. But there is hope. The sky is not falling.