Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

Tomase: And just like that, Patriots look like Super Bowl favorites again

John Tomase
October 23, 2017 - 10:30 pm
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It was around maybe the third time the Falcons decided to go for it on fourth down Sunday -- by running a jet sweep on the goal line as part of Steve Sarkisian's not-really-catching-on sideways-only offense -- that the thought crystallized.

This was going to be another one of Those Games that the Patriots play virtually every season, whereby they overcome adversity, address flaws, and point their ship inexorably towards February.

Put another way: we should at least start reserving rooms in the Twin Cities for Super Bowl LII, because the Patriots are once again making their move.

What other conclusion are we to draw from Sunday night's fog-shrouded destruction of the woebegone Falcons, who can't look at a clock, calendar, calculator, or supermarket flyer without seeing 28-3?

For the first time all season, the Patriots held a quarterback below 300 yards, and it was the defending MVP. Matt Ryan completed 69 percent of his passes for 233 yards, but nearly half of them came on quite literally the two most meaningless drives of the game -- three plays to end the first half, and the garbage TD march with four minutes left that kept the Falcons from being shut out.

Someone named Jonathan Adebosi stepped in for Stephon Gilmore at corner and basically shut down Julio Jones, and the fact that only half of you realized his name is actually Johnson Bademosi says all you need to know.

But we see this virtually every year. We all remember how On to Cincinnati ended with a victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl 49. Last year's trade of Jamie Collins and subsequent loss to Seattle ended up being the last L on the schedule. The 2011 team got its act together after two straight defeats around Halloween to win 10 straight before falling to the Giants in the Super Bowl. There was the They Hate Their Coach rally of 2003, the nail-biting overtime win over the Jets in 2012 to keep from falling to 3-4, and of course, the rise of Tom Brady in 2001.

Time and again, when facing the possibility of their season slipping away, the Patriots instead find a way. And as we examine the rest of the NFL landscape, they're once again positioned to be the last team standing.

With Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers sidelined, there's no dominant quarterback opposing Tom Brady. With Houston's J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus done for the season, there's no terrifying defense a la the 2015 Broncos to exploit Julian Edelman's absence. With the Chiefs losing two straight after a 5-0 start, there isn't even a major impediment to earning the No. 1 seed, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Who scares you right now? In the AFC, the Steelers have already gotten blown out by the Jaguars and feature a stubbornly predictable defense that plays right into Brady's hands. The AFC South is pointless. The Chiefs are coached by Andy Reid and quarterbacked by Alex Smith.

The competition appears a little stiffer in the NFC, where Carson Wentz has the Eagles off to a 6-1 start, Jared Goff is leading the resurgent Rams, and Seattle's Legion of Boom is making a quiet comeback. The Vikings, who await the return of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from a Gordon Hayward-style knee injury, represent a wild card.

None of those teams feature Brady or Bill Belichick, however, and they've seen everything. I'd take my chances vs. a second-year QB in the Super Bowl, for instance.

So what we're left with is what we're always left with -- the Patriots figuring things out on the fly. That challenge is clearly greater now than it was, say, a year ago. We still worry about their ability to defend good quarterbacks downfield, and we still don't know if Brady will stay upright after absorbing excessive punishment over the first six weeks of the season.

But as the calendar nears November, here's what we do know: the Patriots just delivered their signature victory of the season, and whatever their flaws, if the past 15 years are any indication, they won't regress from here.

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