At first glance, it seems like a kitschy story that is happening with the New England Patriots: A German boy from Swabia comes to the football Mecca USA, works hard, fulfills his dream of the NFL, is in his second Season regular player at the series champion New England Patriots, scores his first touchdown and receives special praise from coach Bill Belichick, who is otherwise very stingy with it – everything is wonderful? Yes and no, you have to say. Because while the story of the Stuttgart fullback Jakob Johnson, 25, sounds wonderful, nothing is great at the Patriots without Tom Brady, as Uli Hoeneß would put it.
The Patriots have more shade and less light this season than there has been in the last 20 years. It’s the old FC Bayern problem for the team at the gates of Boston: If you’ve been so good for so long, you have to confirm it again and again. In the 20 years under head coach and manager Bill Belichick there have been six championships, nine finals, so far only one season with a negative win record, the last time the playoffs were missed by the Patriots in 2008. A fifth grader knows only the playoff Patriots his entire life.
All that counts is winning, finishing second is not interesting. This is exactly why the picture from this season seems so surreal so far. New England currently has four wins and five losses, including some really gruesome games. The offensive is inconsistent, for example the Patriots have only scored five touchdowns through passes – not a good sign in an increasingly pass-heavy league. The playoff chances are currently at a manageable 15 percent, says expert Thomas Psaier, who on his well-known blog Sidelinereporter American football analyzed.
This Sunday the team has to go to the even worse placed Houstons Texans. And should the Patriots lose the game, then the playoffs actually seem barely tangible.
As funny as the equation “Patriots = lousy” reads, the situation did not come unexpectedly. “You already knew that it would be a transition year,” says Psaier. The most important reason for this: The head of this dynasty, the undisputed king on the field, possibly the best football player in history, was suddenly gone after 20 years: Quarterback Tom Brady. At 43 he wanted to try something new and is now playing in Tampa Bay.
The entry and Brady replacement Cam Newton was himself the most valuable player in the league (MVP), but the offensive just doesn’t run that smoothly anymore. Psaiers opinion: In the last few years the extremely flexible and changeable offensive was mainly carried out by the ultra-precise Passer Brady: “Such a superstar covers up a lot of problems. It’s not just like that in New England, it’s like that everywhere.”
And there are mainly problems with the individual quality on the offensive. The pass receiving department is one of the worst in the league, and Belichick has not had a lucky hand with the offensive young talent in the past. Newton himself is above all a veritable threat as a runner and passer who goes deep. But for years he has had problems with his shoulder, making his throws shaky, a few weeks ago he was also sick with Covid-19, overall: Despite some respectable games, he is so far more mediocre than MVP.
There are always rumors about saying goodbye to Bellichick
The question that everyone is now asking: How will things continue after this season? Complete rebuilding of the team including gutting the squad or rather a gentle remodeling that allows another attack on titles. That ultimately depends on two key personalities – quarterback Newton and coach Belichick. Will Newton stabilize in the second half of the season so that he can be trusted to have a few more good years? And what does Bill Belichick, 68, actually plan for the future? There are always rumors about a possible farewell. But Belichick is pretty buttoned up on this and pretty much every other question.
Psaier provides a few pointers as to why the renewal could be done in a gentle way, who says: “I don’t think Belichick wants to tear everything down.” On the defensive, the team has already been rejuvenated and in the next summer break the Patriots will again have a lot of money on their payroll that can be used for additions.
“Next year they themselves will know better what they want to be,” suspects Psaier. A stable Newton, a few newly bought weapons, and maybe a good draft: this could be the roadmap for a quick turnaround. Whether Johnson will still be there is not so sure: his contract will expire after the season. If he continues to play like this, a new working paper should be easy to come by. No matter where.