With the regular season in the rearview mirror and the Patriots set for a wildcard collision course come Saturday night, I thought it may be a good time to reflect on a crazy 2019 season. There were many lows, some highs, and a whole lot of questions left unanswered as Bill Belichick and company try to pull off one of their greatest Houdini acts yet again this year. This question was recently posed by NBC Sports Boston on their Patriots pregame coverage and I find it quite interesting: What was the biggest mistake made by the Patriots this year?
As we all know, there has been quite a few of them, despite their 12-4 record. At the start of the season, people were proclaiming this to be the greatest Patriots team of all time, with an undefeated season more than on the table. Fast forward a few months, the Patriots have the #3 seed and most believe they have an early playoff exit in their foreseeable future. However, what takes the cake? Lets examine a few posed on pregame coverage and deliver our verdict. For the sake of clarity, we will start in chronological order and make our way throughout the season.
Signing and Releasing Antonio Brown
Tale as old as time, True as it can be, Barely even friends, Then somebody bends. Unexpectedly.....
Are you asking yourself if Pete just used Beauty and the Beast lyrics in one of his first articles in months? The answer is yes. After being released by the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots swooped in and signed the troubled, yet talented former Pittsburgh receiver in September to a one-year contract worth up to $15 million with a $9 million signing bonus. From almost the moment he signed in New England, there was drama. Rumors of sexual assault started to surface and the Patriots felt the need to cut the 31-year-old.
In his only game for the Patriots, Brown hauled in four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown in a 43-0 blowout in Miami against the Dolphins. He showed flashes of brilliance and chemistry with Tom Brady almost instantly. Fast forward to the end of the season and the Patriots are struggling to move the ball with any type of regularity. I'm not sayin'...but I'm just sayin'....
This is still somewhat under investigation, but we can still talk about the general premise of sending a video crew to Cincinnati to film the Bengals a week before the Patriots play them. Regardless of what the Patriots were actually doing there, that is next-level stupid. Given the Patriots' history and the national obsession with the success of this team, Belichick and the coaching staff have to be smarter than this. There is nothing that goes on down in Foxboro that Belichick does not know about, including this. The video crew was reportedly filming what an advanced scout's schedule was like the week before having a new opponent, but they were caught filming the sideline of the Bengals for an extended amount of time. While it was just the Bengals, many, myself included, have suggested that if the Patriots were doing it against this team, chances are they have done it against most, if not all, the teams they have played this season. The Patriots were simply caught this time. Some have said this is no big deal, others are furious. We will wait to see how this plays out, but this was another massive mistake made by the Patriots.
Brady's Appearance on Netflix's "Living With Yourself"
In February of 2019, Robert Kraft faced prostitution charges following a human trafficking sweep in Jupiter, Florida. Kraft was recorded in Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where he allegedly "received sexual acts." (ew.) Fast forward a few months and one Tom Brady appears coming out of Top Happy Spa in Netflix's "Living With Yourself." Is it a big deal? No, not really. But the timing could not have been worse for the Patriots. The scene was reportedly written and filmed before Kraft's allegations surfaced, but the setting of these events puts Brady against Kraft and the Patriots, furthering the speculation that TB12 could leave at season's end.
Without a doubt, I believe the biggest mistake of the Patriots' 2019 season was releasing Antonio Brown. Is he an absolute head case? Yes. Is he a liability on social media and, at times, off the field? Yes. However, when he is on the field, he is the best wide receiver in all of professional football. Even in the short amount of time here, we saw how he shined with Brady.
Specifically in regard to his demeanor off the field, there is no denying that he is not a good person. However, that is very different than being a criminal. The allegations that were against him have quieted down to a mere whisper since he was released by the Patriots. Do we really believe that is a coincidence? There were rumblings that he was going to be placed on the Commissioner's Exempt list, but given the amount of money that he was being paid, the Patriots should have at least kept him on the roster to see how things played out. After all, the Patriots kept Aaron Hernandez on their roster for a longer amount of time. There was a deep connection between Brady, Belichick, and Brown that I believe could have blossomed into something special on the field.
Time will tell, but there is no denying the void the Patriots have at wide receiver because of the Brown fiasco. Diving into this even deeper, the Patriots traded away Demaryius Thomas when they were able to acquire Brown on the free agent market. I am not implying that Thomas would have been a 1000 yard receiver, but he was able to put up nearly 500 yards with the New York Jets of all teams. Thomas clearly has something left in the tank and wanted to be in New England, re-signing with the team after they released him. No matter how you cut it, this was not a good look.
The Patriots went from having Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, James White, and the aforementioned Brown and Thomas, to having a gimpy Edelman and a non-existent White. Rumors surfaced that the Patriots were interested in re-signing Brown later in the season, but it appears that Kraft again shot these down, after Brown's comments about Kraft and his allegations. In this scenario, I believe that Kraft's ego got in the way and, quite possibly, cost the Patriots a chance at yet another Super Bowl.
By Peter Packowski