Pats come back down to Earth

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Pats come back down to Earth

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Last week was a crazy one for Pats fans, and I'm not even talking about the speculation over a potential Randy Moss reunion, the overhyping of BelichickMangini: Round Whatever, or the absurdity of Logan Mankins' mustache.

No, what made last week so especially strange was that for probably the first time since Bernard Pollard wrecked Tom Brady's knee, the New England Patriots were the consensus best team in football.

They were the only one-loss team in the league. They'd played one of the most challenging schedules in the league. They were building chemistry on offense, discovering themselves on defense and undergoing an attitude overhaul behind the scenes.

They'd won five straight games. They had momentum.

Leading into Sunday's game against the Browns, New England sat atop nearly every "expert's" power rankings. They were once again the darlings of the national media. Even Tom Jackson was forced to say a few nice things about them, and that happens about as often as you hear Rex Ryan say, "Nah, that's OK. The small order of onion rings is fine."

The Pats were back. Or at least that's what it felt like.

And it was kind of shocking.

Why? Because we never saw it coming.

Not even the most optimistic, silver-and-blue-colored-glasses-wearing, "In Belichick We Trust"-pledging, "Man, why is Fred Smerlas so negative?"-asking super fan could have realistically believed that the Pats would start this season 6-1.

Part of that was a result of New England's schedule over the first eight weeks, which included trips to New York, Miami and San Diego, as well as home games against the Ravens and Vikings. And even though the Bengals don't look like much now, let's not forget they came into this season as the defending AFC North champs. That should have been a major challenge, too.

Even a great team, we thought, would hit a few potholes on such a treacherous early season road, and this is the other reason why 6-1 seemed so distant we knew that the Pats weren't great.

Yeah, there was reason for positivity, but we'd all seen enough great teams around here to understand that this current one had some serious issues. Our expectations were high, but they weren't unrealistic. We expected the season to be successful, yet at the same time exceedingly difficult.

And we just werent ready for what happened.

Which is that through a bizarre stretch of on-and-off the field mayhem, the Patriots won five straight games.

This isn't to say any of the wins were undeserved. A win's a win in this league. But individually, there was something about each victory that left us wanting more, or at least, left us not entirely convinced that this team was for real.

After the Buffalo game we said, "Yeah, but it was Buffalo."

After the Miami game we said, "Yeah, but when are they ever going to get three defensivespecial teams touchdowns again?"

After the Ravens game we said, "Yeah, but they only really played one good quarter."

After the San Diego game we said, "Yeah, but the Chargers gave it to them!"

And after the Minnesota game we said, "Yeah, but didn't they still look kind of sloppy?"

Each week there was something different, but the result was always the same. Meanwhile, the Colts, Saints, Packers and Steelers began to lose, and the national media needed another "team of the moment." They saw the 6-1 record, the five-game win streak and the "They dropped Moss and never looked back!" storyline and just ran with it.

We'd spent most of the first few months of the season wondering if the Patriots were even the best team in their division. We thought we knew who they were that is, a good but not great team with loads of potential and a lot of room to grow but now everyone in the football world was telling us differently.

And despite the irrelevancy of power rankings in general, and the insignificance of guys like Tom Jackson, it was hard not to join the fun. Life's a lot better when the Pats are atop the NFL. It's been a while since we could really say that.

So we rolled with it. We talked about the Pats like they were the team of old; like the team that marched into Cleveland six years ago and blew them off the field before halftime. We played along.

But deep down, this didn't feel like a 6-1 team. The offense still wasn't clicking. The defense was playing at an unrealistic level. They looked like a good team, but just not the best team in the NFL. No matter what anyone said.

And after watching the way the Pats played in Cleveland, its now obvious that theyre not.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm not saying we should overreact to Sunday's loss, call it a season, hope the Raiders lose a bunch more games and start looking to next year. I'm just saying that maybe the overreaction had taken place before Sunday's game even started.

That for now, maybe it's healthier and more realistic to consider the plight and potential of the 6-2 Patriots a team with legitimate, but not necessarily fatal flaws (experience, depth, offensive fire, big-game pedigree) than to go along ignoring the issues of the 7-1 team under the assumption that they'll just always find a way to win.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Rob Gronkowski appears to thoroughly enjoy himself at Daytona 500

Rob Gronkowski appears to thoroughly enjoy himself at Daytona 500

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski attended the Dayton 500 in true Gronkowski form.

He appeared to be there promoting Monster Energy drink, and was therefore hanging with the Monster Girls, who were also promoting the drink. Gronkowski's herniated disc injury, which required surgery in December 2016, does not seem to be slowing him down as he gets warmed up for the Summer of Gronk.

During the race coverage on FOX Sports, Gronk delivered a speed limit joke, which is sure to make the 13-year-old in you chuckle. (You can watch it here.)

[H/T NESN.com]

Curran: It's time to let the air out of Deflategate

Curran: It's time to let the air out of Deflategate

I think it’s time. Time to let the Deflategate wound scab over. Time to exit the active, raging, teeth-gnashing, petition-signing, lawsuit-filing portion of the program and let the hate follow its natural course into a slow-boil loathing.

If you are of Irish descent, you know how it works. Clear a big-ass space on the grudge shelf. Put Roger Goodell, Jeff Pash, Mike Kensil, Troy Vincent, Ryan Grigson, Jim Irsay, every shiv-wielding owner, all the cluck-clucking media and the legion of retired players and exiled GMs from Marshall Faulk to Joey Porter through Marty Hurney and into Bill Polian up there. Turn off light. Leave room.

When you need to piss yourself off -- in traffic, mowing the lawn, waiting for your coffee -- fetch ‘em down, blow the dust off and when you’re in a sufficiently foul mood, return grudge to shelf.

You rode the roller coaster. You’ve been there, done that and have all the T-shirts.

I came to this conclusion a few days ago, when ESPN’s Cari Champion interviewed Rob Gronkowski and asked about Goodell visiting Gillette. It was like playing “Get the Stick!” with a big goofy Lab. Champion threw the leading question, Gronk fetched -- tail-wagging --  and returned with a slobbery response that was completely implausible but still designed to dominate a four-hour news cycle.

"The fans are nuts, they’re wild, and they have the Patriots’ back no matter what,” said Gronkowski. “They have [Tom Brady’s] back. I’m telling you, he won’t get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don’t even think he can even land in the airport in Boston because Patriot fans are the best fans, they’re the most loyal fans. I’m telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn’t even get to the stadium in Foxboro if he landed in Boston."

Gronk’s just doing what he thinks he’s supposed to do. And Champion is, too. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Watch these mooks up in New England get all pissed off: “Hey, hey, Chowderhead . . . Roger Goodell . . . . ”

“F*** that guy, he better never show his face in Foxboro! But I want him to come to Foxboro so I can boo the ever-living s*** out of him and maybe barricade Route 1 like Gronk said we would!”

See? Works every time.

The irony is that the person mainly responsible for turning up the burner on this is Robert Kraft.

In May 2015, Kraft said at the owners meetings in San Francisco, “I don’t want to continue the rhetoric that’s gone on for the last four months. I’m going to accept, reluctantly, what he has given to us, and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric, and we won’t appeal.

“Now, I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision, but I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans, and the NFL, and I hope you all can respect that.”

Well, that blew up like an ACME bomb. And -- from that moment on -- Kraft has tried to recoup the fanbase that believed he sold them out by issuing a succession of calls-to-arms that the region has dutifully responded to.

The most recent was throwing down the gauntlet to Goodell by expressly inviting him to the 2017 season opener.  I mean, it would have been a conversation point anyway, but now it’s metastasized into something that will be discussed throughout the offseason, ratcheting up in early September and hitting a crescendo on opening night.

There is appeal to seeing Goodell squirm while knowing the Maras, Rooneys and Irsays will be sipping highballs and lamenting the caddish treatment of Poor Roger. But I still like the football better.

Conversation about the historic import of SB51, the legacy of Brady and Belichick, prospects for the league in 2017? I’ll take those rather than an ESPN “personality” who spent a weekend in Newburyport at a friend’s wedding telling everyone what the mindset of the New England sports fan is.  

But that’s not what we’re going to get. There will instead be ever-escalating predictions of the terrors Goodell will be subjected to fueled by interviews with tatted-up kids from the mean streets of Marshfield who wanted “Hoodie” fired when he let Revis sign with the Jets.

Unless . . . unless the region en masse decides to let its loathing mature. Mature to the point that when the carrot gets dangled in its collective face it doesn’t leap at it with teeth bared but instead says, “No thanks. Already full.”

Yeah. I don’t think it’s gonna happen either.