New England Patriots: How the 1-1 Pats Are Secretly Building a Super Bowl Team

Marc FreshmanContributor ISeptember 21, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 16:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws in the first half during a game against Arizona Cardinals at Gillette Stadium on September 16, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Now at 1-1, the Patriots are headed to Baltimore for a savage brawl with an old foe. Patriots fans are split on this one. Optimists are psyched to take out some early frustrations on a team they loathe. Pessimists are dreading the wrath of this slightly psychotic rival.

For me, optimism and pessimism don't apply here. This is bigger than Joe Flacco and the Ravens.

For me, this is still about the Giants. It's about what we didn't do and what we need to do.

I watched the 10-6 Giants beat the 16-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. I watched the 9-7 Giants beat the 13-3 Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

At this point, I couldn't care less about a sparkling record. Those days are gone. If we fall in a 1-2 hole in Week 3, so be it.

Right now, there are other priorities.

New England needs to flesh out their rookies, deepen the skills of their receiving targets, evolve their pass rush, strengthen their weaker muscles and alter their strategies to compensate for both real injuries and potential injuries.  

Of course, the injury to Aaron Hernandez is very real. He went down against the Cardinals and he'll be out for a while. On the surface, this is a major blow to the gut.

But his injury opens up an interesting topic that we rarely talk about. This topic deals with the fragility of New England's two tight ends.

It might feel like it's been a while since Rob Gronkowski suffered his injury. After all, eight months have elapsed since that incident went down. But that's eight months in "real time."

In "football time," only two games separate Gronkowski's injury and Hernandez's injury. In the space between these devastating injuries, the Pats played the Giants and the Titans. That's an alarmingly short window of time, especially for a team that's offensively structured around these guys.

Clearly, bad luck is playing a role here. But still, this bad luck is spelling out a very harsh truth: New England needs to be prepared to win with only one elite tight end.

The circumstance is what it is. The tight ends are fragile, which means that having both of them healthy at the same time is a luxury and potentially a rarity. This is an issue of timing.

The Patriots might not get there for a while.

Biding their time until Hernandez returns is not the answer. It didn't work with Gronkowski in the Super Bowl and it won't work now. They need to learn how to win when they're short-handed.

The process of winning with one elite tight end must become part of their normal routine. It's the only way Brady and co. are going to navigate their way to the Super Bowl and win it all.

New England needs to be able to win in different ways with different players. They need to think to themselves, how do we win without Hernandez? How do we win without Gronkowski? How would we win without Vince Wilfork? How would we win without anybody we value at a high level?

The more situations they're in now, the healthier and stronger they'll be down the line. 

Wes Welker is a perfect example of this. Lately, you may have noticed that he's been getting a little short-changed from an offensive standpoint.

Look at Welker's numbers. In the first two games of this season, he had a total of 16 targets, eight receptions and 109 yards. Those numbers greatly vary from the first two games of last season, in which he had 23 targets, 15 receptions and 241 yards.

Many analysts have speculated as to the reason behind Welker's reduced role with the team. The reasons have ranged from tame to bizarre.

There's an article on which provides a long list of odd theories to explain the situation. Also, Boomer Esiason chipped in with some pretty intense thoughts on the matter. These theories and concepts from both sources are enjoyable to read, but extremely complex.  

Personally, I don't think there's anything complex, suspicious or malicious going on with Welker's minutes, nor is there a concentrated effort to squeeze him out of the offense.

For me, this whole thing is simple: The Patriots are doing with Welker what they're about to start doing on Sunday without Hernandez; they're learning to win without the guys they always rely on.

They're prepping for real injuries (Hernandez) and potential injuries (Welker).

They just lost the Super Bowl, in part, because they couldn't compensate for a big injury to Gronkowski. They won't let a similar situation happen again.

This team has enough stars. Right now, they're searching for heroes.

Welker's not a hero, he's a full-fledged superstar. Full-fledged superstars didn't make those magical catches to beat us in those Super Bowls. David Tyree and Mario Manningham made those catches.

In other words: Heroes beat us. That's what this is all about.

Yes, Welker's yards are down, but Stevan Ridley has 39 carries and 196 yards in two games. He's single-handedly establishing an elite running game where there previously was none. Zilch.

Julian Edelman is becoming a real receiver. He had five receptions and 50 yards against the Cardinals.

Brandon Lloyd is being force-fed the ball. Why? Because failure isn't an option. He plunked down 129 total yards in two games with a 27-yard pickup against the Titans. 

For the first time in years, this team is trying something very different. The focus isn't on the offensive superstars. Heroes are being groomed months in advance. The pass-rushers are a priority.

Wes Welker's numbers aren't the focus right now. Neither is Rob Gronkowski's dominance.

Another 13 or 14-win season isn't important. The wild card is an option. The longest, meanest road will do.

Whatever it takes, just as long as this road ends in a parade.