Is the vaunted “Patriot Way” dead and gone?
I’m not the first columnist to type that question, and I won’t be the last.
Training camp won’t hold any answers, but the Patriots way of doing things will certainly be a hot topic as the season approaches. That time-tested approach isn’t dead yet, but the Patriots are at a crossroads. Their mythical modus operandi is on life support and their performance this season will either revive it or signal its death knell.
High-character centerpieces like Tedy Bruschi and Troy Brown are long gone. While replacing players like them is nigh on impossible, the Patriots haven’t even tried, opting instead to take on one troubled athlete after another.
Recently-released tight end Aaron Hernandez had enough red flags coming out of Florida that some teams reportedly removed him from their draft boards altogether. To be fair, nobody could have predicted that he would one day stand accused of murder, but there were still signs of potential issues and the Patriots ignored them.
Second-year cornerback Alonzo Dennard was arrested for assaulting a police officer before the draft. The incident caused him to fall all the way to the seventh round where the Patriots felt comfortable gambling on his talent.
A seventh-round pick is a small price to pay for a player of Dennard’s ilk, but on the heels of another arrest—this time for suspicion of DUI—it’s fair to wonder if drafting him was another misguided gamble on the Patriots part.
It doesn’t stop there either. The Patriots are also relying on Aqib Talib to be their top cornerback despite his history of legal troubles.
On top of it all, Gronkowski and his party posse can’t stay out of the TMZ headlines for more than a few weeks and backup quarterback Tim Tebow carries his own set of media-generated issues.
In short, the Patriots have become something of a circus. Where once there were only football and tedious press conferences, we now find tabloid fodder, police reports and a media shark tank.
Bill Belichick has dealt with so-called problem children before. Corey Dillon, Rodney Harrison and Randy Moss all had unsavory reputations before arriving in New England, but they helped lead the team to Super Bowls, so all was forgiven.
Maybe this will all blow over. Dennard will almost certainly face suspension from the NFL’s sheriff, Roger Goodell. But if Talib can keep his head on straight, Gronkowski makes a full recovery from an offseason of surgical and social mishaps and the Patriots can put the Hernandez situation firmly in the rear-view mirror, the team just might overcome this adversity like it has so many times before.
Or they could collapse as the entire football world watches the Patriot Way go the way of the dodo.