Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant calls it “Just NASCAR on grass.”
The Miami Dolphins aren’t going to take the bait the New England Patriots have tossed into the water the last two weeks.
Those Patriots have lost two consecutive games and trail the Dolphins by two games in the AFC East race after only three weeks. Over the last two weeks the Patriots not only lost to Detroit and Jacksonville but did so by double figures. And that’s the first time that’s happened since 2002.
The Patriots have struggled on defense -- with injuries causing some problems but the fact supposed stars such as Dont’a Hightowner have looked suddenly slow. The offense, tied for 25th in the NFL in points per game, also has been abysmal.
Yes, quarterback Tom Brady is the greatest of all time. But Brady can’t throw and catch the ball. And New England’s wide receiver corps is ridiculously undermanned and inept right now. Brady targeted his wide receivers 10 times last week and the investment returned only four catches for a measly 43 yards.
By comparison, Miami wide receiver Albert Wilson, who had a 52-yard touchdown pass against Oakland, threw for more yards on his one attempt to a fellow wide receiver than Brady did all night throwing to his wide receivers.
“We just didn’t do anything well enough to give ourselves a chance to win,” coach Bill Belichick said afterward. “Similar situation last week — get behind early, play from behind. [We] just weren’t able to make it up. So, just going to have to work our way out of it, obviously we have a lot of work to do.”
So the Patriots are quite putrid now.
But that provides zero solace to the Dolphins.
“We’ve played three games. I mean, they’re going to do the same thing they always do — they’ll get better every week,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “They have a really good coaching staff and they have a Hall of Fame quarterback. I mean, the records are irrelevant right now. It doesn’t mean anything.”
And on that both Gase and Belichick agree. Because near the end of his postgame talk in which he repeated the point about his team needing a lot of work, Belichick also offered this truth:
“I don’t think anyone can clinch a playoff spot today,” he said, “I don’t think anyone is eliminated today.”
So the Patriots are not dead.
If this were a movie script, Belichick’s statement could foreshadow what everyone thinks is going to happen next. Because everyone thinks the Patriots, seven point favorites against the Dolphins on Sunday, are about to be royally peeved (it’s a family publication) and are going to get about the business of being their usual division dominating selves pretty soon.
It has, after all, happened before.
Recall the 2014 season in which the Patriots started 2-2. The first loss came in Miami and their second loss was a 41-14 drubbing at Kansas City, after which local and national media spent time discussing the dynasty’s collapse.
That was late September.
And months later, on Feb. 1, the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
So be wary of burying the Patriots while they’re still breathing.
Now, having said all this and offering the requisite warnings about a possible New England resurrection, it should be noted this New England team seems ... awkwardly unsteady, perhaps even fragile at its foundation.
Brady, for example, isn’t really a big problem. Most teams would be thrilled to have him today. But he’s 41-years-old and he’s only the league’s 14th rated quarterback after three games. And the fact he purposefully stayed away from all of New England’s offseason program isn’t helping matters.
The wide receivers, meanwhile, are a huge problem. And solutions the Patriots hope to offer might not be enough to affect Sunday’s game against the Dolphins and perhaps not many games this season.
The Patriots, you see, have been amazingly inept in acquiring wide receiver talent lately.
The team had Brandin Cooks who was a dynamic player for them last year. And they traded him away.
Malcolm Mitchell was a fourth-round draft pick in 2016 and he was cut.
Danny Amendola was a fixture for five years and he was allowed to exit to the Dolphins in free agency.
The Patriots have made multiple decisions regarding their wide receivers in the past year and most have proven to be, well, wrong.
Kenny Britt was signed and didn’t work out so he was cut.
Eric Decker was signed and didn’t work out so he retired.
Jordan Matthews was signed in April and cut in August.
Amara Darboh, a former third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, was claimed off waivers on Sept. 2 and was cut Sept. 4.
Chad Hansen, a former fourth-round pick of the New York Jets, was claimed off waivers Sept. 2 and cut Sept. 10. (A least he lasted a whole week).
Corey Coleman, a former first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, was signed Sept. 12 and released Sept. 17. He was then added to the practice squad, which does nothing to help Brady on game days.
Bennie Fowler III, a former undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos, was signed Sept. 12 and released Sept. 15.
None of these moves were any good.
So the Patriots are now turning to a new solution. Or, perhaps, they’re turning to their next soon-to-be-released experiment.
The Patriots last week traded a 2019 fifth-round draft pick to Cleveland in exchange for Josh Gordon and a seventh-round pick. The hope in New England is Gordon will regain his 2013 form.
That Gordon played 14 games, caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013.
Yeah, and my hope is that I’ll win the lottery even though, you know, I don’t buy any tickets.
Here are the reasons I don’t buy Gordon:
After his one amazing season, in 2014 Gordon was suspended 10 games by the NFL for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy and one game by the Browns for violating team rules.
And he was suspended all of 2015 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
And in 2016 Gordon was suspended four games by the league for violating the substance abuse policy and then, one week from reinstatement, left the Browns to enter a rehab facility.
Last season, Gordon’s saga continued. He was suspended for all but five games.
This year, Gordon announced on the eve of training camp that he would not be reporting to the Browns because he had to get himself right. Eventually he reported and played in the season opener.
Gordon caught a touchdown pass against Pittsburgh in that game but was traded the following week because, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he arrived late to the practice facility and was “not himself,” causing the Browns to finally move on.
Gordon didn’t play against the Lions last week and his status is uncertain for the Dolphins. So this troubled soul who is not completely healthy and may or may not know the entire playbook after only days on the team is an anemic passing offense’s best hope for a revival against Miami.
If it sounds like the Patriots are a little desperate on the wide receiver front it’s because they are. And their troubles branch out beyond bad personnel decisions at one position.
Did you know the Patriots tried to trade perennial Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski in the offseason? The Patriots and the Lions actually had a trade in place but the only reason it never materialized is because Gronkowski threatened to retire rather than report to Detroit.
“Yeah, it happened,” Gronkowski said.
So the Patriots wanted to trade their lone remaining dynamic pass catcher. That is, of course, after they traded Cooks, who caught 65 passes for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Not for a team that once traded away Chandler Jones and Jaime Collins and Richard Seymour and Jimmy Garoppolo. Did I mention the Patriots benched cornerback Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl last February — a move that might have cost them the game?
Look, the Patriots obviously don’t have too many folks criticizing their moves because they’ve won five Super Bowls since 2002 and that masks a lot of warts.
But the truth is if the Patriots continue to trade good players or let them walk in free agency -- as starting left tackle Nate Solder did last offseason -- while they draft as they have the past three years, that Super Bowl run is going to soon end. Consider:
The Patriots have drafted 22 players since 2016. Of those 22 players only two have started more than one game.
Seven of those draft picks are backups or contributors of some minor sort.
Five of those picks were cut outright.
Two were cut and re-signed to the practice squad.
One was traded.
And five — all of them from the 2018 draft class — are currently on injured reserve.
Those drafts, by the way, have not yielded a good starting wide receiver. The last wide receiver the Patriots drafted and then developed into a contributor is Edelman, who was selected in 2009 after playing quarterback in college.
So it’s been 10 drafts since the Patriots made a good selection at receiver — a troubling fact that glows in neon when one considers the Patriots have a great quarterback who can do amazing things when he has someone to catch his passes.
As for Edelman, no need to worry about him now. He’s serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs and this game marks the final week of that suspension so he’s not available.
None of this suggests the New England dynasty is over. None of it predicts a Dolphins victory Sunday.
But neither is any of this bad news for the Dolphins. That is certain.