At the start of the season, if you asked me who the most talented player was on and offense and the defense, I would have answered Rob Gronkowski and Jamie Collins. The two athletic freaks appeared to be at least 1 or 2 on the list of most important players on offense and defense coming into the season. Yet, this Sunday when the Patriots come out of the tunnel, neither will be playing in the game. Somehow the Patriots have removed arguably the 2 best all around athletes from their and are playing and favored on Super Bowl Sunday.
How many teams would this be the case for? Take Julio Jones and Vic Beasley off of Atlanta’s team and are they a Super Bowl team? Do they even make the playoffs? With the Patriots, it's different because of who the orchestrators are. Brady leads the offense, and Belichick directs the defense and somehow they never wavered. It seems as though Belichick has the defense he’s always strived for. Eleven players working in perfect unison, being in the right place at the right time, every time. Meanwhile, it’s been business as usual for Brady, as the offense continues to be one of the best in the league despite the missing presence of Gronk. So why haven’t they missed either of their two dynamic playmakers?
For Jamie Collins, it’s been a rough couple of months. Getting traded to the Browns is bad enough, but having your team succeed at an even higher level after your departure has to be soul crushing for a player of his caliber. If he believes he’s one of the best defensive players in the league, it must be mentally draining trying to understand how he could have been holding back the Patriots defense. Ever since he’s left people have scrutinized him for freelancing and not doing what the coaching staff wanted. Maybe it was just as simple as everyone doing what they were told on defense. On the bright side for Collins, it hasn’t lost him any money. Despite the fact that his departure made the Patriots better the Browns will make Collins one of the highest paid players at his position in the NFL. Sounds like the Browns thing to do to me.
As for Rob Gronkowski’s absence, things were a little more complex. The offense isn’t better without Gronk, but they certainly haven’t missed a beat. With Gronk out, they just got better at doing things that Gronk did with other players. In years past, the Patriots goal line offense was a whole lot of Gronk. This year, Legarrette Blount took on most of that load, and led the NFL with 18 touchdowns. The big plays Gronk provided down the seam have been made by Chris Hogan in his absence. He’s run a lot of the same routes Gronkowski did in this offense, as well as providing big plays with his ability to take the top off the defense, many resulting in touchdowns, something the Patriots haven’t had the ability to do since the days of Randy Moss.
Some have even brought up the idea of trading Gronk because it appears the Patriots don’t need him to win. Trading him to Tampa Bay or Los Angeles has been brought up by too many in the Patriots universe. When you have a guy like Rob Gronkowski, you don’t trade him away. Rob Gronkowski is the Lawrence Taylor of offense. I wouldn’t trade Gronk unless I was sure he wasn’t the same player. Otherwise when you have that guy you keep him. But ultimately it doesn’t matter what any of us think, because I know Bill won’t get it wrong.
At the beginning of this season, I thought Jamie Collins was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and I thought that Rob Gronkowski was the most important player on the Patriots roster. If you told me then that we would still make the Super Bowl despite losing both of them I would think you were insane. Gronkowski and Collins are surely talented, and the reason the Patriots don’t miss either is mostly because of one man. Belichick.
Out of all the seasons Belichick has been a coach, this is might be his best. It all comes back to him. Trading Collins wasn’t an easy move to make, and he got his fair share of backlash for it when it was made. Since then, it’s looked at as just another good move by the mastermind of the NFL’s marquee franchise. Bill Belichick is just smarter than all of us even know. As he once said to Rob Ninkovich, “I’ve forgotten more about football than you’ll ever learn.”
Photo Credit: (Boston Sports Then And Now) and (Sporting News)