Patriots coach Bill Belichick once had a cameo on the FX television series “Rescue Me,” which starred Denis Leary as a New York firefighter grappling with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and his own personal demons. Belichick and his team are riding to the rescue in real life to save a Boston sports summer that has been awash in disappointment and offered few rays of hope.
The Patriots are coming to deliver us from our summer sports doldrums.
Football is right around the corner. Buffalo Bills veterans report to training camp Saturday to usher in another playoff-less season. Patriots rookies will report on Sunday with veterans due Wednesday. Training camp in Foxborough kicks off Thursday. It’s like counting down to the release of the next iPhone.
You think it’s a bit premature to talk about Patriots training camp? What else would you like to discuss on the Boston sports scene?
The Red Sox start the post-All-Star-break portion of their season Friday at Fenway Park against Kansas City. The Sox remain resolute they’re not ringing in 2015 in the Fens, but they’re in last place in the American League East, 9½ games back. They’re eight games and eight teams from the second wild card. The Sox would have to go 42-25 the rest of the way just to reach 85 wins.
The Celtics’ plan to acquire Kevin Love looks less likely by the day, and they appear ticketed for another season of lotto-ball. The Bruins lost 30-goal scorer Jarome Iginla, and manacled by the salary cap, haven’t made any major upgrades. They’re planning to move Loui Eriksson to the first line and hinting that first-round pick David Pastrnak, an 18-year-old who plays in the second division in Sweden, could make the big club. The erstwhile first-place New England Revolution have lost six straight MLS matches.
The Hoodie and his team represent hope on the horizon.
Saturday marks six months since the Patriots were handled by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game in Denver. The defeat left a bitter taste, a lasting impression that spurred Belichick to soup up his secondary with Darrelle Revis and a high level of anticipation for 2014.
This is the most anticipated Patriots season since 2008, when the team was coming off its 18-1 historic rampage through the NFL, including the first and only 16-0 regular season in league history. It was somewhat reminiscent of the Red Sox’ demise in the 2003 American League Championship Series. You wanted the next season to start the next day.
Every Patriots season seems to come dripping with import and great expectations now.
It’s hard to believe, but this season will mark the 10-year anniversary of the Patriots’ last Super Bowl winner, the 2004 club.
It’s a given that the Patriots will win the AFC East, a division that is sunny with a chance of meatballs. They’ve gone to three straight AFC title games and have 11 consecutive 10-win seasons. But the Foxborough Faithful have waited a while for the elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy. And the backdrop of this season is the ticking athletic biological clock of Tom Brady, who will turn 37 on Aug. 3.
Two D-words — defense and decline — are the story lines for Patriots training camp.
Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are great summertime destinations. But the island of the summer in New England is Revis Island.
Belichick and the Patriots made a bold move, signing former J-E-T-S nemesis and the game’s preeminent shutdown corner Revis to a two-year, $32 million deal (it’s really a one-year, $12 million deal with an option) to replace Aqib Talib. The Patriots also took a page from the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning blueprint, signing jumbo cornerback Brandon Browner.
Both moves were made with getting past Manning in mind.
Belichick has finally faced the ineluctable truth of pass defense in today’s NFL — game-changers are more important than game plans.
With Revis in the fold, the return to health of defensive heartbeat Jerod Mayo, and the restructuring of Vince Wilfork’s contract to keep him with the team after he suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon last season, the Patriots should have their best defense since the ’07 team. That squad was fourth in the NFL in total defense, points allowed, and third-down defense.
The summer has been full of debate about Brady being on the downside of his career. Pro Football Focus irreverently declared he was no longer a top-five quarterback.
NFL rules are so prejudiced toward the passing game that it mitigates declining physical skills if a quarterback has enough weapons. That’s how Manning rewrote the record books last year with arm strength that rivals rapper 50 Cent throwing out a first pitch.
So, grab the rosary beads and pray that tight end Rob Gronkowski can fully recover from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee suffered last December. No one has caught more touchdown passes from Brady than Gronk, who has collected 42. He is a sui generis talent for any position.
There are other questions for Brady’s offense.
Will wide receiver Aaron Dobson, who missed all offseason practices after surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, be able to build on his promising rookie campaign?
Will Danny Amendola be able to shake off an underwhelming first season and show why the Patriots tabbed him as Wes Welker’s replacement? For the record, Welker had more touchdown receptions last season (10) than Amendola has in his entire career (9).
Will the offensive line with a new position coach, Dave DeGuglielmo, be able to keep Brady upright? Do the Patriots need to super-glue the ball to Stevan Ridley’s hands or are they going to cut ties with him?
What has been debated in theory all offseason will be put into practice — literally — in six days.
It can’t come fast enough.