Super Bowl 50 champs?


Liam Flaherty and Jack Shields

After defeating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX and working their way through camp, the New England Patriots entered the 2016 season with their eyes set on San Francisco and defending their title. The team and its strong cast of returning veterans did just what they wanted and got off to an impressive start, going 8-0 before facing the Washington Redskins in week 9.

Up 20-3 in the third, starting running back, Dion Lewis, suffered a non-contact leg injury while attempting to evade defenders on a catch and run pass from Tom Brady. After the game, the Pats’ worst fears were realized: Lewis would be done for the year. Ultimately, the Patriots beat the Redskins in the matchup, 27-10, but the loss of Lewis would limit the offense’s production going forward. In his first eight games with the team, Lewis had 234 rushing yards, 338 receiving and 4 touchdowns.

Facing the New York Giants the following week, star wide receiver, Julian Edelman, broke a bone in his foot on a tackle by opposing linebacker Jasper Brinkley. Being optimistic, the Patriots along with doctors around the league believe he should be out for at least 6-8 weeks. Through the first nine weeks, Edelman’s irreplaceable third down conversion ability, 692 yards receiving and 7 TDs allowed the Patriots offense to be as dominant as it has been in years.

Although Edelman’s broken foot will prove costly to the Patriots’ regular season success, the severity of his injury should allow him to make a healthy return before the start of the playoffs, when the games really matter. Dallas Cowboys receiver, Dez Bryant, suffered the same injury in week 1 and recently made his return for week 6 against the Seahawks. With this in mind, Patriots fans should be optimistic about Edelman’s condition and his timetable for return.

In just two weeks, the Patriots lost two of their most important, dynamic offensive players.

As the Patriots limped into Foxborough to face the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football, they looked to Danny Amendola to step up in the absence of Edelman. More bad luck burdened the Patriots in this game though, as Amendola was sidelined with a knee injury late in the third quarter. With Amendola forced to sit out, the Patriots were left with one last legitimate offensive weapon. Surrounded by younger, inexperienced receivers, tight-end, Rob Gronkowski should start being targeted even more than he already is.

Without Lewis, Edelman or Amendola on the field, the Pats entered week 11 undefeated to square off against the second best team in the AFC, the Denver Broncos. In a tight game, the Pats suffered another injury, one that’s been feared in New England for years.

In 2012, Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm on an extra point in a regular season matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. Later that year, they went on to compete for a Super Bowl against the Giants. Without a healthy Gronk though, they couldn’t secure the victory. A year later, Gronkowski went down again. A low-tackle by Browns’ defender, TJ Ward, tore his ACL and sidelined him for the duration of the year. Without their star tight-end, the Pats couldn’t make it past the AFC Championship game, where they traveled to Denver and lost 26-16.

With a history of serious injuries, Pats fans all over the world have learned to fear the worst everytime Gronkowski goes down. With just under two minutes left in the week 11 game, Gronkowski caught a pass from Brady and was hit in the right knee as he looked to turn downfield. Immediately writhing on the ground in pain, it was clear that Gronkowski was hurt. Although he stayed down for five minutes and was carted off the field, Gronk seemed okay after the game, seen walking without crutches or a cast on the same knee he had injured in 2013.

Currently, the Patriots are 10-2 after dropping two straight to the Broncos and Eagles. As the fourth quarter of the season begins, many people have started to wonder if the injuries suffered by the team are too much for them to overcome. Although it wouldn’t be the first time Tom Brady has had to make do with his second-string receivers, the Patriots are going to do everything that they can to get their guys back before the playoffs.

With the return of Gronkowski and Edelman, alongside Amendola and a healthy Brady, the Patriots offense will be identical to last season’s team which scored 28 points in the historic Super Bowl win.