It’s a catchy football phrase the New England Patriots have claimed their own … Next man up!
It’s supposed to refer to a good player or two going down with a long-term injury and the second best guy at that position takes his place and remarkably fills in admirably.
The Patriots, though, have taken the moniker and run with it, as in … Second and third team up!
This was meant for role players like Kyle Arrington, who we’ve come to find out is not a natural, speed cornerback, but a quick guy that can handle the middle of the field. If he has to fill in for, say, Aqib Talib, we can expect a semi-decent performance.
When Patriots coach Bill Belichick came up with his version of Next man up!, he wasn’t thinking the likes of Joe Vellano, Josh Kline and Sealver Siliga (three undrafted free agents who all played key roles on Sunday in Miami). Those guys were supposed to be on the practice squad, taking notes and getting ready for their potential splashes in 2014.
That being said, the Patriots are primed for the playoffs.
Yes, that’s right, I said “primed.”
Looking around the NFL landscape, there is one scary team: Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks.
The one benefit for the AFC entry into the Super Bowl is it won’t have to play in Seattle, which is nearly impossible to do for road teams.
After the Seahawks there are really six or seven teams (49ers, Broncos, Patriots, Cardinals, Bengals and Ravens – in that order) ready to contend for a championship. In other words, the New England Vellanos aren’t dead just yet.
What we’ve come to learn about the Vellanos … I mean Patriots, is that nothing will come easy, even against the Oaklands, Houstons and Buffalos.
The gap between the upper-tier and the middle-tier, even the lower-tier, has never been smaller.
But there is a caveat with the Patriots Super Bowl run, led by Tom Brady, who is quietly playing as well as he has ever played in his life.
Brady and the offense must get some extra help these days, particularly with Rob Gronkowski getting 12 months off and with left tackle Nate Solder flirting with some heavy duty free time with concussion issues.
For the Patriots to beat any NFL team of note from here on out – .500 or better – Brady & Co. on offense need some, not a lot, of help from the other two units of the team: Defense and special teams.
By help we mean, a special play on special teams and a key sack and key turnover on defense.
The Patriots defense, while having some decent moments of late, haven’t made the memorable play the last two weeks. And the Patriots paid once (on Sunday) and almost paid the week before against the Browns.
The Patriots also can’t miss a field goal, which really is unfair. But it’s true. Stephen Gostkowski can’t afford to miss a field goal, from anywhere.
If the Patriots can do all of that, make a play on defense here, make a 52-yard field goal, or maybe a 60-yard return there (see the Ravens on Monday night), then Brady will do the rest.
While this Patriots season has been wildly entertaining to watch – they are 14 for 14 in terms of hitting the Entertainment Quotient – and has been hugely successful (10-4 is tied for third best record), it could come to end in a hurry unless three things happen:
The offense, defense and special teams all do their job. Anything less on any given Sunday in January and it’s probably going to end like it did Sunday.
But if they get “other” two phases to do something, Brady will do his part and the Patriots can beat any team … Yes, any team.
Email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.