The last time the Patriots ventured west, it was so bad they pulled all 10 players who had dressed for the game onto a golf cart and dropped them on the grounds of a military base in Afghanistan to go sightseeing and visit wounded soldiers. At this month’s bye week, there was no trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Instead, they played the 49ers in a hastily arranged Thanksgiving exhibition game.
They arrive on Sunday, a week later, for Sunday night’s game against the Raiders. The Patriots’ bye week brought on a roster shuffle of two head coaches, not to mention a couple of roster moves. For a team built by Bill Belichick, the disruptions have been no surprise. It is what happens next that is more difficult to forecast.
The Patriots were left fuming at the offense after Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the Steelers. Tom Brady was booed during warmups. Rob Gronkowski, the team’s best offensive weapon, didn’t play because of a neck injury. This from a team that used to cut its teeth on offense. But this year, they have lacked running backs and wide receivers, and receivers couldn’t get open. Now, they return to a team that has experienced its fair share of injuries.
With Jimmy Garoppolo out with a shoulder injury, Jacoby Brissett, drafted earlier this year, starts at quarterback against the Raiders. Rob Gronkowski, who had a 41-yard catch on his first practice with the team, has a chance to be activated from injured reserve in time for Sunday’s game against the Raiders.
Brissett is a second-year player who had previously been working as an emergency backup. Brady hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2008, and that streak has come to an end.
The Patriots have won nine of their last 10 games, and still hold a 4½-game lead over the Dolphins in the AFC East. A slip by this group could represent a season-ending memory and a reminder that “power rankings” and top 10 lists count for little. But there is nothing to lose at this point. The Patriots have enough momentum to come out swinging at the Raiders.
The Patriots have won 30 of their last 30 games on Thanksgiving.