It’s officially training camp time, and the New England Patriots are looking a little thin at the wide receiver position…

Actually, you know what? Never mind. Not this time.

Drew Bonifant column photo

I’m a Patriots fan, and every year, I get myself twisted up buying into the negative side to each storyline and believing the worst-case scenario is going to spring from every flaw in the roster. I like to think of it as being objective, but I’ve made peace with the fact that it’s just garden variety pessimism, and it’s there no matter how much the team wins. In fact, if anything, it gets worse. After all, isn’t there such a thing as fate evening itself out? Isn’t a team that wins more than any other increasingly due for a fall with each Lombardi Trophy it hoists?

So maybe the fact that the team doesn’t have an answer at tight end for Rob Gronkowski’s retirement will be that Achilles heel…

No. Stop. That’s my point. I was negative, sure, but not anymore. Not after last year, when the Patriots spent the majority of the season looking like a borderline playoff team, and then when the postseason arrived, shook off those struggles like nothing had happened and rolled past a field including league MVP Patrick Mahomes and won their sixth Super Bowl title.

Tom Brady’s sluggish season, during which he often looked every bit of 41 years old? That shaky defense that made Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariotta and Blake Bortles look like All-Pros? Those baffling, maddening struggles on the road from September to December?

Didn’t matter. In the playoffs, old Brady looked like Brady of old, the defense nearly pitched a shutout in the Super Bowl, and the Patriots won their two biggest games of the year away from Gillette Stadium. After a regular season in which everything seemed to go wrong, everything still managed to go right. Again.

So I’m not doing the worrying act again. It’s not that I think the Patriots are loaded, I’m just not getting sucked into the same trap I always do. I’m not going to see the Patriots lose in Miami by 24 points, watch the Jets’ Sam Darnold throw for 412 yards and four touchdowns against Bill Belichick’s defense in September or see Brady throw three interceptions in a loss in October and start drawing my traditional conclusions. That the Patriots won’t be able to run the ball in the playoffs, that they won’t be able to stop the pass, that any decent offense will surely shred them.

I believed it all last year. Turns out, I believed a lot of baloney.

But, wait a minute. Trey Flowers is gone, and I’m not sure the team adequately replaced him…

No no. Not this time. New England will be fine. Super Bowl champs, AFC champs, division champs, who knows what the end result will be. But the Patriots will be right there. In the end, that’s always the case.

I’ve always balked at that reasoning because I never thought it made much sense. I thought it was too simplistic. It had to be. So the Patriots lost their top free agents, didn’t sign any, didn’t draft any impact players, but because they have Belichick and Brady they’ll be one of the top teams in football?

And every year, they are, because that fifth-round pick no one noticed or that free agent acquisition that took place under the radar of the league’s more flashy signings turns into the next no-name superstar.

This wasn’t always the case. For a while, we negative fans had our moments. In 2009, the roster indeed was too weak for the team to seriously compete beyond its annually weak division. In 2010 and 2011, the defense indeed did hurt the Patriots’ chances at another title. In 2012 and 2013, the team indeed was too thin on defense and offense, respectively, to take home more hardware.

Since then, however, the Patriots have dashed our complaints and criticisms one by one. New England has been in all but one Super Bowl in that time. It has won three titles. And last year’s championship, which came after the Patriots had setbacks none of their previous championship-winning iterations had encountered, was the most bewildering accomplishment of them all.

This year, the Patriots once again are far from perfect. There are holes on the defensive line and in the passing game. Brady is another year older. So is Belichick. Some important coaches and front office minds have left. And maybe some fans who haven’t gotten the point will say, once more, that this is the year it all unravels. This is the end of the run. This year, it’s over.

But I won’t be. I’ve learned my lesson. The Patriots are flawed, sure. Once again. And once again, when it matters most, they’ll figure it out.


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