Going into the 2014 NFL season, the New England Patriots were considered among the league's best teams, with football prognosticators generally agreeing that the Pats were a lock to at least return to the AFC Championship game after breezing to another AFC East title. But three weeks into the 2014 campaign, the Patriots picture looks much grimmer.
While New England stands at a respectable 2-1 going into this week's Monday Night Football matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, their two victories came over weak opponents. After steamrolling the Adrian Peterson-less Minnesota Vikings, the Patriots barely edged the lowly Oakland Raiders. The two wins followed a shocking Week One loss to division rivals, the Miami Dolphins.
In all three games, the Patriots have displayed considerable weaknesses, particularly on offense with future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady now 37 and seeming to have suffered some regression, particularly in the accuracy of his passes.
But no area of New England's game has proven more painful that the offensive line, which over three games has turned Brady into the league's most pressured quarterback. Brady has been sacked six times in three games, hit 10 more times and been forced to hurry throws on 28 additional plays.
The preseason trade of Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have something to do with that. Injuries that forced guard Dan Connolly to the center position have also played a role. But most of all, the line has simply failed to perform, and the gossip in the Boston media claims that the team misses Mankins less for his play than for his inspirational game-day, go-get-'em attitude.
Now a name has surfaced in rumors surrounding the Patriots that would be a controversial one to say the least, but if the Patriots were to acquire this player, there would be no question about the "attitude" of the New England offensive line.
That name? Richie Incognito.
The former Dolphins lineman was suspended from the NFL last year after the bullying scandal, in which Incognito was alleged to have dished out verbal — sometimes racial — emotional and physical abuse to teammate Jonathan Martin.
Martin landed with the San Francisco 49ers after the scandal. But Incognito remains a free agent. But is the loudmouthed lineman too hot for the even the Patriots to handle?
One former Patriots great thinks New England should extend an offer to Incognito.
"I think if the Patriots have the opportunity to get a mean guy, a tough guy with an attitude kind of like a Logan Mankins. Kind of a different form of Logan Mankins. But this guy definitely brings toughness," said retired New England cornerback Rodney Harrison. "Nobody ever questioned Richie Incognito's toughness, his heart and how hard he played. It's just the other stuff. I think he deserves a second chance."
NFL Network commentator Albert Breer agrees, pointing out that keeping Brady healthy must remain the Patriots' top priority if they're going to have a shot at their sixth Super Bowl berth of the Bill Belichick era.
"How many more hits can he take?" Breer asked on a Boston-area radio show last week. "Preserving the quarterback has to become priority until those five guys can prove they can do it themselves. What Incognito is, is former linebacker Brian Cox. Cox was a valuable player. He brought attitude, and that's what Richie brings."
On the other hand, Boston sportswriter Christopher Price called acquiring Richie Incognito "a last desperate act for a team that has exhausted every other possibility."
The New England offensive line will face another tough test Monday night as the Patriots take on the Chiefs. How well they keep Brady on his feet in that game may determine whether they go into Week Five with a new, controversial teammate in Richie Incognito.
[Images: Football Fantasy Spin]