FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Capturing the theme of Valentine’s Day, if you had to pick four things to love about the New England Patriots entering 2018, what would they be?
A few thoughts:
Gilmore might have been best defender by season's end. The Patriots’ aggressive plunge into free agency last offseason -- specifically with a five-year, $65 million deal for cornerback Stephon Gilmore -- wasn’t looking so hot after four games. Gilmore then missed three consecutive games with a concussion. But the more the soft-spoken Gilmore gained comfort in the team’s system, the more the results improved. The 27-year-old was playing his best football in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LII.
Continuity on the coaching staff. Bill Belichick will be back for his 19th season in 2018, which is a good place to start on what has been an important development over the past week or so: Outside of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's departure to become Lions head coach, the Patriots aren’t looking at major changes on their coaching staff. Such stability is rare in the NFL, and there seemed to be a renewed energy around the club after offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ decision to stick around, which had a trickle-down effect on others.
Brady still slinging it at 40. How much longer Tom Brady will be able to hold off Father Time and play at an elite level is naturally a top question. Well, he couldn’t have finished the 2017 season/playoffs much stronger than he did, throwing for 505 yards in Super Bowl LII to spark a level of confidence that he can continue to elevate his performance as his age rises.
Amendola’s clutch performance in the playoffs. Wide receiver Danny Amendola, who has taken a pay cut each of the past three years to return to the team, earned the nickname “Playoff ‘Dola” because of how he came through in those situations (26 catches for 348 yards and two touchdowns in three playoff games this season). The 32-year-old is an unrestricted free agent entering 2018, and as long as he wants to keep playing, he’s a crucial piece for the team to re-sign. Amendola showed decisively that he still has it.
EXTRA POINT: Not a bad day to highlight that the Patriots have defensive end Trey Flowers and a solid core special-teams player in Marquis Flowers, with 2016 third-round pick Vincent Valentine working his way back to possibly add depth at defensive tackle in 2018. Two Flowers and a Valentine fit the theme of Feb. 14, which is also the 46th birthday of Patriots Hall of Famer Drew Bledsoe.