NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady walks off the field during Sunday's loss at Houston.

AMID ALL the grumbling and doubt coming out of Sunday night, is it possible the 2019 Patriots just aren’t that good?

Hear me out.

Back on Oct. 27, I wrote the following lead for this newspaper:

“The undefeated Patriots concluded the junior varsity portion of their schedule by hammering the Browns 27-13 at rainy Gillette Stadium Sunday.

“The Pats (8-0) finished a first half of a soft schedule that included no serious opponents by handling the sloppy Browns (2-5), but now begin a stretch of more-difficult games; starting next Sunday night at Baltimore, and continuing at Philadelphia before a home game against Dallas.”

One of the wins was at Buffalo, which has turned out to be a good team. And Pittsburgh has managed to survive even without Ben Roethlisberger. But the Jets (twice), Redskins, Giants and Browns are currently a combined 14-34.

The loss in Houston Sunday night made the Patriots 2-2 in their last four. The Pats scored a combined 30 points in the games they won. The offense was inept until the game was pretty much salted away Sunday. The defense, which was being hailed as perhaps the greatest of all-time during the 8-0 stretch, was run over by mobile quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. And Patrick Mahomes is coming to Gillette Sunday.

Face it, management, perhaps thinking Rob Gronkowski would return at some point, did not properly account for his loss. There have been key blocking injuries, such as David Andrews and James Develin. Quality wide receivers have come and gone.

And Tom Brady is 42.

But you really have to wonder if a, say, 33-year-old Brady would be able to flourish with what he has at his disposal. His pass weapons are often down to Julian Edelman and James White — along with Phillip Dorsett and Muhamed Sanu, who have both dealt with health issues. The rookie receivers might be OK someday. Now, though, they don’t scare anyone enough to not double-team Edelman.

OK, the Pats have been through these struggles before. Heck, they were 9-5 in December last year and won another Super Bowl.

Now, having surrendered the top seed in the AFC, you have to wonder if they can get back for another try.

I know: Don’t count them out, … but.

Asked on WEEI Monday about the Pats’ offense and whether it’s a problem, Boomer Esiason said, “It’s frustrating to watch against good teams. We talked about how their schedule would turn and they were going to play better teams. I think we’re starting to see that now and we’re starting to see some of the warts, especially on offense.

“They are not the big-play offense that they have been in the past and one of those things — Tom Brady is saying it to us as he gives his postgame press conferences, his weekly press conferences — he talks about practice, he talks about being on the same page, he talks about trust, all those things.”

Brady, also on the station for his regular Monday gig, defended his receiver corps and said, “That is part of our sport is dealing with new situations and try and deal with them the best way you can and this team has faced some unique ones in of itself just like any team has. We’re no different from any team.”

Ah, but they ARE. They’re the Patriots.

Can you chalk Sunday’s game up to a great effort by the Texans? To the coaching of old pal Romeo Crennel? Could it have been the illness that forced the team to take two charter flights to and from Houston, the sick guys on one plane, the healthy troops on the other? Could it just be a lag before the final kick at another run at a title?

Mahomes and the Chiefs will be a test for all of the above. The winless-til-Sunday Bengals on the road and Bills and Dolphins at home follow before the playoffs.

Big comebacks

Column pal Larry Rosoff was hoping the Patriots would join the Celtics and Bruins and make it a “Comeback Sunday.” But the Pats, again down 28-9 in the same building that produced the Super Bowl rally against the Falcons, couldn’t quite get there.

The Celtics beat the Knicks and the Bruins dumped the Canadiens — two indoor wins against once-proud rivals who have fallen on hard times. (Claude Julien’s seat is getting hotter every day in Montreal). But both won, the Celtics improving to 14-5 (7-0 at home) and the Bruins winning their seventh straight, while David Pastrnak scored yet another goal.

Jayson Tatum scored 30 at Madison Square Garden. And stat maven Dick Lipe tells us, “Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown are two of only nine players currently averaging at least 19 points, seven rebounds, two assists and one steal. It’s an elite group with the two Celtics joined by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell Westbrook ... The last time a Celtic met all four of those per-game averages was 2002-03 when both Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker did it.”

The Bruins are only the third team in NHL history to record two 10-game points streaks within the first 30 games of the season. The Sabres did it in 1975 and the Blues in 2001.

Brad Stevens isn’t thrilled with the new NBA coaches’ challenges, and after losing one Sunday could be seen saying, “I’m done with these (bleep) challenges. This is unbelievable.”

Farewell Sandy

Sandy Leon figured to be the only Red Sox non-tender by Monday night’s deadline, but earlier in the day the catcher was dealt to the Indians — Chaim Bloom’s first trade — for a minor league pitcher. Leon made $2.8 million last year and even without a raise would have been a liability financially with Christian Vazquez having established himself as a true No. 1.

The Red Sox sent out info on Dwight Evans Monday, the release stating, “Evans is 1 of 10 individuals comprising the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Modern Baseball Era ballot, made up of those who made their biggest contribution to the game between 1970-1987.”

A player needs 12 of 16 committee votes to make it. The results will come Sunday at the Winter Meetings.

Sunday leftovers

Rodney Harrison in the background prior to Sunday night’s game: “Don’t fall for all that sickness nonsense.” …

Mahomes threw his 70th career TD pass in the fewest games in NFL history: 27. Dan Marino’s 29 was the old mark. …

So sorry to hear about the apparently accidental drug overdose death of Terry Glenn Jr., two years after his dad was killed in a car accident, leaving his son shattered. …

The Ravens have outscored their opponents 272-118 during their eight-game winning streak. They’re on pace to become the first team since the 1977 Bears (Walter Payton, league-best 132.3 per game) to average 200 yards per game on the ground. …

Finally, ESPN’s Rich Cimini after the Jets’ 22-6 loss to the Bengals Sunday: “The Jets’ loss was pathetic and historic. They became the first team in NFL history to lose twice in one season to teams with 0-7 records or worse. Bad coaching, bad playing, bad everything. One of the worst losses I’ve covered in 31 years.”

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.