I remember Week 3 like it was yesterday.
With a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, the Patriots collapsed, and so did the confidence of Patriots fans everywhere. Tom Brady threw four picks, the defense was miserable and it looked like the Buffalo Bills were on their way to ruling the AFC East for the next decade.
Now, of course, we’ve all realized that Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t worth the paper his new contract is printed on. But at the time, it really seemed like the guy was unstoppable.
The view from New England was bleak.
By Week 8, after our devastating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Patriots fans were exhausted.
In Week 9, Patriots fans were distraught. So distraught, in fact, that many were clamoring for the return of Randy Moss. It sounds crazy now that we’re 12-3 and owners of a first-round bye, but at the time, this seemed like a rather reasonable request. It was a desperate attempt to get somebody—anybody—who could stretch the field and make the opposing defense sweat.
We were 5-3 and furious. Now we’re 12-3 and pretty calm.
We’re not the same Patriots team anymore. We don’t mercilessly blow out teams and smother them with suffocating defense. We’re a new Patriots team, and we do a lot of new things pretty damn well. And a few key guys stepped up this year—seemingly out of nowhere—and made some pretty amazing things happen.
Here are four underrated players who stepped up in 2011 and made sure the New England Patriots remained the undisputed kings of the AFC East.