New England Patriots: No Longer a Model Franchise

Barbara Bruno@allprofootballContributor IIFebruary 20, 2012

New England Patriots: No Longer a Model Franchise

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    Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft have created a 21st century football dynasty. But are the New England Patriots really a model franchise?

    It depends upon one’s definition of “model.” If we take the definition popularly associated with the Patriots, we mean “something set before one for guidance or imitation.”

    That’s a great ideal. We hate it when our ideals are exposed as mere fairy tales. Even after two Super Bowl losses, GQ Brady and bellicose Belichick still dazzle us to the point where American football fans have gone deaf, dumb and blind when it comes to Patriot reality.

    It's past time for Toto to pull back that curtain on the “great and powerful Oz.”

Belichick Blunders

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    No, I’m not going to talk about 4th-and-2; I’m going to talk about the coaching gaffs that cost Belichick two Super Bowls.

    In 2007, Belichick completely failed to make appropriate halftime adjustments. In a precursor to this year’s big game, the New York Giants defensive line was pummeling Tom Brady.

    The G-Men may not have forced a safety on the first snap, but Brady clearly lacked time to get the ball downfield to Randy Moss.

    New England’s 2007 roster included Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and, yes, Wes Welker. Everyone loves to trash Stallworth and Gaffney, but these two possession WRs just completed an excellent year in Washington. That’s four years later and playing with—Rex Grossman. All three receivers could go over the middle or run intermediate routes, and could reliably catch the football.

    You cannot tell me that New England could not at least have persevered in trying to establish a consistent short passing attack. Was it only arrogance that kept Belichick from changing his game plan? Or did he just blow it?

    In the waning minutes of Super Bowl XLVI, Belichick directed his defense to let the Giants score. And then Brady almost pulled it off.

    Imagine what No. 12 could have done if Bill had made this brilliant defensive decision at any earlier point during the Giants' almost three-minute drive—say, when New York got that first down at the Pats 7-yard line.

    No, he let the Giants run another play—and then he wasted a timeout with one minute and four seconds on the clock. Brady could have had another 10 to 15 seconds and a timeout. In a game that was a football one foot from Gronk’s fingers away from a win, don’t you think that would have made a difference?

    For the record, I will always believe that if Rob Gronkowski had been healthy, the Patriots would have won Super Bowl XLVI—just like they would have won XLVII if Moss had caught that last sideline pass in 2007. 

    But let's not pretend that Belichick's bad judgement did not hurt his team in both contests.

Roster Deterioration

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    Tedy Bruschi wasn’t my favorite football player and he is certainly not my favorite broadcaster. He’s just too arrogant. And Rodney Harrison is his psychic twin. They go so far past swagger into the land of nasty that it makes me cringe.

    However, they were absolutely right on when they blasted the Patriots players for allowing Rob Gronkowski to go out and jump around on a dance floor like some kind of drunken pogo stick. I don’t care if a kid needs to let off steam; of course he does. Had he been healthy, it’s a non-issue.

    But he wasn’t. His ankle ligaments were so torn that they had come away from the bone and he required surgery to stabilize the joint. And no one felt the need to keep him from an activity that could positively have ruined his career? Where have all the leaders gone?

    Evidently they went to Oakland, Kansas City, Buffalo, NBC and ESPN.

    New England’s defense, Tom Brady (with significant assistance from Drew Bledsoe in 2001) and a good offensive line took New England to the first three Super Bowls. And Adam Vinatieri won them.

    The better Brady has gotten as a quarterback, the less talent he has had around him. Barring 2007, he hasn’t had a traditional No. 1 WR—ever. (no offense, Troy Brown; you know I love you). He had a good running back once in Corey Dillon. Now he has Wes Welker and a couple of tremendous TEs.

    And in the past few years, there hasn’t even been a defense.

    I frequently make fun of Mike Shanahan’s utter lack of post-John Elway success. Honestly, I think the man refuses to find a quarterback because he wants to prove that he can do it without John. Well, Mike, apparently you can’t.

    I’m starting to think Belichick believes that he is such a defensive genius he can win titles with only B-level players. Okay, and Jerod Mayo.

    Belichick inherited Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Chris Slade, Lawyer Milloy, Tebucky Jones, Willie McGinest, David Nugent, Greg Spires, Chuck Osborne, Joe Andruzzi, Ty Law, Dane Looker, Brandon Mitchell and Damien Woody at center.

    In 2001, with Scott Pioli running the draft, the team picked up Richard Seymour, Matt Light and Kenyatta Jones. They signed Bryan Cox, Mike Vrabel and Larry Izzo.

    Suddenly, the defense had young talent on the line plus Bruschi, Cox, Izzo, Johnson and McGinest at linebacker—not to mention Milloy and Law and Jones and Terrell Buckley at DB. Seriously, how much did the offense need to do?

    And none of them lasted past 2008. Neither did Pioli. Are we seeing a pattern here?

    You look at the 2007 roster and all you can think is, “How on earth did they lose the Super Bowl?” You look at the 2011 roster and all you can think is “How on earth did they get to the Super Bowl?”

Lack of Class

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    Why am I not a Brady fan? And no, I do not care who he sleeps with, where he vacations or what he does with his hair.

    The man makes over $20 million per year and he lets a charity buy him multiple new Audis that ring out at almost $100,000.

    He never says anything wrong. But he also let Welker take the total blame on that pass. Sure, Welker should have caught it, but it’s not as if it was a perfect throw. Welker had to go through contortions to twist around for the attempt.

    Afterwards, Brady said he loved Welker and wanted to keep throwing to No. 83. But he conspicuously stopped short of saying it might have been a better pass. Would that have killed you?

    Then there’s that monstrosity he just built in California—in the middle of a generational recession. The thing has turrets, for God’s sake. Turrets! 

    If Brady weren’t so successful and good-looking we’d be calling him tacky. Oh, I am calling him tacky. Next.

    Were the Patriots captains absent the day that sportsmanship was taught? After the Super Bowl coin toss, Justin Tuck held his hand out to one of the Pats and was ignored. He held it out again. And was ignored. We don’t know which Pat it was because he was off camera and the media has completely ignored the incident.

    This is perfectly bookended by Bill Belichick blowing off NBC after the game. Wow.

    And what’s with Robert Kraft’s kids? Now, that man has class. This has probably been one of the worst years of Mr. Kraft’s life. His hard work during tremendous personal tragedy is one of the only reasons that we had football in 2011 and he supports his team unconditionally all the way to the Super Bowl.

    And when the Hail Mary hit the turf Kraft was left standing all by himself in the suite as his own family ignored him and consoled each other. Excuse me? That kind of callous insensitivity runs through the franchise.

    It’s cold in New England and I don’t mean the weather. Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Ted Johnson, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour—all kicked out of town. And they are all bitter about it. You can tell when they are interviewed. I never understood exactly why all of them seemed so disillusioned; after all, every player knows it’s coming at some point.

    Then we hit Super Bowl week. Belichick lets Tiquan Underwood come to town, do media day, take the team photo and cut the logo into his hair—then cuts him the night before the game, to activate a D-lineman who never stepped foot on the field.

    Just because something is perfectly legal and can be lamely explained away as a “routine” pregame roster move does not make it the right thing to do.

    (Ironic trivia: DE Alex Silvestro was a Rutgers teammate of Underwood’s.)

    I finally understood the depth of the ice in the Patriot Way when I learned about Kevin Faulk. For years I have watched the player I call “Mr. Third Down” devastate opposing defenses. All the man did was make first downs, even when every defensive player had to know he was going to get the ball.

    When he was injured in 2010, I expected Faulk to retire. But he fought through and came back, starting to contribute his usual third-down magic in the second half of the season. He was completely healthy and made the trip to Indy. He, too, made the round of photos and media. 

    And Belichick scratched him the morning of the game. Worse, New England did their exit physicals after the Super Bowl. When Faulk had his physical, all of the trainers came up and hugged him. And that’s how Mr. Third Down found out he was no longer a Patriot.

Spygate and Spygate II

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    An alternate definition of “model” is given as “an interpretation of a theory…not directly tied to any standards or concrete details, designed so as to make the theory true.” Huh? Let's just call it manipulating the rules so that your theory is proven right. 

    Isn’t that what’s happening in 2012, when fans and the media (and other NFL owners for all I know) keep holding New England up as the “gosh darn, just about perfect” way to run a football team?

    Americans have an unfortunate habit of both vilifying and worshipping winners. On the one hand, people just can’t wait for Tim Tebow to make a mistake.

    On the other, too many fans and media remained selectively and stubbornly blind about the Patriots—as long as they were winning. Kind of like baseball in the '90s.

    Suddenly, after two Super Bowl losses, everyone is starting to remember those traded draft picks, unsuccessful free-agent acquisitions, 4th-and-2 decisions and questionable clock management moments. Oh, and that pesky little video cheating thing.

    I cannot believe I am typing this, but James Harrison was right: 3-0 before Spygate, and 0-2 after Spygate.

    I’m certainly not saying that the only reason Belichick and Company won in the early years is videotape of opposition practices. I do not even doubt his coaching genius.

    But being caught cheating calls into question every other aspect of the New England Patriots’ success. It is immutable as the tide.

    Lie to me twice and I am not inclined to take you at your word; I’m just not. It’s the spilled milk, the cruel words you regret—you cannot take it back. It’s too late to ever be “model” again.

    "Morally, the life of the organization must be of exemplary nature. This is one phase where the organization must not have criticism.”—Vince Lombardi