Way back in July, when Tom Brady was still upright, Rodney Harrison was getting ready to make up for the Tyree catch, and Fernando Bryant looked like our starting left cornerback, Randy Moss told the Boston Globe he was scared.
With the entire record setting offense of 2007 returning, a cream puff schedule that looked like 12-4 at worst and a host of promising rookies on defense, the expectations of what the 2008 Patriots could do frightened the record-setting receiver.
In hindsight, all of Patriots Nation should’ve been scared too.
Perhaps the preseason appearance of crutches in Brady’s locker, a joke played on reporters by the team, was an omen.
It took 14 offensive plays for the 2008 New England Patriots and their reigning NFL dynasty to forever be altered, and become literally scary for it’s fans, players and coaches.
The images of Tom Brady limping off the field with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, the massive GU patch for Gene Upshaw emblazoned on his shoulder, would define the 2008 NFL season just moments after it started.
In stepped Matt Cassel, who, if you asked most Pats pundits, was lucky to still have a job. What Bill Belichick saw in Cassel’s duck-turd preseason performances that made him a believer in Cassel, we’ll never know.
Cassel led the Pats to a surprising 2-0 start, leading many to believe that even without Brady the Patriots dynasty would keep on rolling.
But in week three the Dolphins unleashed the “Wildcat” on the Pats and the rest of the NFL, something that would take them all the way to the AFC East title, and the cracks in the Pats defense began to appear, along with the injuries.
Thus began a stretch of win one, lose one that would last nine games with the Pats beating the teams they were supposed to beat and losing to the teams they were supposed to lose to.
Like Brady before him, Cassel never killed the team with the Favrean interception at the worst possible time. He might’ve held on to the ball a little too long at times, but the pass protection wasn’t always where it needed to be.
Cassel gained confidence and had his coming-out party in an overtime loss to the Jets, in which he fired a game-tying touchdown pass to Randy Moss as time expired, completing a miraculous comeback after the Pats had been blown off the field in the first half.
Sadly, it was the defense’s failure to get one more stop in that game that was ultimately the difference in how the season ended.
While the loss of Tom Brady was the doomsday scenario for the Patriots, it was not the downfall of their season. That dubious honor went to the defense.
Adalius Thomas and Rodney Harrison going down played a significant role in the defense’s demise, but even with them in the lineup the 2008 Pats D again displayed the problems that plagued it in 2006 and 2007.
When one looks at the teams remaining in the AFC playoffs the first thing that comes to mind is not unstoppable offenses, but unbreakable defenses. The Patriots will have to return to their unbreakable ways if they want to again be an elite team that competes for the Super Bowl.
While the defense did tighten up at the end of the season, albeit against suspect competition, it was a case of too little too late, as the Pats no longer controlled their own playoff destiny in December.
The season came to anticlimactic end when the Jets failed to beat the Dolphins, leaving the 11-5 Patriots on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
While there was talk of the Patriots deserving a playoff spot, the reality is that New England lost to four of the six AFC playoff teams, three of which were by twenty points or more (Miami, San Diego, Pittsburgh).
If you can’t hang with the big boys do you really deserve a spot at the playoff table? No.
The average record of the teams the Pats beat: 6-10. Average record for the teams the Pats lost to: 10-6.
This is just a mathematical way of stating the obvious. The 2008 Patriots, despite injuries that would’ve been catastrophic for most NFL teams, still managed to play solid football and win eleven games, something that is not easy to do. They may not have had the talent to beat the upper echelon teams but they were still coached well enough to beat the bottom feeders.
There are many questions to be answered before the 2009 season starts, the health of Tom Brady being at the forefront. While rumors are already swirling that the Pats will hit Matt Cassel with the Franchise Tag, it’s clear that the defense is the area that most needs to be addressed.
While there are some solid young pieces in place with Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton and Brandon Meriweather, there’s still a great need for playmakers, most urgently in the defensive backfield.
It will be a few years before we know where the 2008 season fits into the legacy of Bill Belichick’s Patriots Dynasty. Whether it was the beginning of the end, or but an injury-filled blip in a decade of dominance, remains to be seen.
However, Belichick once again proved he’s the best coach in the game who will keep the Patriots competitive until his time in New England comes to an end.
Mike Dussault is a Patriots Community Leader at Bleacher Report, and also a contributor at BostonSportz.com. His Patriots blog can be viewed here, and he can be contacted at PatriotsPropaganda@gmail.com.