Immediately following New England's defeat in the 2012 AFC Championship, Bill Belichick opened his postgame address by describing the outcome as a "disappointing end to an overall pretty positive season."
For Patriots fans, Belichick's assessment raises an interesting question: Was this really a positive season for the Patriots?
From a certain perspective, the answer is "definitely." When your team is one of the final four standing in the NFL playoffs, your season automatically qualifies as a success.
Plus, some other amazing things happened along the way.
Stevan Ridley flourished as an elite running back, Julian Edelman blossomed into a dynamite receiver and returned a punt for a 68-yard touchdown, the Patriots massacred the Jets on Thanksgiving, Chandler Jones made huge contributions, Rob Ninkovich took his game to the next level, the offensive line was awesome, Wes Welker topped 100 catches and 1,000 yards again, Devin McCourty returned a kick for a 104-yard touchdown and Tom Brady had another remarkable season.
That's a lot of good stuff.
However, from a far more gloomy perspective, New England's 2012 season is best defined by the crushing disappointment which ultimately unfolded and the lingering anxiety it left in our midst.
The worst part: Bernard Pollard struck again. The second worst part: Rob Gronkowski ended the season in battered condition again. And of course, there's the solemn fact that the Patriots extended their championship drought by another year. It was essentially a replay of every dreadful thing that went wrong last season.
So, there you have it: The sunny side and the bleak side. The choice is yours.
No matter which way you lean, this much is true: 2013 will be a new season with fresh possibilities. The ultimate crown is at New England's fingertips if they want it. With a few tweaks here and a few free agents there, everything will fall into place.
However, there are a few players they would be wise to ignore over the upcoming offseason. Here are six free agents the Patriots should avoid at all costs.