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.
Randy Moss was one of New England's most cherished icons between 2007 and 2009. In that short span of time, he totaled a whopping 250 receptions for 3,765 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Moss' true greatness was in his athletic grace, which was best viewed up close and in person. It was a joy to watch him play.
Still though, in spite of Moss' domination and his athletic beauty, he could be a handful. His loud personality (and his hefty ego) often tainted the purity of his dynamic production on the field.
The Patriots decided to trade Moss in 2010. To this day, that decision remains frustrating for some Patriots fans, given the fact that New England gave away an extraordinary player.
There's also a sour touch of irony here, given the fact that the Patriots are headed into the 2013 offseason in desperate need of a Randy Moss-type wide receiver, while the real Randy Moss is headed to Super Bowl XLVII with a different team. It's a strange, bitter pill to swallow.
When the free-agency frenzy begins, the Patriots will have a chance to grab Moss. But signing Moss would just be an example of the Patriots moving back into a bad relationship. Backtracking isn't a clever path to the ultimate goal; it's really just a circular path back to more frustration.
Also, keep in mind that Moss is 35 years old and his numbers are way down (28 catches on 51 targets, 434 receiving yards and three scores this season).
Also, he recently declared himself to be the "greatest receiver" of all time, which implies that his personality is still as loud as ever.
The Patriots will face an interesting quandary if they consider adding Osi Umenyiora to their roster.
On one hand, the Patriots would be getting a premium pass rusher, a proven champion and a wise warrior (three elements they need).
On the other hand, they'd be getting a guy whose pressure played a pivotal role in preventing Tom Brady from winning his fourth and fifth rings.
Those are powerful factors to think about.
There's also a more abstract situation to consider here: What happens if Umenyiora comes to the Patriots and then fizzles out? It would be like a replay of Super Bowl XLVI; another vague shot at vengeance or redemption, somehow thwarted again and traced back to the Giants. It would be totally demoralizing for the players and the fans. Once again, it would rub salt in old wounds.
Bottom line: Umenyiora's 31 years old, he's on the downside of his career and he's bound to be expensive. That, right there, is enough to avoid him.
Danny Amendola has gained some attraction from Patriots fans because of his similarities to Wes Welker. They share a similar physical build, they're both Texas Tech guys and they're both clever receivers.
Pairing Amendola and Welker would be like having Roddy White and Julio Jones bolting down opposite sidelines, except in this fantasy, they'd be running insane routes across the middle and twisting defenses into knots.
I like this fantasy. Part of me wants to see what this "one-two punch" would look like.
But here's the thing: The Patriots are having enough trouble handling the one-two punch they already have. They have a spectacular tandem with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but they can't keep them healthy at the same time.
We've already learned that a one-two punch loses all of its novelty and effectiveness when one of the "punches" in the "one-two punch" gets injured. Essentially, the Patriots go from having a killer combination to fighting with one hand tied behind their back. We've seen it happen two years in a row.
From a talent standpoint, Amendola and Welker are brilliant players and they'd be a jaw-dropping duo. But, from a health standpoint, they'd have Patriot Nation biting their nails every Sunday.
In his four seasons in the NFL, Amendola has only played the full 16-game slate once. He missed five games this season and 15 games in 2011. And remember, Wes Welker is 31 years old and only a few years removed from blowing out his knee.
The Patriots don't need a second tandem with injury woes.
Brian Urlacher is a physical linebacker with a special penchant for diagnosing the opposition's plan and diffusing the damage before it erupts. In other words: He has the brain to match his imposing brawn, which is why he's consistently been a prized gem for the Bears.
As a free-agent prospect, Urlacher would also bring a heavy dose of leadership to his new team. This is a guy that players can rally around and learn from, both on and off the field.
Defensive end Andre Carter provided a similar form of leadership for the Patriots back in 2011, but his leadership was ultimately thwarted by the eternal battle between "what the mind wants" versus "what the body will allow."
Urlacher brings a similar conundrum to the table.
He's a leader and a fantastic player, but he'll be 35 when the 2013 season begins. Father Time takes a toll on the body of a linebacker. He's coming off a hamstring injury, which cost him four games this season.
Also, his total tackles have steadily decreased over the last three seasons (125 tackles in 2010, 102 in 2011 and 68 in 2012), which speaks to his decreased dominance.
Urlacher would provide some much-needed leadership and strength in spurts, just like Carter, but what the Patriots really need is a dynamic player who can be healthy during the playoffs. That's what they've been missing over the last two years. That's what they need to win a championship.
Urlacher doesn't fit that mold.
Between Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead, the Patriots are set at running back.
Still though, you never know what Bill Belichick is thinking. He has his own reasons for doing things. Sometimes, those reasons are enough to swiftly shake up everything you thought you knew to be true.
If Belichick is interested in making a change at running back through free agency, he might spend some time chewing on the possibility of adding Peyton Hillis to the roster. After all, the Patriots are in need of some toughness and Hillis was once known for his toughness.
Back in 2010, Hillis had 270 carries for 1,177 rushing yards, along with 61 receptions for 477 receiving yards.
Those were the only elite numbers Hillis produced in his professional career. Since then, he hasn't played a full 16-game slate. In addition, his production has steadily decreased (161 carries and 587 yards in 2011, 85 carries and 309 yards in 2012).
Belichick might view Hillis as a guy who can return to prominence with the right attitude and the proper coaching. Belichick successfully pulled off this experiment a decade ago with safety Rodney Harrison.
At the time, Harrison was gaining a reputation as a washed-up, injury-riddled guy. Belichick looked past the doubt and put his faith in Harrison. Harrison ended up being the heart and soul of back-to-back championship teams.
The difference is, there's no track record of consistency with Hillis. Rolling the dice on his future production would be to essentially gamble on his ability to reproduce his 2010 season.
But the truth is, reproducing one season isn't good enough.
When you're searching for new additions, you don't want players who reproduce, you want players who evolve.
Rodney Harrison evolved. Tough to see Peyton Hillis walking in those footsteps.
Brady Quinn, free agent
With any luck, Tom Brady will safely play into his 40s. Still though, in the event that he gets hit with an injury (or eventually retires), it's safe to say that his backup, Ryan Mallett, can step in and win some football games.
Problem is, it's tough to see beyond that. Mallett hasn't played much on the professional stage and there's still a lot we don't know about his ability. Is he a legitimate franchise quarterback? Is he the next Tom Brady? Is he the face of a future Patriots dynasty? Nobody knows yet.
We know Mallett has a strong arm. We know Mallett was good enough to move up on the quarterback depth chart and, in the process, squeeze Brian Hoyer off the roster.
We know that Bill Belichick orchestrated New England's 2012 season with Mallett as the lone backup, which speaks to the level of confidence he has in this young man.
Aside from that, there's still tons of mystery and intrigue to think about.
The Patriots would be wise to explore the quarterback field. Nothing serious, just some harmless flirtation. If the chemistry is right, they should make a move.
Adding another quarterback wouldn't harm Mallett's development or bludgeon his shot at greatness. He could still be "the one," even with another face on the sidelines.
Unfortunately, though, this upcoming free agency pool isn't the right place to search for another backup. Mallett is already a wiser choice than anybody in this upcoming crew of available quarterbacks, which includes guys like Brady Quinn and Rex Grossman.
The Patriots can avoid these quarterbacks. They're solid with Mallett for the time being. Still though, it wouldn't hurt to poke around the upcoming NFL draft and see which quarterbacks are available when their selections roll around. They should also keep their eyes open for future free agency markets down the road.
The Patriots should strike when the time is right, not when the time is convenient.