Tom Brady is Back: Super Bowl or Bust For 2009 Patriots

Danny CarewCorrespondent IMay 27, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - JULY 24:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots participates in a drill during the first day of training camp at Gillette Stadium on July 24, 2008 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Who cares if Tom Brady is on the cover of the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated? The Patriots will still win the Super Bowl this season.

The joke, as many of us know, is that Sports Illustrated has a great record of cursing those who grace its cover. And with Tom the Terrific back and recovered from a devastating knee injury, SI needs him as its athletic poster boy.

So go ahead SI, do it if you have to, because nothing could go worse than what happened to Brady in ’08.

Forget magazines and insider opinions; put power rankings aside. All you have to know is that the Patriots are a better team on paper than the greatest team never to win a championship, the Patriots of 2007.

Also, they’re far superior to the Brady-less 11-5 team from last season, that missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

It’s not like the Patriots rocketed to space and collected all the stars, because that’s not the Patriot Way. Sure, Bill gave Tom a few toys to play with in ‘07: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte’ Stallworth.

Instead of setting their sights on stars, the Patriots have solidified the team’s overall depth chart by adding seasoned veterans with a steady dose of draft-day picks.

For Patriots fans, it’s hard not to bank on a Super Bowl appearance. But if it’s going to count, this is what has to happen.

The additions of Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden instantly strengthen the depth of the team’s secondary. Ellis Hobbs is out, traded away on draft day. In four seasons with the Patriots, Hobbs had 11 interceptionsaveraging not quite three a season. He will best be remembered for surrendering the game-winning touchdown to Plaxico Burress in Super Bowl XLII.

Second-year players Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley will look to step up in their sophomore seasons. Darius Butler, who, according to draft pundits, was eyed by Belichick prior to the draft, could possibly be the corner the Patriots have coveted since Asante Samuel’s departure.

If they want to play super, they need to improve on giving up "big" plays, for a defense that allowed 12 passes of more than 40 yards.

A contender in all of the Patriots Super Bowl appearances is now a Kansas City Chief. After all the sacks and red zone touchdowns, Mike Vrabel was traded on draft day in the Matt Cassel deal.

Vrabel could quite possibly be replaced by a combination either of Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable, or Tully Banta-Cain at outside linebacker.

With Adalius Thomas returning from a broken arm, Jerod Mayo returning as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Tedy Bruschi entering his 14th season, the linebacker core is among the finest in the NFL.

It’s the same for the front three defensive linemen: Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, and Ty Warren. In 2007, the Patriots were second in the NFL in sacks with 47, but in ’08, the defense only managed to get 31. If the Patriots 3-4 defense plays to their potential, a Super Bowl won’t be a problem.

On offense, the tight end and running back positions see the most growth. The Patriots acquired Chris Baker and Alex Smith.

Neither tight end is known for his pass-catching ability, but Alex Smith is praised for his ability to block, which could help protect Brady’s backside like Daniel Graham once did with great success.

Ben Watson is not quite Ben Coates, though he could see more significant action with the return of Brady. For the tight ends, protecting Brady is the best course of action.

Sammy Morris bulled his way through opposing defenses when called upon to take over for Laurence Maroney, who missed almost the entire past season due to a broken shoulder.

Maroney has a lot to prove, and despite his lack of durability, he averaged nearly 4.5 yards per carry in his first two seasons.

Fred Taylor should provide fresh legs, depending on how many carries he gets. Knowing how much the Patriots will run this year remains to be seen.

But if healthy, the core of running backs could be stronger than previous backfield tandems, and Kevin Faulk will continue to serve as the Patriots all-time greatest third down running back.

When it comes to receiving, Randy Moss and Wes Welker can’t be covered. But who will emerge as the team’s No. 3 receiver?

If Tom has his way, it will be Joey Galloway, who, at age 37, is in the later period of his career but is still averaging 15.7 yards per reception.

If he can become more of a threat than Jabar Gaffney, and more productive than Donte’ Stallworth when he served as the team’s No. 3 receiver in 2007, Brady will be able to pass the pigskin as he pleases.

But it’s all about Brady. Without a healthy Brady, the team won’t make the Super Bowl. Matt Cassel was sacked a staggering 47 times last season; in 2007, Brady was sacked 21 times.

The offensive line needs to create as much time as they can for Brady. There can be no repeat performances of anything resembling the beating Brady took from the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

Randy Moss was quoted in a Boston Herald article May 26:

“The sky’s the limit for this offense,” Moss said. “I think that we could be a little bit better than two years ago. I’m very excited for us as an offense. I’m excited for us as a team.

"There’s a lot of good things about Tom Brady coming back that excites people, the fans, the coaches and the players around here. All we can hope is to come out with smoking guns.”

If Brady can shoot for 40 touchdowns, the team can win the Super Bowl. But this team is going to be better than the ’07 team, so he’ll probably throw for more.

Just win, Brady!


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