With Brady Back, Patriots Look to Add a Fourth Ring

Evan SweeneyCorrespondent IMay 28, 2009

HOLLYWOOD - JULY 13:  New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick arrives at the 13th Annual ESPY Awards at the Kodak Theatre on July 13, 2005 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Here is the realistic expectation for the three-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots: Adding a fourth.

That’s it. Anything less is a failure in every sense of the word. No, “Boy they had a good run,” or “Man, they really had a lot of heart.” The expectation in greater New England and the fear in most of the United States is that Tom Brady will complete his circle of human perfection, win another Super Bowl, and bring the MVP trophy back home to his supermodel wife.

High expectations? Maybe. But coming from a fan base that has grown accustomed to repeated championships as of late, and an organization that has a sterling resume since the millennium began, these are expectations that border on certainty.

Take what Tom Brady told Peter King in a recent Sports Illustrated article, saying he was, “as confident as anyone could be that I'll be ready to play, back to playing normally, when the seasons starts. I've done everything I could to push myself, sometimes too hard. Right now, I'm doing everything. Literally everything. There's nothing I can't do.”

Now the difficult question to answer: What could get in the way? Well, despite Brady’s overflowing confidence, his knee could get in the way, particularly if it happens to get in the way of a 300-pound, foaming-at-the-mouth lineman. Remember Carson Palmer? Yeah, me too. He certainly hasn't been the same after Pittsburgh’s Kimo von Oelhoffen butchered his planting knee in the 2006 playoffs.

Protecting Brady will be key. If the 2008 Super Bowl loss to the Giants showed us anything it's that the oldest adage in football still rings true: Put the passer under pressure, walk away victorious. Nine-year veteran Matt Light will continue to protect Brady's blindside, next to other Patriot vets Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, and Nick Kackzur. And they will have their hands full with the rest of the league itching to turn Brady into the wrong side of a SportsCenter highlight.

Lastly, the defense is the biggest question mark. Already proclaimed an “aging” defensive corps last year, they aren’t that much younger. Additions of cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden have bolstered their DB depth, but, at 33, Springs is getting older (and slower) and he was injury-prone with the Redskins. Bodden is a relatively unproven back, but may benefit from the Patriot’s locker room.

Their linebackers may be the youngest of the bunch, with second-year players Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton, and fourth-year player Pierre Woods. But with newly acquired veteran Paris Lenon, and hometown hero Tedy Bruschi, the youngsters will at least have some guidance. Mayo had an impressive rookie season last year, but it will be interesting to see how he fairs when he’s got a little more pressure sitting on those shoulder pads.

Of course if the offense puts up 40-plus points a game, defense won’t matter all that much, will it?