The New England Patriots offense has pulled some pretty amazing feats over the past couple of years.
After winning three Super Bowls in four years by literally a field goal each, the Patriots came out on fire—and stayed that way throughout the season—in 2007, shattering all kinds of records and scoring 31 points or more in 12 of 16 regular season games, most of which were 20-point blowouts of their opponents.
The following year, after reigning league MVP Tom Brady went down in the first quarter of the season opener, the Patriots were left to figure out how they would ever replace such a high-caliber weapon on such short notice.
Oh, no problem…Here’s Matt Cassel. Sure, the Pats missed the playoffs, but by an extremely slim margin and a season made up of tough division play. A team with an 11-5 record hadn’t been shunned from the playoffs in nearly 25 years.
And 2009 has surely been similar to past seasons in that way.
Back to the drawing board, as they say.
Although New England traded step-in starter Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs, a healthy Brady is back this season and ready for a return to the field. He has practiced and trained with the rest of his team and told Patriots Today he will soon be prepared to play and is just happy to be back.
“I’m feeling great and just excited to be out there on the field, training with my teammates,” he said. “It’s always fun being back in this competitive environment and working with these guys to try to make 2009 our best season. It's been fun to be back.”
It’s fun, but also necessary. Not only has Brady been away from the field for an entire season but his former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, has found his way out of New England and out West in Denver as head honcho of his own heard.
McDaniels was the boss when it comes to New England’s 2007 record-breaking season and 2008’s productivity with a backup quarterback. He mentally led the way to the most points ever scored in an NFL season, as well as touchdowns scored and even most players scoring a touchdown.
Brady also threw 50 touchdown passes, breaking the record for most in a season, and was No. 1 in the league for both passing yardage (4,806) and passer rating (117.2). With Wes Welker bringing in a franchise-best 112 receptions that same season, it's scary to even imagine Randy Moss breaking the record of Hall of Fame legend Jerry Rice’s 23 touchdowns catches.
Moss also set a franchise record for yards in a season that year.
Don’t forget the running game, though. The Pats averaged 4.1 yards per game, a franchise best, and found pay dirt 17 times on the ground.
So what’s this all mean for the McDaniels-less Patriots now?
Probably not much. Take a look at how the Patriots have adapted to major changes in the past. Nothing ever really seems to faze them—well, at least not to a point of devestation.
The worst thing last year was a few losses that kind of proved to the sports world the Pats were human beings and not manufactured robots raised in the basements of Barry Sanders, Joe Montana, and Michael Irvin.
But even without their star quarterback, missing their starting running back and having holes all over the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots adapted. These football pilgrims are the epitome of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and this year shall be the proof.
There is yet to be a new offensive play caller officially named by the Patriots—and for most people, that's scary—but it’s probably safe to say that this organization has been thoroughly dealing with it since McDaniels’ departure, if not sooner.
The missing faces are evident to everyone, though. Even Brady admitted it’ll be tougher without certain key components heading into the new season.
“We’ve got a lot of work (to do)—and there’s a lot of new faces and new coaches,” Brady said. “There’s been a lot of change for us this year and we need to use it to our advantage.”
One would figure the Patriots would stick to what they do best: airing it out to Moss, tossing the outs to Welker and running hard with whatever running back is available, as well as getting as many players involved as possible.
And they probably will. Whoever does step into McDaniels’ post as shot caller will most likely keep a similar game plan in place in the future since it worked so well.
But we will certainly see some changes this year compared to last year. We’ve all seen what Brady’s arm is capable of and, not saying Cassel couldn’t, but expect Brady to get back to his bombing-the-ball tactics early and fiercely.
Cassel used the short, under, and out passes to be efficient. Brady uses those too, but had a lot more deep balls on the season in ’07 than Cassel did in ’08 (and most people ever do in any given season).
Also, expect the defense to undergo some serious changes. The trading of longstanding defensive (and sometimes offensive) presence Mike Vrabel was the first indication of that in the offseason, but failure to re-sign aging stars like Rodney Harrison reinforced it.
The Pats also dealt Ellis Hobbs, one of the few remaining cornerbacks from years previous, to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now if we can just figure out the method to this madness...
With last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, Jerod Mayo, establishing himself as a prominent fixture on the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots began building around the younger players beginning to take command.
Brandon Meriweather is another, who, in the absence of Hobbs and Harrison, gives the impression that he will be voice of the secondary for years to come.
These changes illustrate the desire to liven up this defense, which the Patriots showed they needed after an aging linebacker core and weak secondary helped earn the team its only loss of the 2007 season…in the Super Bowl.
Going through an entire regular season without losing a game is certainly a feat to be proud of, but (as most Giants fans remind the Patriot faithful) the one loss suffered throughout the entire season was certainly the most important and most devastating.
That’s why, since the end of that season early last year, the Patriots have been revamping and remolding the deteriorated parts, filling the holes created by trades, retirement, and injury, and preparing to build a team that can be successful all the way through, for a prolonged period of time.
Because, let’s be honest, until that’s successfully completed, Belichick won’t be happy.