The Guru and the Golden Boy: Where Do the Patriots Go From Here?
Well Patriots fans, this is not the Patriots team that we have come to know over the past decade and maybe it is only fitting since the Pats started the decade with a Super Bowl victory in 2001 and now here we are on the brink of the year 2010 and maybe, just maybe, the decade of brilliance is over.
Watching this team this season has been like watching a bachelor party emerge from a strip club after hours of debauchery. Stumbling left...stumbling right...oh, look, he's got himself up straight...oh no, he puked on his shoes.
In all honesty, this team is not the team we have become accustomed to and that is more than OK. The Patriots were playing at the highest level in 2007 and somehow, we all got tricked into thinking that the return of Tom Terrific meant the return of that play and we couldn't have been more wrong.
First off, I will reiterate the fact that these New England Patriots have not won a road game (other than the London game on neutral ground) all season. With losses at the Jets, at Denver, at Indianapolis, at New Orleans, and now at Miami, can this team possibly still be tied in with the great Patriots teams of the decade? I think not.
I don't expect any team to remain elite in the NFL, that idea is preposterous in this day and age of professional sports and bargaining agreements. But there are two lies that this Patriots fan-base is put through every week that could completely ruin the air that has been built around Foxboro. And I don't mean Patriot Place and the beautifully delicious smell coming from the Five Guys/Red Robin end of the plaza. Great, now I'm hungry...
The first is that each week, we put up with press conferences that tell us nothing. Belichick stands up there as he always has and gives the usual "Yup", "They just played as the better team" or "We didn't make the plays" speeches and when we were winning and coming back in a huge way that was OK.
Now that we are not winning, fans want answers. This season has really made me think. As a mid-20-something, I lucked out and didn't have to endure too much of the Patriots era that many of you readers had to endure.
Looking ahead, if this team ended up back in a similar situation, or worst case in the state that the Browns or Lions are currently in (we could be one QB injury from it), would this fan base remain strong and keep the fabled Patriot legend going? I don't believe we would. I believe that Patriots fans are left jaded by the non-answers we are getting from the locker room, coaching staff, and beyond.
Every day, we hear our high caliber of Boston coaches across the board telling us they have moved on from yesterday's game, they are thinking about today, tomorrow, next Sunday's game. We are told by coaches and players that they had a bad game, things didn't come together, and every other excuse in the book and we are left to say "Oh, sure...he had a bad game...we'll win the next one" but what if we don't?
As the fans, and technically the consumer paying for and putting in the time on the team/player/city, we deserve more. We deserve answers. And we deserve those answers before that player or coach moves onto another team and forgets all about Boston and we are left to use his name in vain for years to come.
Certainly, we are not rooting against the Patriots. We love our team and always will but honestly, we need the staff to start thinking with the fan base in mind. It would be very nice to see Belichick making some of those fourth down calls with more than his ego on the line. Hopefully, this ridiculous loss in Miami hits his ego hard enough that we can start to make that change.
Which leads to my second major issue and that is the national view of this team. It is really starting to get old hearing the all of the NFL shows and commentators still saying that Belichick is a guru, a mastermind, a defensive wizard.
Belichick is definitely not the same coach he was in the first half of the decade and he seems to have been slipping quickly in the past two seasons. 2007 worked in his favor since he was being hammered for the most disgraceful acts in all of sports. Cheating in sports is the biggest scandal that can hit an athlete or coach.
Look at Pete Rose (banned from the game and the Hall for life), Tim Donaghy (NBA referee found to be gambling on games), and all of the names from the steroids scandals. Out of everyone, Belichick has made it out of his issue as cleanly and quietly as possible and those 16 wins in 2007 were what did that and it wasn't on accident.
Overall, Belichick's coaching decisions this year are at an all-time low. Many fans are chalking it up to good calls, bad luck on the plays, including myself at one point . But should we start to consider that maybe 13 games into the season and 30-something years into coaching, that Belichick should know what he has on that field and know what the best decision is in just about every situation and now, numerous bad decisions into the season, we should be allowed to question that?
Is it the complete absence of an offensive coordinator? Very well could be, but "Charlie Weis ain't walkin' through that door folks" (probably for the better, eh Irish?!), or is he?
I can't really see them throwing him in there with four games (plus playoffs... hopefully) to go in the season. Most fans would argue that the offense is not the problem. And while they are not the main problem, they are still an issue.
Tom has had a good year this year, that I will say. It hasn't been terrific, it hasn't been immortal, it hasn't even put his name on the lips of anyone talking MVP. Wes Welker is right there with him and maybe even a bigger piece since he is the main key that is keeping this offense moving besides an occasional hook up on a long bomb to Randy Moss.
The RB situation has been shaky all year and recently L-Mo has emerged as the main ingredient. But no matter how well he runs, he doesn't pull out a big game. Now, here is my main issue with the offense and it may be a key result of the defense being completely undependable.
As pointed out by Patrick in this past week's 4SB Podcast , the Patriots have scored 328 points so far this season and 220 of those have come in the first half. For those of you who didn't go to an Ivy League School, that means that they have only scored 108 points in the second half, which is half of what they scored in the first half. Half, half, half. OK, done.
So is this a result of a poor defense? All season we knew this was a "rebuilding year" for this team on the defensive side of the ball but we have expectations. Why?
To be honest, I am not really sure. We have seen the Patriots go to lengths where we bring back Junior Seau so he has a season finale for "Sports Jobs", we sit our pass rushing hat on the head of Tully Banta-Cain, and we brought in free agent linemen in to try out through the first seven weeks of the season.
Of late, the new whipping boy in the Patriots secondary has been Jonathan Wilhite. Drew Brees and the Saints really exposed Wilhite last week and he had a few big plays right in his face (or should we say over his head) this week against the Dolphins as well. This second year CB is going to become the next Ellis Hobbs if he doesn't turn it around soon.
Needless to say, this Patriots defense, already coming in with question marks all over them, allowed Chad Henne to throw for 335 yards on 52 attempts, allowed 24 first downs (NE: 18), 10-19 on third down (53 percent, NE: 4-10, 40 percent), 2-3 on fourth down (NE: 0-1), 2-4 in the red zone (NE: 1-3), and the real kicker is that Miami ran the clock on the Pats controlling the ball for 32:37 of the 60 minutes. Mind you that last statistic came after the Patriots had the ball for almost the entire first quarter.
So where do the Patriots go from here? With a hobbling Panthers team coming in next weekend, fans have to believe that it can only go up. As much as we would all love to think that making the playoffs is the easy part, it's winning when we get there, it's not a guaranteed thing.
Miami is now only one game back in the division and their schedule is only slightly more difficult than ours. They play games at Jacksonville and at Tennessee in the next two weeks and finish the season at home against Houston and Pittsburgh. The Pats, of course, play at home against Carolina on Sunday, then at Buffalo, Jacksonville at home, then finish the season in Houston.
Should the Patriots make the playoffs, where will they go from there? If they play like they have over the past two games, they won't make it very far. Note that whether they were to get a first round bye or not, they will have to play two or three of the best teams in the NFL and that group is almost guaranteed to include both Indy and New Orleans who are both still undefeated and who both beat the Pats once this season each.
Where do you think the Pats stand right now and what do you see as the main concern?
(Originally posted on 4SportBoston.com - Written by Craig Leger)
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