Randy Moss is a Viking, and Deion Branch is a Patriot. No, it's not 2003, it's 2010, and as unlikely as both situations may have seemed in the past, the desire to win trumps all grudges.
Moss was shipped out of New England due to a contract dispute that was apparently affecting the team's performance. Branch is back in New England trying to revitalize a career that fell to shambles after he last took off his Patriots uniform.
This news has stirred up a considerable amount of debate and speculation as to the impact it will have on both teams moving forward. An especially loud chorus in New England is claiming a return to the glory days of the early 2000s.
These were the Patriots of Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. A team that won games with a conservative offense, run by an up-and-coming young quarterback by the name of Tom Brady and a staunch defense that even seemed to have Peyton Manning's number. These were magical years for Patriots fans, delivering three Super Bowls in four seasons and seeming to set the foundation for a decade of dominance.
While the Patriots have remained in the upper echelon of NFL talent since their last Super Bowl victory, they have yet to return the Lombardi Trophy to the small town of Foxboro.
The fall from grace has been predicated by two factors.
First, a change in playing style with the development of a potent passing offense and a lack of talent at other spots on the roster.
Second and more importantly, the Patriots defense got old.
Given the star power Brady commands, most casual fans forget that it was the defense that carried the Patriots to their first Super Bowl. That every time they needed a stop or they needed a turnover, one of the Patriots wily veterans came up big.
As good as Brady was, Bruschi may have been the Patriots MVP during those Super Bowl years because of his consistency, his leadership and an astounding tendency to make the big play when the Patriots needed him most.
In fact, the Patriots defense was so good in those early years that it actually contributed to their later demise. With the defense seemingly solid, the Patriots spent much of the middle of the decade developing one of the league's most potent offensive attacks.
While this has produced prolific stat lines for everyone involved, it is no way to win Super Bowls.
When Bruschi, Vrabel and Harrison were finally too old to be game changers on Sundays, the Patriots stopped winning Super Bowls. This is why the optimistic belief that swapping Moss for Branch will revive the ghosts of championships past is fundamentally misguided.
The Patriots will not win again until they return to the foundation of their success, which means having one of the league's best defenses. While Brady can produce as well as any quarterback in the league, if he has to score 40 points to win every week, the Patriots are going to lose some games.
Branch coming back may ease the pain of losing Moss and adding a weapon to Brady's arsenal certainly will not hurt the team, but do not expect any dramatic impact on the season. Likewise do not expect the Moss departure to cripple the Patriots either. The Patriots win when they play defense, period.
This year's unit has a lot of potential, but also a long way to go. How well Belichick molds his young linebackers and secondary units will be the true determinant of just how far the Patriots can go this season.
However, things are looking up for New England as the Patriots have spent their last few drafts rebuilding their defense. With the current Brady absolutely dwarfing the abilities of the Brady under center during those Super Bowl runs, look for a return to greatness with just a few improvements on the defensive side of the ball.
All in all, bringing Deion Branch back to New England was a solid move, but don't be surprised when the offense continues to go only as far as Brady can carry them. The team as a whole lives and dies with its defense.
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