Not Quite a Failure: 2010 Patriots' Preseason Expectations Vs. Results
Recently the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy dubbed the Patriots’ 2010 campaign a failure, citing the prime opportunity they squandered last Sunday versus the New York Jets.
There is no positive angle to argue for this season being anything but a massive letdown or a missed opportunity.
We all know the heartbreaking details of New England’s demise.
They were 14-2, with the most prolific offense in the league, and were the top-seeded AFC playoff contender with a bye and home field guaranteed throughout the postseason.
They lost to their arch rival, whom they had beat by 42 points in their previous matchup, after suffering through a week of trash talk and derogatory comments from their opponents.
However, the '10 season cannot be thrown in the same bin that the Jets were getting their ammo from.
This season brought about far too many positive developments to simply label it a failure.
Whether it was the emergence of one of the most talented and promising rookie classes of the Belichick era or the return of the much beloved Dynasty era offensive attack, the Patriots improved across the board.
In the words of owner Robert Kraft, they have set themselves up with "a tremendous base to build on this year," a base which had been painfully absent for far too long.
Many positive developments were introduced this season, developments which will have an enormous impact on the direction of this franchise for years to come.
The regular-season success of the 2010 Patriots may have set postseason expectations a little too high considering how tempered preseason expectations were, though.
The following is a look at the stark contrast between what was expected prior to the season and what we learned throughout it.
Outlook Before Season:
Not too many questions surrounded the quarterback position for the Patriots before the season.
Some suggested the possibility of picking up a veteran backup, but the team was perfectly content with Brian Hoyer, who was entering his second season with the team after being un-drafted out of Michigan State, backing irrefutable starter Tom Brady.
Brady was two years removed from tearing his ACL, which ended his 2008 campaign eight minutes after it started.
With a revamped core of weapons at his disposal and solid protection, Brady enjoyed one of the most successful seasons in his storied career.
His accomplishments have him pegged as the front runner for his second MVP title in four years.
Brady completed the season with a 34:4 touchdown to interception ratio, throwing his last pick of the season in Week 6 versus Baltimore and went on to attempt 339 consecutive passes without an interception (an NFL record) to close out the season—all of this after sustaining a foot fracture in Week 10 that required immediate surgery following the team's playoff exit.
Brady was also voted to his sixth Pro Bowl and was selected to his third All-Pro team.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Outlook Before Season:
The Randy Moss and Wes Welker tandem returned for their fourth season together and were joined by a healthy Brandon Tate, still-developing Julian Edelman and rookie Taylor Price.
Future Hall-of-Famer Torry Holt, who was expected to have a role with the team, sustained a knee injury early in August and was placed on injured reserve.
Welker was in the recovery stage of his own extensive injury. As the offseason progressed, so did expectations for his return, but they were tempered.
Analysts and experts alike offered their predictions for his return, with most assuming he'd spend at least the first six weeks on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
The tight end position was completely revamped as veteran Alge Crumpler was added, along with the youth movement of promising rookies Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski was one of the team's second-round selections and Hernandez slipped to the fourth round, where New England selected him due to slight character concerns.
Crumpler's presence and blocking ability were expected to help in multiple areas, from pass and rush blocking to the development of the young talent around him at his position.
Disappointed with the effectiveness and quite possibly the attitude of Randy Moss, the Patriots decided to reconfigure the offense in the first third of the season.
Aaron Hernandez had developed quite the rapport with Brady early on and the team had confidence moving on without Moss, who was traded to Minnesota for draft considerations.
When the post-Moss passing attack was exposed as underwhelming at best, another move was deemed necessary.
Another reunion was consummated with the return of Deion Branch, who was acquired from the Seahawks for draft considerations.
As the season progressed, Rob Gronkowski emerged as the most consistent producer out of the tight ends.
Deion Branch enjoyed his most successful season since leaving New England in 2005.
Welker turned in yet another solid season while playing in all but one game while resting the week before the playoffs.
Brandon Tate made some strides yet struggled heavily at times at receiver, but he did make his mark in the return game, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Outlook Before Season:
The rushing attack was expected to be a committee approach led by Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and third-down specialist Kevin Faulk.
Taylor was coming off an injury-plagued season in which he played in only six games, but was expected to have a role in 2010 alongside Maroney, who was entering a make or break year.
Pegged as a dancer at the line of scrimmage, patience was running low on the former first-rounder.
Maroney said all the right things in the offseason, and while expectations may have been low, he had his health and a prime opportunity to shed the quickly developing "bust" label he had earned while rushing for a hair over 600 yards on average in four seasons.
Undrafted and cut by the Jets, Danny Woodhead was brought in as an experimental replacement for Kevin Faulk, who was placed on the injured reserve.
Listed generously at 5'7" and 200 pounds, the experiment finished the year just short of 1,000 all purpose yards.
He was an integral part of the offensive success rushing, catching and blocking, always fighting for every inch available.
The Patriots rewarded Woodhead's production with an in-season contract extension, signing the 26-year-old to a two-year contract.
Laurence Maroney found himself shipped to Josh McDaniels and the Broncos for draft considerations.
He finished the season with 74 yards in four games played with both teams.
With Maroney out of the picture and Taylor again nursing multiple injuries, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was promoted to starting tailback.
Initially an afterthought who was literally buried on the depth chart, Green-Ellis took his opportunity and ran with it for the first 1,000 yard season (1,008 yards) since Corey Dillon set the franchise record in 2004 with 1,635.
Green-Ellis also scored 13 touchdowns, good enough to place second in the league and rank third in rushing yards amongst ball carriers with no fumbles (Ray Rice, Matt Forte).
Outlook Before Season:
Perennially a position marked by certainty for the Patriots, the 2010 season ended up producing many questions for the offensive line.
Left guard Logan Mankins was upset about his contract and elected to hold out by refusing to sign his tender.
He skipped mini-camp, training camp and the preseason, remaining unsigned at the start of the season.
Matt Light returned to his startling left tackle position after ending the 2009 season on injured reserve.
Sebastian Vollmer, in his second season, jumped over to right tackle after a very impressive rookie season in which he saw a hefty amount of snaps in place of the injured Light.
With Mankins unsigned and holding out, the Patriots promoted Dan Connolly to starter.
Connolly had started four games in 2009 in place of injured Stephen Neal and had earned an extension in that season for his solid play.
Before starting in 2009, Connolly had been signed and released multiple times to the Patriots' practice squad and to the Jaguars practice squad before that.
Stephen Neal entered the season, his 10th, having only completed one full season with 16 starts (2005).
He had missed 20 games over the previous four seasons, but always played solidly when on the field.
Center Dan Koppen, who is similarly talented to Neal, was also in a very different situation. Koppen had missed only game in the last four seasons and looked to build on his impressive record and rapport with Brady.
Dan Connolly filled in admirably at left guard during Logan Mankins' holdout, which ended after Week 8. Mankins made his return before the Patriots played their Week 9 game against Cleveland.
His timing was strategic; he had until Week 12 to be the roster for the necessary six games to earn his sixth accrued season of free-agency credit.
Mankins didn't miss a beat once he joined the team, though. His nine-game season was enough to earn him a second straight Pro-Bowl selection.
With Mankins back at left guard and the rest of the starters healthy, Connolly was relegated to the bench for Week 9.
His absence was short-lived. however. Stephen Neal was placed on the injured reserve. playing only eight games and opening the door for Connolly to re-enter the starting lineup.
Come Week 15, Connolly entered the NFL record books when he set the record for the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman.
The 71-yard return set the Patriots up for a critical touchdown before halftime and earned the lineman the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award.
In a strange twist of fate, Connolly suffered a concussion in the game and was forced to miss the final two games of the regular season.
Matt Light played well against premier rushers throughout the season, which has historically been his Achilles heel.
He also enjoyed an injury-free season after missing five games in 2009.
Sebastian Vollmer didn't play up to the potential he flashed in his rookie season, but he wasn't a weak spot.
Dan Koppen turned in yet another great season starting every game at center.
Outlook Before Season:
The Patriots entered the season already down a starter on the defensive line as Ty Warren was placed on injured reserve before Week 1.
With extremely limited depth behind him, the team was forced to promote from within and scour the free-agency wire for bodies.
The starting defensive line retained only nose tackle Vince Wilfork from the previous season after the loss of Warren and the trade of Richard Seymour.
Mike Wright was thrust into a more prominent role. Draft-day acquisition Gerard Warren, along with rookies Brandon Deaderick and Myron Pryor, were all projected to see rotational snaps.
Ron Brace, who was coming off a disappointing rookie campaign after being selected in the second round, had a good offseason. Hopes were high for the young Wilfork protege.
The defensive line performed admirably with rotating pieces for the majority of the season.
Mike Wright led the team with 5.5 sacks before sustaining a concussion and being placed on the injured reserve.
Veteran pickup Gerard Warren saw a lot of snaps and very well may have earned himself another look now that his contract is up.
Youngsters Ron Brace, Myron Pryor and Brandon Deadrick all contributed in minor ways in support of another Pro Bowl effort from nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
Outlook Before Season:
The state of the linebacking corps was a mix of good and bad. The team had plenty of depth at the position, but a massive lack of proven talent.
Former defensive rookie of the year Jerod Mayo returned from an injury-plagued sophomore season primed for a big year, but wasn’t joined by much in the way of guaranteed production.
Rookies Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes were added in the draft over the offseason.
They were expected to see large roles along with pass-rush specialist Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich, a fifth-year player originally signed to compete for the long snapper position.
Columnists and fans alike wondered just how the pieces would fit and about the prospects of players like Shawn Crable, Tyrone McKenzie, Pierre Woods and Eric Alexander.
Without much help, Jerod Mayo tore up the 2010 season, racking up a league-high 175 total tackles and earning a Pro Bowl nod.
Rookie Brandon Spikes turned in a very solid first season before testing positive for a banned substance and sitting out the final four games of the season on suspension.
In the end, the outside linebackers didn’t generate much of a pass rush, not that hopes were very high.
Banta-Cain’s previous 10-sack season was as much of a fluke as it was a statistical anomaly (five of his 10 sacks came in one game against Buffalo).
Jermaine Cunningham wasn't a factor in his rookie season, but Rob Ninkovich was pleasantly productive, doing his best Mike Vrabel impression.
Outlook Before Season:
Before the season began, the Patriots secondary was looking shaky.
Cornerback Leigh Bodden, who had just signed a four-year extension, was placed on the injured reserve and in one fell swoop the team's starting cornerbacks had a combined one season of NFL experience.
Second-year player and second-round pick Darius Butler was looked to to pick up some of the slack, along with surprise first-rounder Devin McCourty.
Described as a "four-down player" rather than "lockdown corner" and originally expected to have an impact on special teams, McCourty was thrown into the fire of the starting lineup.
Behind the assumed starters were two injury-prone draft picks from 2008—Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite.
Kyle Arrington who earned a roster spot in the previous season. His special-teams play was also in the mix after being undrafted in 2008 and bouncing from practice squad to practice squad.
The safeties were ripe with veteran experience and depth with returning starters Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, backup Brandon McGowan and second-rounder Pat Chung, who was in his second season.
Rookie Devin McCourty impressed from the beginning and not only turned out to be a four-down player, but a shut-down four-down player.
He earned his first Pro-Bowl selection after posting 82 tackles, seven interceptions, one sack and 17 passes defended in 16 starts.
Darius Butler struggled in coverage and was benched after Week 2. His potential for a breakout was still there, though. After losing his starting job, Butler experienced a bit of a redshirting as he didn't see the field again until Week 15.
Following his long struggle to earn snaps, Butler played with a lot more consistency than he had previously shown.
Kyle Arrington took over as the starter in Week 3, started 14 games, posted 71 tackles and an INT, and played above his expected potential, to say the least.
Terrance Wheatley suffered an injury in the preseason and was eventually released to make room for another roster move. Jonathan Wilhite played in nine games before injuring his hip.
In a move that would fit well with the safety rotation that would occur throughout the season, Brandon Meriweather was supplanted in the starting lineup in favor of James Sanders and Pat Chung.
Brandon McGowan suffered an injury early on and was placed on the injured reserve leading to the acquisition of Jarrad Page.
Meriweather would eventually take his starting position back from Sanders, but when Chung suffered a midseason injury, Sanders would also return to his starting position, only to lose it to a healthy Chung later on.
Meriweather posted 68 tackles, three interceptions and six passes defended in 13 starts and was named to his second Pro Bowl following the season.