Turn The Page And Wash Your Hands: Moving On From The Patriots 2011 Season
My family has this annual competition where each participant has to pick the winner of every football game every week while accounting for the spread. The person who has the best record at the end of the season wins it all. We call this "The Blue Bowl" since the prize is just that, a blue bowl. It's a sweet bowl.
I won the damn thing this year, but it was as close as close gets. I was tied going into the Super Bowl (not the same thing as the Blue Bowl, sorry for any confusion between the very well-known Blue Bowl and the underground National Football League championship game) and it came down to a prediction of the total points scored, since we both picked the Packers to win. I predicted the total score would be 55 points, and my competitor said 48. The total score ended up being 56 points.
That aside, I didn't care a whole helluva lot about the Super Bowl. I don't think I should be crucified for it. I'm just like everyone else and sports. "If my team isn't in it, than I'm not into it."
The game was good, I enjoyed watching it, but who won mattered not. I admire the Green Bay Packers franchise, and I have respect for what the Pittsburgh Steelers have done historically (although, I have none for their quarterback), but the game wasn't an ideal one for me, especially considering that my team was the team which was supposed to be there.
Week 15, John Clayton of ESPN wrote in their weekly power rankings that, "Pats fans should start to book flights to Dallas. This appears to be a Super Bowl team." I honestly believed that, and I believed that if Clayton believed that, I'd better believe New England was getting a fourth ring.
I knew the team was very young, had both offensive and defensive lines decimated by injuries, and every team in the league tries to brings their A game when they have to go to New England for the playoffs. Also, I knew the new York Jets were pissed and made up of angry, large men—and that's just their fans.
After my entire universe shattered around me upon realizing the Patriots haven't won a playoff game since 2007, I started thinking about what we could take away from the 2010-11 season, and how it would apply to the 2011-12 season—assuming there is a season (which if assuming things has taught me anything, I should not assume that there's a season next year).
First thing—Tom Brady is still Tom Brady. There were a lot of naysayers coming out of the wood work since 2008 saying that The Golden Boy is past his prime. Tom's 2010 campaign should quell those darn naysayers, since it was his best year ever.
Yes, better than the 2007-08 season. I'm a stickler for interceptions, and luckily, so is Brady. He had four of them; best in the National Football league, and he had double that mark in 07-08 and was only seventh best in the NFL.
Granted, he almost had double the touchdown passes in 07-08 than he did in 10-11, but picks kill your team. The Patriots hardly turned the ball over at all during the regular season, and this was with a pass first offense. He wasn't the unanimous MVP in 07-08, either, and had to split a vote with Brett Favre. Since Brett Favre was somehow involved with that, Brady's 07-08 season was a total waste. That, and losing the Super Bowl.
The Patriots defense was a weakness at the start of the season, a strength at the end of the season, and a disappointment in the playoffs.
The disappointment part of it may not be totally fair.
Brandon Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love and pro-bowler Devin McCourty were all starters or eventual starters who were also all rookies. How many defenses with five rookies starting have won the Super Bowl? I don't think I have to do any research for that one. None.
On top of that, Patrick Chung, Ron Brace and Myron Pryor had only two seasons under their belt, and they all started as well. This defense is young, and after one more years of the Belichick school of hard knocks, these guys should be among the top 10 in the league.
Keeping with the young gun trend—those two rookie tight ends were something, huh?
Rob Gronkowski is the total package. He's big, he's got above average speed, fantastic hands, has a famously athletic family and he can block. I think Gronk is going to break out in a big way next season.
He had a great rookie season, and should only get better. Also, as a heads up, you're going to hear a lot of comparisons between the Gronkowski family and the Matthews family. Clay won the Super Bowl and has a pro-bowler for a father and a HOFer for an uncle, so he's got the edge in the early stages. But Gronk's got an Olympian in his bloodstream and a brother playing for a Cowboys team that should be better next season. A Gronk-Gronk Super Bowl is in play. So is Gronk-Matthews.
Aaron Hernandez is even faster than Gronk and is a a rare tight end that can stretch the field, and the craziest thing is, we don't know how far his ceiling is. He entered the NFL at a very young age (he's the youngest guy in the league until the draft signings occur), so, if my theory is right, he's still VERY much on the upswing.
A two tight end package makes so much sense for a Tom Brady run offense. Remember back in 2003 when the Patriots had a big year from a young Daniel Graham and a decent year from Christian Fauria, and in 2004 Graham and Fauria provided reliable help? What happened? Super Bowls. That's what happened.
From Brady's perspective, the playing field looks like Frogger. In the space of about the width of a lazy river, there's a whole lot of traffic going on. Some of it's going left and some of it's going right, and in his version of Frogger, the cars and trucks come shooting out at him. Brady can cut right through that if he has big reliable places to go, such as a big log of a tight end. He makes a young George Costanza look like a total punk.
Deion Branch and Wes Welker will be back, so that's—ya know—good.
The Patriots have a lot going on this draft coming up, with a total of nine picks. Of those nine spots, six are in the first three rounds, four in the first two, and two in the first round. The Patriots are experts at drafting, with the last agregious error being Laurence Maroney. That draft class (2006), was the worst one New England had in recent memory, and even that one produced Stephen Gostkowski.
Every other high profile pick has mostly panned out to what we expected them to be, or even better. They should probably draft a running back, as much as I dig "The Lawfirm" BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Alabama's Mark Ingram could be available at the 28th pick, but I don't think they'd spend the 17th pick on a running back.
An offensive lineman or a defensive lineman would be the best guess for their first draft choice. Wisconsin's defensive end JJ Watt, Missouri's defensive end/outside linebacker Aldon Smith, or USC's offensive lineman Tyron Smith, and BC's tackle Anthony Costanzo are the early favorites.
Gostkowski, Ty Warren, Darius Butler and Stephen Neal are coming back from injuries which will help short the lines, the secondary and the kicking game, although I think Shayne Graham did a bang up job relief job. He is distance limited, but within his range he's as accurate as they come. Logan Mankins may not be back next year, however, which would set the Patriots line back a few clicks in the rankings.
Additionally, Matt Light and Dan Koppen have to start aging sometime soon.
I think we Pats fans have a lot to be excited for, even if the last time we saw the team was losing to our most hated division rivals. The new York Jets linebackers are getting older and should make Brady's Frogger game a bit easier next season. That is, if there is a season.
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