To say the Patriots 50th season in existence was one of change is a vast understatement. A change of the guard began in Foxboro in the front office and on the field. Many important pieces of the Patriots Dynasty were retiring or leaving town.
Vice President of Player Personnel and Bill Belichick’s right hand man, Scott Pioli left New England to become GM of the Kansas City Chiefs. Offensive Coordinator, Josh McDaniels was courted and then hired as head coach of the Denver Broncos. Just as it happened in 2004 with Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weiss, success spawns interest for Belichick’s supporting cast.
There were also major changes on the field. The Patriots had turnover on the defensive side of the ball which would impact the leadership on the team going forward. Stalwart defenders such as linebacker Tedy Bruschi and safety Rodney Harrison hung up their cleats. Other veterans such as Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour (send to Oakland for a first-round pick in 2011) were dealt in surprising trades. The youth movement in Foxboro officially began with second year linebacker, Jerod Mayo leading the way.
Backup quarterback Matt Cassel, who led the team to a 11-5 record in 2008, was dealt to Kansas City (along with Vrabel) for a second-round draft pick . Many thought the Patriots could have got much more for the up-and-coming signal caller. Belichick felt Tom Brady was healthy enough to perform on a high level after his season ending knee injury.
There were many unknowns facing the 2009 Patriots. Would Tom Brady return to his 2007 MVP form? How would the young defense perform after the departure of so many instrumental veterans? This was just another season of challenges facing one of the best coaches of all time, Bill Belichick.
In the home opener versus Buffalo, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense were out of sync and showed signs of rust. New England would fall behind 24-13 in the fourth quarter before Tom Brady took control of the game. Brady was put to the fire in his first true contest since injury and he answered the bell by connecting twice with tight end Ben Watson to complete the comeback victory, 25-24.
New England faced old friend, Josh McDaniels in Denver with a 3-1 record. The Patriots raced out to a 17-7 first half lead before their offense dried up in the second half. Denver took advantage of the Patriots anemic play and would win the game in overtime, 20-17. This would be McDaniels' fifth victory in five games as Broncos head coach.
The Patriots would shake off the disappointing loss at Mile High to win three straight and riding a 6-2 record heading into their showdown with the Colts. This game was not without it’s share of dramatics.
New England’s offensive attack was shredding Indy as Randy Moss(9 catches for 179 yards, 2 touchdowns) was having his way with the Colts’ secondary. The Patriots had a 31-14 advantage early in the fourth quarter, but they yet again could not put the game away. Manning became Captain Comeback yet again as he did in the 2006 AFC Championship cutting the Patriots lead to just six points late in the game.
Belichick faced a 4th-and-2 from inside his 30-yard line. Rather than punting to Peyton Manning, he decided to roll the dice and go for it. The pass to Kevin Faulk was completed just short of the first down and the Colts would take over on downs. Manning wasted no time finding Reggie Wayne for the winning score capping off the improbable comeback.
Did Belichick have no faith in his young defense? Would this cause him to lose his locker room? Bruschi, Harrison, Vrabel and Seymour were no longer there to “keep the peace”.
The unrest behind the scenes came to a head on Dec. 11 as Randy Moss, Adalius Thomas, Gary Guyton and Derrick Burgess were sent home by Bill Belichick for being late for an 8 a.m. meeting due to inclement weather. Most of the players took their medicine accept Adalius Thomas, who spout off to the media. This would mark the beginning of the end for Thomas in a Patriots uniform(he was released after the season).
After losing the Colts, the Patriots would go 4-3 down the stretch, including a meaningless game on January 3rd versus the Houston Texans. New England had already clinched the division could not improve their No. 3 seeding. Coach Belichick still played his starters and it came back to bite him.
Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker caught a pass from Tom Brady. As he cut, his knee game way and Welker laid on the turf in pain. He would tear his ACL and MCL, causing him to miss the playoffs.
The Patriots would be without their offensive spark plug versus the Ravens in the Wild Card Round in Foxboro.
The Ravens exposed the Patriots young defense opening up a 24-0 lead in the first quarter. The New England offense could not get anything done without their offensive spark plug, Wes Welker and it was lights out on the 2009 season. Baltimore would leave Gillette with a 33-14 victory.
The way the season ended left a bad taste in the mouths of the players, coaching staff and fans. Personnel changes would need to be made to improve the culture in the locker room. The 2009 season began with questions and ended with just as many.
However, one question was answered. Tom Brady was back to form posting one of his best years in 2009 (4398 yards, 28 TDs).
What would lay ahead for the 2010 season?
You will just have to wait for the team’s 60th anniversary.
I hope you enjoyed Fifty Years Of Patriots Football as much as I did writing it. Make sure to catch up on any installments you may have missed below.
Thanks again and go Patriots!
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Joe Gill is a featured blogger for Boston Sports Then and Now.