Earlier this year, after the Patriots had defeated the Chargers in the AFC Championship Game, I was quite elated. The Patriots were 18-0 and looked to have lucked out by getting the NY Giants in the Super Bowl.
That was nine months ago, and it might as have been nine years ago. In their next two games, they blew the Super Bowl with a stunning loss to the Giants and then lost Tom Brady for the season with a disastrous ACL injury in this year's season opener.
The loss of Brady, more than anything, has magnified how bad the defense and offensive line have become. Last year, those two units were showing signs of slipping, but when you had Tom Brady throwing 50 touchdowns, it was a little easy to gloss over.
How bad could the defense be when they were winning games by 49 points? How much of a sieve could the offensive line be when Brady was zinging passes to Wes Welker across the slot or 50 yards down field to Randy Moss?
With a defensive front that, on paper, would appear to the best three-man unit in the NFL, they cannot even put up a facade of a pass rush. Their corners are beatable from play to play. With an offensive line that sent three players to last year's Pro Bowl, they can't provide any sort of run blocking.
The bigger problem is Matt Cassel as Brady's replacement. What's killing the offense, more than his inability to hit a receiver in stride, or his ability to throw passes directly into defender's hands, or his rampant over and under throwing, is the coaching staff's complete lack of confidence in allowing Cassel to throw the ball down field.
Last year, the Patriots set any number of offensive records by slinging the ball deep to Randy Moss. This year, with Cassel, they have successfully thrown deep to Moss once, a 66-yard touchdown to Moss against the meager 49ers. The other handful of times they have allowed him to try, he has grossly under thrown or overthrown Moss.
He also has shown a proficiency at holding on to the ball entirely too long, leading to sacks, fumbles, and spending an inordinate amount of time running for his life. All coming from a guy who seemed destined to be cut after a putrid preseason.
Now, with Matt Cassel at quarterback, the offense has become totally inept. Laurence Maroney couldn't find a hole to run through with global positioning device. Not that he can stay healthy for two weeks in a row anyway. Wes Welker has come down to earth after catching more than 100 balls last year.
Moss has been relegated to running routes with no real zeal because he has no real expectation that the ball can make it to him.
The normally wise Gary Constein would tell me that no one player makes a team. That there are 22 guys out there to decide a game, win or lose. But with the loss of one player, the Patriots have proverbially gone from a silk purse to a sow's ear.