I was going to write about the atrocity that took place on the field of Gillette Stadium on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I couldn't write a sentence without vomiting in my own mouth. So instead I choose to sum up where the Pats are as they head into the final quarter of the 2008 season.
The defining characteristic of 2008 is the fact that it's Matt Cassel under center and not Tom Brady. We knew that would be the case within the first ten minutes of the season's start. While Cassel has been better than most expected it still remains to be seen if he can beat a top notch team.
Last week, following back-to-back 400 yard games, Cassel vs. Brady was the talk of Bleacher Report. However, after another loss to another AFC playoff team, that talk should be squelched. Instead, we should be left wondering if Matt Cassel is anything more than an average NFL quarterback.
That's not a knock on Cassel. Average is better than anyone expected out of him. But he's been in this system for four years and is surrounded by arguably the best wide receiving corps in the game. If he's average now how's he going to do in a brand new offense with a lesser cast of receivers. Something to think about Tampa Bay, Detroit, and other NFL teams who might take a look at Cassel.
SAME PROBLEMS PERSIST
It's now December and the teams that are going to compete for the Super Bowl should be starting to put together their best football. The Patriots however continue to be plagued by the same problems that have faced them all season.
In a way, 2008 would've almost been more frustrating if Brady had not been hurt, only to see the defense continue to give up third down conversions and red zone scores that would have resulted in nearly as many losses as the Pats have with Cassel. The Patriots weren't beating the Dolphins (round one), Chargers, or Steelers even if No. 12 was in there.
Maybe it's the losses of Asante Samuel, Rodney Harrison, and Adalius Thomas. Maybe it's the inexperience of the rookie linebackers and defensive backs. Maybe it's just Deltha O'Neal. Regardless, the Patriots defense will need work in the off-season.
While they are building solid depth at middle linebacker (Guyton, Mayo) and cornerback (Wilhite, Richardson, Wheatley) they need to add more playmakers. Unfortunately Pierre Woods and Mike Vrabel have not been able to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and that has fed into the Pats' third down breakdowns as much as poor coverage has.
The game against the Steelers was the last chance for the Pats to prove they belong in the conversation of AFC contenders. Now, after the 33-10 drubbing, it's clear that they do not. That doesn't mean that they still can't sneak into the playoffs though.
If you had to choose an MVP for the 2008 Pats at this point it would have to be the cream puff schedule. If New England had Pittsburgh's schedule they'd be lucky to go 6-10.
Due to the Jets' loss to the Broncos and the difficult schedule that the Ravens are faced with, the Patriots playoff hopes are still not dead. They will need to go 4-0 in December, but it's something they are clearly capable of given they play Seattle, Oakland, Arizona, and Buffalo.
But even if they do sneak into the tournament the Patriots defense isn't striking fear into the hearts of any NFL team at the moment. The new guard in the AFC is comprised of teams with airtight Ds that can shut down any offense. Just see what Pittsburgh did to the Pats on Sunday.
It's still not too late, but it's clear that the problems that plague the 2008 Patriots run much deeper than just a lack of Tom Brady.
Mike Dussault is a Patriots Community Leader at Bleacher Report, and also a contributor at BostonSportz.com. His Patriots blog can be viewed here and he can be contacted at PatriotsPropaganda@gmail.com.