New England Patriots: What a Difference a Year Makes

Derek LombardoContributor IDecember 2, 2008

In a perfect world, Tom Brady and the Patriots would be 12-0, Brett Favre would be playing for the Green Bay Packers, trying to make the playoffs to beat the dreaded road-warrior Giants, and Peyton Manning would be leading the Colts to their 1,000th straight AFC South title.

Wait a second. I just described 2007. My mistake. Let's talk about today's NFL.

With Week 13 already in the books, the New England Patriots are tied with the Miami Dolphins for second place in the AFC East, behind the New York Jets, with "No. 4" under center. Yes, it's true. Brett Favre has come over to the AFC and done the very unlikely: turn the doormat Jets into a team that might just be a playoff threat. 

And if you're wondering how the Fish are keeping up with the Godly Patriots, it is because they acquired the missing piece they have needed for a few years now. I am talking about a good quarterback named Chad Pennington. 

After the Jets acquired Brett "the Jett," they figured they would no longer need a back up quarterback, seeing how Favre hasn't missed a start since Lincoln was in office.  Pennington was a great pick-up for the desperate Fins, who already have six more wins than they did all of last year, with four games remaining on the schedule.

It hurts me to talk about it, but I have to. Unless you are living under a rock, you know the fact that the Patriots are not the cream of the crop this year is because 11 minutes into the first game of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tom Brady got hit in his left knee by Bernard Pollard.

He is down for a minute...another minute...another minute. As I watched this, I felt myself slip into a state of denial. "That did not happen. He will be okay,"  I said to my dad, and he replied, "Yes. That just happened."

As I saw a young man named Matt Cassel throwing the ball on the sideline warming up his arm, I thought this is the end. Like a lot of Patriots fans, I hated this kid off the bat. Not because I didn't think he didn't have any talent, but because he is not Tom Brady. 

It turns out, the reason the Patriots are in second place is not because of the bad play of Matt Cassel. It is because of their old, injured defense. Rodney Harrison goes down with a knee injury, Adalius Thomas breaks his forearm, and all of a sudden Patriots fans are realizing that Asante Samuel would have been worth the millions of dollars.

Surprisingly, Cassel has been quite productive, becoming only the fifth quarterback in NFL History to throw back-to-back 400+ yard games, making him a sure millionaire by next year. He is nowhere near Brady's record of 50 touchdown passes in a season, but the Pats don't need that right now.

They need a quarterback who can manage the game and get the W. That is exactly what Cassel is. After this year, Cassel will be with a new team, and he deserves it. He has the talent to bring glory to teams that desperately need a quarterback.

Enough about me loathing about my Patriots downfall. I want to mention the Titans.  The Titans are 11-1, and almost a lock for the top seed in the AFC. 

What was the difference between 2008 and 2007 for the Titans? DEFENSE. The Titans have one of the top defenses in the league, with Albert Haynesworth playing like the league's defensive MVP and Keith Bulluck with a team leading 75 tackles. 

Oh, by the way, they also have Kerry Collins. The running game is more than solid, with Chris Johnson and LenDale White averaging about 4.3 yards a carry between them. They even defeated their nemesis, the Indianapolis Colts.

I guess my point of writing this article was to just mention some of the obvious differences between this year's and last year's football season. 2008 has been a great year for teams like the Jets and Titans, but for the Patriots, there will never be a year like 2007 (F***ing David Tyree).