Patriots Post-Mortem

I wrote this in an e-mail after a friend goaded me into expanding on my thoughts about the Patriots 2010 season ending by comparing my reaction to Pete Carroll.  Since the Patriots are my most beloved team, I am going to also post later on about what I’d like to see them do in the offseason heading into (hopefully) the 2011 season.  Here we go:

Wow.  You keep you head down, push forward, and limit what you say to just a few comments on Facebook and suddenly you’re compared to Pete Carroll.  The gall, I say!  Very well…

Yes, I was disappointed that the Patriots lost the game to the Jets.  They did not play the way they are capable of playing, and they did not play the way that had been playing heading into the playoffs.  If you make mistakes in the playoffs, you lose. 

But I refuse to be too broken up about it or the fact that they have lost their last three playoffs games.  Because there is a lot to be optimistic about as a Patriots fan.  But there are definite reasons why they lost those games.  And there are signs that they are turning the corner and correcting those things that they need to work on.

I think the biggest reason they’ve lost the last few years is because they did not have good drafts from 2005-2008.   If you look at the drafts of 05, 06, 07, and 08 the Patriots only have eight guys (out of thirty three picks) from those four drafts still on the team.  That is not good.  You need to replenish the talent on your roster as age and free agency take their toll.  And the Patriots were not able to do that because they drafted poorly.  However, look at the last two drafts: at least 16 of 24 players are on the team, and a lot of those guys are contributing and/or starting.  But those poor drafts have an effect on the production of the team 3 or 4 years down the line.  Conversely, good drafting will have a good effect three or four years down the line, and they are already reaping the benefits from players like McCourty, Hernandez, Gronk, Vollmer, Edelman, Cunningham, Spikes, Chung, Tate, and Mesko.

So they have been able to replenish their roster a lot in the past two years, and get significantly younger in the process, without taking a dramatic step backwards.  As I’ve said, most teams will scrap things and end up with a 6-10 season as they flush out their roster and rebuild.  The Patriots dropped down to 10-6 in ‘09.  Simply amazing.  Now, having said that, because they got younger, they had to sacrifice experience in the process.  So while you do still have veterans like Brady, Welker, Light, Mankins, Koppen, Wilfork, et al., you still have a lot of guys who do not have the playoff pedigree and experience of those guys.  Even someone like Jerod Mayo is gaining experience.  I’ve been onto this since back in last season (the dead giveaway was noticing how all of a sudden teams were able to fool the Pats D on halfback screens that the Vrabels and Bruschis and McGinests of the past would have sniffed out), and because I was able to recognize it early, I’m able to keep my expectations for the team level.  The experience will come. 

The other thing that kept me from getting too down about the loss was the kind of NFL season it has been.  This has been a wide-open, anything-can-happen kind of year.  For the past however many seasons, there has been one or two elite teams that stood out.  There has been a team that jumped out to a 9-0 record or something.  This year was not the case.  Everyone had a loss after Week 5, I think.  No team established itself early.  The Jets, Packers, and Ravens were considered the top teams early.  Then Philly for a while.  Then Atlanta or Pittsburgh for a while.  And then New England at the end.  So it doesn’t surprise me that the Patriots, in a “down” year like this year, managed to overachieve with a 14-2 record, which they really did considering the talent level of their roster.  And so, in turn, it doesn’t surprise me that they would then also lose in their first playoff game.  It’s been that kind of a year.  I mean, look at the Super Bowl matchup.  How many seasons can you think of where the #6 seed in a Conference was arguably the best team in its Conference, let alone being favored in the Super Bowl? 

They’ve got 3 picks in the first 33 picks of the draft, and 6 picks in the first 92 picks.  If they hit on talent the way they have the last two drafts, they’re going to improve themselves.  They’ve positioned themselves well in terms of free agency.  Their biggest free agents are Logan Mankins and Matt Light.  Just about everybody else is good but replaceable.  Look at the decisions in player personnel that the Jets need to make.  The Jets were really built to win this year.  That doesn’t mean they can’t and won’t retool for next year, but they’ve got a tougher road to travel.  The Patriots are in a position to be competitive year-in and year-out for the foreseeable future. 

So, yes, I am optimistic and positive.  But not in a Pete Carroll, “Golly gee whiz you guys!” kind of way.  My optimism and hope is grounded in tangible things that I can point to and say “I’ve seen what Belichick and Brady have done in the past with the right team to work with.  They may not be there yet, but based on what I’ve seen, they are on their way and can get there again.”

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