Monday, December 29, 2008

Just A Few Inches Short

I wrote last week that I wouldn't scrap the NFL's divisional and conference based playoff system and in the face of my Patriots missing out on the playoffs, only the second time in league history that an 11-5 team has missed the playoffs, I'll stick by my guns. Sure, it sucks that 8-8 San Diego, 9-7 Arizona, 9-6-1 Philly, and 10-6 Minnesota are all in over the 11-5 Pats, but thems the breaks. And while I do support these mediocre divisional winners getting into the playoffs, I'm still opposed to those mediocre teams hosting playoff games. Far worse than the Pats missing out on the playoffs, next week the NFL presents us with 11-5 Atlanta at 9-7 Arizona, 12-4 Indy at 8-8 San Diego, and 11-5 Baltimore at 11-5 Miami, where Baltimore crushed the Dolphins earlier this season.

And what to make of the Patriots season? My initial thoughts last night were that this was that however disappointing this finish was, it wasn't nearly as bad as falling just short of perfection againast the Giants last year. But in a way, the two seasons are very similar, offering the same feelings of unfulfillment, the same feelings that everything special the team did was for naught. And for the 16-0 team, at least there's the record book, along with the personal records of Brady and Moss to ensure that the 2007 won't be forgotten. But Matt Cassel's team seems destined to join John Elway and the 1985 Denver Broncos in the dustbin of history. (Interestingly enough, that Broncos team also lost out to an 8-8 divisional winner, in their case, Marty Schottenheimer's Cleveland Browns.)

Feelings aside, it's tough to grade this season in anything other than positive, complimentary terms. Even Belichick said he was proud of the team. And just keep in mind how close this season really was. If the coin toss goes the other way in that last Jets game, the Pats would be in the playoffs right now. If the Patriots had managed to hold onto the ball in that Steeler game and come away with a win, not only would they have been in the playoffs, but they'd have the number two seed and a bye. The Patriots finished the season 7th in points scored, 8th in points allowed, and 6th in points differential. Again, hard to find fault, especially given that we're talking about Cassel, who was practically a rookie, a running back corp that only got healthy in December, and a defense that spent most of the year starting undrafted free agents as defensive backs and had to bring back old Junior Seau and terrible Roosevelt Colvin to start as half of the linebacking corp at the end of the season. What's most disappointing is that this team won't have the chance to test it's mettle in the playoffs. We don't get to see Matt Cassel or any of this makeshift defense in January and none of the rest of the guys from last year get a chance for some redemption.


Anonymous rose said...

As you know, I'm generally a Patriots hater (and a Belichick admirer), but it was really hard to hate this team. With out having to listen to gushing praise being heaped on Tom Brady nonstop for making ordinary plays, you could appreciate the complete and utter professionalism of the Sammy Morris', Faulks and Welker's. Those three guys specifically played so ridiculously well from start to finish this year, it was impossible not to enjoy watching. I wish they got a shot in the playoffs because I think they're with out a doubt better than Miami, San Diego and Indy and had the look of a team peaking at the right time. They had been on a general upwards trend both offensively and defensively all year.

Here's hoping Tom Brady stays hurt and Cassel comes back next year and finishes the job. If Cassel is somehow back, would 4,200 yards and 30 tds shock anybody?

I'll admit that I was semi-wrong on Cassel and that he is an above average QB. Can any Pats fan now acknowledge that there is plenty of truth to the idea that the Pats make playing QB look very easy?

11:15 AM  

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