Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Patriot Fatigue

After the Colts loss a few weeks ago, I took issue with ESPN columnist and Boston "Sports Guy" Bill Simmons's claim that the loss was one of the Belichick-era Pats five worst ever. That list of worst losses included the Super Bowl loss to the Giants, playoff losses to the Broncos and Colts in '05 and '06 and the regular season loss to the Colts in '08. The list made little sense, mostly because of the inclusion of a Brady-less loss in Matt Cassel's sixth start last year and the absence of regular season losses to the Colts in '05 or '06. My larger point was that this year's Colts loss wasn't so bad. And hopefully, that point should resonate even more to Pats fans after that awful, awful Monday night loss to the Saints.

Monday night's loss to the Saint's was dynasty devastating, the sort of disheartening loss that makes you wonder just when the other shoe is going to drop. It wasn't like the aforementioned '05 playoff loss to the Broncos, where big mistakes by key Patriots were the difference in the game. It was just a flat out beating, the sort we've rarely seen since Belichick came to town and never seen in a big game. This wasn't Peyton Manning making great plays or the defense looking old and slow, this was Saints receivers running all over the field, apparently uncoverable and the Patriots looking completely and 100% lost. I'm not saying that the Belichick-era Patriot dynasty actually is over. But I am worried.

Forget about the loss to the Saints for a minute and the worst part may be the Pats unimpressive 7-4 record and I say unimpressive because 7-4 is exactly where the team stood last year at this point in the season with Matt Cassel. And at least last season the Cassel-led Patriots had me excited, coming off Cassel's second straight 400-yard game in a win over the Dolphins at this point of the season. And maybe that's the difference. I wrote a post before the start of the 2008 season saying how Pats fans had to set themselves up for disappointment, as the only real redemption for the Super Bowl loss to the Giants would be another 18-0 run with a Super Bowl win to cap it off. Things changed with Matt Cassel at quarterback, but with Brady back under center, we're once again in the realm of high expectations. A bar was set in 2007 that can't possibly be reached, yet Pats fans won't truly be happy unless that bar is reached. In truth, another Super Bowl ring would be satisfying however it was accomplished, but the loss to the Saints leaves such an accomplishment feeling a bit out of reach.

The worst part of this season for me personally has been Tom Brady just not getting things done. Of course he's still a great quarterback, but he's come up lacking in each and every big game this season, all of which- including this Saints game- could have been won with big time performances. Ultimately though, Brady this year has matched Belichick, as both the coach and quarterback have not fared so well under pressure. Ultimately these Patriots just lack spark, which falls on the shoulders of both Brady and Belichick. They've beaten up on lesser competition, but otherwise, this entire season has been ... rather uninspired. Just for fun, here's where the Pats stood at this point of the season in each of the other Belichick seasons since 2001:

2001: 6-5 (finished regular season 5-0, won Super Bowl)
2002: 6-5 (finished regular season 3-2, missed playoffs)
2003: 9-2 (finished regular season 5-0, won Super Bowl)
2004: 10-1 (finished regular season 4-1, won Super Bowl)
2005: 6-5 (finished regular season 4-1, lost to Broncos in playoffs)
2006: 8-3 (finished regular season 4-1, lost to Colts in AFC Championship Game)
2007: 11-0 (finished regular season 5-0, lost to Giants in Super Bowl)
2008: 7-4 (finished regular season 4-1, missed playoffs)
2009: 7-4 (?)

This 2009 team doesn't have the look of the plucky underdog that the '01 or '08 team had. They don't have that dominant, yet under appreciated feel of the '03 or the '06 team. They don't have the elite pedigree of the '04 or the '07 team. And unlike the '02 and '05 teams, where high expectations were lost early in the season, this 2009 team has only just seen their high expectations crushed in week twelve. Of course I want them to succeed, but I won't be feeling confident the rest of the season.


Blogger McMc said...

Eventually the Patriots are going to be a mediocre team. As good a coach as Belichick is and as good as Tom Brady might be, the nature of the NFL dictates that eventually the Pats will have a year or two stretch where they really need to re-build. It's those years I'm looking forward to seeing.

I don't figure Brady to be a guy who can take losing in stride. The Pats are still 7-4 this year and playoff bound, but what's going to happen when the Pats are playing a meaningless game in December? Tom Terrific doesn't smile much on the field and as much as people hate hearing stuff like this, at least guys like Brett Favre can have fun playing. Brady doesn't seem to have fun. He really reminds me of one of those spoiled brats everyone played against as kids. You know, the ones who play on the rich side of town, have nice uniforms, hardly ever lose... That day is coming for Brady and I think a lot of people are going to see his true colors.

2:50 AM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Well being completely honest here, I don't always get the impression Brady loves the game as much as say Brett Favre or Peyton Manning. He just doesn't seem to be having fun this year. As opposed to some of those other guys, I think Brady was always driven first and foremost by the desire to prove everyone wrong. And sort of like the team in general, I think Brady's at the point of his career where you wonder what he has left to prove.

8:19 AM  
Blogger McMc said...

I have never thought of Brady as someone who is trying to prove people wrong. The guy won in high school, he won in college and he has won in the pros. I just think that he is a competitor who takes things a little too seriously. I mean, I've seen him yell at teammates before, he forced poor Suzy Kolber to run with him after that Monday night Bills game just so she could get an interview and like you said, he doesn't seem to have fun playing football.

I'm telling ya, when the Pats start losing the Golden Boy is going to look a lot less golden.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

Ok, 2007 really has Pats fans jaded.

What the heck is "dominant but under-appreciated feel"? Or an "elite-pedigree"? Or a "plucky-underdog"?

They went into the Saints game with the #1 scoring defense in the league. And their passing offense was and is a juggernaut unless you're comparing it to the 2007 Pats or 2009 Saints.

That is a whole lot more relevant than what kind of vibe you're getting from the team.

Brady played like shit against the Saints. The D played poorly. And Drew Brees was absolutely unreal. Not to mention New Orleans is probably the toughest place to play in the league. The Saints have a great pass D and a loud-ass stadium will have its greatest impact on the visiting team's pass O. It was a tough matchup for an offense dependant on the passing game and the outcome was brutal.

Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't lower your expectations following the Saints game, or that a blowout like that isn't meaningful. It clearly is. Brady is missing receivers and they've got to solve the musical chairs rotation they've got in the defensive backfield.

But I'll bet by playoff time everyone will consider their D above average, their offense elite and that'll be enough to give them almost as good a shot as Indy of coming out of the AFC.

1:33 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...


My point was that these Pats have absolutely no character and are leaving fans less and less to actually feel excited about. Even some of the lousier teams had more character, more for fans to root for. As I said, last year was a great ride specifically because of the lack of expectations.

This season has seen the Pats go on the road (in the United States) four times for four big road games and come up short- Not just come up short, but come up short by fading in the second half of games. In reality, one big win would be enough to get fans excited, but the Pats just haven't had one big one this year.

3:51 PM  

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