Sorry to return with such a thud, but the Patriots have done nothing this off-season to improve their chances of regaining the cat-bird's seat in the AFC. Here is a recent, rosy article written by Christopher Gasper of the Globe...with my comments dispersed therein:
RESPONSE: I wish. The return game is one of the many areas of need that the Pats have totally failed to address thus far.
Their motto: No change is good.
RESPONSE: Considering how the Pats ended last season, I fail to see how no change is a good thing.
The status quo has elicited a lot of woe from Patriots fans and pigskin prognosticators who have been disappointed by the team's retention strategy following a 10-6 season and an ignominious first-round playoff defeat. The constant complaint as the Patriots have re-signed their own free agents -- nose tackle Vince Wilfork, cornerback Leigh Bodden, linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, right guard Stephen Neal and running back Kevin Faulk -- without making a major addition from outside is that the Patriots haven't gotten any better.
RESPONSE: Here I must join those in the "woe" column.
Well, they certainly haven't gotten any worse, so that would mean they're still the best team in the AFC East then, right?
RESPONSE: Considering that the Patriots have absolutely nothing at TE... re-signed a mediocre, injury plagued, 33 year old guard who was on the verge of retiring...have primarily an ancient stable of RBs...still have no 3rd option at WR...still lack a premiere pass-rusher...have no offensive or defensive coordinator...still are depending on OTs Nick Kaczur or the aging Matt Light...and will play the 2010 season without Wes Welker...I fail to see how the Patriots have even maintained the not so great status quo.
There is no doubt that last year was disappointing for the Patriots, but that doesn't mean that any player associated with last year's underwhelming product was part of the problem. What the Patriots have done is sign five starters in free agency; Faulk doesn't start, but according to Pro Football Focus he played more snaps at running back than any Patriot last season.
RESPONSE: Faulk has been a great player for the Pats. But, he showed signs of slowing down last year...not so surprising for a 34 year old 3rd down back.
Winning the publicity game in March and April is fun, but it doesn't translate to winning football games in the fall. The undisputed winners in last year's off-season were the Washington Redskins, New York Giants and Chicago Bears. The Redskins got the market's premier free agent in defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. The Giants signed linebacker Michael Boley and defensive linemen Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard for approximately $83 million. The Bears traded for quarterback Jay Cutler. All three teams also got to watch the playoffs on television because none of them posted a winning record.
There is reason to believe Patriots coach Bill Belichick's brood will put out a better brand of football in 2010 without a major retooling.
The locker room unrest that plagued the Patriots last year was real and a real problem. The feeling was that the team wouldn't pay for its own players. There is no way any player in that locker room can feel that way now, after the Patriots shelled out more than $83 million to bring back their fab five. Wilfork has already vowed to take a more vocal leadership role.
RESPONSE: Though there is some truth to this paragraph, winning breeds locker room harmony. Losing to every quality team that the Pats' face certainly didn't help. Chief malcontent Adalius Thomas remains on the team. The Pats know that if/when they release him, he'll be wearing the green and white of their chief divisional rival.
Tom Brady can and will play better. Brady was coming off his torn anterior cruciate ligament injury and battled a bad shoulder and a debilitating rib injury during the season. Despite dealing with a play calling setup that at times appeared dysfunctional, having no third option in the passing game and looking a little out of sync with his injuries, he still managed to throw for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions.
RESPONSE: Yes...Tom Brady can play better. But, Tom still lacks an experienced offensive coordinator. Without Wes Welker, still without a 3rd WR, without a competent TE, with an aging backfield, and an overrated OL...I find it hard to believe that he will play better...and expect that he'll take another physical pounding.
Brady will show more improvement from last year to this one than Jets QB and Brady wannabe Mark Sanchez.
RESPONSE: Point taken as to Sanchez. Though just 23, he's already experiencing fairly serious knee problems. But, how good will he be if the Jets manage to add WR Brandon Marshall, at a reasonable price?
Look at former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, who was more consistent and NFL-ready as a rookie than Sanchez, but slightly regressed as a sophomore. Ryan's completion percentage, yards per pass and quarterback rating all dipped, while his sacks and interceptions rose. After leading the Falcons to the playoffs in his debut season, Matty Ice was on ice for the postseason last year.
RESPONSE: The Falcons didn't have the OL or the defense that the Jets currently possess.
Speaking of sophomore slides, Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, the 2008 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, took a step back last season after he suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the season-opener. Mayo rushed back too soon. He is too good and too dedicated not to make a bigger impact in 2010.
RESPONSE: This remains to be seen. Mayo is a good player...but he's no Ray Lewis or Patrick Willis.
There is no doubt the Patriots still have work to do. The cupboard is barren at tight end, although there are no tears over Benjamin Watson taking the Continental shuttle to Cleveland. Keep an eye on senior football adviser Floyd Reese trying to convince Belichick to pry first-round tendered restricted free agent tight end Bo Scaife, whom Reese drafted in Tennessee, away from the Titans.
RESPONSE: Agree on the overrated Watson. But, he's better than what they have now...which is nothing. Its' absurd to think that the Pats would trade a high draft pick for Bo Scaife...and then sign him for big money. Look for the Pats to make a play for Bears TE, Greg Olsen...or to use a high draft choice on a TE.
The pass rush still needs an upgrade, and wide receiver Wes Welker, arguably the team's most invaluable offensive weapon, is likely to start the season on the physically unable to perform list recovering from a torn knee ligament. That's why a trade for Anquan Boldin would have been great. However, there was no way the Patriots could have given Boldin the three-year extension he got from the Ravens and told Randy Moss, who is already convinced the team won't pay him, to sit tight in the final year of his deal."
RESPONSE: Why not??...and stop blaming Randy Moss for everything that doesn't go right for this team!! Getting Boldin would have solved a ton of problems. His presence would have energized Tom Brady, taken a ton of pressure off Moss, somewhat soothed the Welker loss, and would have prevented the WR needy Ravens from getting him. If Moss was chaffed by such a move, the Pats could have placated him by extending his contract (remember, this is an uncapped year)! Instead, they let the AFC rival Ravens steal him from the Cards.
As of yet, there is no earth-shattering AFC East acquisition that has pushed the Patriots to the back of the pack. Yes, the Jets traded for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, but Cromartie is two years removed from his All-Pro 2007 season, when he led the NFL interceptions with 10. In the two seasons since, he has as many interceptions as states his seven children live in -- five.
RESPONSE: Considering that the Jets risked little to get Cromartie, it seems to be a great gamble. I don't understand why the Chargers would do anything to help an AFC rival that just beat them in the play-offs. Remember, the Jets will get star NT Kris Jenkins, and game-breaker Leon Washington back in 2010. That said, I don't understand why they decided to let RB Thomas Jones go, and replace him with the declining LT.
The Dolphins, fittingly, made a splash in free agency, signing inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. However, they still have a pedestrian group of pass catchers, despite the way the Patriots portrayed them during their 22-21 loss to the Dolphins in December. Running back Ricky Willams will be 33 this season, an age when running backs traditionally fall off the cliff, no matter how spiritually-inclined they may be, and Miami's pass rush could take a hit if Jason Taylor and his seven sacks don't return to help take the pressure off CFL find Cameron Wake.
RESPONSE: The Dolphins did well adding Dansby, and rolling dice on CFL sack-master, Cameron Wake. RB Ronnie Brown returns. Though fellow RB Ricky Williams is 33, how old are Kevin Faulk, Fred Taylor, and Sammy Morris?
The more things don't change for the Patriots the more they remain the same in the AFC East, which isn't as bad as you might think.
RESPONSE: Sorry...no sale. Had the Pats added Bolden, I would have felt much better about their prospects. I don't think I can take another year of watching Sam Aiken lumbering through pass patterns. Why didn't they bring back Donte' Stallworth on a one year deal...instead of letting him sign such a deal with the Ravens?
What Gasper and the Pats seem to fail to realize is that Tom Brady turns 33 next season, and won't be around forever. A franchise QB of his ilk is indeed a rare commodity. Stop wasting him!! The Pats should endeavor to fortify their OL, and surround Tom with weapons...like they did in 2007.