THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Now, we’ll open it up to questions

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / September 12, 2010

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The last memory is a bad one.

For every team in town.

The moribund Red Sox came into this season still smarting from Jonathan Papelbon setting himself on fire on the Fenway Park mound and melting in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 2009 Division Series.

The Celtics will go into their new season looking at champagne bottles that never were popped at the Staples Center, still wondering whether Kendrick Perkins could have made a difference in Game 7.

The Bruins want to burn the tapes and make fans swallow amnesia pills. The 2010 spring hockey choke in the Hub was as bad as any wound the Red Sox ever inflicted, and the Sons of Claude cannot start soon enough to make us forget the Flyer debacle.

Now say hello to your 2010 New England Patriots.

Our last memory of the Patriots at Gillette Stadium is no better than the nightmare finishes furnished by other local teams. Eight months ago, we watched Ray Rice run 83 yards without being touched (it was Gump-like) as the Ravens bolted to a 24-0 first-quarter lead in a playoff game against the once-unbeatable-at-Gillette Patriots.

At the end of the day, Baltimore was a 33-14 winner, Tom Brady cited lack of leadership and mental toughness, Bill Belichick said he’d been outcoached by John Harbaugh, and the rest of the NFL playoffs unfolded without Patriot participation.

New England’s new football season begins today at sparkling Gillette, where the Patriots have never lost a home opener (8-0). New England has won 13 of its last 15 home openers.

The last time the Patriots lost a home opener? It was Sept. 23, 2001, 12 days after the attacks in Lower Manhattan. It was a 10-3 loss to the Jets. It was the day Mo Lewis broke Drew Bledsoe into a million little pieces. It was the day that changed everything.

Here we are nine years and four Super Bowl appearances later. Bledsoe has retired, Brady just signed a $72 million contract, and for the first time in the Brady-Belichick era, we don’t know what to expect from the Patriots.

There is serious doubt about the Patriots’ place among the NFL elite. Brady and Belichick’s last Super Bowl victory was more than five years ago, and the annoying, glory-hogging Jets have been anointed the team to beat in the AFC East. The Patriots have won their division six of the last seven seasons, but we don’t know what we’re going to get from the young bunch that’ll play the Cincinnati Bengals this afternoon.

“Opening Day is always, I think, the toughest day,’’ Belichick said Friday (Fridays with Bill are kind of like Tuesdays with Morrie — you get the best quotes). “There is just so much uncertainty with where your team is, what your opponent is going to do, how it’s all going to match up. There are a lot of possibilities.

“I think once you get into the second, third, fourth game, you start to see what teams are. There’s just a lot less of that here on Opening Day, but that’s the way it always is. That makes it exciting. It makes it fun, but it gives a coach the butterflies. It wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t have them.’’

Belichick, now in his 11th season in New England, wants everyone to look ahead, not back at New Orleans (’02), Houston (’04), and Jacksonville (’05). Belichick ordered Gillette’s workplace walls stripped of photos commemorating past glories. Hoodie said the place needed painting, but we know what the Patriots really need is an influx of talent and experience.

The brain drain and bad drafts have made New England vulnerable. Teams are not afraid to come here anymore. There’s no fear that the Patriots will outsmart everybody in the end. Leave-it-to-Bieber Brady was unable to orchestrate his routine late-game comebacks in 2009.

In other news, miracle man Wes Welker is back on the field after blowing out his knee in the last regular-season game. Randy Moss is not a captain and says he feels unwanted. Chad Ochocinco and Darius Butler are engaged in a Twitter war. Ocho says he’s going to score a touchdown, grab a musket from one of the minutemen, and fire a round (how did that work out for Plaxico Burress?).

Meanwhile, Vince Wilfork has a new contract and the Ron Burton Award. Adalius Thomas, an overpaid distraction, is finally gone. Junior Seau retired (we think). Dean Pees is gone and Belichick is acting as head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, interior decorator, and bus driver.

Chris Hanson is gone, replaced by Zoltan Mesko. Ben Watson is gone, replaced by Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Alge Crumpler. Logan Mankins is sitting home on his farm and has been replaced by Dan Connolly. Devin McCourty is expected to hit everything in sight. Laurence Maroney is (amazingly) still here. Rookie Brandon Spikes has his own sex tape.

You’re going to love the new HD video boards. They should make it easier for Belichick to decide when it’s OK to toss the red beanbag.

The first massive traffic jam of the season figures to hit Route 1 at about 4 p.m.

Happy New Year.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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