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Just win, baby

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 9, 2009 06:00 PM

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The gap between what sportswriters and fans think they know and what well-trained coaches truly know is wider in the NFL than in any other sport. Some of that is due to the obsessive and the ridiculous -- do the Pats really need a 500-page playbook? Seems a bit excessive to me. But I don't think I'm talking out of turn to say there are complexities taking place on the field every Sunday that elude the vast majority of those peering down from the press box.

My hunch -- and that's all it is -- is that Seymour enjoyed his prime earlier than most, and his early 30s won't come close to being as professionally rewarding as his early 20s. But again, it's just that -- a hunch. Ultimately, I trust that Bill Belichick's assessment is correct here, because virtually every controversial decision he has made during his nine-year run in New England -- particularly the ones that leave the harpies howling "He's going to regret this! The arrogance! How could he do such a thing?!" -- has turned out in the favor of the franchise.

I wrote about this (transparent plug alert!) in the Maple Street Press Patriots season preview book, but here is a condensed version of Belichick decisions that were widely panned at the time: Benching Drew Bledsoe for Tom Brady. Trading Bledsoe to the Bills for a first-round pick, which eventually became Ty Warren. Letting Adam Vinatieri leave via free agency, and replacing him by drafting Stephen Gostkowski. Trading for perceived malcontents Corey Dillon and Randy Moss. Keeping Matt Cassel over Matt Gutierrez. Turning to Cassel when Brady got hurt rather than signing Byron Leftwich, Tim Rattay, or Chris Simms. And on it goes.

The most obvious comparison to the Seymour move, and one that has been made frequently in recent days, is to Belichick's shocking decision to cut popular safety Lawyer Milloy five days before the 2003 season opener. Milloy, like Seymour now, was 29 and had the hard-earned reputation as an integral member of the Patriots' defense, though the statistics in Milloy's case told a story of a player who was filling a uniform but not accomplishing much else.

Milloy haunted them for exactly one week, the first one of that season, a hideous 31-0 whupping at Buffalo, the proud safety's new employer. You might recall that the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that season. And the next.

They recovered from the trauma of losing Milloy, and they'll recover from Seymour's departure, assuming he doesn't end up back here in some convoluted ruling by Roger Goodell. And I hope he doesn't. Yes, dealing him might make the Patriots weaker this season. It almost certainly will, though I also suspect Belichick has recognized an attribute in someone -- Myron Pryor? Ron Brace? Derrick Burgess? -- that is yet to be recognized by you and me.

Only the Branch move -- he was traded after a contentious holdout to the Seahawks for a No. 1 pick that became Brandon Meriweather -- had a lasting negative impact, primarily because the Patriots lacked a suitable replacement, and no, you do not count, Mr. Caldwell. Losing Milloy proved irrelevant since the man who filled his spot was a superior version of himself, Rodney Harrison.

While I sometimes wish there was a little more room for sentimentality and accountability within the Patriots organization -- I don't see how it could hurt to explain why they made the trade, if not to us jackals in the media, then to those diehards in the No. 93 jerseys sitting in the "inexpensive" $65 dollar upper-level seats -- I admire that this franchise is unyielding in doing what it believes is right, conventional wisdom be damned.

Robert Kraft has said the Patriots are trying to follow the model of the dynastic San Francisco 49ers, who extended their reign into the '90s by turning over the roster, oftentimes with unpopular decisions. And I'm yet to find someone who disagrees with the notion that the Patriots defense needs to get faster and younger. Hey, Ronnie Lott might be the best safety the game has known, but he wasn't around for the Niners last championship.

Go ahead, call me an apologist if you must. Call me a toady, a lemming, or even a Belichicklet. I'm cool with that.

Because when the dust settles, the confetti is fluttering in the air in Miami, and the 2009 schedule has been completed, there's a reasonable chance the harpies will be wondering how the man in the gray hoodie was right again.


About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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