The Perfect Patsies

February 05, 2008 |

I come to bury the Patriots, not to praise them. Even after a perfect regular season and three recent Super Bowl titles, it’s easy to kick New England while they’re down after losing to the Giants on Sunday. So kick them I will…
I took a lot of heat a few weeks ago for having the audacity to voice my displeasure with the media’s love affair with the Patriots and the willingness of just about everyone to dismiss Spygate as a harmless faux pas by an organization with an extra-large desire to win. Rebuttals to my claims included:
Dude this is history…embrace it…they are the greatest team I have ever seen…a complete team…taken everyone’s best shot and still win…I want to see history.
They deserve all the adoration they get. By the way, since that game in which they were caught cheating, they’re 16-0. Enough said…
Who are these people that have these blogs and right such stupid crap?
That last one is a great question, and I wish I had an answer for you. But, in the spirit of staying on topic, I’ll ask another question: who exactly were the 2007 New England Patriots? With all the talk about their place among the NFL’s greatest teams, at the end of the day, perhaps they were simply a team built to take advantage of the league’s new liberal passing rules, which ironically were put in place after New England defensive backs mercilessly roughed-up Colts receivers in the 2003 AFC Championship.
Taking nothing away from Bill Belichick (a superb – though very strange – football coach) or Tom Brady (clearly, one of the best to play the position), it’s hard to consider the ’07 Patriots as an all-time great team. They certainly had an impressive regular season (aided no doubt by playing six games vs. their AFC East brethren, who were a combined 12-36 this season), but their defense is old and just not very talented (the world should’ve realized that when Kyle Boller and Co. amassed 376 yards and 33 minutes of possession time in December) and their offense was far too reliant on jump balls to Randy Moss, designed to result in either long completions or huge pass inference penalties.
We saw Sunday night what a house of cards New England really was. When Brady was pressured and unable to connect on one long heave to Moss – or get a favorable call from an official – the Pats’ offense suddenly looked very pedestrian; when their title hopes rested in the hands of Teddy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Asante Samuel et al, they allowed the much-maligned Eli Manning to march the Giants 83 yards in 2:07 for the game-winning score. By the end of the night, Tom Coughlin – who’s been called an idiot at least as many times as Belichick has been called a genius – was the one getting the Gatorade shower.
So the focus on perfection suddenly turns to the imperfect model on which the ’07 Patriots were built. No team in recent years has revamped their receiving corps in one off-season the way the Patriots did last spring by adding Moss, Wes Welker and Donte’ Stallworth (unless of course you include Ozzie’s Newsome’s pairing of Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson with Travis Taylor in 2003 – and we wonder why Boller had such a rough introduction to the NFL). With those acquisitions, the Patriots were basically telling the entire league, “we’re just going to try to out-score everyone this year, and we’re going to do it through the air.”
While they tried to beef up the defense by spending a bundle on Adalius Thomas, the most under-reported story of this season may be how the genius defensive mind of Belichick was unable to fully utilize Thomas, who often seemed lost lining up as a traditional down-lineman. Whatever they thought they were getting with Thomas (who finished with fewer tackles and sacks than he had in each of the previous three seasons in Baltimore) it certainly wasn’t enough to mask an aging group of linebackers and defensive linemen.
The Patriots’ quest for perfection was ended by a team built the old-fashioned way, with a smothering defense and a strong running game; a team that didn’t even win its own division in the weaker NFC and needed to win three road games in the playoffs just to earn the right to be the Patriots’ supposed sacrificial lambs. With all their celebrated bravado and blue-collar toughness, in the end the Patriots were a finesse team that relied on tricking their opponents into crucial mistakes. That strategy nearly made them perfect…until a team with an imperfect quarterback and an imperfect coach hit them with a perfect punch in the mouth.