September 28, 2016

What Will The 2011 Draft Yield For Patriots?

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Ugh.

I can’t believe we’re already focused on the draft. The Senior Bowl is this week, and we’ve already been getting reports of various prospects and whether they might be good fits for the Patriots.

Many of us hoped that the Patriots might still have a game to play at this point, but that’s not the case. So we’re stuck pondering the future. An unknown future, what with the labor uncertainty in the NFL, which makes things seem even more bleak.

Looking ahead, what needs will the Patriots look to fill come April? My best guess is that they will focus on both sides of the line, looking to get more victories at the line of scrimmage. I also think they might look at the running back position – Ian Rapoport at the Boston Herald (a former Alabama beat writer) has been beating the drum for ‘Tide running back Mark Ingram since the start of the season.

One thing we do know. The Patriots will come out of this draft with an impact player.

There has been criticism of the Patriots drafts among the local media, especially in the period between ’06 to ’08. But there is one point that is indisputable.

In every single season of the Bill Belichick era, save one – 2002 when they drafted Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch – the Patriots have drafted at least one player who went on to play in the Pro Bowl or be named 1st or 2nd team NFL All Pro.

Check it out:

2010 – Devin McCourty, Pro Bowl, 2nd team All Pro
2009 – Sebastian Vollmer – 2nd team All Pro
2008 – Jerod Mayo, Pro Bowl, NFL All Pro
2007 – Brandon Meriweather, 2-time Pro Bowl
2006 – Stephen Gostkowski – Pro Bowl, NFL All Pro
2005 – Logan Mankins, 3-time Pro Bowl, All Pro
2005 – Matt Cassel – Pro Bowl
2004 – Vince Wilfork – 3-time Pro Bowl, NFL All Pro
2003 – Ty Warren (NFL All Pro 2007)
2003 – Asante Samuel 4-time Pro Bowl
2001 – Richard Seymour 6-time Pro Bowl,NFL All Pro
2001 – Matt Light –  3-time Pro Bowl
2000 – Tom Brady, 6-time Pro Bowl, NFL All Pro

Now, you might quibble with some of the selections (ahem, Brandon Meriweather) but he has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice, it counts for something. (For the record, I hope they find a way to move on from him this offseason.) You might scoff at a kicker being on the list, but Stephen Gostkowski more than filled the shoes of the great Adam Vinatieri, and his leg on kickoffs is a huge weapon to have. But overall, every single season the Patriots are adding an impact player through the draft.

How does this compare to other teams?

Just looking at the Patriots main AFC rivals, only Pittsburgh has a similar track record. They don’t have a Pro Bowler from their 2010 or 2009 drafts yet, but in every other season except 2002, they’ve drafted an eventual Pro Bowl player.

Indianapolis did well for a while, but they’ve stumbled in recent years. Look at 2001 through 2004: Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders. Then look at the last few years.

San Diego doesn’t.

Baltimore doesn’t.

The Jets don’t, though they’ve been surprisingly good in the draft.

The bottom line is that while the Patriots have stumbled badly in the draft some years, they’re certainly not alone in this regard. However, every year, somewhere along the line, they’re going to draft a player who will make an impact for them. Another thing to keep in mind is that because the team is generally very good year in and year out, there are going to be limited opportunities and roster spots for rookies, especially in a year like 2007.

Finding players who can play each year is a big part of the reason they’ve remained among the top teams in the league for so long.

Guest Column – Let The Silly Second-Guessing Begin

A guest column from George Cain

Like many Patriots fans, I’m still in shock over what happened to the New England Patriots on Sunday evening. Desparate for answers and comfort, I have turned to something many people do during a crisis – group therapy.

Unfortunately, the Boston Media is not the place to go for that therapy. Ironically, the Big Show and Ron Borges who I have criticized the last couple years, seem to be the only people offering sane responses.

Dennis & Callahan, Andy Hart, Michael Felger, Tony Massarotti, Andy Gresh, Gary Tanguay…wow are you kidding me? To quote Gru from “Despicable Me” who said, “this is garbage, you actually like this?”

Top 5 stupid analyses I have heard since the debacle.

  1. The Welker benching changed the tone of game. (Dennis & Callahan)
  2. The Patriots are too business-like and that doesn’t work in the postseason. (Andy Hart)
  3. Rex Ryan’s rah, rah style works better. (Numerous sources)
  4. Bill Belichick has lost his mojo. (Numerous sources.)
  5. The Patriots aren’t built to win a championship. (Michael Felger)

The last one might be the only one with a hint of truth to it.

Let me dispel a few myths.

The Welker benching! – So that caused Tom Brady to be confused and the Patriots to allow a fake punt to be called? Kind of a stretch.

The Business-like approach worked from 2001-2007, and that 2007 had all veterans.

Rex Ryan’s rah, rah, rah approach works better! Well, it works for the Jets. But the last FIVE Super Bowl winning coaches are: Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, Tom Coughlin, Tony Dungy and Bill Cowher. Cowher was probably the most rah, rah of that group. While all of them are more animated than Belichick with the exception of Dungy none were thump your chest guys. And let’s not forget that the Jets haven’t won anything yet and the other 3 coaches still alive, Lovie Smith, Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin are not thumpers either.

Belichick has lost his mojo! Yes, the fake punt no matter whose fault it was, and the poor time management in the fourth quarter don’t look great for Bill, but three turnovers versus zero will lose you playoffs games. (Counting the punt and the turnover on downs)

It’s common when you’re doing a TV show or filling 4 hours a day on the radio to take a micro-look at every aspect of the team. But, let’s talk about this game.

Tom Brady, threw 4 interceptions the entire regular season. He threw one on the first drive, ON FIRST DOWN that cost them at least 3 points and probably 7. People have remarked it didn’t actually cost them points. Well sure it did. They didn’t score on that drive and the Jets possession took up about 10 minutes of game time. Time they could have used in the second half. If the Pats score 10 points on their first two possessions there is no fake punt attempt and the game is completely different. What really happened is this young, inexperienced defense was carried by a guy who had one of the all-time great seasons in the NFL. And when he played bad or just ok they either lost or nearly lost. The two Jets losses, the Packer and the Browns losses are examples of that.

Fact is people have forgotten that in 2001, 2003 and 2004 it was a complete TEAM. And that team had a great defense. A defense that could bail you out when your QB made mistakes and guess what people, FELGER, CALLAHAN, HART, he did!!

2001 Playoffs – Brady’s only played a quarter against the Steelers and threw for 146 yards in the Super Bowl. He was money when they needed but he didn’t carry them.

2003 Playoffs – 201 yards against the Titans, they win 17-14 on the strength of the defense and special teams. 237 yards against the Colts but threw a KEY pick in the end zone that almost let the Colts back in the game despite 5 INTs. Brady was great in the Super Bowl.

2004 Playoffs – 144 yards passing against the Colts. Defense gave up 3 points. 207 yards against the Steelers as the Patriots dominated in all 3 phases of the game. And let’s not forget Brady had a key fumble in the Super Bowl early and if not for Rodney Harrison’s play early on, it could have been a crushing loss for the Pats.

My point is, look at who is still standing in the playoffs, they all have great defenses. Did defense lose the game Sunday? No, but when the QB struggled they didn’t help win it. Two TD’s following Patriot scores. So, while it’s easy to nitpick every move, from the Welker benching to Spygate, people need to remember the NFL is a game about turnovers ask the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots turned it over and that’s why they lost to a team they beat 45-3.

The local media and fans are stunned. They should be stunned and I still think if the Patriots won this week they could have gone to the Super Bowl despite their “business-like” approach. The Jets needed to play a perfect game AND hope the Patriots didn’t. That’s what happened. It’s really that simple. This team will win another Super Bowl when they have a team that doesn’t rely on one player to always be above average for them to win. It’s easier to game plan for one side of the ball.

Making The Grades – Divisional Round Playoff vs. Jets

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

OK class, if the sudden movement won’t make you nauseous, let’s see a show of hands. What, in your estimation, is worse? The fact that the Pats were outplayed, outcoached and (gulp) outclassed in their brutal, 28-21 AFC Divisional Playoff loss on Sunday? Or that they were outplayed, outcoached and outclassed by (double gulp) the New York Jets?

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, left, congratulates New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, right, after the Jets beat the Patriots 28-21 in an NFL divisional playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011. AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who it was that laid such a whipping on the Pats, regardless of how utterly odious the Jets are. The fact of the matter is, on the biggest stage, in their biggest game of this mostly magical season, the Pats strayed too too far from who and what they are as a team and what got them to that point on Sunday.
That, combined with the Jets flawless game plan and execution, particularly on defense, spelled doom for the home team, ending what felt like a slam dunk of a Super Bowl season, three weeks too soon, with a most shocking thud. From our seats in section 201, we and those around us hardly recognized the team wearing the blue and silver uniforms. Following two early drives that began looking like typical Pats marches only to be ultimately stymied, one by a turnover and the other by a dropped TD pass, the Jets were emboldened and the Pats were flattened. From the end of their second, first quarter possession until near the midpoint of the third quarter, the Pats managed just 40 total yards of offense and while they wound up not only outgaining the Jets (372-314), running more plays (78-54) and holding the ball for longer (34:56-25:04), they never, ever looked comfortable doing any of it, never got in any kind of sustained rhythm and took four steps back for every step they took forward.

There were strange, conservative play calls, dropped passes, missed assignments, brutally timed trick plays, howlingly bad clock management and confusing mental errors all evening long, the likes of which we haven’t seen from this team for mostly the entire year. No one played particularly well (with the possible exception of Vince Wilfork, as always), and with the exception of a couple long completions to Rob Gronkowski and Alge Crumpler as well as one nearly broken punt return by Julian Edelman, no one made any plays on either side. The Jets deserve a truckload of credit for this; they backed up all of their chest-thumping bravado from last week with a flourish, taking away just what the Pats do best on offense while avoiding turning the ball over.. They were the far better team on Sunday and they deserved to win the game. It just didn’t feel right for the Pats from a fairly early juncture and the Jets smelled it, gaining confidence as the game wore on. The result was the ultimate gut punch, the quick, sudden, massively unexpected end to a season that just hours before felt like it couldn’t be stopped. So with that, let’s clear the chunks from our gullets and do some commiserating, report card styles, now offered with a free teaspoon of finality. Oh brother…

OFFENSE: Overall Grade: C-

So what really worked here? Not the running game, which accounted for 113 yards and four yards per carry but none that were particularly meaningful. And furthermore, on one of the game’s biggest plays, a third and-1 from near midfield on the Pats first possession of the second half, a give to BenJarvus Green-Ellis was snuffed out by everyone in the stadium and resulted in a one-yard loss and a punt (that this play came on the heels of a one-yard gain on second and-2 by Danny Woodhead made it even more painful to watch unfold). Not the passing game, which saw the Pats have their bread and butter – quick throws between the numbers to their tight ends (eight combined catches, 108 yards, woeful work in pass protection) and slot receivers – taken away from them to the point where Tom Brady was holding the ball for so long at times while waiting for someone to flash open that he looked like Drew Bledsoe. Wes Welker and Deion Branch were practically invisible, taken out by the Jets cornerbacking duo of the amazing Darrelle Revis and the not-amazing-but-good-enough-for-one-night Antonio Cromartie. Not the offensive line, the rock of the team, which gave up five sacks despite minimal blitzing by the Jets, was weak in the middle (hello, Dan Koppen) and featured a mind-boggling loss of composure by Logan Mankins, whose 15-yard personal foul penalty at the end of the first half signified perhaps more than any other play that the Pats had allowed the Jets into their heads. The Jets took away those intermediate, middle of the field throws through a multitude of disguised coverages and zone looks, basically daring the Pats to beat them with the running game and downfield passes. And the Pats couldn’t handle it. Brady was flummoxed for most of the evening, never quite catching up with what the Jets D offered to him. His numbers were decent (29-of-45, 299 yards, two TDs, one of them of the garbage time variety) and while he wasn’t aided at all by the multitude of drops, particularly Crumpler’s in the end zone and Deion Branch’s on 4th and-13 when the game was still winnable late, he couldn’t find a way to adjust except for when the Pats came out in their no-huddle late in the third (which they then shockingly, inexplicably went away from on their next possession). He wasn’t aided by the play-calling either, especially in the fourth quarter when they were down 10 points, ran a 14-play drive that netted just 48 yards, featured seven running plays and took up almost eight minutes while resulting in zero points. But that drive did result in something – it basically summed up the entire game in a nutshell. A lot of head-scratching, curious, hard-to-explain plays that ultimately led to nowhere.

DEFENSE: Overall Grade: C-

It started out so well for this group. After Brady’s first quarter INT, the defense stuffed the jets from inside the red zone, forced a field goal attempt and celebrated the subsequent miss. But after that, not a whole lot to cheer about. The Pats got exactly no pressure on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez all night, not registering a single sack. And while that’s not terribly surprising given that they had no pass rush all year long and the Jets have an excellent, veteran offensive line, what was surprising was that they also didn’t force any turnovers, a crushing blow. For a team that has such a massively hard time getting off the field on third down, that has struggled so much all season to get stops, the inability to get any turnovers was a killer. The pass defense is so poor, so bereft of players who are any good in coverage with the exception of Devin McCourty (who the Jets pretty much stayed away from all night), that a guy like Sanchez, who managed just 55 percent completions and a 75.3 passer rating in the regular season, can wind up looking like, well… Tom Brady.

While the real Brady was struggling to find open receivers all night, Sanchez, after a couple of early overthrows, lit it up, throwing three TD passes, posting a 127.3 passer rating and enjoying the time to do whatever he wanted in the pocket thanks to the Pats complete lack of a pass rush (in addition to the zero sacks, there wasn’t even a single hit recorded on Sanchez) . The killer, of course, was the TD pass to Braylon Edwards at the end of the second quarter following the Pats botched fake punt (more on that later), on which Edwards caught a hitch throw around the 10-yard line and proceeded to drag the eternally pathetic Brandon Meriweather seven yards into the end zone. But there was so much more that contributed to the Pats defensive demise. After some initial success, the depleted defensive line had a hard time containing the Jets ground attack. Battering ram Shonn Greene wound up with 76 yards on 17 carries (including a third quarter run on which he made it to the third level, saw Meriweather closing in and took advantage of Meriweather’s inability to tackle by lowering his head and shoulders and literally running over the Pats helpless safety, who then stood up and actually got in Greene’s face, humiliating himself for the umpteenth time this season) with the game-clinching TD run as the icing on the cake. And when the Pats grabbed the momentum back on the heels of their third quarter TD drive and two-point conversion run by Sammy Morris, it took the defense two whole plays to give it all right back when Sanchez flipped a little dump off over the middle to Jerricho Cotchery, who proceeded to run mostly unimpeded nearly 60 yards (with multiple missed tackles hardly holding him up), leading to a picture perfect TD pass and catch from Sanchez to Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone and another 10-point Jets lead. As with the offense, any time the defense was in position to grab or extend momentum, it couldn’t do it.

Hopefully, thanks to the amount of picks the Pats have accumulated for the 2011 draft, they will either select an impact pass rusher or deal for or sign one in free agency. And maybe, they’ll be able to get another defensive back besides McCourty who can play (Patrick Chung has a ways to go despite his flashes of brilliance and James Sanders is a backup at this point while neither Kyle Arrington nor Darius Butler are NFL starting caliber). Jerod Mayo, Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes are all up and coming linebackers who the Pats should be able to count on to continue to improve. The game on Sunday should go down as a tremendous learning experience for all of these youngsters. Hey, you’ve gotta look for positives somewhere.

COACHING: Overall Grade: F

How could this be? How could Bill Belichick, one of the greatest coaches of all time, show so poorly in such a big game? More than one player said in the aftermath that the Pats had a superb game plan, they just weren’t able to execute it. That may or may not be true (the lack of execution part certainly is). But one has to wonder how this one would have gone if the Pats hadn’t displayed the mentality of a team in panic mode on so many occasions when they hardly needed to. Brady’s INT came on a double reverse flea flicker that took about as long as the CBS pre-game show to develop. The play came on a first down from the Jets 28, was the second trick play of a seven play drive called and came after the first six plays of the possession yielded an average of over eight yards per play. Why?

In the second quarter, with just over a minute left and trailing 7-3 on their own 38, they called for a fake punt, on which up man Chung fumbled the snap, instantly foiling the play. The Jets took over after a slight loss and scored a TD four plays later for a 14-3 lead they’d take into the half. Even if the play had worked, what in the world is the point of the call at that particular juncture? A punt there likely gives the Jets the ball around their own 20 with barely a minute left and the Pats on schedule to receive the second half kickoff down by four points. It’s likely that the call was made with the idea of giving the team a spark after a handful of flat series but from that spot on the field with that amount of time left in the half in a one possession game? Why?

At the start of the fourth quarter, after just scoring their first TD and getting that two-pointer to cut the Jets lead to three and completely seize the momentum back, and with the ball on the Jets 29, the Pats played one of their deep zones designed to prevent a long pass play but give away a 20-25 yard swath of the middle of the field in the process even though the Jets had gone downfield maybe twice all night to that point against a QB who has been completely inaccurate on throws longer than 15 yards all season. Sanchez subsequently threw the quick slant to Cotchery, who naturally blew by his man (Butler) without being touched at the line of scrimmage, took the ball, found himself with no one within 30 yards of him and took off, not stopping until he was inside the Pats 20. Why?

And why did they choose to follow up their successful use of the no-huddle from their previous possession upon getting the ball back after the Jets went back up by 10 to not only call so many running plays, but huddle up before each one and let the play clock burn away to low single numbers in the process? Why? Why did Belichick authorize such passive, conservative play-calling at such a crucial, urgent point of the game, especially after appearing so care-free about fakes and tricks in the first half?

The answers to all of these questions is, I don’t know. I haven’t the slightest idea. I couldn’t possibly explain why a coaching staff so fixated on practicing situational football, so steeped in the motto of “do your job,” could or would so drastically change its MO in so many ways in such a big game. What worked so well for the Pats all year long didn’t work on Sunday at times because the Jets didn’t allow it but almost as many times because they didn’t allow it themselves. Sure, they’re young, especially on defense, but is that why Belichick somehow morphed into Andy Reid on Sunday? Did he completely forget not only what got his team to 14-2 and in possession of homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, but what earned him three Super Bowl rings and cemented the Pats reputation as the ultimate clutch, big-game team from 2001-2004 and at times beyond? Everybody has their bad days, even Belichick. He has most definitely lost playoff games before thanks in no small measure to being outcoached (Super Bowl XLII, anyone?). But for he and his staff to look so overmatched, so out of their element in such a major contest, at home, against a division rival they know as well as anyone is as big a mystery as any over the course of the past 11 seasons in Foxboro. Bill Belichick was outcoached by Rex Ryan. And then some.

He and his staff and his team and his organization will have a long time, longer than most anyone around these parts and beyond expected, to try deciphering the answers to all those whys. They choked on Sunday. Who woulda thunk it?

Tonight on a special live edition of Patriots All Access (w/ video preview)

Tonight on a special edition of Patriots All Access live from Gillette Stadium, airing on WBZ-TV at 7 p.m. and streaming live on Patriots.com:

  • Dan Roche travels from Foxborough to Florham Park, measuring the mood from both the Patriots and Jets leading up to the Divisional Playoff clash on Sunday
  • Former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria sits down for a rare group interview with the three Patriots tight ends — Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez — to discuss how the group has helped transform Patriots’ offense
  • Scott Zolak’s weekly chat with Coach Belichick includes the coach’s take on the difficulty of facing a team for the third time in one season
  • On the “Belestrator,” Coach Belichick highlights two Jets that fly under the radar, but are valuable contributors
  • Fauria and Zolak demonstrate ways they think the Jets offense may attack the Patriots defense in their TURF segment
  • Patriots Football Weekly’s Paul Perillo and ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss join host Steve Burton for a lively discussion on the playoff matchup

Patriots Buffet Table – Jets at Patriots, Divisional Playoff

by Patriots Daily Kitchen Staff

There will be no foot jokes here. Nothing about toeing the line. Nothing about the Jets being 6 feet under at the end of Sunday. No jokes about Rex’s favorite type of music “sole”, his favorite hockey player “Toe Blake”, or favorite insect “centipede”. Certainly there won’t be jokes about giving him the boot or holding his feet to the fire.

That would be juvenile. Instead I’ll say he’s fat, dumb and ugly.

What to eat

The Ryans love meat. And not just one type, they love a variety of meat. Rex has looked far and wide and is going with three types of meat in his Rex Ryan’s Mixed Grill.

Chicken, pork and beef. Marinated and skewered for easy cooking. And if unexpected company drops in, maybe internet friends, it’s easy to double or triple the recipe so everyone gets some.

Make it easy for yourself and buy marinades at the store. Such as lemon pepper for the chicken, a red wine vinaigrette for the steak, and teriyaki for the pork.

Cut the chicken, pork and beef into bite size pieces and marinade overnight in ziplock bags.

Thread onto metal skewers, alternating the types of meat. Don’t add any vegetables, does Rex eat vegetables? That depends on if M&Ms are vegetables are they? Make sure you leave space between the pieces, don’t crowd them together or the middle won’t cook.

Cook over high heat for 10-12 minutes, turning over halfway through.

What to Drink

Spring beers come out earlier and earlier every year. One of the most popular types is the Irish Red ale.

Some caramel, and some roast, commonly medium bodied. Generally not as hoppy as an American Amber Ale, and certainly not as hoppy as the hoppier American Amber ales. They can feature buttery and toffee like flavors. The red color usually comes from roasted barley, that is unmalted barley that has been cooked at a high temperature to a dark color. The roasted barley also tends to give Irish Reds a dry finish despite their sweetness and body.

Alcohol ranges from just over 4% up to 6% by volume. Bittering units usually won’t go above 20 or 25 and can be lower.

The roast, fuller body, sweetness and carmelization pair well with all grilled meats. They’ll go great with the different flavors of a mixed grill.

Sam Adams Irish Red is at the strong side of the style at 5.8% ABV. Made with English and German hops.

Harpoon calls their Irish Red Celtic Ale and it is their spring seasonal. A 5.4% beer. you may remember it as Harpoon Hibernian.

Saranac Irish red is on the low side of the style at 4.5% and on the low price side as well.

Casco Bay Riptide Red has been around a long time, and doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I don’t know why, maybe limited distribution or a crowded marketplace.

Newport Storm Thunderhead Irish Red is another spring seasonal. This one is from Rhode Island.

Smithwick’s Irish Ale is an Irish import. It can occasionally be found on tap at “Irish Pub” type places.

O’Hara’s Irish Red another import, this one is from Carlow Brewing.  Carlow makes only a few beer styles, but they are all very good, if expensive. Alcohol is closer to Old World standards, meaning lower than American made examples.

Wachusett Quinn’s Amber Ale like a few of the others is a spring seasonal. And like the website says, that means January to April. The calendar has another name for that “winter”. 4.8% ABV, closer to a traditional example than the typical American examples.

Goose Island Kilgubbin Irish Red another spring seasonal. I’m not sure if this one will be in New England. The rest of the Goose Island beers have been, but the seasonals seem to show up hit or miss.

Thomas Hooker Irish Style Red breaks the trend a bit, being like Sam and the imports a year round offering. 5.3% ABV.

Moylan’s Danny’s Irish Red is big both in bottle size, 22 ounce bombers, and alcohol at 6.5% ABV.

Worry Wart – Divisional Playoff vs. Jets

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

The phrase pops up in movies and TV when the hero faces the same old nemeses.

Oh, these guys again.

For the third time this year, the Patriots face the Jets. Let’s review. For a look at how far New England has come (Javarris James, anyone?) see our worries from Game Two here. The WW column leading up to what was then the Game of The Year – in Week 13 – see this link.

So, that with two previous columns on these guys, that means all our worries are accounted for, right?

Nope. No way.

Gentlemen, Start Your Vengeance: Any team that suffers a 45-3 drubbing and gets the opportunity to do something about it looks like a dangerous team. The Jets kept Peyton Manning in check at Indianapolis. It’s not a stretch to think they can accomplish something similar in Foxboro.

A bit of a stretch, sure, but it’s there.

Once, Twice, Three Times A Maybe: The third game between two teams always looks like a wild card, especially if the previous two contests have split.

My Heavens, I’m working myself into quite a little frenzy over here.

The Off-Islanders: Watching Darrelle Revis shut down Indy’s Reggie Wayne reminded us of a certain special receiver (rhymes with Mandy Ross) who had a tough time on Revis Island. So, can the off-islanders like Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead do the job again, or will Rex Ryan have a few new wrinkles for the Patriots’ offense?

Speaking of the unstable one…

The Joy Of Rex: Hey, I like it that the media has a darling coach who makes their jobs easier. I like that he can’t help but feed the quote machine. But I worry, because 1) how far does it have to go, and 2) when does it stop?

If the Jets lose, will Rex Ryan go away? Nope. He won’t, and we know that because a humiliating defeat in December didn’t keep him away. Neither did some off-field revelations that would have compelled most other men to take a brief respite from the job. He just keeps coming back. Like a machine. A shameless, self-hyping quote machine.

Oh, these guys again.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

First (Third?) Impressions – New York Jets

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

So here the Patriots go again with the Jets.

One would think after the absolutely thoroughly embarrassing mauling they took just a month ago on December 6th, the Jets would come in quiet and unassuming in trying to pull off a victory this Sunday in Foxboro, but that isn’t the case. Apparently not even 45-3 humbles this team. Rex Ryan has been in full throat this week, dissing everyone from Tom Brady to essentially the entire Patriots team by claiming that it was only Bill Belichick who was the difference last time. Meanwhile, he gives himself credit alone for beating Peyton Manning last week. The man is bizarre even beyond his fetishes. The Jets players seem to play happily along, loudly telling the press they’re going to get revenge as Dustin Keller did. Or that the Patriots ran it up last time but the Jets are still the better team as wide receiver Braylon Edwards publicly claimed. Or LaDanian Tomlinson, who always has been self-proclaimed “classy”, complaining about trash talk. These people have no shame.

The bottom line is the Patriots are a better team. Upsets can happen. If the Patriots play an off game, turn it over and the Jets execute, sure there is probably some percentage chance of winning. But its unlikely. The Patriots have weapons the Jets can’t handle. The Jets defense hasn’t really played up to last year’s unit and has been at least semi-exposed this season. The Jets offense can run a bit. They can occasionally hit a pass. But they’re inconsistent and far from efficient. Its just a tremendous stretch to envision them putting up more points than the Patriots. Anything is possible, but its just not likely.

So, I suspect the Jets will be comfortably vanquished this Sunday. Maybe not 45-3 thrashed, but comfortably. The Patriots will move on to AFC Championship game, perhaps the Super Bowl and maybe, just maybe, a championship.

The Jets will move on to commencing an off-season filled with more talk. Because that’s what that tiring team is good at.

Mark Sanchez (#6), Quarterback: Sanchez became the Jets all-time leading playoff winner at quarterback this past week with his third playoff win. That tells you something about the general success of the Jets franchise over the years. There are a number of questions surrounding Sanchez heading into this game. First, since starting out the season with an 8-0 TD/INT ratio, he has fallen back to a 9-14 ratio if one counts the playoff game over the last 11 games he has played. And while the Jets managed to win that playoff game last Saturday versus the Colts, Sanchez wasn’t exactly impressive with a 62.4 QB rating. That despite a strong running game. After his miserable performance in fairly cold weather versus the Patriots in a 45-3 loss on December 6th, another question arose about the California-bred Sanchez’ ability to deal with cold weather. He followed it up the next week with a 45.3 rating in a loss to Miami on a blustery day. There was somewhat a rebound in cold weather when he put up an 81.1 rating in a win versus Pittsburgh and an 84.2 in a loss to Chicago. But still, neither of those games was he better than average when one actually looked at his play closely. So, Sanchez has a difficult task. He’ll be in a hostile environment in elements he generally doesn’t handle well against an opponent that knows his weaknesses well. If he can overcome that and put up a great game, that would be very impressive. I wouldn’t hold your breath though.

LaDanian Tomlinson (#21), Running Back: Tomlinson had a decent game against the Colts Saturday with 82 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Colts defense was banged up, but still it was a surprise performance for the man known as “L.T.” given how badly he struggled down the stretch for the Jets. It was his first game of better than 55 yards since week 5. What’s more, L.T. had averaged a miserable 3.3 per carry since week 5. The 31 year old seemed worn down the end of the season. He received a week off the last week of the season in a meaningless game versus Buffalo and that no doubt helped re-charge his batteries. But now after a 16 carry game, a burden he was only given twice since the start of November, he undoubtedly will feel some bumps and bruises which slow him down again. The Colts game also marked a decent playoff performance for the notoriously un-clutch Tomlinson. While one could point to a game here or there that was good in the post-season….lets say by disingenuously going back five seasons to find one…the fact is until last week Tomlinson had put up historically bad playoff performances in his last five games there. The totals are ugly. Over those last five playoff games Tomlinson rushed 47 times for 124 yards or 2.6 per carry. Amazingly, Tomlinson couldn’t even quite crack 25 yards per game in the biggest games he’s played in. That is incredibly bad. To ignore that would suggest either one doesn’t know what they’re talking about or simply has an agenda. L.T. came into the last Patriots game screaming “We’re physical, they finesse!!!“. There’s plenty of evidence that will be how he plays Sunday as the games get bigger.

Dustin Keller (#81), Tight End: Keller is a good player who has had some nice games against the Patriots in the past. But he’s been a bit inconsistent this season. He’s had his big games, like the 115 yard effort he had in the first game against the Patriots. But he’s also been shut down and had less than 30 yards receiving in 7 of the 15 games he played this season. Some of that may be a function of the poor play of Sanchez. And its probably no coincidence those games are games Sanchez has some of his worst QB ratings putting up 3 of his 4 worst of the seasons in those games. But there is also a sense Keller just hasn’t been as good as past seasons too. The Patriots will likely focus on taking Keller away as they did the last match up when he had only 3 catches for 27 yards. Doing this forces Sanchez to throw deeper, outside routes that he struggles more with and is indecisive performing. That can lead to overthrows or even worse for the Jets turnovers and sacks. So Keller, in many ways, is the key to Sanchez having good games and getting in rhythm. And if the Patriots do as good a job as last time its likely the Jets and Sanchez will struggle.

Sione Pioha (#91), Nose Tackle: For the second straight year, Pioha has filled in admirably for the Jets for injured nose tackle Kris Jenkins. And he’s done it so well, Head Coach Rex Ryan has argued Pioha is deserving of a Pro Bowl selection. I tend to agree. Pioha is not much of a pass rusher, but he is a stout run defender who clogs up the middle better than most defensive tackles in the NFL. And he does it quietly, efficiently, without any public comment or recognition or self-promotion. That’s a rarity, but something to be admired, for a Jet player. Last game, the Patriots ran fairly effectively, but at times Patriots center Dan Koppen has struggled against run defenders like Pioha who are physically stronger than him. Koppen at least holding his own against Pioha will be a big key to the game because if the Patriots can run effectively, it’ll make Tom Brady even more deadly to the Jets on the play-action passes.

Nick Folk (#2), Kicker: Here is a move that has to be considered one of numerous recent bad moves by Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum. Last year he let very consistent kicker Jay Feely walk away and signed on Nick Folk as his replacement. All Feely did was rank 6th in the NFL with an 88.9 FG success percentage, including nailing 10 of 13 beyond 40 or 50 yards. Folk meanwhile was down towards the bottom of the NFL in the same percentage and only his 3-6 between 40-49 yards and 2-5 beyond 50. Yes, he did nail the game winner last week versus the Colts, but at 32 yards indoors that was a kick any NFL kicker would hit almost 100% of the time. He hasn’t been really tested and he could get that this week in the swirling cold of Foxboro. Folk struggled down the stretch, missing 6 field goals after November 1st. If the Jets get in a close game, its questionable whether Folk can hit a difficult kick for them as the pressure and weather ramps up on him this week.

Ticket Watch – Jets at Patriots, Divisional Playoff Round

Patriots fans don’t seem to excited (for now) about their matchup with the division rival Jets with tickets selling for the 2nd lowest avg and premium among the four divisonal games this weekend.

So this may be the time to buy for Patriots fans. Don’t let Jets fans get these seats.

Matchups Of The Week – Jets at Patriots

By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff

The jubilation is palpable in Patriots nation. Finally, a meaningful game is on the horizon, and it’s against the hated Jets. New York, who were once considered a Super Bowl favorite, is now viewed upon as the weakest team left in the AFC playoffs. It’s funny how quickly things change in the sports world. Last time the Jets were in town, fans were quivering in their boots about a possible New York sweep against their beloved Patriots and tumbling New England all the way down to the 5th seed. But a 45-3 blowout has made all the fans forget about how formidable the Jets were coming into that contest.

While the Divisional round might be a repeat of the trouncing, it could also mirror their Week 2 meeting. Regardless, it will be an exiting game, whose victor will be the team that gets the upper hand in these 5 matchups:

1) Jets Running Game vs. Patriots Linebackers

The Jets control the game with their running attack. This alleviates the pressure off of Sanchez’s green shoulders and keeps the ball away from Tom Brady’s deadly hands. The Patriots front 7 isn’t exactly the iron curtain, but they do get Brandon Spikes back as well as an extra weeks rest. However it’s not impossible to see that the Patriots defensive line, currently held together by duck tape consisting of Love, Deaderick, Moore, and Cohen splitting at the seems during the heated playoff atmosphere in a frigid Gillette Stadium.

2) Mark Sanchez vs. Bill Belichick’s schemes

Sanchez doesn’t have to throw the ball very often in order for the Jets to succeed. This is a good thing for the Jets, as he is prone to getting flustered and making costly mistakes. So, the more confusing Belichick’s schemes are, the more likely the young QB will make a bad decision.

3) Shayne Graham vs. Any Field Goal Attempt Over 35 yards

It would be nice to think that the Patriots will walk all over the Jets and will only need Graham to kick chip-shot extra points, but that is not how most playoff games play out. Patriots will at some point count on their kicker to make a clutch play, and so far Graham has not instilled much confidence. However, historically he is rather accurate which is should serve as some condolence to people who are worried about his obvious lack of range. Please don’t look up his historical stats! He is 3rd all time in field goal percentage behind Nate Keating and Vander-jerk (the 2 most infamously least clutch kickers in the last decade.)

4) Patriots offensive line vs. Ryan’s Blitz

Rex Ryan’s defenses always produce elaborate blitzes which force their secondary to play in man coverage all game long. If the Patriots stout offensive line can buy Tom Brady time to adequately make his reads, he will be able to pick apart any man coverage, which was evident in their last meeting.

5) Turnover Battle

Patriot fans have been living the twilight zone these past couple of months. New England is so stingy with the ball and force so many turnovers that opposing teams inevitably fall behind and are forced to air the ball out in order to get back in the game. Their playbooks become slimmer and their play-calling inherently riskier, resulting in even more turnovers. This self-sustaining downward spiral is impossible to get out of unless the Jets themselves start generating turnovers.  Let’s hope that the Patriots continue this Scrooge-ness, all the way to the AFC Title game.

Around The League – Week 17

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

Wild Card weekend starts tomorrow so here’s a few predictions for you. These picks are for recreational purposes only. I pity anyone who actually takes my word for it.

New Orleans over Seattle – The Seahawks have a big home-field advantage at Qwest Field and the Saints are banged up. But Seattle is also exceedingly lucky to be in the playoffs and has dropped each of its last six losses by at least 15 points. Oh, and the Saints are the defending champs. Mark it, dude.

Former Patriot Matt Cassel Faces The Ravens This Weekend

Indianapolis over New York Jets – If there’s ever been a year the Colts are vulnerable, this is it. There’s a slew of injuries on both sides of the ball and they seriously underachieved earlier in the season, particularly Peyton Manning. But they’ve won four in a row, are running the ball extremely well and are playing at home. That, and the Jets are are weaker than they should be on defense and have a major disadvantage at QB. It’s actually going to be somewhat of a shame to see the Jets lose; a win brings them back to Foxboro which would give the Pats another chance to humiliate them on national TV. Maybe Rex Ryan, who wrote a couple more priceless chapters of his upcoming book, “Coaching for Dummies,” this past week, including taking an unsolicited swipe at Tom Brady regarding his work habits, didn’t learn his lesson the last time.

Baltimore over Kansas City – Arrowhead Stadium is a hellish place for visitors to play, but this game will mark a case of experience over inexperience. The Chiefs seem to suddenly be in some disarray (see below) perhaps due in some part to offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’s impending departure. And the Ravens know how to win on the road in the playoffs. Kansas City can probably score against the Baltimore D; the question is whether their own defense can slow down Ray Rice and all those Ravens receivers. Probably not quite enough.

Philadelphia over Green Bay – This is the Coach Who Can’t Get Out Of His Own Way Bowl. Philly’s Andy Reid wrote the book on puking all over himself in big games but the Packers’ Mike McCarthy seems to be star pupil in that school. This game could really go either way; both teams are hugely talented and hugely flawed. The Packers enter on a high, while the Eagles have been experiencing a little turmoil the past couple weeks. This one feels kind of like a pick the home team and cross your fingers sort of situation.

After this weekend, just for shits and giggles, let’s go with the Saints over Atlanta, the Bears over the Eagles, then the Saints making a return trip to the Super Bowl. In the AFC, it’ll be the Pats over the Ravens, the Steelers beating the Colts and then, in a bloodbath, the Pats making it 2-for-2 over Pittsburgh on the year. And on Feb. 6, in Dallas? Take a wild guess.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: It’s not like anyone doesn’t already know this is where the Pats belong (well, maybe except for Rex Ryan) but 38 points and 502 total yards in Week 17 while playing the whole game without three of their top five pass catchers and just two-plus quarters with their MVP quarterback should be enough evidence for any doubters left out there.

2. Pittsburgh: Good for the Steelers. They desperately needed to beat Cleveland on the road last week to ensure a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game and they did it and then some, rolling the woeful Brownies, 41-9. This week of rest should make these guys a pretty difficult matchup for any of their possible opponents (Indy, Kansas City, Baltimore) in the divisional round next weekend.

3. Atlanta: The Falcons took care of business against the Panthers, earning themselves the No. 1 seed in the NFC and putting the previous week’s loss to the Saints behind them. Still, it will take a lot more than a good effort against a team as terrible as Carolina and a scared one against a team like New Orleans to ensure more than a one-and-done for this team, especially if it gets the Saints or Packers next week.

4. Baltimore: The Ravens just keep winning ugly, barely hanging on against the Bengals last week. But wins are wins and with the Steelers beating the Browns, Baltimore will now go back on the road for the postseason, where its achieved a lot of success lately, winning three playoff games away from home the past two years.

5. (tie) New Orleans/Green Bay: The road to Dallas got a lot harder for my NFC Super Bowl pick last week, with running backs Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas now out for the year, and star defensive back Malcolm Jenkins seriously banged up. Luckily, the Saints get the happy to be here Seahawks this week, so any issues they may have won’t necessarily hurt them for another round. As for the Packers, they nearly puked away the playoffs at home against a Bears team playing for nothing. They have so much talent, it’s hard to believe their only a 6-seed for the second straight year. Maybe it’s time we start looking in the direction of their coach, Mike McCarthy, as the reason.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Carolina: And so it ends for John Fox in Charlotte, done after nine seasons, the most recent being a 2-14 catastrophe. He leaves behind the worst ranked offense in the league in both yards and points allowed along with the sixth worst defense. Yet he seems to be a lock to take over one of the several coaching vacancies in the league next season. Why? Does no one pay attention to this sort of thing? Or the five other years he didn’t lead his team to the postseason?

2. Arizona: After the Cardinals were demolished by the rudderless 49ers last week, third-stringer John Skelton actually said he believes he’d done enough over the final month of the season to warrant a shot at the starting QB job next year. Forgive Skelton if the last time he was in the film room, someone accidentally loaded some Cards footage from the last month of last season and he temporarily thought he was Kurt Warner. Hey, everyone else on the team (except Larry Fitzgerald) sucks, why shouldn’t the film room guy too?

3. Cleveland: Was highly entertaining to read all the quotes from Browns players last week discussing how much they love Eric Mangini and didn’t want to see him lose his job, then go out and fall behind by four TDs to the Steelers at home in what seemed like the first 26 seconds of Mangini’s final game in Cleveland before getting the axe on Monday. Way to back it up, fellas.

4. Buffalo: The Bills showed a lot of promise this season, absorbing one massively tough loss after another yet still playing hard and with heart and character before winning a few. There certainly seems to be something there on which to build. Hopefully, coach Chan Gailey will erase the tape of their last two games, though. Buffalo lost those to the Pats and the Jets by a combined 72-10.

5. Cincinnati: And after all that, Marvin Lewis is coming back? Why would he even want to? It seems he’ll get to do so without either Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco, and that may well have been all he needed to hear to agree to it.

What’s Trendy

- The Bucs: Kind of a shame these guys were edged out of the playoffs despite a shocking 10 wins, including a must-have last week in New Orleans. Their Week 15 home loss to Detroit in overtime doomed them, but there was so much to enjoy about this team in 2010, from the seven-win improvement to QB Josh Freeman’s rise to coach Raheem Morris’s ascension from in over his head to Coach of the Year candidate to the emergence of LeGarrette Blount as a top level back, and more. It will be interesting to see how this young team responds some actual expectations next season. Will they take a step back or forward? They seem to have a lot of the right looking tools for it to be the latter.
- Jim Tomsula, 49ers: San Francisco’s interim head coach presided over a rousing, 38-7 blowout of Arizona in what will almost certainly be his only game at the top of the totem pole. When the Niners hire a full-time guy and Tomsula goes back to coaching the offensive line or elsewhere, he will be tied with a handful of other dudes for the highest winning percentage in league history at 1.000. Way to go, Jim!
- The Seahawks: With their so-bad-it-ached-to-watch, 16-6 win over the Rams on Sunday night, Seattle became the first team in NFL history to win its division and make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9). Actually, that isn’t trendy at all, but I had to put something in the this space.

What’s Not

- The Dolphins: As if their 1-7 home mark this year or their no-show in Foxboro last week in their final game of the season weren’t bad enough, now owner Steve Ross is flying all over the country trying to make Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh Miami’s head coach at what would be the highest salary in the league. Oh, did I forget to mention, he’s doing this even though he hasn’t let go of his current coach, Tony Sparano. What a disgrace. How can Sparano just sit there and watch all of this happen and not quit? There was a time when the Dolphins were considered one of the model franchises in the NFL. I can barely remember it.
- The Jaguars and the Texans: After a three-game losing streak to close out a season in which they controlled their playoff destiny, the Jags will now not be in the tournament for the third straight year. Did they fire coach Jack Del Rio? Nope. And the Texans, who won on Sunday over (ding ding ding!!!) the Jaguars, finished 6-10, making it now nine years without a single playoff appearance, including the last five under Gary Kubiak. Did they fire him? Nope. It’s painful to witness the amount of sheer incompetence that runs amok in the NFL at the highest levels. I can’t imagine being a fan of either of these teams, and so many others, who run around in circles year after year after year without the first clue about how to be successful. Then I remember that the team I am a fan of does everything the right way and knows exactly what its doing, and then I feel better.
- The Chiefs: Wow, was this the same team that did such a stellar job in surprising everyone all year en route to a division title? Not only were they blown out at home by hated rival Oakland in a game they really could have used to improve their playoff draw, but QB Matt Cassel was just 11-of-33 for 115 yards and two picks, and their much improved defense allowed over 200 yards rushing. Yuck. It may be a quick end to the renaissance season in KC, especially with the tested, proven Ravens in town on Sunday.

And finally…

With that 31-10 win over the Chiefs, the Raiders finished 8-8 (6-0 in the AFC West), barely missing the playoffs and registering their first season with fewer than 11 losses since 2002. So naturally, they fired their coach Tom Cable. Oakland must have felt uncomfortable not being an utter and complete embarrassment this season; it’s hard to fathom any other reason why decrepit owner Al Davis would make such a decision. Punter Shane Lechler, who’s been on the team since 2000 and has thus seen now six coaching changes over that stretch, said (courtesy of Pro Football Talk) that he knows of multiple free agents who now won’t return to the team next year, called it a, “huge setback,” referred to Cable as “awesome” and “exactly what we need,” and added, “I’m not so sure this isn’t a terrible decision,” and that after trying and failing to get in touch with Davis or any other team executives he, “just wants to know what the hell is going on. How do you justify firing someone after going 6-0 in the division and 8-8 overall? How do you just go ahead and whack this guy with no reason?”

The Raiders signed another punter the next day. This despite Lechler leading the league in punting every year of his career and being first team All-Pro six times. Ladies and gentlemen, the Oakland Raiders. Same as it ever was.

Worry Wart – Playoff Bye Week

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

What the Patriots did to the Dolphins this past Sunday would make Greenpeace shudder (you know, if they were really dolphins). As it happened, the 38-7 slaughter provided Foxboro’s crowd with an entertaining wrap-up to a surprising 14-2 regular season.

So, despite the defensive line showing some thinness (so to speak) and a shot to the noggin of our beloved Woodhead, we have a short piece this week. Nothing to do but sit back and root for whatever teams we hate less.

Here’s a quick rundown of New England’s potential opponents January 16.

Brady Buddy Terrell Suggs Might Be Coming To Gillette

Raven Mad: Everyone’s looking at Baltimore as the most formidable foe, and with good reason. New England battled the birds to a 23-20 overtime victory on October 17. They also feature sack artist Terrell Suggs, who talks about hating Tom Brady so much we half expect that after the game, in romantic comedy fashion, those two will drive off together to the strains of Harry Connick, Jr.

Wow. Weird image.

Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made Of: That song lyric makes no sense whatsoever. Still, you’ve got to like New York’s chances. With that Jet defense and running game, if you give them an inch, they’ll take a foot.

Thank you! Please enjoy our nacho bar!

What’s Going On, Chief? Quarterback Matt Cassel’s last performance vs. Oakland (11 for 33, two interceptions, five sacks) belies an overall great year (stats here). Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles has had a breakout season (1,467 yards, 6.4 per tote), putting the onus on New England’s defense to stop the run. Add to that the killer coordinator combo of Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennell, and the Chiefs have something going for them.

Hmm. So much for nothing to worry about.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Moving The Goalposts

This Patriots season has been remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is the way that they’ve made so many media “experts” look foolish in their preseason predictions.

You no doubt recall many of these preseason worries. Perhaps you shared some of them.

Lets look at a few of the loudest “storylines” involving the Patriots from the offseason and early season, and how they worked out.

The “growing disconnect” between the Patriots and Tom Brady.

Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports floated this out there during the summer, reporting that the sides were not talking about a new contract, and that Brady was getting annoyed with the franchise. Earlier in the year, the Colts had declared that Payton Manning -like Brady, also in the last year of his contract – would be given a new contract to be the highest paid player in the history of the game. That seemed to satisfy media members, who never gave the same amount of attention to Manning’s situation as they did to Brady’s – and Manning still remains without a new contract.  Note what Silver wrote, and how silly it looks now:

Brady, however, can’t help but notice the way that the only NFL quarterback who can be considered his peer, Peyton Manning, has been treated by the Colts’ ownership.

Manning, who signed a reported $99.2 million contract extension in 2004 that will void after the 2010 season, looks to be in line for another unprecedented payday: Last February, five days before the Colts’ Super Bowl XLIV defeat to the New Orleans Saints, Indy owner Jimmy Irsay said of a contract extension, “You know it’s going to get done. I think it’s clear, and we’ll start on it this summer. … And it’ll be the biggest [contract] in history; there’s not much doubt about that.”

It’s worth repeating. Manning still has not gotten a new deal. Brady has. Local media put huge stock into Silver’s reporting over the summer, and when the deal got done attempted to cover themselves by saying that it was disgraceful that the Patriots made Tom Brady get down on his knees and beg for a new contract.

They don’t have any tight ends!

This one was from early on in the offseason, prior to the draft. Even after the draft, there were some concerns about the position. How is that looking now? Rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez along with veteran free agent signee Alge Crumpler have completely changed how the offense is being run.

Even during the summer, the Michael Felgers of the world were saying about how the Patriots have never used the tight ends in their offense, despite high picks like Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson, and that these new additions would not have an impact.

Brady isn’t as passionate about the game has he once was.

Tom Brady has clearly lost his passion for the game.

The theory was the since Brady was now married, and had two kids, and spent a lot of time on the West coast and traveling the world in general, he wasn’t as focused on his craft as he had been when he was winning the all-important “parking space” for dedication to offseason workouts at Gillette Stadium.

An MVP season later this also looks patently ridiculous. Some of those who made those statements (again, Felger) has recently attempted to distance themselves from them. We never said that was the case, we simply wondered if it might be the case…

They drafted a special teams player in the first round!

The selection of Devin McCourty in the first round was not a popular one, initially, especially among media members who thought they knew better what the Patriots needs were.

We can make this one real simple.

Devin McCourty better be Darrelle Revis. Or Nnamdi Asomugha. Or quickly show the promise of Mike Jenkins or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

In his rookie season, McCourty joined Revis and Asomugha as the AFC’s representatives to the Pro Bowl at the cornerback position.

No coordinators! Bill has spread himself too thin! His ego is out of control!

Another statement that looks silly now. Belichick has stated many times that his workload has not increased, and he appears to be enjoying himself in teaching young players like McCourty, Pat Chung, Jermaine Cunningham, Jerod Mayo and others on defense. Bill O’Brien seems fully in control of the offense (having Tom Brady can’t hurt) and coaching has not been a problem for this team.

8-8 ,9-7 or 10-6 is the ceiling for this team.

Whoops.

After all the pessimism of the preseason, now the goalposts have been moved completely. No longer is this a surprise season of an overachieving team. Now, anything less than a Super Bowl, and this season is a disappointment, or even a failure. A column by Gerry Callahan this week seemed to indicate that the Patriots should have no problems at all rolling through the postseason. A setup for being able to criticize the team if they do lose? Perhaps.

Now, the focus is one “Which AFC team should the Patriots be scared of the most?” The common answer, at least by the Michael Felger-soundalike-fill-ins on 98.8 FM the last couple of weeks is “All of them.” Guys who were music DJ’s 18 months ago are now NFL experts telling you why the Patriots should be scared of the Jets, Colts, Steelers, Ravens, Chiefs, Falcons, Saints, Bears, Eagles and Packers. Apparently the only playoff team that the Patriots might have a chance of beating is the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks.

Nevermind the fact that during the regular season, the Patriots played 7 games against teams in this year’s playoffs, and finished 6-1. The only loss was to the Jets in week two, and the Patriots followed that up by thumping the Jets 45-3 in December. They also beat the Ravens, Steelers, Colts, Bears and Packers. Thank god the Chargers didn’t make the playoffs. No one wants to face the Chargers in the playoffs.

The national media has anointed the Ravens as the team that can beat the Patriots in Gillette. After all, they did whip them 33-14 last January. That, however, was a completely different Patriots team. Ian Rapoport in the Herald this morning pointed out that 25 of the players on the Patriots 53-man roster from that game are no longer here.

I’d think that if the Ravens came into Gillette, they’d be facing an extremely motivated Patriots team. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick would likely be seeking some revenge, and Brady would like to shut up mouthy Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who seemingly couldn’t go a week in the regular season without talking about Brady.

The Patriots could lose in the playoffs. I’m not suggesting otherwise. What I am saying is that we should not let the media’s moving goalposts allow us to overlook what a pleasant surprise this season has been, and set the bar too high for deeming the season a success. This franchise has a bright future, not matter what you hear from the “experts.”