Wednesday, January 30, 2008

2001 Pats List (5-1)

Back to the Pats list. Let's finish this thing off strong. Scroll down the page if you missed Part 1, or check the archives.

5) Kevin Faulk
You really cannot appreciate Kevin Faulk unless you have truly followed the Pats for a while. Whenever I try and find a comparable player in either football or other sports I always find myself going back to Derek Fisher of the Lakers. I'd say Robert Horry, but that is too obvious. I say Fisher because on the great Kobe-Shaq Laker teams I'd argue that he was their greatest secret weapon. It just seemed that whenever they needed a back-breaking three to either put a game away or cap a furious in-game run it was Fisher that was nailing the shot right before the home crowd exploded and the camera panned to the opponents' coach standing on the sidelines with a "What the F just happened look" and signaling for a timeout. Isn't that exactly what Faulk does? Whether it's picking up a clutch first down, energizing the running game - which he did against both Pittsburgh and Philly in the 2005 playoffs -, or even picking up a blitz and then sneaking out to catch a screen pass, Faulk always seems to make the plays when they are absolutely the most needed and you always find yourself saying after a big game, "Man, how clutch was Faulk?!".

3 notes to further my case:

A) I was thinking about posting this before the AFC Championship Game but I thought that that would be a bit premature. And I knew Faulk would do a few huge things and I wanted to properly take those into account. True story BTW.

B) Ask Matt Burke, the "Direct Snap to Kevin Faulk" play is my pet-play. It was the one cheesy trick play that Charlie Weiss used to call all the time to pick up some tough first downs that consistently worked. Whenever the Pats are in a clutch short yardage situation I always call for it - including during the SD game last year when they needed that two point conversion - and when they actually do do it, I feel somehow vindicated and proud. It's kind of creepy actually. I'm like a little league dad about that play.

c) There is a 100% chance that this play will happen in the Super Bowl. Mark my words.

4) Troy Brown
We are talking about my all time favorite Patriot here and it kills me to put him at 4. I really wanted to put him at the top, but I just could not do it. The guy is pure class and the fact that he stepped in as a DB in 2004 to help a depleted secondary more than added to his legend. When he retires, if the Patriots do not retire his jersey, have a “Troy Brown Day”, and offer him some job within the organization then it will be an outrage on so many levels.

So, why number 4 then? Well, you could make the argument that the guy was the MVP of the 2001 team which you know won the Super Bowl. But then on the other hand, being a classy guy aside, he only has 2,396 yards receiving since 2001 and 890 of those came in 2002. Plus, on the ’03 and ’04 teams he was the third receiver behind Branch and Givens. Please, don’t accuse me of marginalizing the guy. I’d put him higher if I could, but in good conscience and for the integrity of the list – taking the whole 2001-2007 picture into consideration – I need to keep him here. It kills me, but I gotta do it. Post 2001, would you have said, "Oh crap" to yourself if you heard he was out of a big game? Maybe, but not to the extent that you would with the guys below and certainly not anymore. Again, no offense to Troy Brown because I have more respect for him and feel personally vested in him more than any other guy on the Pats. He came in with Bledsoe for chrissakes!

3) Richard Seymour
Richard Seymour is now to the Pats D what Randy Moss is to the Pats O. You get two options with Seymour like you get two options with Moss. You can either let him run free and more or less annihilate you. Or you can dedicate all your resources to stopping him and then open the door for the other guys to get you and get you good. In that regard, Seymour’s effectiveness often transcends stats.

Now maybe Seymour is not the guy he was a few years back when he was consistently rated as one of the top 5 players in the entire NFL - this is true, I remember perusing a Scouts Inc. list prior to the 2004 season and he was ranked as the second best player in the league based on everything he brought to the table - but he is still really damn good. And he has been really damn good since his rookie year of 2001. If you are an astute football guy who truly understands the ins-and-outs of blocking schemes and how disruptive Seymour is you could probably convince me to put him even higher. I’d love to hear the case too. For now though, three seems about right.

2) Rodney Harrison
Say what you will about Rodney, but the fact is that since he came aboard in 2003 and through the AFC Championship Game, the team's record when he plays is 58-6 and when he does not play they are 19-10. Those numbers include playoffs and notice how every year in which he has played in the postseason they have won the Super Bowl - he missed both the '06 and '07 playoffs. I am sorry, but this is not a coincidence. The guy just plain transforms their secondary thanks to his ability to impact both the running and passing games of the opponents.
*note that the with/without record factors in the 2006 regular season Colts game as a "without" because he was injured on the first series

I said prior to last year's AFC Championship Game that the key to the game was whether or not he would play. Well, he did not and the Pats lost. Do you think if Rodney was back there they could have at least slowed Peyton a little? I say absolutely and that little bit probably would have propelled them to another Super Bowl win. No coulda-woulda-shoulda here though. The Pats lost that game and Indy won it, bottom line. You can't cry on injuries in football because they come up and the great teams overcome them. Last year the Patriots did not.

Yes Rodney has the whole cheap-shot-artist/HGH stain to him, but on the field his impact on the Pats D is unparallelled. Hence his ranking here. Even if you still have doubts, just look at the with/without Rodney splits and try make a case otherwise. You can't do it. If you can, don't do it on theory, show me the numbers and I'll listen.

1) Mike Vrabel/Teddy Bruschi
The linebacking corps has been and remains to be both the most crucial ingredient in and heart and soul of the Patriots defense. Because of that fact and all of the HUGE plays these guys have come up with over the years, I have to give these two the top spot. I know it’s kind of cheesy lumping them together, but I had to do it. Would you want to rank one of these guys over the other? While Bruschi may have been slightly more of an impact player earlier in the run, Vrabel has been the man as of late. And he did catch a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl too that was kind of clutch. Either way, it’s my list and this is just how I am going to roll.

I doubt that I will have too many dissenters here although I can see a case being made for some other guys, but I do want to impart one piece of food for thought.

Shouldn’t these two guys get insane amounts of bonus points for being able to thrive in the Pats linebacking system which is clearly an insanely difficult one to master? Consider the fact that Adalius Thomas, the cream of last years DE/LB free agent crop and an athletic freak of nature came in and made a minimal impact. It wasn’t because he sucks either – he was a Pro Bowler last year – it was because…well I don’t know. But I do know that Vrabel was much more a vital cog in the system this year than him even if he is not the athletic "specimen" that Thomas. (Man that sounds creepy and gay, sorry.)

I could also include Rosey Colvin in the mix, but that really would not be fair because who knows how much his hip injury impeded his development and slowed him down. Sure he had a decent enough year last year and the first part of this year before getting hurt, but he was never the impact LB he was made out to be upon his arrival in 2003. Again, I’m not going to knock him though because when he first hurt himself in Week 2 of 2003 there were legitimate questions of whether he would play again so isn’t it fair to assume that the post injury Colvin is NOT the same guy that was brought in originally? I sure think so. Either way, I think it speaks well to both the skill set and football intelligence of Vrabel and Bruschi that they have been able to thrive such as they have in a such a difficult system which rewards and requires savvy as much as skill.

One final note and that is that I just wanted to say that I toyed with putting Rodney here, but at the end of the day I figured that if you look at what this team has done since 2001 there have been no two more consistently solid contributors on the field, off the field, and in the locker room than these two and I am glad that they head my list.

That’s it. I hope you enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing it at the very least.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Hey Pats fans!

I found a video (Super Bowl Radio Row) on Boston.TV thought you'd like to see it: