Monday, January 14, 2008

The Definitive 2001-Present Top 10 Pats List (Part 1)

So I was wondering to myself the other day, who have been the most important Patriots players in this sustained run of success since 2001. Now obviously we know that the most important player is Tom Brady. But I think the fun lies in naming the top players not named Tom Brady to make this list. I hope this post serves two purposes actually; first, I'd love to get some good dialogue going and second it can get everybody pumped for the Super Bowl while summarily looking back.

Today, we are going to start with my Honorable Mentions and Numbers 10-6. We'll bang out the rest later in the week.

Before I get going, some notes about my decidedly un-scientific methodology.

1) I am not including Welker and Moss on this list simply because they have not won anything - read SUPER BOWL - with this group yet and I want this list reserved for the guys who made a consistent and somewhat lengthy run with the squad.

2) I am not putting the O-line on there because they have been consistently excellent since 2001 and it would be unfair to acknowledge one over the other. Plus, I'm not a savvy enough football watcher to be able to tell the great ones from the average ones. I do however put the same theory towards o-lineman as I do towards refs and umpires - if you don't say their name that means they are doing well. This is how I remember guys like Max Lane. I distinctly remember listening/watching games and hearing his name called every other play it seemed for a hold or false start. No need to even make a Eugene Chung joke.

Honorable Mentions:

Drew Bledsoe
I'll be honest, I don't know if they win that AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh in 2002 without his stellar effort out of the pen. Plus, let's not kid ourselves - without Bledsoe or Parcells the Pats are not where they are today. You absolutely have to give the guy his props.

Antowain Smith
Smith was the definition of a plodding, un-explosive, and mediocre running back but despite all that he was the feature back for 2 Super Bowl teams. That counts for something right? It's kind of like Luc Longley being the starting center for the great '96-'98 Bulls teams isn't it? Say what you will about the guy, but he was still THE STARTING CENTER for back-to-back-to-back NBA Champions.

Bryan Cox
Cox was the first in the long line of questionable character guys that Belichek rolled the dice on and succeeded swimmingly. I could not put my finger on one signature Bryan Cox as a Patriot moment but he really brought a toughness to that 2001 team and set a tone that made them what they were. Without Bryan Cox - and I guess you could put Roman Phifer in here a bit too - are the Pats a Super Bowl winner in 2001/02? I don't know. I doubt it though to be totally honest. Ask anybody about that team and I bet you they will agree with the previous statement.

Adam Vinatieri

Believe me, I know how clutch he was. I just can't put a kicker on my list. I couldn't do it. Sorry. I know it was stupid OK? Just let me be. Please.

10) Asante Samuel
Asante Samuel is kind of like the Patriots version of Kevin Youklis. He'll give you a roller coaster ride during the regular season and clearly thinks he is a bit better than he really is, but come playoff time - or even big regular season game time - he is an absolute cinch for a big or game changing play. Too bad this will undoubtedly be his last season in Foxboro. I don't think somebody who sports a "Get Paid" tattoo will settle for less than the absolute most money he can receive.

(BTW, Kevin Youklis has to be the most polarizing Sox player doesn't he? We need to get into an extended debate in this forum about him as we move closer to the season. As for his contract demands though, they are far from outlandish and I think the Sox NEED to sign him for what he is asking not only because it is a good financial deal for them but it also gives him an insane amount of trade value because regardless of payroll size the $4M range for a guy like Youk is a great bargain and all teams love proven players signed to moderate contracts. Other than young pitching I'd say it is the single most desirable trade asset these days.)

9) Ty Law
Ty Law's 2003 season was the best season I have ever seen a cornerback play and he played what I argued on my old Web site to be the greatest game a cornerback has ever played in the AFC Championship Game that season with his 3 picks of Manning and locking down Marvin Harrison. He also scored a touchdown in their first Super Bowl victory which provided all Pats fans with the definitive, "Holy crap I think we can win this" moment early in the game.

So why so low then? I really don't know. Let's move on. Who would YOU move back?

8) Willie McGinest
Do I really need to explain this? It's Willie Freakin' McGinest here! He gets bonus points too for the infamous fake injury play in Indy in 2003. And we wonder why people hate the Pats?

PS...Do you ever wonder what became of his mid-90's running mate, Chris Slade? I do all the time! I thought Slade would be the better player too!

7)Corey Dillon

Dillon was the first legitimate, star running back the Pats had since Curtis Martin and he did not disappoint as he accumulated over 1,700 yards in 15 games and scored 13 touchdowns in 2004. In the playoffs he had a great game against the Colts in the Divisional Round (23 carries for 144), followed it up with a pedestrian game against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, and then rebounded with a decent Super Bowl. Despite all this though, he was a tough add because he just did it for one year really as he was hampered by injuries in 2005 and 2006 and only accumulated about 1,500 yards combined those two years. He did manage to score 25 times though. Even if he was only force for one season which seems to go against my initial intentions, his contributions in 2004 cannot be understated and he did allow Maroney to be a tandem back in 2006.

That's what he did on the actual field. As far as the locker room goes though, I'd argue that's where he left his largest impact as he was the first A-List guy with an atrocious reputation for killing team chemistry that the Pats brought in believing that the veteran leadership and coaching staff could smother any potential distractions. This was a seemingly huge risk at the time and never once did Corey Dillon do anything but comport himself like a pro. This was a huge deal.

We all know where this is going right? The Moss trade. It's funny because at the time everybody cited Dillon as the reason the Pats felt they could make such a bold move for a notorious malcontent but now, nine months later it has been an afterthought almost. So much so that when I was bouncing my list off of my old roommate, Jay Higgins he brought this point up to me and I thought to myself, "You're110% right. I need to put Dillon higher". (He was originally slated for the 10 spot.)

6) Deion Branch/David Givens
Don't hate on this. Let me Explain.

Exhibit A: Each won 2 rings

Exhibit B: David Givens postseason numbers - 35 receptions for 324 yards and 9 touchdowns in 8 games

Exhibit C: Deion Branch postseason numbers - 41 receptions for 629 yards and 3 touchdowns in 8 games including 21 receptions for 276 and a TD in two Super Bowls...and a Super Bowl MVP

OK, I've made my case.

Look out for the rest of the list probably Wednesday or so.

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