Monday, September 8, 2008

I Talk You Off The Ledge?

WTF OK? I get home from a wonderful Hawaiian vacation only to first learn that Tom Brady left in the first quarter of the Pats season opener against the Chiefs after taking a hit and then to later learn that his season could be - and probably is - over. Seriously. W.T.F.

The sad thing is, I kind of saw this whole thing coming. Sure my fears were that his "foot" or "ankle" or whatever was worse off than anticipated and not that his 2009 season could end after taking a hit 7.5 minutes in, but still. Something just did not seem right about the Pats all summer and I even practiced what I preached here avoiding the the two Patriot Big Ticket Items in all my fantasy drafts, Moss and Brady.

Believe me, after the debacle from the Super Bowl that still haunts me - and I think all Patriot fans to this day - it was really, really tough for me to get back into football this year. Come about June though, when the psycho Redskins and NCAA football fans in this area start humming about training camp being just six weeks away, you can't help but get excited yourself. Especially when you consider that your "woe is me act" after the Super Bowl loss is pretty freakin' lame considering that at the time the Pats were in the "Super Bowl Favorite" discussion. In all honesty, you really can't ask more from your team heading into the season than that.

And then Training Camp happened, Tom Brady did not play, and the team as a whole looked like absolute trash. Not even "they're just running vanilla schemes so the other team can make the slightest of adjustments and move/stop the ball with ease" type trash. Straight up uncleaned out fridge, stanky-ass trash. The worst kind of trash.

Even despite all that, Mike Reiss told us that things would be just fine and ESPN told us that things would be just fine and even SI and Paul Zimmerman said glowing things and we believed all of them. We shrugged the preseason off as an anomaly and meaningless - despite what our eyes told us and the vibe emitted from it - and we moved on, obnoxiously cocky as ever and ready to finally ready to put last February's disaster behind us.

And then on a play which from what I have read - still can't bring myself to watch it as I was on a plane when it happened - seems eerily similar to the one that derailed Carson Palmer a few years back in the playoff game against Pittsburgh everything changed. And now we are more than likely looking at Matt Cassell from now through December as the quarterback of the Patriots. A guy that didn't even start in college. Yikes.

While keeping all of this in mind, also keep the below in mind:

1) Us Boston sports fans have been SO ridiculously spoiled of late that we needed a major catastrophic event to test our allegiance and show the rest of the nation that we are not front-runners and bandwagon hoppers - which many are admittedly. What would you have said if in the first week of the 2004 baseball season, with the memories of the Grady Little Game still fresh, you saw Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Keith Foulke all go down with injuries? All of a sudden that team that was set to bury the past and win that one extra game that would propel them to a championship saw their two best starting pitchers and their closer go down almost immediately. What does that do to your psyche? What does that do to your outlook for that year's team? It's crushing right? But still, you don't just give up.

While I know the pre-2004 Red Sox are a far different animal than the 2008 Patriots, I do think a baseball team losing it's two best starters and closer is roughly equivalent to a football team losing it's all world QB. So the comparison is not perfect, but I think you get the gist. This season that you had such high hopes for and you swore would make you forget one of the most crushing defeats you ever witnessed, just got seemingly destroyed almost before it even started.

But do you know what? If you really care about the team, you'll stick with them, find the positive, and not just throw in the towel and proclaim something like, "well I'm a Jags fan or I'm an SEC fan now". I know most people won't do this, but some will too. I'm here to tell you not to do this. And like I said, look at the positives.

What are the positives?

Here you go:

1) Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Jabar Gaffney are probably the best 1-3 wideout group in the NFL. Sure, they are a lot better with Tom Brady throwing to them, but so is everybody else. I say, you could not ask for a better set of receivers to help Matt Cassell exceed his talents and become better than he may have any right being. Just think about it. Randy Moss is an atheletic freak who turned a washed up Randall Cunningham into a league MVP, Wes Welker was a quality weapon when he played for the Dolphins and had Joey Harrington throwing to him, and Jabar Gaffney was a Steve Spurrier stud at Florida who is perfectly capable of putting up 75-100 yard receiving games if they are there for him on a somewhat consistent basis.

2) Jeff Hostetler, Kurt Warner, Trent Dilfer, and Tom Brady. You remember Hoss and his moustache? Maybe, maybe not. If not, all he did was step in for Phil Simms - having only thrown 109 career passes to that point, thank you Wikipedia - after Simms hurt his foot in the Giants third to last regular season game, and lead the Giants to wins in their final two regular season games and a Super Bowl victory over the heavily favored Bills. You may also recall that the the upset most people equated the Pats victory in the 2002 Super Bowl to was that Giants upset over the Bills, quarterbacked by Hoss and defensively game-planned by a Mr. Bill Belichek.

You definitely know about Warner and Brady, but for the sake of consistency, we'll just say that each were early season injury replacements for their team's original starting QBs - Trent Green and Drew Bledsoe respectively - and each lead their teams to Super Bowl's right off the bat; Warner in 2000 and Brady in 2002.

So what happened in 2001? Well, that year the Ravens won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at the healm, who just so happened to take things over halfway through the season due to general incompetence by their original starter, Tony Banks. In eight regular season starts, Dilfer went 7-1 and then lead the team to the very difficult four win Super Bowl run following that.

While, I will admit that Brady was and is far more important to the Patriots than any of the aforementioned guys that were taken over for, the Patriots do also have a loaded roster around him and maybe with some luck and over-achieving, the 2008 Patriots can join the ranks of recent Super Bowl teams anchored by quarterbacks which started the year as number 2 on the depth chart.

3) Like I said, the roster is still loaded. And they have a laughably - at least on paper - easy schedule. While maybe the 12-4, 13-3, or 14-2 preseason predictions are out of the question now, I think 10-6 or 11-5 should still be within the realm of possibilities and that should mean playoffs. Assuming that Cassell does not play laughably bad of course. Which is ALWAYS a possibility when these situations arise. I'm just trying to harp on the positive.

4) For the first time since 2003 the Patriots can FINALLY start playing the "no respect" and "nobody believes in us" cards. It worked well then, and it could actually work well now. The only way that works now though is if the defense steps it up. That is how and why they won their first three Super Bowls and that is why they have not added two more to the mantle. If Richard Seymour can bounce back, if Jerod Mayo can be the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year we all want, if Addalius Thomas can be a disruptive pass rushing force, if Fernando Bryant reminds us all that Asante Samuel really wasn't as good as he thought, if 1 Part Rodney Harrisson + 1 Part John Lnych = 1 Competent NFL Safety, and if Ellis Hobbs keeps his self inflicted damage to a minimum I think the D can carry the team just like the old days. They probably don't have to do as much as back then, but they need more than they have gotten recently. Unfortunately, there are so many "ifs" in that earlier sentence that even Peter Gammons is appalled. You know that is the truth though.

5) Finally, I'll leave you with what could be the most important aspect of all this and that is Bill Belichek. Nobody is better at preparing an undermanned team to win than Belichek and I may daresay that this new and exciting challenge may be just the thing to get him going a little bit again. I'm not saying that he lost an edge or anything like that over the past few years but I will say that the recent Patriots teams have not been as mean and nasty as the old ones. Some of that comes from the players of course and I think some comes from Belichek. As weird as it may sound I think this whole Brady situation could very well bring out the best in him. More than anything else I have written above I believe this last fact to be the most true. We shall see.

And now because I'm a realist, a few things that I thought could have submarined the season in the playoffs with Brady, but now without him could lead to a truly mediocre to poor campaign:

(and all of these speak for themselves, so there is no further descriptions)

1) A shakey O-line

2) A shakey D, specifically the secondary

3) Randy Moss (This is new, but we know he can play nice catching balls from Tom Brady, but what happens when Tom Brady becomes Matt Cassell?)

And that's it folks. Kind of a marathon post, but I feel better now.

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