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2010 Patriots Retrospective: What the Hell Just Happened?

Next year’s Super Bowl MVP

Who were those 2010 Patriots?  Were they the dominant force that won the last eight games of the season and looked prime for another Super Bowl run?  Or were they the team that failed to make big plays and adjustments, instead making big mistakes? 

I was convinced going into last week’s playoff game against the Jets that the 2010 Patriots were the best Patriots team since 2003 and 2004.  My only concern was their youth and playoff inexperience, but how many huge primetime performances did this team come up with this year?  Miami, Pittsburgh, Indy, Green Bay, and the second Jets game were all primetime games with playoff implications; this was not exactly the do-or-die pressure of the playoffs, but close enough to feel confident for most Patriots fans.  In the biggest games of the season, this team consistently played all-phases football.  They won with timely defensive plays and big special teams plays.  They won with a dynamic offense that was unstoppable at times.  The Patriots two regular season losses were easy to explain away.

They went into New York in week two and got completely dominated by the Jets in the second half.  Looking back at this after the Pats went 14-2, you could say, ‘well, it was week 2 and the Pats transformed their offense after that and the defense was still learning.’  The Patriots won every game from week 3 on until week 9 when they lost to the Browns 34-14.  During that stretch, the team had two impressive wins.

The first sign that this was not the 2009 Patriots was a dominant road win in Miami.  The Patriots scored 41 points, 35 of which came in the second half.  Patrick Chung and the special teams scored 21 of these points.  Chung blocked two kicks and returned an interception for a touchdown. Ironically, Chung, who kicked off the “new” Pats era with this spectacular performance, would be one of the goats in the end of this Patriots season.  The Patriots offense was held to 6 points in the first half, and was barely even needed in the second half.  This was Randy Moss’s last game with New England.  Perhaps Belichick decided that the team could win without Moss at this point.  This was a potentially misleading victory, given that the Dolphins were horrible on special teams and fired the coach of that unit after the game.  Nonetheless, the Pats handily beat a seemingly good team on the road – something they could not do in 2009.

The second impressive performance of this win streak was an overtime, comeback win against the Ravens in week 6.  This was Deion Branch’s first game back, making quite an impact with 9 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.  The Pats again resembled the championship teams that won tight games with a bunch of jack-of-all-trades receivers.  ‘Randy who’ was a popular refrain around this time.  Danny Woodhead also broke out as a new fixture of the Pats’ offense with over 100 total yards in this game.

So, week 9 against the Browns comes around and the Patriots get hammered by a Cleveland team that no one thought was good.  The Browns weren’t that good, but they were playing well at the time.  Peyton Hillis was steamrolling over defenses every week and Colt McCoy looked like the next young stud QB.  The Patriots turned the ball over, most notably rookie TE Rob Gronkowski, who, for the first time this season, played like a rookie.  This loss was easy to explain.  Classic letdown game: on the road against an overachieving and motivated opponent the week before a series of big games (Pittsburgh, Indy).  So, we could explain this loss and believe the Pats were still a decent team, particularly after they went on to dominate in Pittsburgh the next week.

The Patriots went on to win the next eight games and many of them in convincing fashion – highlighted by a 45-3 blowout of the Jets.  So, how was anyone to think that this team was anything but the best?  Granted they nearly lost to a crippled Colts team and a Rodgers-less Packers team, but they won both these games with clutch plays by the defense in the waning moments. Yet again, forgive Pats fans for reminiscing about 2003 and 2004, as this was a trademark of those championship teams.  How many times did it seem that victories were sealed by Rodney Harrison or Tedy Bruschi interceptions?

One of the reasons that this most recent loss is so painful, aside from the fact that the Pats lost to the loudmouths from New Jersey, is that THIS WAS A TEAM THAT COULD AND SHOULD WIN IT ALL.  We were all justified in believing in this team.  Brady had one of the best seasons an NFL quarterback has ever had.  The Pats had the highest scoring offense in the league, and a young defense that seemed to get better each week.  If they weren’t destroying teams, they were coming up with the big play late in the game to seal the win.  They secured the #1 seed and the only thing between the Patriots and the Super Bowl were two home playoff games.  If you weren’t going to believe in this team, what team would you ever believe in?

So, what the hell happened?  Well, I’ve heard a number of theories this week and come up with a few myself.  My personal favorite:  it was one game, and anything can happen in one game.  Now complement the one game theory with the beating the Pats gave the Jets in early December, which gave the Jets lots of film to work with and motivation; add in the Jets gaining confidence with a road win in Indy; factor in the young, inexperienced, overconfident Patriots team coming off a bye week that killed their momentum from the regular season, and Boom!  Devastation.  Braylon Edwards doing his girly cartwheel backflip routine on the Patriots logo (and solidifying his spot as one of the top 10 d-bags in all of sports) is perhaps one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.  Yes, I too prayed that he would mess up and seriously injure himself, and I may have said something about not being upset if Rex Ryan’s overworked heart gave out as he ran his fat, folksy ass down to the end zone to celebrate with his team of trash talkers.  Oh well…maybe next time, although given the choice of these tragedies befalling Ryan and Edwards or a Steelers win this Sunday – I’d prefer to see the Steelers win by 50 points. 

THE PATRIOTS ARE BETTER THAN THE JETS.  They were not better last Sunday, but they are better as is suggested from the bulk of the evidence this season.  The Jets won the biggest game of the year though so a tip of the hat.  Good work guys.  You got spunk and we look forward to destroying you next year.  Yes, I will still take Tom Brady and Bill Belichick any day of the week over Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez. The Pats could’ve easily been up 10-0 in the first quarter if not for a horrible mistake by Brady on the interception and a dropped TD pass by Alge Crumpler. (I know – coulda, woulda shoulda.) 

Unfortunately, it comes down to more than just the coach and the QB.  It comes down to avoiding turnovers, executing, and running the ball (which the Patriots did very little of until they were down by 11).  Why did Green-Ellis fail to get a carry in the 2nd quarter after running effectively in the first quarter?  Why did the Pats continue to throw into a defense that wanted them to throw?  Perhaps they watched Payton Manning the week before and saw his attempts to audible to the run fail (except that it failed only after the Colts used it too many times in a row on 3rd and long).  In the first quarter against the Jets, the Patriots ran the ball 6 times for 33 yards (not including the Brandon Tate reverse for 11 yards).  In the 2nd quarter, the Pats ran 5 times for 10 yards.  Perhaps Green-Ellis was hurt and Belichick did not want to disclose this –  for obvious reasons.  After the way Green-Ellis ran this season, it was shocking to see him used so sparingly, particularly against a defense that was begging for the run. 

To paraphrase Abraham Maslow (who is apparently “the father of modern management”) when you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  Great quote and applicable to the Patriots’ offensive woes against the Jets.  Brady has been the hammer for the Patriots that makes every defense look like a nail, and if he comes out and has a bad day – game over.  It’s understandable that Belichick, in the biggest game of the year, would put the ball in the hands of the only surefire future Hall of Famer on his offense.  The problem is that the Patriots seemed to have another tool in the BenJarvus Green-Ellis/Danny Woodhead combo.  Apparently, Belichick did not see that as an effective tool and just kept trying to nail the Jets with the hammer that is Brady.  The Patriots had a similar problem with Randy Moss, at times, when Brady would force the ball to Moss even when he was locked down or double-covered.  Strengths can become weaknesses when a team becomes dependent and one dimensional.  See 2007 Patriots. !@#$%

Yes, the Patriots need another every down running back, an effective pass rusher, and a true # 1 wide receiver that stretches the field vertically (and doesn’t complain when the gameplan dictates that he is a decoy).  Belichick/Caserio will address those needs via free agency, trades and the draft.  Despite those shortcomings, THIS TEAM WAS GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN IT ALL.  They didn’t for a number of reasons, which every Pats fan has heard hundreds of times by now (if you can bring yourself to watch/read sports coverage yet), but they were good enough and they will be good enough, if not BETTER, NEXT YEAR.  So, there is something for Patriots fans to feel good about right now, plus, we get two more shots at those obnoxious a-holes from New Jersey next year.

Photo by Americanistadechiapas

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William W Barnes

Creating and evangelizing world-changing products. I like Lions and Cows.
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