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For this weeks column I’ll be focusing my two points on the fan reaction of Sunday’s disaster at Gillette Stadium.
There was still much of the fourth quarter to go, yet most of the fans were headed towards the exits. The field which has seen multiple AFC championships triumphs in this decade was emptying faster than a Save Matt Millon committee meeting. The Patriots weren’t beaten, they were humiliated, and by a team who had been 1-21 in their last 22. Against a no name coach (can anyone still name him?) on their home turf, a week after a big statement win over the Jets. After all the success the team has given the fans of New England in the last 7 years, there they were leaving early and booing the team at the end of the game. The players took notice, as both Ben Watson and Ellis Hobbs took offense to the actions of the fanbase.
Hobbs said, “Does it hurt? It doesn’t hurt … [but] it amazes me how people react,” he said. “You would think this organization hasn’t won as much as they have, and been as successful in the years that they have. It’s a testament to how spoiled they are, where expectations are that high, that we’re not allowed a bad game or something like that. How many times has someone had a bad day at the office? …” So who is right here?
In my opinion, yes. The Patriots are a victim of their own success. The Pats choked and lost the biggest game they will ever play last February and it was a crushing blow to everyone involved. I’m still not over it and I don’t think I ever will fully get over it. Yet there I was in Foxboro for the preseason games, paying my $40 for parking and showing up knowing I wouldn’t see Brady. There I was on opening day after paying the $30 increase on each ticket, on top of $40 for parking and tailgating expenses (once you are responsible for a tailgate, you realize how expensive it gets real quick). Even after Brady goes down, Cassel gets a huge ovation from the crowd as comes on the field and eventually leads us to a win. I bleed Patriots and the outcome of the games on Sunday directly affects my mood for days. That’s the harsh reality of a manic sports fan and for years it’s been a good ride.
That all said, had I been there on Sunday I would have done the exact same thing. The Patriots did not play mediocre and get beat by a good team by a slim margin, this was a blowout from start to finish. Ronnie Brown is a great athlete, but five TDs is just silly. It was a complete failure by the defense at all levels and the coaching was terrible. It’s one thing to have trouble with a trick formation for a half, but why couldn’t they figure out what to do in the locker room? The Pats were smacked in the mouth all day and it was scary to see how easy it was for the Dolphins. The coaches and players are the first to tell you that it was not acceptable, but why are the fans in the heat of the moment not allowed to show their distaste for an embarrassing performance. The Pats have lost at Gillette in the last few years, but never to such a terrible team and never to the extent as they were on Sunday. The last thing Ellis Hobbs and Ben Watson (who is a freak athlete but CANNOT stay on the field without injuring himself) want to do is alienate a fan base which stood by them at their lowest moment, the shocking end to their perfect season.
The Week 4 bye week was not a good omen before the season and now after the loss it’s even more pointless. Having a week off just gives the Pats (and the league) more time to stew over the terrible defeat. So what happens now? Will we see the 49ers putting Frank Gore in the shotgun (much to the chagrin of his fantasy owners)? I wouldn’t say that just yet. I’m not sure if the Patriots go back to square one, but there are big problems on this team. The front three had an unusual off game on Sunday and the linebackers didn’t bail them out. The pressure is mounting for Adalius Thomas to start playing like the big money free agent he is and Bruschi didn’t erase any questions on his age.
Yes, this had a lot to do with coaching, but the effort and intensity just doesn’t seem to be there. Naturally with success can come complacency but we’ve been taught that the Bill Belichick Patriots were better than that. We took the Super Bowl loss followed by a listless four losses in the preseason. Now it’s time to get that swagger back and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a high energy guy like John Lynch come in to start throwing his shoulders around.
The bottom line is that a Matt Cassel led offense needs to open it up a little more. Without a solid running game the Patriots haven’t scored more than 20 points in ANY game this year. The defense usually bends but doesn’t break, but the dam broke like at Eisengard (nerd reference, anyone get it?). Both sides of the ball need work and I think a trip to the west coast just may be a good way to get back on track.