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Jimmy Johnson said it best on FOX Pregame Show. It’s weird that New England isn’t saying they’re in a rebuilding season. Many would look at their past dealings, especially trading Richard Seymour for a 2011 first round pick, and say they are easily rebuilding for the future. Still, by admitting that they are looking into the future, they would have to ignore the present, which would mean saying they are no longer the best team in the league.
They had a chance to protect their NFL record win streak (21 games from 2006-2008), but went for a much-criticized 4th and 2 play, and failed. Two weeks later, they were completely manhandled by a faster and stronger New Orleans Saints team. However, it was the loss to the Dolphins in Week 13 that hurt the most.
It was the first time in 50 games that New England dropped back-to-back games. It was also the first time the Patriots lost a game in December since 2006. Even more, the loss was the fifth on the road this season, putting them at 1-5 on away from home in 2009 with the only win coming in London against Tampa Bay. New England has had bad play calling, a horrific defense, and inconsistent play from stud Tom Brady. Those three things (when going good) are what makes a team “elite,” and it seems the Patriots are no longer there.
When a team is unprepared for change, they tend to fall. Recent memory finds teams such as the St. Louis Rams. During the beginning of the new millennium, the Rams had the greatest show on turf. They had three straight MVP’s, with Kurt Warner winning two and Marshall Faulk snagging one. However, after losing Super Bowl XXVI to New England, things began to unravel.
Failing to make the playoffs in 2002, they returned in 2003 after a 12-4 record and everyone thought they were back. They hovered as a mediocre team after Warner left and by 2006, when Marshall Faulk hung his cleats up, they were finished. Since the “Greatest Show on Turf” was disbanded, they have won six total games. Yes, in three seasons, they have six wins! This season, they have struggled to a one-win campaign and are lucky to not be pitching a shutout.
So what does this have to do with New England? Well simply put, you can’t be king of the mountain forever, at least not in the NFL. The last two Super Bowl Champions, the Steelers and Giants, are struggling to even make the playoffs. New England has had a decade of dominance, but it had to come to an end eventually. It appears to be happening now.
Last season when Bernard Pollard tore Brady a new one (a knee ligament that is), all hope was lost for the Patriots. Still, they managed a 11-5 record, finished second in the AFC East, but missed the playoffs. Since then, they lost plenty of defensive leaders in Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, and Rodney Harrison to name a few. They also lost plenty of role players with Matt Cassel, Larry Izzo, Jabar Gaffney, Heath Evans, and LaMont Jordan each joining new teams. They thought they replaced some of them, but instead they have found out that good help is hard to come by.
Their young players have not preformed as well as hoped for. Sam Aiken and Julian Edelman have potential, but are not week-in, week-out receivers. Brandon Meriweather has played well, but has made costly errors throughout the season. In the future, New England can look forward to Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler, and Patrick Chung, but for now the secondary will continue to struggle but learn from mistakes.
The Patriots are also known for signing veterans and having them resurrect their career. Sadly, Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway came over and broke down.
New England has four remaining games with the Panthers, Bills, Jaguars, and Texans. The way they have played lately, it is feasible for them to drop a few and miss out on the playoffs again. A Super Bowl birth seems unlikely, so New England might have to look to next season. Luckily, they have learned from past teams’ mistakes and seem to be looking forward already. See you in 2011.