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PATS on the Back – 2009

New England Patriots' Julian Edelman (11) during the first quarter in Houston. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel)

And just like that, another Patriots season is in the books, sooner than many expected.

At the beginning of the 2009 season, there were several pundits that were predicting the Pats as Super Bowl XLIV champs. But a “4th and 2,” a Welker injury, and a complete embarrassment in the wild card round later, New England is left watching the rest of the playoffs from their comfy mansions and high-priced condos.

Sunday’s 33-14 whoopin’ by the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette was the latest in a season of great disappointment and underachieving. Before I was even settled in my seat, the Ravens’ Ray Rice had given Baltimore a lead they would never relinquish. The Pats were beaten in every facet of the game, from beginning to end… a drubbing that the fans in New England haven’t seen at Gillette in the playoffs, well… ever.

So the Patriots have made a “PATS on the Back” article nearly impossible to write, following the filth they threw out there Sunday. The only deserving people of “PATS on the Back” were the thousands of fans sitting in those seats at “The Razor,” freezing their footballs off as the Pats laid down a stinker! (Myself included, representing the faithful fans of Section 329!)

And so we turn to the season-ending edition of “PATS on the Back,” reviewing the efforts of the team’s top performers of 2009. I don’t think there is any doubt who deserves it first and foremost…

Wes Welker, WR

In just 13 games this season (you can hardly count the Houston game when he got injured during the first offensive drive), Wes Welker set a team record with 123 receptions, second most all-time only to Marvin Harrison’s 143-reception season during his hey-day. Welker also contributed on special teams, returning more punts (27) than any other Patriot. He was in more “PATS on the Back” articles than any other player by far. He had a career year by every definition, and is probably the only Patriot that I can’t say a negative thing about. There weren’t very many Patriots players that outperformed their expectations, but the diminutive receiver from Texas Tech certainly was one of them. Pats fans everywhere are surely wishing Wes Welker a quick and complete recovery, with hopes that number 83 is back on the field for 2010.

Laurence Maroney, RB

One has to question whether he will be a Patriot next season, but in his fourth season with New England, Laurence Maroney shouldered the brunt of the workload in the Patriot ground game for ’09. Leading the team with 194 rushing attempts and 757 yards on the ground, with another 99 receiving yards on 14 catches, Maroney’s nine touchdowns were second only to Randy Moss on the team. Like Welker, Maroney also made contributions on special teams, returning 13 kicks on the year, more than any other Patriot. He ended the year in Belichick’s dog house because of his problems holding onto the football, losing fumbles four times this season, after losing a fumble just once in his previous three years combined. He’ll never be a feature back in the NFL, but in most games this season, Maroney answered the call with positive production in the ground game. Someone has to run the ball next season for the Pats… whether it will be L-Mo or not is the question yet to be answered.

Brandon Meriweather, S

In just his third NFL season, safety Brandon Meriweather was arguably the lone bright spot on a very lackluster Patriots defense this season. Highlighted by his game in London against Tampa Bay, when he picked off two of rookie Josh Freeman’s throws, returning one for a touchdown, Meriweather’s season was filled with solid plays, helping lead to his first career Pro Bowl nod. The former Miami Hurricane matched his tackles total from a year ago, at 83, and tied teammate Leigh Bodden, putting up a team-high five interceptions on the year. With other young teammates in the New England secondary, like rookies Darius Butler and Patrick Chung, Meriweather will be mentoring a rebuilding New England defense for years to come. He still has plenty of room to develop, but Brandon Meriweather has shown all the signs of being a force in the Patriots secondary in the very near future.

Honorable Mention

Tom Brady, QB

Coming off a devastating knee injury, no one knew what to expect from Gisele’s husband. But Tom Brady put in a very solid effort all season long. It wasn’t his best season by any means, but Brady battled through with rib, shoulder, and finger injuries, leading a team full of holes to an AFC East Division championship.

Julian Edelman, WR

It was a surprising year for the former Kent State quarterback, with Edelman stepping up to be the third receiver behind Moss and Welker. And once Welker went down, the rookie stepped up his game even further, highlighted by his two-touchdown performance in Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. Big things to come for the new number 11, especially if Welker isn’t able to start the year with the team.

Randy Moss, WR

It was a rather inconsistent year for the future Hall of Famer, but for all that Randy Moss doesn’t do on the field, he did still have a very solid year, leading the team with 13 touchdowns on 83 catches, totaling 1,264 yards. His effort is always in question, but his production cannot be denied.

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