|Connelly’s Top Ten: Bruins Lose, Jerry Jones Rich, We Have Heroes – Not Looking||Bruins Messy in Season Opener Against Jets||Patriots Sign RB Dion Lewis to 2-Year Contract Extension||The Yankees Lost, Ellsbury Got Benched, and I’m Still Giddy|
Well it obviously didn’t end the way we would have wanted, but what a ride it was.
I’m talking of course, about the 2010 New England Patriots. I don’t know anyone who predicted this young team to go 14-2, but that’s exactly what they did. Sure, many thought they’d make the playoffs, and many thought they’d even win their division. But I don’t remember any “expert” or even any die hard fan predicting that this version of the Pats would go 14-2 and have the best record in the NFL.
Hopes were high heading into the playoffs, but ultimately, those hopes were dashed a few weeks earlier than we expected… and at the hands of Rex Ryan and the Jets, no less. But I think we have to look at this season with some perspective. In August, if someone said to you, “the Patriots will make the playoffs, but will lose in the divisional round,” I think most of us would’ve taken that and been happy with it.
So you’re probably thinking, “What’s the deal with this guy? Why’s he so flippin’ positive?” Well, that’s what this article has been about all season long… accentuating the positive. It’s “PATS on the Back,” not “Slaps Upside the Head.” And so while the playoffs didn’t exactly go according to plan for Foxboro’s finest, we do have plenty of Pats players worthy and deserving of “PATS on the Back” for their regular season performances.
So without further ado, it’s time to unveil the 2010 “PATS on the Back” recipients… five players that helped lead the Pats through a regular season that few of us ever expected.
Where else do I start but with the league’s probable MVP, Tom Brady? If you take away the ridiculous season he had back in 2007, TB12 had his best season as a pro this year, setting all sorts of records along the way. His most impressive record, I think… 335 pass attempts without an interception. Just unbelievable. An NFL-leading 36 touchdown throws, compared to a measly four interceptions. His 111.0 QB rating for the season was best in the NFL by far. This was all done with about half a season worth of games played with a stress fracture in his foot. The man is just amazing, and I think we’re all glad he plays for New England, so we never have to face him.
What a rookie season it was for first round pick Devin McCourty. Who knows if this defense would have been as successful as it was without the great job that McCourty did throughout the season. His seven interceptions all seemed to come at important times in games, and his coverage of some of the league’s top receivers helped New England keep opposing offenses in check all season long. I don’t know that we’ll see a Defensive Player of the Year award heading McCourty’s way, with the standout performance of Ndamukong Suh in Detroit, but there’s no doubt that the future is bright for McCourty, as he makes the first of probably many Pro Bowl appearances this coming weekend.
It had been a long while since the Patriots produced a 1,000-yard rusher. That streak ended this season, with “The Law Firm,” BenJarvus Green-Ellis reaching that milestone on the last day of the regular season against Miami. His 1,008-yard total was the most since Corey Dillon scampered for 1,635 yards back in 2004. With Kevin Faulk and Fred Taylor going down early to injury, and Laurence Maroney shipped out of town to Denver, the workload in the running game fell largely on BJGE’s shoulders, and he certainly opened some eyes this season, leading the team with 13 TDs. It remains to be seen whether Green-Ellis will enter the 2011 campaign as the team’s top running back on the depth chart, but knowing that he has done it now with success has got to give Pats fans more confidence in him going forward.
The little guy from Chadron State came out of absolutely nowhere this season to become somewhat of a cult hero here in New England. Coming over in Week 2, after the Jets cut him loose, Woodhead joined the Patriots and almost immediately made an impact on the Patriots’ offense. Coupled with Green-Ellis, Woodhead helped for a two-headed monster out of the backfield, rushing for 547 yards and 5 TDs while also adding 34 catches for another 379 yards and a score. He’s listed at 5’8″, but does anyone really believe that? He’s probably more like 5’6″, but he plays like he’s 6’6″. There’s not much to dislike about the way Woodhead plays the game of football, and now, with a new two-year contract extension, we’ll get to enjoy watching North Platte, Nebraska’s finest juke his way through oncoming defenders for a few more seasons to come.
Yes, fellow rookie Aaron Hernandez won the battle by having more catches (45 to 42) and more receiving yards (563 to 546), but “Gronk” won the war, leading the team with 10 receiving TDs, coming up big on several occasions when the team needed big plays on offense. No one had more catches for 20+ yards than Gronkowski (11) and only Deion Branch (14.7) averaged more yards per catch than the rookie (13.0). The tandem of “Gronk” and Aaron Hernandez have the tight end position poised to flourish in the coming seasons. How do you cover these guys, while also worrying about everyone else on the New England offense? That very difficult question is for the opponents to figure out.