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It’s been five weeks now (technically 4 and 3/4) with Matt Cassel at the helm of the Patriots and though it’s tough for Patriots fans to accept, it seems right now like the Patriots are in their current form a one man team. Would I be writing this if the Patriots had beaten the Chargers or at least had made a game of it? Probably not. But as I said after the Dolphins loss, these kinds of blowouts just haven’t happened in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. Losses occurred, even lopsided losses, but not to the likes of a 1-21 Miami Dolphin wildcat formation team and an overrated Chargers team (minus Shawne Merriman). The debate can rage on whether Matt Cassel is the answer or if the Pats should have brought in a veteran to manage a game. The fact of the matter is, whoever comes in would not have the impact of Tom Brady. Brady’s greatness comes more into focus now that he is out, and the growing mediocrity of the rest of the 53-man roster is beginning to look startling.
None of criticisms levied against the 2008 Patriots have any bearing to the dynasty we lived between 2001-2004. This team is not that team. This team is filled with a stable of role player running backs, unknown, cheap offensive linemen (we now see why), aging linebackers and a downright average secondary. No. 12 made it good. First he did it armed with no name receivers like David Givens, David Patten and Troy Brown, then with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, true NFL elite play makers. Brady was able to manage a game and keep defenses on their toes. In the same right he was able to give his own defense a fall back position. It takes a full 53 man roster to win a Super Bowl, but we all know without Brady we would not have any pretty banners to hang in Gillette Stadium.
Primarily a lot of the criticism and scrutiny is on the defense. Once the backbone of the team, the defense is flat out old. Let’s be honest; Bruschi, Vrabel, Rodney Harrison have seen their best days. Guys like Deltha O’Neal would not be on this team in 2004. Ellis Hobbs, Adalius Thomas, James Sanders, Ty Warren and Richard Seymour have not produced like they should have. With the exception of Vince Wilfork there are no must have guys on this defensive roster. Jerod Mayo and Brandon Meriweather have bright futures but they cannot be depended on for now. The fact is the Patriots let Asante Samuel go (in hindsight probably not a good idea but at the time, right decision) and seemed to want to smoke and mirror their way into creating a secondary with the likes of Jason Webster and Fernando Bryant. The Patriots’ budget consciousness has been an admirable trait in their run this decade, but they seemed to have calculated wrong in the 2008 secondary.
All of this could have been masked if not for the injury to Brady. We have all taken him for granted over the years and it seems as though the Patriots front office has as well. There’s no Corey Dillon (2004 version) who was ready to take over a game if Brady went down. Moss and Welker are great players but wide receivers need someone to give them the ball. Let’s face more facts: Laurence Maroney right now is a bust. A total bust. He can’t stay on the field and every time he touches the ball an episode of Dancing with the Running Backs breaks out. How much time do we give him to get on the field, stay on the field and produce before looking elsewhere for a prime running back. Do we need an elite running back to win a Super Bowl if Tom Brady is under center? I think we all know the answer to that one (thanks Antoine Smith). But can we win one without a prime time runner AND Brady? Not even close with this roster. Chad Jackson was given the boot after two years of injury and mediocrity, how long do we give Dreadlocks to get his act together? Psst, the whispers have already begun.
Like most Patriots fans, it’s a tough fact to look at but right now our beloved Patriots are a one man team. What I mean by that is, we cannot win a Super Bowl without Tom Brady. We never have. We’ve come close, but we could never get over the hump. The ’03 or ’04 teams probably would’ve had the best chance to win the big one without Brady, but the ’08 version is old and weak at far too many positions. The Patriots could go on to finish 10-6, win the division and maybe surprise a team in the playoffs, but let’s face it, this season was over at 1:17pm on week one.
This is not a lost cause. The team does not have to be blown up, but more revamped. With just a handful of personnel moves, more so on the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots could reach that level of ’03 and ’04 and become a complete team again. But right now, it’s time to face the facts that the Patriots are a one man team, and we won’t see that man on the field until August 2009.