State of the Franchise: New England Patriots
April 7, 2011 Leave a comment
Ever since the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era has kicked off in Boston, it’s been filled with wins, wins and more wins. In his 11 seasons with the Patriots, Belichick has posted a 126-50 record in the regular season (a .716 win-percentage), plus 14 playoff wins and three Super Bowl titles. For Brady, who took over mid-season for an injured Tom Brady back in 2001, he has notched 111 regular season wins, and has been the starter on all three of Belichick’s Super Bowl winning teams.
During the 2010 season, Brady had himself what he would consider a very average year, but what any other quarterback would consider the best year of their career. Brady completed 65.9% of his passes, threw for 3,900 yards, 36 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer-rating of an astounding 111.0. While his interceptions were an all-time low, none of those other numbers marked career-bests for Brady, which is outrageous.
Maybe the most impressive part of Brady’s stellar season is the fact that the Patriots lacked a 1,000 yard receiver. Instead, Brady shared the wealth mainly among six targets, each of which posted more than 350 yards receiving. Leading the way was a healthy Wes Welker, who continues to make his case for being the best slot receiver in the entire NFL. Welker, one year removed from a crippling knee injury that ended his 2009 campaign, caught 86 passes for 848 yards and seven touchdowns. Alongside Welker, the Patriots got a resurgent season from former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, who had 74 catches for 706 yards and five touchdowns.
Working on the surprise theme of the Patriots season, look no further than the rookie tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Hernandez, a fourth-round pick out of Florida who made a name working with Tim Tebow in college, collected 45 receptions for 563 yards and six touchdowns. Gronkowski, a second-round pick out of Arizona, quickly became Brady’s favorite red-zone target, catching a team-high 10 touchdowns to go along with his 546 yards.
The team’s perceived greatest weakness was their running game. After the team unloaded Laurence Maroney in the off-season, the team turned to veteran Fred Taylor and the unproven situational back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The team also brought in New York Jets cast-off Danny Woodhead to fill out the corps after injuries to third-down back Kevin Faulk and Taylor. What the team got simply outperformed even the most modest of expectations. “The Law Firm” Green-Ellis rushed for 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns. Woodhead, a five-foot six-inch former Division III two-time player of the year, turned out to be the waiver wire claim of the year. Woodhead rushed for 547 yards, averaging 5.6 yards-per-carry, and five touchdowns, then added another 379 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Coming from a long history of dominant defenses, many figured that the defense would find a way to survive without household names at every position. And, for the most part, that’s exactly what the Patriots defense accomplished. With the exception of Week Nine against the Cleveland Browns, defense was not the reason for any of the three losses the Patriots sustained this season, including their exit in the playoffs. The quarterback of the defense, linebacker Jerod Mayo, recorded 175 tackles on his way to the Pro Bowl, along with two sacks and five passes defended. Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty collected seven interceptions on his way to a Pro Bowl berth. Safety Patrick Chung became a force defensively towards the end of the year, tallying 96 tackles, four for a loss, and three interceptions. Next to him in the secondary, Brandon Meriweather continued to impress with 68 tackles and three picks of his own. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork continues to be a human wall up the middle, leading the team with tackles for losses with six, all while serving as the biggest road block against the run in human history.
Overall, its nearly impossible to point out where this team has a significant hole. Maybe they could use another running back, maybe another pass rusher, or maybe a deep threat to compliment the nickle-and-dime game of Welker and Branch. But, at the end of the day, this team is going to find a way to win as they always have. They don’t do it often with big names, but that doesn’t mean they shy away from the big signing if they find it necessary.
I can’t tell you with any definite probability what this team will do to improve the squad. All I can say is they’re going to do something. Somehow, that something is going to work. And without a doubt in my mind, this team will win somewhere between 10-13 games next year and be in the playoffs.
Boston and New England have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to thank for that.