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Patriots need a change in philosophy

Monday, January 20, 2014


It’s time to change the formula in New England, because this one doesn’t work anymore. And it hasn’t worked for quite some time.

Surrounding a Neiman Marcus quarterback like Tom Brady with Walmart talent is not only an insult to the player and the fans who spend their hard-earned money at Bob Kraft’s Pleasure Palace on Route 1, it’s also a foolproof way to guarantee you’ll look sharp enough to score a dance with the prom queen, but not nearly suave enough to get her alone in your limo at midnight.

Year in, year out, the rallying cry in Foxboro is the Patriots’ ability to do so much with so little, or sustain multiple injuries, as if no one else gets banged up playing the world’s most violent sport. After a while, aren’t you tired of having so little? Why not set the bar higher and have, I don’t know, a lot?

Why not be Denver, which had Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas catching passes in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game? Asking Brady to beat Denver and win a Super Bowl with Tin Man Danny Amendola, rookie Aaron Dobson and the oft-injured Austin Collie, who’s had more head trauma than Evander Holyfield, is like handing him a pocketknife and expecting him to conquer Syria. The two-time Super Bowl MVP didn’t take a pay cut for this.

Whether you believe the Patriots are too cheap to retain or acquire top-flight talent, or not smart enough to develop it through the draft, the fact remains this team has been way too top-heavy in recent years, relying on cast-offs, reclamation projects and undrafted rookies to complement the remnants of their decaying Super Bowl dynasty, which is now down to Brady and Vince Wilfork. Unless, of course, you really thought the clock wouldn’t strike midnight on LeGarrette Blount, who didn’t do anything noteworthy for three and a half months before turning into Walter Payton and was so bad last year the Buccaneers will willing to take a seventh-round pick just to get rid of him.

The old rallying cry in Foxboro used to be that player No. 1 on the 53-man roster wasn’t that much better than player No. 53, a testament to their depth. Now it’s five, maybe 10, legit playmakers and a bunch of not-ready-for-primetime players. That might be good enough to win a historically-bad division year in, year out, but when the you-know-what hits the fan in the postseason and it’s time to play the upper crust, the Patriots don’t stack up.

Excuse-mongers say it’s hard to win in the postseason. They’re right. It’s even harder when you pluck 75 percent of your roster from the clearance bin at Job Lot and have all the flaws that were previously covered up by playing in an awful division exposed under the bright lights of playoff football.

Where’s the help? The Patriots let Welker walk during the offseason and sign with the team that just bashed its face in on Sunday over a few million dollars and then overreacted by throwing $31 million at Amendola, who still hasn’t played a full season in four years, when they already had their Welker replacement in Julian Edelman. With attractive free agents like Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings on the market, New England stood pat, hoping a pair of unproven rookie receivers and their tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez would be enough reinforcement for a 36-year-old quarterback whose window of opportunity closes with each playoff failure.

No one could’ve predicted Hernandez getting arrested and charged with murder, even if he was a risky bet coming out of college, but banking on Gronkowski, who had undergone surgery seven times entering this year, to play a full season was wishful thinking. The Patriots needed real reinforcements and instead dropped the ball. Even with lousy quarterbacks throwing to them, Wallace and Jennings hauled in more yards than anyone on New England’s roster not named Edelman. One of those two might’ve given Brady a fighting chance Sunday in Denver against Peyton Manning and all of his weapons.

Rebuilding through the draft when Brady was still in his prime at 29, 30 years old with enough time left to let his new talent develop would’ve made sense, not when he’s 36 with one, maybe two, effective seasons left on his tired right arm. He might not even be around anymore if and when Dobson and fellow rookie Kenbrell Thompkins develop into legitimate starters. The Patriots actually got it backward, reloading in 2007 with Welker, Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth when Brady was still 30, and then passing on equally-attractive free agents this year in lieu of two rookie wideouts knowing their 36-year-old quarterback is quickly approaching the back nine.

Lord knows they’ve tried to fight the inevitable retirements and player defections over the years by rebuilding through the draft, but of their 26 selections between 2005 and 2007, only two are still around (Stephen Gostkowski and Logan Mankins). And while it’s gotten better in recent years with the defensive acquisitions of Jerod Mayo, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, why does it still feel like we’re singing the same old tired refrain of being depleted and undermanned defensively when it’s time to strap up?

Playing the injury card doesn’t work anymore. The Broncos entered Sunday’s game without their top defensive back (Chris Harris) and top pass rusher (Von Miller), both of whom suffered season-ending injuries in back-to-back weeks, and they still figured out a why to stifle Brady until he padded his numbers during garbage time. Why don’t the Patriots have enough depth to do the same? More importantly, where’s the outrage over being so overmatched or simply not stacking up with the Seattles, Denvers and San Franciscos of the world?

The Patriots work well enough with what they have, but the finished product lacks flavor when the cupboard’s bare. Whether it’s shuffling the player personnel department or revisiting their draft philosophy, something’s got to give. Year in, year out, the Patriots find themselves in the same position in January lamenting what they didn’t have and patting themselves on the back for giving it the old college try. The ragtag, patchwork shtick has run its course. It’s time for a new formula.

Why not strive for more?


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Since 2001 their record is 158-50. They've been to 3 wild card games, 10 Divisional playoff games, 8 Conference Championship games, and 5 Super Bowls and you think it's not working, is that about right? Time for you to re-evaluate!

Comment #1 by Patrick Boyd on 2014 01 20

Time for you to reread the piece. No one is talking about the Super Bowl years when they actually had roster depth and significant talent 1 through 53, so I don't know why you're taking the cumulative numbers from 2001 to 2013. Pointless.

This about the last decade. The regular-season wins are useless to me. There's a huge difference between winning a ton of regular-season games against divisional rivals who've been inept for years and getting through the postseason against teams with far superior talent.

Show me the last time the Patriots have been the most talented team in the league, 1 through 53. 2007? That's six years ago.

Comment #2 by Michael Parente on 2014 01 20

Are you for real!!! There are probably 28 other team owners in the NFL that would trade places with Mr. Kraft in a heart beat! Do you want to see the figures for the Patriots record for the last decade? Really? Do you think it's that much different from the past 12 years? Roster depth means nothing when you refuse to take into consideration the effects of injuries as you have done in this piece of garbage! Get real! The Patriots franchise is the poster child for a successful franchise, even a blind man can see that.
Regular season wins are useless to you? I can't even touch that piece of genius. I suppose that the early season losses in baseball don't matter either because it's a long season, right?
Show you the last time they were the most talented team in the league?
How do you measure talent? Is it by making it to the Super Bowl 3 times in ten years? How many other teams have done that in the last decade? Is it by making it to 7 Conference Championship games in the last decade? No? I guess if they don't win it all every year then they're dogs! You're one of those "instant gratification takes too long" types, aren't you.

Comment #3 by Patrick Boyd on 2014 01 20

This is a far cry from the refrain Patriots' fans used to sing in 2003, 2004 when you suffered injury upon injury and reveled in the fact Bill Belichick could plug in any backup -- sometimes even using receivers to play defense (Troy Brown) -- and still outsmart everyone. You think he was just smarter 10 years ago than he is now or do you think he had a deeper, more talented roster 1 through 53? Try to answer that intelligently. That 2003 team had 42 different starters during the regular season due to injury and even cut Lawyer Milloy at the start of the season and still won 14 games and a Super Bowl.

No excuses then.

In 2004, they lost Ty Law, Tyrone Poole -- two starting cornerbacks -- Tom Ashworth, Ben Watson ... a total of 11 players on injured reserve. No crying then. Just another 14-win season and a Super Bowl.

Those teams have depth.

This year's team has excuses.

Comment #4 by Michael Parente on 2014 01 20

I think the loss of Hernandez permanantly, Wilfork, Kelly, Mayo, Spikes, and Gronk being put on IR and loosing Vereen for the better part of the season is pretty significant, and quite similar to your 2004 example.
Most of the knowledgable, non pink hat wearing fans are pretty pleased with where they got this season and none of them are bemoaning the injury bug thing, it's part of the game, but to ignore it and say it has no value when evaluating a teams performance is crazy. Based on the season they had, I'd say this team had something. You might not call it depth, but it definitely had added value to this team, and like him or not, you have to give Belichick a lot of credit for what they have done this year.

Comment #5 by Patrick Boyd on 2014 01 20

The Broncos had injuries too. Their Left Tackle, #1 corner, and All-Pro Pass Rusher chief among them. I think they won because they had more star power. Depth is nice, and the Patriots are great and plugging and playing their way to 12 win seasons. But at the end of the day, who do you trust on NE to show up and give you a great game when you need it. Brady? Certainly no one on their D (sans Wilfork and Mayo).

BB is great at the plug and play, and that's why he loves moving down in the draft, signing marginal Free Agents, etc. He works well with that. He's not very good at finding star players in the draft. If there's ever been a time for the Patriots to be aggressive in the draft and make a bold move way up the first round, it's now. The plug and play isn't getting it done anymore.

Great piece Mike. It takes a good coach and QB to make the playoffs. It takes a great team to win a Super Bowl.

Comment #6 by John Andrade on 2014 01 21

The 2007 Patriots were a great team. 16-0 in the regular season. What happened?
If the Bronco lost Eric Decker and Wes Welker a la Gronkowski and Hernandez, how do you think that would affect them? I won't include the time lost by Vereen who has proven to be a very effective receiver out of the backfield. How much depth do the Broncos really have? We'll probably never really know.

Comment #7 by Patrick Boyd on 2014 01 21

explains the author:
This about the last decade. The regular-season wins are useless to me.

OK so the formula that isn't working and hasn't worked for the last 10 years. Got it. So then this is "not working" as you defined it.

2014 - final 4
2013 - final 4
2012 - final 2
2011 - final 8
2010 - final 8
2009 - no playoffs
2008 - final 2
2007 - final 4
2006 - final 8
2005 - sb champs

If this is a non working formula as defined by the author - then what team has a working formula? Since we hear about Denver I ran the formula tracker on the Broncos. Wow not even close. Maybe the Denver NE Comparison wasn't really about formulas as defined here maybe it was a 1 year snapshot? Or maybe he's going SB championship or bust but then he'd have explained that he's only looking/counting SB wins and that any other playoff game also does not matter to him the way regular season games don't matter to him. So no its gotta be postseason results on the whole not just SB wins...

Again my walkway here is to wonder which team is using a better formula given the author's framework?

Comment #8 by Marty C on 2014 01 22

You have to look at the financials when thinking short-term versus long-term. What is true about the SB winning Patriot teams and the current Seahawks and 49ers? They hit on superbowl caliber QBs playing for cheap money.

Russell Wilson's cap hit is less than $1M (still on rookie contract). Peyton Manning's hit is around $17M. Think about that - the Seahawks can spread $16M around to acquire half a dozen quality veteran/mid-term players such as RB Lynch, OL Okung (sp?), WR Rice and Harvin, DE Bennett, etc.

What's going to happen in a couple of years when Wilson and Kapernick want Manning level $$ - something will have to give.

Now, how did the Broncos do it with super expensive Peyton? By being smart (or lucky) with the draft and being judicious in picking up short-term veterans. The Broncos signed Kneighton (sp?), Phillips and Lenon -- while also having Moreno, Decker, Franklin and Demaryius and Julius Thomas -- for less cap space than what they committed to Manning. Those last 5 are still on rookie contracts having been drafted within the last 4 years. I think all 8 in total cost about the same as Manning! And they picked up Welker for around $4M.

So, what does that tell you. If you get lucky with a young superstar QB, you need to invest in high quality support players in key positions and then hope you draft well. If you have a high price quality QB, you have to draft well and be smart with a picking up 3-5 impact short-term veterans.

The Patriots have the star QB and they have the smarts in finding quality backups (roster spots 23-53) and value role players (ie. going with cheap rookie Allen at punter vs Mesko and dropping Adam V for Gostowski in the past). What has failed them is drafting impact rookies -- we'll see if the Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, Dobson, Hightowers, Ryans, etc. come through like Thomas (both), Decker, etc. have for Denver. But they need to do better in picking up those 1-2 year rental veterans...and yes, having Gronk and the Wilforks/Mayo stay healthy is huge too.

However, the draft has not hit on the quality WR (remember C Jackson, Tate or Price) and other (Ras-I-Dowling) -- when the Broncos got Thomas/Thomas/Decker - the latter 2 in Rounds 3 and 4).

Let's hope those young players progress more next year and BB gets an impact WR and Defensive player -- I think the Pats could be in the mix over the next 3-4 years.

Comment #9 by Prof Steve on 2014 01 22

Prof. Steve, that's a very reasonable analysis. I think what we've learned is if you're smart enough as an organization you can manipulate the salary cap to your benefit. The Patriots have done this for years. It's not cheating -- it's just knowing how to stay under and how to be flexible with numbers. There wouldn't be such a sense of urgency if the window wasn't closing on Tom Brady's effectiveness. That 4th-and-2 play where he got sacked, he had no chance of getting out of the way. Not even a sidestep. It's not like he was ever Randall Cunningham, but he used to be far more mobile. This game has taken its toll on him. When you see all these coaching defections -- not including Scarnecchia, who I think is just getting up there and is ready to quit -- you wonder if maybe those guys felt the same way. Houston isn't a bad landing spot. That team flopped last year, but has a ton of talent in place. They're as good a bet as any to turn it around quickly next year.

Comment #10 by Michael Parente on 2014 01 23

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