Patriots

Curran: Debunking the 'What about 2008?' argument

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Curran: Debunking the 'What about 2008?' argument

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
Tom Brady was voted the top player in the NFL by his peers.Pretty easy call. His chief competition in the voting was Peyton Manning. But Manning had a down year in 2010. It was a bleak followup to his brilliant 2009, a season Manning capped by throwing the ball to the wrong team at crunch time in the Super Bowl. A different outcome against the Saints and Manning may have been No. 1 no matter what Brady did in 2010. But legacies are indelibly written by what happens in title games (see Namath, Joe) and Brady's three rings and two Super Bowl MVPs are non-refundable proof of how he's generally played in big spots. There was, however, a line of thinking that emerged among analysts and fans who weren't sold on Brady. If Brady is so great, the notion goes, why did the Patriots go 11-5 in 2008 without him? If Manning were ever lost for an extended period, the Colts would be a two-win team. It's a question that - if left dangling - seems a bit damning. Until you consider just how significant the dropoff actually was. The 2007 Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season and were 18-0 and leading the Giants in the Super Bowl until strange stuff happened. The 2008 Patriots didn't make the playoffs. In 2007, Brady threw 50 touchdowns and eight picks and New England scored an NFL record 75 touchdowns. Cassel threw 29 fewer touchdown passes for the Patriots in relie of Brady in 2008. To take it out a little further, consider what Matt Cassel has become. In 2010, he threw 27 touchdowns and 7 picks and made the Pro Bowl. Cassel is a really good player. The Patriots didn't faceplant completely in 2008 when Brady went down because they prepared for the eventuality of having to play without him. Yeah, they had success in 2008. But relative to the success they had when Brady was in there, the difference was stark. The Patriots have the best "program" in the NFL. That they went 14-2 last year when they were revamping is more proof. And what the 11-5 record in 2008 really demonstrates is just how great a gap there is between the program the Patriots have developed and the rest of the league aside from a handful of other elites.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.

Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

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Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

The Patriots improve their record to 4-2 with a win over the Jets, but there are still a lot of concerning factors for New England. Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen talk about something the team isn't used to - close games.

Giardi also dives into whether there is a major problem with the locker room dynamic, and whether all the moves they made in the offseason were blown way out of proportion by the media and fans of the talent added, but didn't factor in the personalities they lost.

Koppen and Giardi also look at how the offensive line play has fallen off, despite the same personnel as last year. Finally, discussing the late scratch of Stephon Gilmore due to a concussion. Anything to read into the timing?