Snow Bowl

Patriots face an inevitable avalanche of hard decisions, like it or not

Patriots face an inevitable avalanche of hard decisions, like it or not

FOXBORO - All of this started for real on a snowy Saturday night 18 Januarys ago.

That’s when Tom Brady made it clear even for the “Boo-hoo, Drew!” holdouts that Drew Bledsoe wasn’t getting his job back.

And now, 18 years on, we have ourselves a Saturday night in January. There will be weather. Will there be finality?

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If you don’t want to hear about it, I understand. I truly do. There’s a playoff game with the Titans tonight.

But the 80-20 coverage split this week – honestly, all season – between reporting on the reality-show aspects of the New England Patriots and the game itself has worn your ass down.

This is your passion, your distraction, your – it’s not a stretch to say – family. Maybe your fandom predates Bill Friggin’ Parcells, maybe it’s pre-Plunkett, maybe it just started when they beat the Falcons.

But the rush to put an expiration date on the whole thing is, to put it mildly, unseemly.

Clunky metaphor? It’s like you and the family huddled around a bed in the ICU holding hands and reflecting while a parade of looky-loos presses against the glass craning their necks to see how bad it looks.

“Still holding on, is he?”

“Yeah, but for how long?”

“Doesn’t look good…”

In that crowd are people for whom the Patriots are strictly occasional and seasonal entertainment. They don’t understand that declaring it’s time for a clean break with Brady is like suggesting you Old Yeller the family dog before you even get the diagnosis.

Also in the crowd, everyone NOT FROM HERE who is sick to friggin’ death of the Patriots, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, former Patriots all over their TVs and devices talking about the Patriot Way and the stomach-turning, self-assured, spoiled, arrogant, condescending Patriots fans who – after 18 years of Januarys – are now so insidiously spread around the country that you are never safe from being reminded that “Tom FAHHHHHHKIN Brady!” still lives.

They want him to – figuratively – die. So they are outside the ICU, clutching beads and praying for the flatline.

Your relationship with the Patriots is personal and – even though you’ve never met Tom Brady or Bill Belichick – they have been a constant in your life. Some of your best experiences on the planet have occurred with them and what they brought into existence as the centerpiece to it. You’ve learned from the way they approach things. You’ve named pets and children after them.

So, if you don’t want to watch a game of great import without having to listen to people wonder, “What’s next?” or “What it all means?” hit mute and go on a media blackout. Put your fingers in your ears and hum. Stop reading now.

Because this game has the potential to be history the same way the Snow Bowl (if you call it the Tuck Game, you’re outside the ICU).

Failing to cover this game and this season without casting an eye to, “What’s next?” would be the height of journalistic malpractice.

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Tom Brady is on the same plane with three other men in the history of professional team sports – Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Babe Ruth. None of them were in the same place continuously as long as Brady’s been. Only Jordan experienced a comparable amount of team success and he did it in a league that didn’t then and doesn’t now have the same reach and hold on the country that the NFL does.

The Patriots – in a league rigged for parity – have bobbed along on the waves of excellence for two decades. They have been in a league of their own.

And when this season ends nobody – not Brady, not Belichick, not Robert Kraft – will truly KNOW whether the greatest player in the history of the NFL will ever play another game as a member of the greatest dynasty in the history of the NFL for the greatest coach in the history of the NFL.

So yeah, all that bears mentioning.

The only thing standing between the present and all the attendant questions bursting forth is how long this season lasts.

When it ends:

Josh McDaniels begins taking interviews and it’s a smart bet to expect he’s gone. Who is the next offensive coordinator?

Dante Scarnecchia has completed another season and is approaching his 72nd birthday. Is the greatest offensive line coach of his generation back again?

Joe Judge, who split his time between special teams and wide receivers, takes an interview. If he goes, who runs special teams? If he stays, do the Patriots still look at wideout coach as a spot that doesn’t demand a full-timer?

The Patriots reckon with an offensive roster that includes a 33-year-old slot receiver going into the last year of his contract, a starting center who missed the season with a blood clot condition that is very serious, a fullback who missed most of the season with a neck injury, nobody worth mentioning at tight end, one young wide receiver who missed most of his rookie year, two veteran wide receivers who underwhelmed this year and a Jarrett Stidham as their only quarterback under contract.

Nick Caserio, Dave Ziegler and Monti Ossenfort – three of the principals in the scouting department – may all be sought by other teams.

The Brady Situation comes to the fore.

It was the team’s choice to go “year-to-year” and not give Brady more than a minor bump and a phony extension in August. If McDaniels goes, does the team want Brady breaking in the new OC? If McDaniels goes, is Brady going to be more involved in OTAs and passing camp as the new OC gets oriented? 

Does Belichick look at Brady as having a bigger share of the blame with 2019’s flagging offense than the players he was surrounded by? Does Belichick want to pay more than the $23 million the team paid Brady when he’s a year older and coming off a modest statistical season?

As for Brady? He got sold a bill of goods on contract promises he felt were made and the personnel he was surrounded by. He’s the one that wanted at least the chance to see what’s “out there” after the season. Does he have it in him to cross that bridge? And what team precisely is on the other side? If he decides to at least have a look around do the 
Patriots leave the light on for him or give him the Wes Welker Treatment?

As for ownership? Off the grid almost completely in 2019. It’s been seven years since Robert Kraft praised himself for doing “something elegant” with the contract extension that brought Brady through 2017. Where we at with the elegance in 2020?

That Saturday night 18 years ago when the Patriots beat the Raiders in the snow, I wrote this for the Metrowest Daily News:

“Well, that oughta settle it.
 
What Tom Brady did Saturday night should douse, once and for all, any smoldering embers in the once-roaring Bledsoe-Brady quarterback controversy.
 
That's because Brady's body of work over the final 12:29 of regulation and through overtime was the kind of reputation-cementing performance that people around here waited nine seasons for Drew Bledsoe to come up with...”
 

I ended that column writing:
 
“Brady's performance was Bird-like.
 
Frankly, it doesn't matter from hereon out what Tom Brady does. The discussion is over.”

 
Soon, maybe as early as midnight, another discussion begins.


 

Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: A nice pair of kicks

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Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: A nice pair of kicks

We're into the Top 10 now.

These are the plays of the Bill Belichick Era you best never forget. And probably can't. They're the ones that led directly to championships -- most for New England, a couple for the other guys. Or they're plays that signified a sea change in the way the New England Patriots under Belichick would be behaving from there on out.

I did my best to stack them in order of importance. You got a problem with that? Good. Let us know what's too high, too low or just plain wrong. And thanks for keeping up!

PLAY NUMBER: 4

THE YEAR: 2001 (actually Feb. 3, 2002)

THE GAME: Patriots 20, Rams 17

THE PLAY: Vinatieri 48-yarder in Superdome delivers SB36 win

WHY IT’S HERE: When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, it was viewed nationally and locally as a cathartic moment for a long-suffering region. Deliverance for a fanbase that resolutely suffered through 90 years of star-crossed heartbreak with a mix of stoicism and fatalism. “Long-suffering Red Sox fan” was a badge of honor, an identity. And New Englanders – baseball fans or not - would self-identify with the hideous notion of Red Sox Nation. There was no “Patriots Nation.” To drag out the forced metaphor, Patriots fans were living in tents and cabins in the wilderness, recluses. Reluctant to be seen in town where they’d be mocked. And suddenly, they cobbled together one of the most improbable, magical seasons in American professional sports, a year which gave birth to a dynasty which was first celebrated, now reviled but always respected. And while so many games and plays led to this 48-yarder – ones we’ve mentioned 12 times on this list – Adam Vinatieri kicking a 48-yarder right down the f****** middle to win the Super Bowl was an orgasmic moment for the recluses and pariahs that had been Patriots fans when nobody would admit to such a thing.
 

PLAY NUMBER: 3

THE YEAR: 2001 (actually Jan. 19, 2002)

THE GAME: Patriots 16, Raiders 13

THE PLAY: Vinatieri from 45 through a blizzard to tie Snow Bowl

WHY IT’S HERE: Two thoughts traveling on parallel tracks were running through the mind while Adam Vinatieri trotted onto the field and lined up his 45-yarder to tie Oakland in the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff Game, the final one at Foxboro Stadium. “There’s no way he can make this kick in this weather,” was the first. “The way this season’s gone, I bet he makes this kick. It can’t end here. It can’t end now.” From where I was sitting in the press box I couldn’t see the ball clearly, probably because I was looking for it on a higher trajectory than Vinatieri used. So I remember Vinatieri going through the ball, my being unable to locate it in the air and then looking for the refs under the goalposts to see their signal. And when I located them, I saw the ball scuttle past. Then I saw the officials’ arms rise. Twenty-five years earlier, the first team I ever followed passionately – the ’76 Patriots – left me in tears when they lost to the Raiders in the playoffs. Now, at 33, I was covering that team and it had gotten a measure of retribution for the 8-year-old me.