Are the Patriots Down to Smoke and Mirrors?

The New England Patriots are poised to make a big splash in the 2009 NFL free agent market.  The Patriots just parted ways with quarterback Matt Cassel.  Presumably, the team believes future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady will return to form in time for the 2009 season.  Coach Bill Belichick may also be eager to add an elite defensive player to a unit that looked old, tired and slow last season.  The team finished 8th in defense, but they allowed 309 points against one of the weaker schedules in the league.  The team was beaten by more than 20 points three times: by the San Diego Chargers, the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, and by eventual division winner, the Miami Dolphins.  The name of the mouths of the masses is none other than Carolina standout defensive end Julius Peppers.

There is no question that with or without the addition of Peppers, the Patriots have talent on defense.  Up front, Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork pose a challenge to any offensive line.  Linebackers with the savvy, strength and speed of Adalius Thomas and Jerrod Mayo form a solid second level.  The secondary has been an area of concern for the past few seasons.  Age has caught up with players like Rodney Harrison.  The talent may be there, but tendons and ligaments will cooperate for only so long.

The Patriots still have Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Brady.  Does it matter?

Have the Patriots passed their peak?  Is it too late to get over the top one more time?

I think it just might be.  Take a look at this list of Super Bowl winners.   A couple of things occurred to me:

  • It’s called a PEAK for a reason.

After the Pittsburgh Steelers won 4 Super Bowls in 6 years, they didn’t win again for 26 years.  They were always competitive, but not quite good enough to get over the top.  They weren’t good enough in 1995 or 2001 or 2003 or 2004.  Perhaps the Patriots had their first glimpse of this in 2006 when they failed to maintain a 21-3 halftime lead vs. the Indianapolis Colts.  Maybe it was in 2007 when the New York Giants pressured Brady and won an improbably game that few gave them a chance to win.

Brett Favre was 27 years old when he won his first and only Super Bowl.  The next season his team returned to face the Broncos.  The Packers lost that game.  Favre never won more than 1 playoff game again in any season.

There are many more examples of this on that list of Super Bowl teams — particularly for teams that lose Super Bowls after having won.

– Remember the 1999 Rams.  The Greatest Show on Turf was poised to blast the 2001 Patriots into the record books — next to the 1989 Denver Broncos and the 1987 Denver Broncos and the 1985 Patriots.  It never happened.  The Rams never made another Super Bowl appearance.  Isaac Bruce is in San Francisco.  Torry Holt is in purgatory (er, St. Louis).  Marshall Faulk is a broadcaster and Kurt Warner is contemplating deserting Arizona if the price is not right.

– The 1995 Steelers?  They lost to the Cowboys and took 10 years to get back to the Super Bowl.

– The 1994 49ers led by Steve Young didn’t return to the Super Bowl.  They had the talent, but they had ferocious opposition in the form of the Cowboys and Packers.

– Mike Shanahan was recently fired after earning the “Genius” label in Denver on the heels of two Super Bowl wins.  Shanahan even had an impressive 5-3 record over Belichick.  How many playoff games did Shanahan win after that 2nd Super Bowl?  Just one — over the Patriots.

– The high hurdle of returning to Super Bowl glory after a win is taxing.  It is even more so after a loss.

The New England Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since 2004.  Who were the top passers (# of attempts) in the NFL in 2004?  (You get the prize if you can name them without peeking.)

1. Trent Green   2.  Daunte Culpepper   3. Aaron Brooks   4. Brett Favre   5. Jake Delhomme

The rushing list?

1. Curtis Martin   2. Rudi Johnson   3. Shaun Alexander   4. Corey Dillon   5. Clinton Portis

Exactly.  2004, in terms of football, was a long, long time ago.

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I know this guy can still get after it.  The question is, “Does it matter?”

Don’t believe the hype.  The end could be right around the corner.

The last team to lose a Super Bowl, then come back to win it all?

The 1975 and 1977 Dallas Cowboys.

What was the difference?  An infusion of talented youth!!

Tony Dorsett.

Randy White (Rookiein 1975).

Harvey Martin ( age 27 – 2nd Pro Bowl season).

Drew Pearson (age 26).

Guard Tom Rafferty and more.

The Patriots appear to be headed in another direction.

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