By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 29, 2008

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If you profess a love for David Letterman, then this article is for you.

Tributes are coming in from all over regarding the 2008 New England Patriots, the best team in NFL history to not make the playoffs. One year removed from a perfect 16-0 regular season, the Patriots were dealt one adverse situation after another and still came away with 11 wins. In 2001 11 wins got them a win in the Super Bowl; seven seasons later it got them an "attaboy" and not much else.

This is not to minimize those "attaboys". It is to say that despite all the positive feelings over the Patriots and how well they did under the conditions they were forced to deal with, not going to the playoffs is a huge disappointment, perhaps worse than the Red Sox losing Game 7 to Tampa Bay. You'll probably hear reports and opinions over the next several days where people will call for playoff reform, especially if Arizona and San Diego get their clocks cleaned at home next week. But when the dust settles, the 2008 Patriots will be remembered for more positive things than negative things.

In the spirit of fairness, we would like to present to you two lists the king of CBS late night would be proud of. Here are the top ten Worst Things About The 2008 Patriots, then the Top Ten Best Things About The 2008 Patriots. If your children got Guitar Hero for Christmas, then they can drum along when these lists are being read.

Here we go first off with the Top Ten Worst of the 2008 Patriots:

#10 - The CBS Scene was one of the most shameful and unnecessary promotions we have seen in this area. It was built with the clear intent on pandering to the television network which covers most of the Patriot games. You may have been in there and think it's the living end, but manifestly it is nothing more than kissing up to CBS and trying to get richer off of it. You can see stiffing Fox since they come at most twice a year, but what about NBC and ESPN, who love the Pats in prime time? The latter is based in nearby Bristol, Connecticut, so what gives?

#9 - Matthew Slater's fumbled kickoff return against the Steelers could be called the "beginning of the end". That was a game the Patriots could still have won up to that point. Randy Moss did have two key dropped passes, but Slater's gaffe opened the flood gates for Pittsburgh, and turned a tight game into the fatal fifth conference loss, the one which made the difference in Miami and Baltimore going to the playoffs and the Patriots not.

#8 - Jabar Gaffney dropped a certain touchdown pass at Indianapolis which at the time would have given the Patriots a 19-15 lead and a different feel to the fourth quarter. Instead the Patriots settled for a 25-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski, but lost the game when Adam Vinatieri boomed one from 52 yards to give the Colts an 18-15 win. This game launched the Colts on their current nine-game win streak, but if Gaffney catches that pass and the Patriots win, the Colts were in a mindset at the time where their season might have gone down the tubes with that loss.

#7 - The Patriots were totally bamboozled at the new Wildcat offense that the Dolphins unveiled at Gillette Stadium during their Week 3 38-13 win. It was a game nobody gave the visitors a chance to win. Miami kept running out of formations with Ronnie Brown at quarterback, and the Patriots could not adjust and were made to look hopeless and hapless. Brown finished with 113 yards rushing, and Ricky Williams chipped in with 98.

#6 - Back we go again to Indianapolis. That personal foul on David Thomas killed off the final chance the Patriots had at winning that game. Shortly after Vinatieri's 52-yarder, the Patriots drove to the Colt 31 with 4:45 left in the game. But Thomas was flagged for a late hit on Robert Mathis, and Matt Cassel would later throw the game-ending interception on fourth and 15. Most people have excoriated Thomas for sheer stupidity, but the replay shows that it would have been difficult for Thomas to slow down his momentum prior to the hit which came awfully close to the whistle. The call was ticky-tack at best and hometown at worst.

#5 - If nothing else, the Dallas Cowboys did more to kill off the Patriot playoff chances than Brett Favre did. Saturday, December 20 was supposed to be a wonderful night for Cowboy Nation, as they were closing the doors to venerable (for Texas) Texas Stadium. In town were the Baltimore Ravens, who with one more loss would take the playoff control out of their hands and put into the hands of the Patriots. But no, the Cowboys choked on a game which they seemed predestined to win, and instead began their playoff death knell by losing to the Ravens, 33-24. That win by the Ravens pretty much did the Patriots in, and the Cowboys completed the crapout by losing Sunday at Philadelphia, 44-6.

#4 - Losing Asante Samuel to free agency hurt the Patriots more than anyone could have imagined. The Patriots paid dearly for it, especially when Rodney Harrison was lost for the season later on. The Patriots were left with useless veteran retread Deltha O'Neal, overrated Ellis Hobbs, still-developing Brandon Meriweather and James (where have you gone, Eugene Wilson?) Sanders. The pass defense was porous all season long, gutted by quarterbacks like Chad Pennington, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Favre. All except the latter are playoff bound. That's how the Patriots used to get things done, with big games against the best. That didn't happen in 2008.

#3 - The 16-yard pass in overtime to Dustin Keller of the Jets, as previously stated in this column, was the one most damaging play for the Patriots in 2008. The Patriots had the Jets dead to right and an overtime win in their sights just following a sack of Favre by Pierre Woods. But facing third and 15 at their own 15, the Jets escaped when the Patriot defense left Keller wide open in the right flat, a tragic case of blown coverage. Favre hit the wide open Keller, and the Jets were off to their game-winning field goal while the Patriots never touched the ball in the extra session. Tiebreakers never came into play where the Jets were concerned, but this was a win which never should have become a loss.

#2 - Thanks go out to an Internet poster on this one. On February 26, Kevin Faulk was cited for possession of marijuana while attending a Lil' Wayne concert in Lafayette, Louisiana. Because of this bust, the NFL suspended Faulk for one game. The one game Faulk missed was the season opener at home against Kansas City. No problem, the Chiefs aren't that good a team, we won't miss Faulk against them, right?

#1 - Faulk wasn't there to block Bernard Pollard, who came in on a blitz and caved into Tom Brady's left knee on the fifteenth play of the contest. Pollard may have become the anti-Mo Lewis in the process, because the hit blew up Brady's knee to the point where he missed all the rest of the 2008 season. Reports are now coming in (disputed by others) that Brady's rehab is behind schedule and he may have to have surgery to remove scar tissue which would do him in for the entire 2009 season. The team is left to decide what to do about not only Brady, but his free agent backup, Cassel. It was a play which probably changed the course of this franchise.

Now, let's spread some holiday cheer for a change and present the Top Ten Best of the 2008 Patriots:

#10 - The one nice thing about the loss to the Jets at home was the halftime tribute to Troy Brown, who called it a career and did it the right way, unlike certain Gotham quarterbacks we know too well. Brown was the personification of class, selflessness and professionalism, and should get his number retired some day. You can see him now on local sports television talk shows, and he's good at that also.

#9 - This may actually turn out to be a negative if he leaves the Patriots for a head coaching job. But the work of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in 2008 was a marvel. Having to deal with the loss of Brady should have shackled anyone in his position. But his development of Cassel, bringing him along slowly and ultimately opening up the playbook for him helped the Patriots to more wins than anyone imagined. It also perhaps opened up more attractive employment for both him and Cassel some day.

#8 - Eleven wins without Brady. No, it wasn't good enough for the playoffs in 2008, but it was good enough for lots of admiration and praise. You would have been laughed at if you had predicted eleven wins after the Chiefs game. This goes down as one of the most remarkable seasons in Patriot history, even if they don't get a chance to defend their conference championship and atone for last year's Super Bowl stinker.

#7 - Anyone out there miss Laurence Maroney? Thanks to Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan finally healing up at the same time, and combining them with Faulk, the Patriots finished the year with a lot better run attack than what they started with. Morris, Jordan and Faulk combined for 1,590 yards rushing, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis chipped in with 275 more. This may not have been Cunningham, Johnson and Calhoun, but it was pretty darned good. Maroney, meanwhile, is New England's newest "a lot to prove" poster boy.

#6 - The Patriots were 7-5 heading into December, and had to run the table. Okay, so the competition was weak, including a playoff-bound Cardinals team which didn't feel like playing in the snow. But having to run the table against weak competition is still a chore, especially when two of the games were in the Pacific time zone. Win out the Patriots did, beating Seattle in a close game, then blowouts of Oakland and Arizona, and finally a shutout in windy Buffalo to push their record to 11-5. No playoffs, but again, lots of respect and doing what they had to do.

#5 - No one should mention the name Vinatieri around here unless the Pats are playing the Colts or we are in an historical discussion. Otherwise, the Patriots did well in replacing the venerable kicker. Stephen Gostkowski led the NFL in scoring in 2008 and is heading to his first Pro Bowl. His temperament is perfect for the job, absolutely nothing rattles this guy. If someone had to come in and replace Automatic Adam, this was the perfect guy.

#4 - Bill Belichick won't get much consideration for coach of the year, but he should. After being dragged through the mud last year on one charge of cheating after another, he showed the NFL that he is simply the best out there. Only Belichick could have dealt with a calamity like the loss of Brady the way he did. And that's not to mention all the other injuries (Adalius Thomas, Harrison, Maroney, Warren, Seymour). Belichick is the best, and you can say that again and again and again.

#3 - Wes Welker is beyond great. He is amazing, and this is a guy who is a teammate of Randy Moss. Whereas Moss is still Moss with all of his immense talent, Welker is the one who is getting all the numbers and the props. Like Gostkowski, he is also heading to his first Pro Bowl. Welker is both slick and tough, and was Cassel's security blanket in 2008. Welker might be the first to tell you that defenses overplaying Moss help open up lanes for him, but he still has to make the plays. And make them he certainly does.

#2 - If Jerod Mayo doesn't get defensive rookie of the year, something is very wrong. Mayo made a huge impact on the team, at a position where they were getting old and slow. Mayo is a Tasmanian Devil out there, and was the runaway team leader in both solo tackles and total defensive plays. The Patriots need one or two Mayo types who can play cornerback and safety. Mayo was the star of the Patriot defense in 2008, and will only get better with time.

#1 - Much has been said and written about Cassel and his backup role in 2008. Cassel reinforced the importance of the backup quarterback on an NFL team. He may wind up staying in New England making $14 million next season, or he may wind up another team's pitcher with a six or seven-year deal. That said, Cassel, who is impressing everyone out there with his kind demeanor and his incredible football intelligence, has to go down as the newest of all the most beloved Patriots of the last twenty years for the great work he did in the most impossible relief job of them all. Everyone panicked over the prospect of losing Brady some day. That some day finally came, and Cassel came through with flying colors.


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