By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by
December 29, 2008

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Really, the bummer in the way the 2008 season ended is that we wanted to see more of this team. We wanted more of this team against the strength of the AFC in the playoffs. Just how much water could be squeezed out of the 2008 Patriots towel? We wanted to know.

If you polled most Patriots fans, I'm willing to bet that a vast majority of them would say that the season far exceeded their expectations and was endearing ride that entertained them along the way. We saw Bill Belichick in perhaps his finest coaching performance, marveled at the surreal quarterback play of Matt Cassel and saw backups step in and take over after key starters continued to drop like flies.

You could play the coulda/woulda/shoulda game all day long with the Dave Thomas late hit in Indy or the 3rd and 15 conversion by the Jets in overtime. And perhaps there were a few games where a play or two the other way, like the Seahawks game, could have meant a loss. In some years, an 11-5 record would be enough to secure a first-round bye. Not this year. In the immortal words of my late grandmother, "What are you going to do?"

Let's put aside the coulda/woulda/shoulda game and look on the bright side.

First off, the Patriots will play a second place schedule that essentially translates into games against the Broncos and Ravens instead of the Chargers and Steelers. By missing the playoffs altogether, the Patriots will end up in the 20th slot for the 2009 draft. Not too high and not too low. The team also has San Diego's 2nd round pick coming to them and could have another choice or two if they play their Matt Cassel cards right.

Oh yes, Mr. Cassel. I suppose I would have to get around to talking about him at some point in this column. Some yahoos want the team to keep Cassel and trade arguably the best quarterback of all time. This is not a Drew Bledsoe redux, gang. If Tom Brady's knee checks out okay—granted, a big if these days—the smart play is to trade the franchised Cassel to an NFC team for a few high draft picks.

Bill Belichick alluded to the fact that the team and its coaches could use the rest after being on the playoff treadmill since 2001. Think about what the man was saying. Essentially, the team has played an extra season worth of playoff games in that time span. Mind you, no one is complaining by this embarrassment of riches but it does condense the player evaluation, rehabilitation and workouts that are critical in the offseason to inseason success. While some teams fall off the wagon in a year like the one that was dealt the Patriots, this season could ironically be construed as the bridge to continued success into the next decade.

Speaking of decades, while it was not a playoff year this season will help solidify the Patriots claim to Team of the Decade barring back-to-back Colts Super Bowl wins. And you have to admit that watching the Jets and Cowboys crash in burn in amusing fashion within minutes of each other certainly did have a mitigating effect, now didn't it?

So there is no need for a pity party, Patriots Nation. As the 50th anniversary of the franchise comes around next year, the recently concluded season will certainly have its place in the discussion of great second-tier years in the history of the franchise. If you put it up against '63, '76, '78, '86, '94, '97, '05, and even '06, this past season holds up well given the context of the adversity that the team faced throughout the season.

I don't know about you but this season somehow re-energized my allegiance to this team. The shame of it all is I can't wait for September 2009.

Can you?