By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by
December 01, 2009

No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski not at the start of the team's OTA's today
NFL notes: Don't be surprised if Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers rise up for Patriots
New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates

Leave it to the pipes of Gil Santos to put it into perspective as the fourth quarter wasted away on Monday against the Saints. He surmised that it is much easier to lose a game when you were clearly outclassed than to lose a heartbreaker like the Colts game a few weeks back.

Perhaps for the first time in all of the years I've been following the Patriots, I looked at an opponent with jaw-dropping admiration like I did the Saints on Monday night. It was an impressive demonstration and it is hard not be rooting for a team, fan base and city that deserves a winner as much as New Orleans does. I might have begrudgingly accepted it when John Elway used to throttle the Patriots on a regular basis but I can assure you I didn't feel a kinship with Broncos fans for one second.

Unfortunately, the 2009 Patriots season has deteriorated to some extent into grading out the severity of losses as opposed to the relative greatness of victories. That's not to say that the Patriots can't (and should) run the table the rest of the regular season. But even if the team goes 5-0 in their remaining games, the doubt that lingers will remain as the Patriots enter the playoffs. In many ways, the Patriots will have proved nothing with a 12-4 regular season as difficult as that is to believe.

After 11 games, just what do we know about the Patriots? It's hard to point to an identity on offense. Are they a dink-and-dunk pass team? An Air Coryell vertical team? Or how about a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust team? The latter seems to be working well recently in yet seems to be abandoned when the storm clouds get just a little gray.

On defense, we thought we had a bend-but-don't-break defense on our hands that would allow the Patriots offense to score enough points to easily pull out wins. For sure, there are young pieces to build around with Guyton, Mayo, Merriweather, Wilhite, etc. But we haven't seen a defense that puts a great deal of pressure on a quarterback, much less a pass rush that would lead us to get us even a little excitable.

In short, the party as a Top Tier NFL Team is over folks. Welcome to life as a perfectly adequate, pretty good, always-hanging-around second-tier team.

Think Philadelphia Eagles.

They won't scare the bejesus out of anyone anymore. The team will be respected but a voodoo cloud will no longer be aiding the Patriots as they walk into an opposing stadium. That voodoo mystique now belongs to a team that is housed in a city that knows a thing or two about such black magic.

Realistically, Tom Brady has five to seven years left as a NFL quarterback. In order for the team to rise above the perfectly-adequate, second-tier mantle that they currently si upon, the Patriots will have to stop monkeying around on draft day in April 2010. They will have to cash in all of those picks and choose wisely to fill holes at running back, tight end, defensive end and outside linebacker if those five to seven years are going to be Super Bowl contending ones.

Once I got over this new reality sometime on Tuesday, the new baseline of backing a quality second tier team has been accepted at this address. I hope I'm proven wrong in the playoffs. If so, it would be the 4,358th time that has happened in the eight years of column writing. If so, I would happily accept a plea bargain arrangement from the message board and enjoy the ride. But as it stands now, only the most delusional Patriots fan could see things other than life as a good, second-tier team.

We knew we had it real good. We thought it could last forever and to some extent it always will. If we are honest with ourselves, it's been drifting ever since that night in Glendale, Arizona two years ago. The Matt Cassell year and this perfectly adequate 2009 campaign are the dénouements. I'll take denouements if they are 11-5 or 12-4 seasons. Remember, most NFL fans would be thrilled with our current lot in life and gladly trade places with their plight following the Lions, Bills, Browns, Redskins, 49ers, Raiders, Texans, etc.

It's always sunny in Philadelphia, isn't it?