By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 17, 2011

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And then, depression set in.

So stated Bill Murray in the movie Stripes when, in one miserable afternoon, he lost his job, his car, and his girlfriend. The Patriots lost the equivalent of all that and then some, when they bumbled their way to a mind-numbing 28-21 loss to the underdog Jets on Sunday in the AFC Divisional Playoff round. But while Murray eventually went on to greater glory as an Army "hero", the Patriots don't have anything to fall back on at present other than self-examination, analysis and improvement on what had been a most surprising 2010 season.

No one thought the Patriots would be this good, and that morphed into no one thought the season would end the way it did. What was supposed to be a rebuilding year instead became a one seed in the playoffs, but the melancholy result was the second one-and-done with the playoff loss coming at home in two years. This is sort of like being handed the keys to a Mercedes-Benz, except that someone tells you down the road that the car was really loaned to you and they take the keys away from you.

There is all sorts of fallout from this sudden end to the 2010 season. Some of it is bad, and some of it is pretty good. We'll take a look at the adverse fallout from this season, then make all of you feel better with some cathartic thoughts on the future of the Patriots. If all of you can remember the now iconic mantra of your head coach, just walk around all day and say to yourself "It is what it is" over and over, and you may begin to feel better.

Bad

There's a draft in here

And we don't mean the one in May at Radio City Music Hall. When there's a draft, what do you do? Close the window.

Is the same thing happening to the Patriots?

Tom Brady will be 34 in August. Bill Belichick will be 60 next year. These guys won't be here forever. Every year Brady doesn't get his "next one", it makes you think about things like "his talents got wasted again for another season". The way this guy was going, you would have thought that by now Joe Montana would be looking up at him. But Brady is closer to being a US Senator than he is to being a young phenom who took naps in the afternoon and then won Super Bowls in the evening.

As for coach, at some point he is going to hang it up. He has to be growing tired and is perhaps disgusted at himself that he hasn't won a few more Vinces than "only" three as head coach. He hates dealing with the media, he has no patience for players who don't follow the rules (ask Wes Welker), and he is probably sick to his stomach that Rex Ryan and his players were allowed to run their mouths off all week long, and then go out and kicked the snot out of his team on Sunday. You rue the day that Belichick writes Bob Kraft a note saying that he no longer wants to be HC of the NEP.

Fortunately, the window is still open. Brady is still in his prime and hungry for more, and Belichick still loves the game and loves to teach. Rest easy, these guys won't leave you just yet. As long as they are here, there will still be a draft. But time grows short with these two.

Ketchup is league-wide, not just Pittsburgh

In the Steel City, they named a stadium after ketchup. In the NFL, you never want the league to ketchup with you.

But that may be the case with Brady and Belichick.

It's been six years now since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl. This column presented some harsh data on Brady which a Globe writer talked about last week. Brady has been figured out in the playoffs, and if that be the case, the same has to be said regarding Belichick.

Since the win in Super Bowl XXXIX, here is basically how Brady's postseason existence has gone, allowing for brevity:

2005: After a win over Jacksonville where he overcame four sacks to post a 116.4 rating, he goes to Denver, throws two picks, and gets a 74 rating in a 27-13 loss. It is the first playoff loss in Brady's career, and the game is known primarily for the fact that Ben Watson can run faster than Champ Bailey. 2006: After slaughtering Eric Mangini's Jets at home, Brady goes to San Diego, throws three picks and gets sacked twice, and comes away with a passer rating of 57.6. Fortunately, one of those picks turned into a fumble thanks to Troy Brown, and the Patriots won anyway. The next week at Indianapolis, a late Brady pick ruins the season in the AFC title game, his passer rating a 79.5 score. 2007: Again, great against Jacksonville. Then three picks and two sacks against San Diego (rating of 66.4), but they go 18-0 anyway and make it to the Super Bowl. The Giants maul and massacre Brady, sacking him five times. His rating wasn't bad at 82.5, and he did lead a late scoring drive before the defense let him down. 2009: Baltimore clobbered him, to the tune of three picks and three sacks. His rating last year was 49.1. 2010: Brady throws his first pick in over 300 pass attempts and is sacked five times. He manages a rating of 89.

To be fair, passer ratings don't always tell the story. In the 2001 postseason, Brady's best passer rating was 86, in the Super Bowl win over the Rams. But they do help out with brevity. During the first ten playoff games of Brady's career, four of the last five games, all wins, saw him exceed 100 passer rating points. So there is some validity to the data, especially when he has bad games.

As for Belichick, some trends come up now and then. Belichick still deserves to be called the league's best head coach, but he is prone to being outwitted on occasion. Mangini got him in October but good, and that wasn't the first time. John Harbaugh keelhauled him last year. Now Ryan has once again gotten the better of him. Two of Belichick's three losses in 2010 were to Ryan. Mangini was fired in Cleveland largely because football genius doesn't always lend itself to good leadership of men. But Ryan is a problem.

Ryan has now thrice called out Belichick and the Patriots in the media, and come away with a win. The Jets play better when he flaps his yap and allows his players to do the same. All this masks the fact that Ryan knows his Xs and Os as well as he knows his Billys and Joes. If Ryan doesn't know schema better than Belichick just yet, that day may not be long in coming.

This is something that Patriot Nation will simply have to deal with, and rest assured, your head coach certainly will accept the challenge.

What bulletin board?

The recently retired Patriots must be ready to hit something. How do you let the Jets run their mouths like that and then let them go and back it up?

The answer is simple. There are not enough Vince Wilforks to lead the way. Or enough Tom Bradys. Or Matt Lights. Or Dan Koppens. The offense did better because they have more veterans, but more veteran leadership was needed on both sides of the ball.

In the old days, Ryan would never get away with running such smack. And Antonio Cromartie and Bart Scott would be eating crow right now. But things are different. Gag orders go only so far, and thanks to Welker, they aren't always obeyed. The Patriots didn't rise up and put the Jets in their place. The opposite happened.

This team simply needs to grow up. Just like you can't make someone young again, you can't accelerate maturity. To overstate the obvious, nature has to take its course. This team is not built to handle such smack yet. And we did say "yet".

Okay, so why didn't this happen in 2001?

Good question. The 2001 Patriots won a Super Bowl out of the blue. How?

It wasn't all Brady. One other overlooked element of that team was that it was a veteran team. The 2010 Patriots weren't, especially on defense.

Look at the 2001 Patriots defensively. The only rookie out there was Richard Seymour. He had Bobby Hamilton, Anthony Pleasant, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Laywer Milloy, Ty Law and Otis Smith all around him. These were guys who came into the league in the mid-1990s. Belichick and Mangini turned these guys into winners, but they had the personal character to make it work and eventually police themselves, something the Pete Carroll Patriots and the current bunch cannot do.

When guys like Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Devin McCourty and Ron Brace get to be that age, it will be something like 2015. Ditto for Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Heck, Rod Rutledge was in his fourth season with the Patriots in 2001. Some of these guys are still pups, and need to grow up a bit before they start winning postseason games with regularity.

Good

Other great teams stumbled also

No, this isn't a good excuse. But it's still like chicken noodle soup when you have a stomach ache.

The playoffs began with the Super Bowl champion Saints going up to Seattle and watching their title defense go up in smoke. Carroll and his Seahawks pulled off one of the biggest playoff upsets in recent history. The Hawks were a double-digit home dog, yet the Saints went up to Qwest Field and let the hometown crowd carry their team to victory. Nobody outside of Seattle expected the 7-9 AFC West champs to do much of anything in the playoffs, and the thumping the Bears laid on them on Sunday can only make Saint Nation feel worse.

Then later last Saturday night, Peyton Manning's Colt team went down at home to the Jets. Now there's someone who might really be worrying about a window closing. Manning will be 35 this year, and while he can still sling it, his team around him isn't what it used to be. And Jim Caldwell may be exposed as a head coach who will go only as far as Manning will take him, not the other way around.

Now this weekend, both Baltimore and Atlanta bit the dust. The Ravens blew a 21-7 lead at Pittsburgh, and eventually succumbed to their bitter division rivals. The Falcons were the other one seed, but Green Bay blew them out of the Georgia Dome and are now considered by many the new Super Bowl favorite. Both one seeds were one and done in 2010.

Good now, great later

Face it, this is a Patriot team you can be proud of.

As long as Brady doesn't get into his second career anytime soon (Full time dad? Politics? Wife's business manager?), the Patriots will continue to hit double digit wins with consistency. Maybe not in the 14 range, but at least eleven is a reasonable expectation. Put in a few new cogs on the offensive line, allow for the fact that Deion Branch is no longer a youngster, maybe a breakaway running back, and the offense is set. The defense needs some work on the line and some pass rushers need to come hither, but the unit is remaking itself and the bad raw numbers should improve over time.

The other meaning of the word draft

Belichick has continued to be the master of drafting. The 2011 draft will see the Patriots draft twice in each of the first three rounds, thanks in part to Seymour and Randy Moss. While Belichick loves to trade down and stockpile for the future, the Patriots should bring two and maybe three new prime studs into the mix. Who Belichick takes is guesswork for a fool, but at least the Patriots have lots of markers to call in.

14 wins is still 14 wins

This season showed that the potential is still there for prolonged success. When these guys learn how to win in the postseason like their older brothers did, greatness will return to Foxborough. Going 14-2 is still a huge accomplishment no matter how you look at it.

But success in New England is measured in postseason wins, not regular season wins. You don't get cupcakes in the playoffs, and as New Orleans found out, 7-9 does not automatically relegate you to cupcake status. The Patriots beat most every playoff team in the regular season, but the postseason is another story. Once the Patriots rediscover how to win in January, more titles could be in the offing.

So cheer up and shift your attention to the other Boston teams. Things are still okay in Foxborough. Let this team grow up, and things will get even better.


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