By: Russ Goldman
As we look forward to the 2013 Patriots season, I can’t help but look back to a year that was special in the history of the franchise, and one that can be used as a road-map for the rest of the career of an aging quarterback. The 2003 Patriots should be the blueprint for the end of the Tom Brady era.
Many fans and media members point to the 2004 Patriots as the best ever, but I still disagree, as the 2003 team offered more than just the best talent to win a Super Bowl. This team won games in so many different ways, and won them on both sides of the ball. The 2003 Patriots were a complete team of balance. So what can the 2013 Patriots and beyond learn from the 2003 team?
Well, there are so many things they can use, and I will start on offense which in 2003 was not all about Brady. The running game was average, but completely balanced with Antowain Smith gaining 642 yards, and Kevin Faulk having 638 yards in the regular season. The Patriots have two backs now that can emulate that production or surpass it with Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley.
In the passing game, the Patriots in 2003 did not have a wide receiver with huge numbers, but again the unit as a whole was balanced. The leader in receptions that season was Deion Branch with 57 catches, followed by Troy Brown with 40 receptions, and David Givens with 34 catches.
The Patriots this season have uncertainty at the wide receiver position, but Danny Amendola had 63 receptions last season which he easily could get again with Brady throwing him the ball. It is also not crazy to think that the tight ends could have similar numbers to off-set potentially a rookie or two at the other wide receiver positions, and other wide-outs having lower production.
It is all about balance, and the Patriots passing and running game could have that symmetry that will take serious pressure off of the quarterback. As Brady gets older, offensive balance should benefit the Patriots quarterback in moving the team down the field.
On defense, in 2003 the Patriots against the run were fourth in the league, and had Ted Washington at nose tackle who really plugged the hole that the Patriots were having the season prior against the run. The addition of Tommy Kelly along with Vince Wilfork should make it very difficult for teams to run on the Patriots this season.
The pass defense is where the Patriots made the difference in 2003, and this is where the Patriots really need to improve in the coming seasons. The Patriots were average in 2003, being 15th in the NFL in pass defense, but this unit had play-makers that shutdown, and limited passing games when needed. Ty Law was a shut-down corner, and the Patriots defense was able to be more aggressive knowing that he was a cover corner.
Going into this season, the Patriots have cornerback Aqib Talib, and he has already shown that he might not be Law, but he can cover, and help the defense be more aggressive. When Talib went out in the 2012 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots defense suffered tremendously. He has already showed his value to the 2012 Patriots.
A player who really defined the 2003 defense was safety Rodney Harrison. He set the tone in the secondary, and was really the leader of that unit. Safety Adrian Wilson has come to the Patriots, and he could offer similar leadership, and toughness that the secondary desperately needs. He might not have the speed he once had, but his intangibles as a veteran player could be the missing ingredient for the secondary.
For the 2013 Patriots to really use the 2003 Patriots blueprint moving forward, there are four traits that could make all the difference in the world.
First, the 2003 Patriots were able to have their players on both sides of the ball step up to make game-changing plays. On Defense, in 2003 Tedy Bruschi, made a key interception that he took in for a touchdown against Miami.
Willie McGinest made the key stop on the one yard line, against the Colts in the regular season that sealed the victory. It is time to see Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones become true play-makers on defense.
On offense, in 2003, who can forget Brown catching the touchdown pass from Brady in overtime in Miami? How about Givens catching the winning touchdown pass against the Broncos on the road on Monday Night Football? I was at that game, and that touchdown showed me the Patriots were ready to do something special.
Who will be the play-makers on offense this season and moving forward ? You have two tight ends that can play that role, along with new receivers who need to step up probably early.
The second trait of the 2003 Patriots would be back-ups filling in when injuries occur during the season. Linebacker Mike Vrabel went down for some games in 2003 with an injury, and Matt Chatham stepped up admirably, and got the job done.
This season and moving forward, what happens say if linebacker Brandon Spikes goes down with an injury? It could be up to someone like Dane Fletcher to pick up the slack. The 2003 Patriots were able to overcome injuries with their depth, and the 2013 Patriots and beyond need to do the same. It is about every player on the 53 man roster stepping up when their number is called.
The third trait of the 2003 Patriots that this year’s team and beyond could learn from was the ability to overcome adversity. Before the 2003 Patriots season began, the team released Lawyer Milloy, and this one move could have derailed the entire season before it even got going.
It hurt the Patriots in the first game as they lost 31-0 to the Bills with Milloy playing against his former team. However, after that loss the Patriots adjusted, and started to get on a roll. They ended the season 14-2, so I guess you can say they overcame this adversity.
The fourth trait and could be the most important for the 2003 Patriots was winning games in different ways. That season, the Patriots could beat you on offense and defense. In the beginning of the season, the Pats beat the Titans 38-30 in a shootout. Three games later they beat the Browns 9-3 in a defensive struggle. They won games in overtime, and they also got victories at the very end of game like the wins against the Colts and Broncos on the road.
This trait really shows the balance of the 2003 Patriots, and the need for the 2013 defense and beyond to catch up to the offense to be its equal. The offense for several seasons has had the burden of winning the game, as the defense was average at best. It is time for the defense to win some games on their own, and become that true equal partner.
I truly believe so much can be learned from the 2003 Patriots that can be used for the end of the Brady era. It is about a 53 man roster with everyone contributing, and both offense and defense playing equal parts in their success.
The end of the Brady era should be about the quarterback being a piece of the pie instead of the whole thing. The 2013 Patriots and beyond cannot all be on Brady’s shoulders. It is time to use the 2003 Patriots as the blueprint for potentially more rings to the end of the Brady era.