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Patriots Commentary Writer Bob George
      March 15, 2003      
 
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      Patriots At A Crossroads
    By: Kevin Rousseau/PatsFans.com

    Everything is different now. Can’t you sense it? Our lives are a little more content, perhaps a little less hungry, and a whole lot brighter.

    When my dad is no longer as anxious to go to cold weather games with the playoffs on the line, I can sense it.

    Its happened to me often during this snowy winter. When I look up at snow falling at night through streetlights, it sometimes brings me back to a night over a year ago at the old stadium.

    My brother, never much of a sports fan, instantly became a Patriots fan for life that night. This pleasant surprise has lead to him taking my father’s spot alongside me at some games this past season.

    Suddenly, when traveling through airports in strange and foreign cities like Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, you are proud to wear a Patriots “Super Bowl Champs” hat. Especially in Pittsburgh.

    No longer do you have to make excuses for the Patriots and why they have never won a Super Bowl. We can now leave that up to people in Buffalo, Detroit, and Cleveland to name a few. The Patriots are off the hook.

    It’s been a little over a year since the fateful season that lead to a ball sailing through the uprights in the Superdome. A lot has changed. Mr. Bledsoe is no longer here. A new stadium has made the Foxboro faithful more comfortable and softer on key third downs. Will McDonough was taken from us. The team is now seen as a model franchise around the league. People wonder whether it was Bill Parcells winning all those games or his loyal assistants now plugging away on Route 1. And a Super Bowl winning team failed to make the playoffs.

    But truthfully, after you got over the initial disappointment of the Patriots not making the playoffs, were you ready to jump off the Tobin Bridge? No, you weren’t. Winning one of those games with Roman numerals after it takes the sting off for at least a year, doesn’t it? As the Patriots enter a new season one year removed from their championship, will the free pass from the fans continue or will it be back to the usual regimen of griping from Patriots Nation? Whatever the answer, the current off-season and the upcoming season will prove entertaining.

    The team has many obvious holes that will need to be addressed in order to continue to be competitive in the tough AFC East. As an aside, three good 9-7 teams and one 8-8 team is not parity. It’s four good teams pummeling each other into the ground. But I digress. I’ll leave it to the very able draftniks at patsfans.com to bring you up to speed on the April draft and all the possible players that can be had to help the Patriots.

    Suffice to say that it is my opinion that with two picks in the first round, the Patriots should draft the two best available defensive linemen, linebackers, or running backs. Too often, we hear people say “They have to take a defensive lineman with that first pick” or something to that effect. This is shortsighted and not in the best interest of the franchise when you are picking twice in the top twenty. Go with the impact players regardless of a specific position. Say the 2nd best running back is available but only the 4th best defensive lineman is remaining at the 14th spot, should they still take that defensive lineman? In the NFL, a position that is solid today can be a glaring hole in no time.

    The Patriots appear to be in decent salary cap situation as the free agency period opened on February 28th. They have certainly helped themselves for relatively little money at positions like saftey and linebacker where additional depth is needed. There are also a number of receivers available who could complement the good possession receivers the Patriots already have. Wouldn’t old friend and recently-released Sean Jefferson look good as a deep threat for little more than the veteran minimum?

    The Patriots weren’t that far off last year. They seemed to always show up and play as hard as they could have. It’s just difficult when everyone has your team circled on their schedule. This offseason could perhaps be the most critical in Patriots history. If they choose right in the draft and free agency, the team will be a competitor for years to come. If they don’t, Patriots Nation will get a bad case of Super Bowl amnesia and the knives will come out of the kitchen drawer.

    Some offseason Zingers for you….

    If you ran a team, would you really think that Dennis Erickson would make a better head coach than Romeo Crennel? Sooner or later, somebody is going to wake up and make this man a head coach. The Patriots dodged this bullet for at least another year.

    On a recent business trip to Dallas, I drove by Texas Stadium on my way to my downtown hotel. Since I can remember, I have always been in awe of this mecca and thought it might be worth a pilgrimage at some point. Don’t waste your time. From the outside, it looks like Foxboro Stadium with half a roof. On the other side of the coin, I was able to go to the brand new American Airlines Center while I was there. It is beautiful and quite something to partake in. However, I really didn’t feel like I was at a hockey game given the loud (really loud) music, hypnotic graphics, and passive fans. Somewhere between the old Garden and these new McArenas, the truth lies.

    It bears repeating. If you are the Miami Dolphins, how do you go about this offseason? You were perhaps the second best team on paper in the AFC and you proceeded to go 9-7 and not even make the playoffs. Where are the holes to fill on that team?

    Don’t you get the feeling that when Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher loses his self-control after a bad call it sends a signal to his team to begin to break down and start making mental mistakes?

    Are you just as sick as I am of hearing that the new, wonder boy quarterback is the “next Joe Montana”?



         
       

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