Anyone who wrote off the Patriots: You forget this now, but there were more than a handful of TV talking heads and writers suggesting the Patriots were done and dusted after Tom Brady's Week 1 season-ending injury. Some idiots even suggested Drew Bledsoe be given a call and brought out of retirement (cough, me, cough). Well, all Matt Cassel's done is lead New England to a 9-5 record, put them in place for their sixth straight playoff berth and thrown for over 3,000 yards. Cassel's been a machine, and if his work has been remarkable, the defense's has been even better. Jerod Mayo's given the Patriots some youth and exuberance in the middle and the defensive backfield — the expected Achilles' heel — has more than held its own. I'll stand right up and say I was wrong. After that September loss to Miami where the Patriots were wildcat-ed into submission on their home field, I had my doubts. The lesson? NEVER question Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick when it comes to player personnel decisions.
The more I study the list of players elected to this year's Pro Bowl the more I appreciate Bill Belichick as a head coach.
You will, too, when you notice that the only New England starter is none other than the kicker, Stephen Gostkowski. Remove him from the equation, and New England is as well represented as the New Orleans Saints.
Which means they have one reserve. Period.
Now, New Orleans is 7-7 and going nowhere, so having one guy on the roster is not exactly a surprise. But New England? The Patriots lost Tom Brady. They lost Adalius Thomas. Rodney Harrison. Tedy Bruschi. A stable of running backs. Defensive backs. You name it, they subtracted it.
Yet they're 9-5 and tied for first in the AFC East, and we were just served another reminder why. Bill Belichick, please step forward.
Belichick is winning with a virtual rookie at quarterback, a couple of top-notch wide receivers and a lot of bailing wire to tie the whole thing together. Yet he's winning often enough to have the Patriots in a familiar position.
Now there's talk of New England making the playoffs, but the Patriots must beat NFC West champion Arizona this weekend and Buffalo on Dec. 28 -- in Buffalo -- to stay in the conversation.
Is there anyone out there who believes that doesn't happen? That's because you trust the head coach, and you trust his system.