September 19, 2010
Patriots Searching For Their Identity After This One
BY: Kevin Rousseau
After you clear your stomach of that naseous feeling you have after watching Mark Sanchez, LaDanian Tomlinson, Rex Ryan and the rest of those hateable Jets beat up on your Patriots in week two, a cold reality sets in.
Really, not much has changed. For the life of me, I can't remember the last time Tom Brady lead a comeback against a halfway-decent team--much less on the road. I can't remember the last time the defense made some game-changing plays in the second half. And it's hard to recall a game when the Patriots came out after halftime making the better adjustments than their opponent.
All three of these tendencies were trademarks of the Super Bowl years. Who can forget the intentional safety and the last second touchdown pass to David Givens on Monday night in Denver half-a-decade ago? An interception or a third-down sack late in a fourth quarter seemed to always seal a game. And if the game was close at halftime, there was a pretty good chance things would break just fine for the Patriots in the third quarter.
Of course, there is a long way to go in the 2010 season and the puke-inducing loss to the Jets will be long forgotten by Veterans' Day. Too much is made of the month of September. We annually crown Super Bowl champs and dismiss teams from playoff contention after a few games when we know full well that the first half of a season just sets the table for November and December.
Despite the Meadowlands stink bomb, there is a lot to be encouraged about after two games. The two rookie tight ends are already difference makers. The move towards youth on defense has shown some positive signs. Linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham doen't look woefully out of place. We haven't heard much out of starting rookie cornerback Devon McCourty through two games which, frankly, is remarkable. History would tell us that these players will get better as the season unfolds.
But perhaps things won't get better for the Patriots. The one dimensional offense continues again this season with no pretense that a running game matters. When things don't go well in the passing game over last year and this last game, things unravel quickly for Tom Brady and his offense. They don't have any running game cards to play.
After week two, we really are back to square one as to finding out just what we have got with this team. Are they going to beat up on so-so teams like the Bengals and Bills and not be able to come through against halfway-decent teams like the Jets and Ravens? Will they become a physical ball-hawking defense or an average defense like last years wildly unmemorable version?
Perhaps the most alarming unsettled truth is the play of the quarterback. Of course, I always wear his jersey to home games and have been accused of squealing like a school girl at the site of his amazing play over the years. But really, seeing his disgusted look on the sideline after yet another fourth quarter stinkfest is becoming quite a regular occurrance.
After a glorified exhibition game next week at home against Buffalo, Brady and his team will have to go into Miami on a Monday night and beat a solid Dolphins team in order to keep Patriot Nation from throwing up their hands and saying "Now just what has really changed from last season?"
What never changes is the fun of post-game traffic on Route 1 after a Patriots game. No matter the coach, the uniforms or the quarterback the recently-ranked second worse gameday traffic in the NFL is always there for your enjoyment in zip code 02035.
After a so-so performance and laying a big fat one last week on all of his fans (present company included) who pay in the neighborhood of a $117 per seat to watch him play, I can't say I'm squealing like a school girl. You'll please excuse me TB if I want to leave a game that has been settled five minutes early to get a jump start on my four hour commute back home in order to be somewhat presentable at my tenuous job on Monday morning. It's nothing personal. It's just business. Much like your favorite receiver's contract situation.
To be fair, Brady does have a point to some extent about Gillette Stadium fans. Dan Shaugnessy, to his credit, hit the nail on the head in this past Sunday's column. The Patriots of recent years don't look to be having fun and a lack of a description that fans can relate to leads to this disconnect. Perhaps we aren't nearly as hungry for a winner as we were five or 10 years ago. Maybe it's wondering if deep down the Patriots organization really is "fan-friendly" with $50 parking, tickets prices averaging near the top of the League, etc.
It's a two-way street. Give us a product that we can identify with and get behind and you'll see Boston sports fans be a factor at home games. In a cruel irony, the teams fans inside the stadium have taken on the identity of the stoic Head Coach. On the other hand, it's embarassing when you see fans like the ones in Denver, Kansas City or Pittsburgh truly make a difference in the outcome of a game and you know you'll never win one of those "We got better fans than you" arguments in an airport bar with someone from Wisconsin or Texas.
We're searching for an identity. Both as fans and as a team.
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