Monday, January 11, 2010

There's No Linebacker Aisle at Lowe's

Even when disgusted and depressed, Tom Brady's common sense did not desert him.

In his post-game press conference following the Patriots' grim loss to the Ravens yesterday, Brady demurred at a question which implied that the team must be completely altered in the wake of the 33-14 whuppin' at the hands of Baltimore.

"We were 10-6," Brady noted. "It's not like we were 2-14 or anything."

Just so. The Pats need work. Lots of work. But remodeling and rebuilding are not the same thing. The process of overhauling an NFL franchise that's hit bottom is much simpler, not easier, but simpler, than attempting to improve a squad that's where the Pats are today -- a slightly above-average team which appears to have far more future downside risk than upside potential, but which is, after all, still better than more half of its peers.

The project must start in a big way. Yesterday's butt-whipping was the third leading indicator of a club on the verge of collapse to something wretched. First came New England's home-road discrepancy. Then came their second-half slumps, both during games and in the overall season. Then the final symptom. The Ravens just dominated the Pats physically. They were faster, stronger, meaner, always first to the play with the most players. The Pats committed football's primary sin. They were outhit.

That is NFL humiliation. The humiliation felt by the crowd at Gillette is why the team got booed.
Didn't like it, boys? Call up any Eagle you know and see if you get any sympathy.

The project, however, will be a delicate one. Living and working in a construction site is dirty and stressful. There are just so many damn decisions. Separating the elements of New England's 10 wins it wishes to keep and its 7 losses it wishes to get rid of will require nice judgment -- especially since many of the win and loss factors are contained within the same players.

Bill Belichick, you, me, and every kid in Pop Warner knows GENERALLY what the Pats need. Ath-uh-letes. Bigger, faster, stronger, more hostile players at nearly every position one cares to think about. Not 15 to 20 new starters like the Rams need, but four or five bell cows who can impose their presence on a game from start to finish on a consistent basis.

SPECIFICALLY, I have no idea who those worthies might be, neither do you, and neither does Belichick, at least not yet. History tells us two things, however. 1. Above-average teams on the fade can be reconstructed to be better. 2. It's never a one-year turnaround, and the likelihood is that one or more seasons of true 6-10 or worse type pain will be part of the costs of construction.

By history, I mean Belichick's own history with New England. He was hired to remodel a former Super Bowl team on the fade, and did so as quickly as could be imagined -- in two seasons. The first one, which practically no one remembers was the 5-11 drag of 2000. Practically no one chooses to remember that Belichick took much heat from fans (not just the media) during that lost season, too.

Perhaps the Patriots community will be a little more forbearing during the next remodeling. All construction takes longer than the contractor and client think. But football history, here and everywhere else, suggests that patience is a far rarer commodity than Super Bowl rings.


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