Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pats will be back in '08

When the New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII this past February, I thought it was one of the most crushing defeats in sports history.

One of those losses so devestating, the suffering team never completely recovers from it. They're never quite the same. Some defeats are just too devastating.

When you win the first 18 games of the NFL season, you deserve to win the 19th. You just do. The '08 Patriots were the best team any of us had seen - their level of dominance was unprecedented and felt unreal. Watching them completely toy with and obliterate the Bills in Week 11, I implored my grandmother to watch the history that seemed to be taking place right in front of our very eyes. The 2008 New England Patriots were the greatest team in the history of professional sports - that night, as they were in the process of crushing Buffalo 56-10 in New York, I was beginning to become convinced of this.

But because they lost The Big One, they will not be remembered that way. Unfortunately. I couldn't even fathom the level of grief and disappointment that those invested must have felt; as I wrote at the time, I felt sorry for the players, I felt sorry for the coaches, I felt sorry for management, I felt sorry for the fans.

I suppose that every team that doesn't win the Super Bowl ultimately considers their season a failure.

But because of what they had accomplished in the five months that preceded that fateful night in Glendale, Arizona, New England's defeat seemed like an even bigger collapse.

I was prepared for anything; there was a part of me that was waiting to hear the breaking news that Bill Belichick had decided to retire. As Tom Jackson said right after the game, the fallout that was to come from the Patriots' organization was unimaginable.

But then the winter finished, and spring passed, and now summer is in its dying days. And I feel a little differently. First, on PTI, Mike Wilbon dismissed the notion that the 2008 Patriots were a failure as foolish. I took heed. Then, in his TMQ AFC Preview, Greg Easterbrook pointed out that the '08 Pats (because of their history making regular season, statistical dominance, and how darned close they came to perfection) will be remembered more readily than the Giants team that defeated them in the Super Bowl.

I took heed again.

And now what I have come to realize is that while they did not hoist the Lombardi, there is still something rather prestigious about last year's Patriots - what they accomplished was still extremely noteworthy, to the point that they deserve to reside in their own, seperate castle of nobility.

They definitely weren't a failure, and are probably closer to being a success - even in losing the Super Bowl. Never again will we see a team come that close to doing what will never be done. Maybe they shouldn't necessarily be proud of the season they had, but they need not be depressed, either.

So, where do they stand now?

They lost cornerback Asante Samuel to the Eagles in free agency this offseason, and are looking shaky in the defensive backfield (even after the addition of veteran safety John Lynch) - but not as shaky as they did in 2004, when they won the whole damn thing.

In the AFC playoffs last year, Jacksonville and San Diego exposed a way to take Randy Moss out of the game, and deep threat Donte Stallworth departed to the Browns - no matter. Little Wes Welker is still around, and besides, two years ago Tom Brady nearly won the conference with Jabbar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell as his top two receivers. Brady isn't just a quarterback, he's a magician.

And tailback Laurence Maroney is ready to bust out, if necessary.

So the pieces are in places for another 14-win type season and deep playoff run.

Furthermore, I've tried to get a feel from afar for the overall mood of the this offseason. They seem fine. There seems to be no lingering effects. No depression or feelings of nothingness. Now, I'm not convinced of anything just yet - in the back of my mind, I still think there's a chance that, once the games start for real, the Pats will no longer have the fighting spirit to match their talent. Obviously, we'll have to wait until the season starts to find out for sure.

But if I were a betting man, I would bet that my initial beliefs about that loss and their aftereffects will prove to be misguided. Does than mean I'm picking them to go the whole way? Personally, I like the Colts this year - younger legs on defense mean they'll be fresher come January. Think it'll be the best team they've had over there.

The point, though, is that I have entered into a new age of enlightenment: the Patriots have no reason not to bounce back completely this season, and if they do end up making up for last February this February, I'll no longer be surprised.

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