2009 Gridiron Gab Team Previews: New England Patriots

Patriots Camp Football
Maybe Bill Belichick’s legions of critics were prophetic. Maybe his New England Patriots did wind up pissing off the football gods. During New England’s historic 2007 season, most of the non-Patriot fans who were not irate about Spygate were eventually turned off by what they perceived to be the head coach’s hubris.

Belichick’s high-powered Patriots would stomp opponents into the ground and then keep stomping. The annihilation would be followed by chilly postgame handshakes, terse, evasive press conferences and the emitting of a subtle arrogance that people tend to easily notice when you own three Super Bowl rings.

Eventually, the hubris reshaped the reputation of one of the classiest, most well-managed organizations in sports. Americans outside of the ritzy Northeast started looking at the Patriots in the same way people look at a luxury car with a vanity plate. Those who weren’t saying it were often thinking it: Those smug Patriots will get what’s coming to them.

And they did––at least it seems. New England’s perfect ’07 season was spoiled in the final minutes by a white-hot wild card team on football’s grandest stage. An impossible catch by a career-long special teamer allowed it to happen. Then, less than eight minutes into their official rebound effort of 2008, the helmet of Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard smashed into the left knee of golden boy quarterback Tom Brady.

It was around this time that fans––mainly the classless ones––exhibited intense schadenfreude. But by winter, it looked like New England might somehow persevere. During the fall, untested quarterback Matt Cassel had grown up faster than bamboo. The offense seemed unstoppable again, and the Patriots won their final four games to finish 11-5. But a gross flaw in the NFL’s playoff format mandated that at least one team from the pathetic AFC West reach the postseason. The eight-win Chargers got the nod, making the ’08 Patriots the most accomplished non-playoff team in NFL history. What stung was that they may have been hot enough to pull off a few January upsets.

Was this the football gods putting the finishing touches on a Sisyphean punishment? Sure felt that way. But painful as it was, you now get the sense that it has passed (which, of course, would mean it’s not a Sisyphean punishment). The Patriots are sure acting like it’s passed. Despite Brady’s initial post-surgery complications, Belichick and the front office––which saw long-time VP of Player Personnel Scott Pioli leave for Kansas City, and former Titans GM Floyd Reese essentially take his place––traded Cassel (along with veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel) for a mere second-round draft choice.

Third-year quarterback Kevin O’Connell or Matt Gutierrez will compete for backup duties, meaning New England’s mended superstar is as uninsured as southern flood damage.

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