Posted 01/11/2010 at 03:44 AM
One of the great runs in NFL history has come to a close. The days of dominance for the New England Patriots are now officially finished. Any lingering doubts were emphatically erased on Sunday as the Patriots were totally humiliated on their home turf by the Baltimore Ravens. The game was basically over shortly after the coin toss, and thereís no question in my mind that this powerhouse organization will now be shifting into rebuilding mode for at least the near future. Iím not generally big on making long range predictions. But barring something completely unforeseen between now and next September, Iíll offer the opinion that the Patriots will be no better than a .500 team and maybe less than that.
In the interests of full disclosure, I thought New England would win their wild card matchup with Baltimore. But that was based more on history than present reality and I never had a chance of cashing that ticket. Fortunately, I also had the Jets, Cowboys and Cardinals this weekend, so Iím very pleased with the overall results. But I really should have trusted my instincts on the Patriots and faded them, as Iíve been saying all season that this is a team thatís simply no longer dominant.
Why am I so down on the Patriots? Fact is, I donít know where the strengths are on this team at this point. Tom Brady is still a solid QB, but heís not the same as he was prior to the knee injury. Heís gone from being beyond elite to human, and thereís no guarantee heíll ever get back to where he was. The New England running game was ordinary all season, and thereís clearly no one on this roster right now that strikes fear into the hearts of opposition defenders. Randy Moss is no longer the ultra-explosive threat at wideout and his days in New England may well be numbered. The Patriots are now a team with a bevy of possession receivers, but no one to stretch the field. The offensive line is proving that virtually nothing ages gracefully in the National Football League.
It gets worse on defense. There are substantial weaknesses at linebacker and in the secondary. The front line is still solid enough, but age will be a growing concern. And letís not forget that Head Coach Bill Belichick had such little faith in this unitís ability to get stops that he became a riverboat gambler in some crucial fourth down situations this year.
In spite of the problems on paper, the Patriots were still deemed a threat in this yearís playoffs. That aura of invincibility still existed, especially in front of the Foxboro faithful. After what transpired against the Ravens, thatís now gone as well. The fear factor simply is not going to be there anymore.
I donít want to make it sound like Iím suggesting the Patriots are about to suddenly become the Detroit Lions. But not only is the roster showing appearances of heading into a transition period, it also has to be noted that the organization has undergone a major transformation over the last couple years and Iím not at all sure the Belichick supporting cast is up to past standards.
Add it all up, and I cannot see how the Patriots can get back to serious Super Bowl contention next season and my belief is that theyíre about to become just another NFL team for at least the next couple of campaigns. Make no mistake, however, this was a decade for the ages for New England, especially given the volatility that exists in the NFL.