The saying goes: Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time, according to Voltaire, a French Philosopher from the late 1600s. Others believe that perfection is impossible to attain. Near perfection is what the Patriots attained in 2007, and one more year may get them closer still.
New England came within a few minutes of achieving something that had never been done in the history of the NFL achieving a 19-0 record. Only the 1972 Miami Dolphins hold the distinction of achieving a perfect season, winning 14 regular season and three playoffs games to become the first undefeated team in NFL history. When it was all done, they still only won 17 games. They almost had company, were it not for an amazing catch by a little-known wide receiver, and a late score to propel the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XLII.
When asked about the perfect season, or the goal of attaining a perfect record, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick prefers to talk of the next game, the next practice, or even the next thing to work on. Not one to let himself think of perfection as an attainable goal, the head coach pushes his team to forget the past and always look to the future. No practice has ever been perfect, the coach has said. There are always things to work on, his players echo.
When asked about winning 18 games in a row to surpass the Dolphins perfect 17-0 record, Belichick declined to recognize the feat as anything more than just taking a step closer to their goal winning the Super Bowl. The 18-0 accolades were also lost on the star players, with Rodney Harrison saying "It doesn't matter what we've done in the past."
That mindset is what propels the Patriots now. Forget the catch that Harrison almost managed to break up, or the sack that Jarvis Green almost had to prevent the ball from being thrown, or even the field goal opportunity that wasnt because the head coach opted to go it on fourth and long those things dont matter. Losing the Super Bowl doesnt matter. How they bounce back from a losing season doesnt matter. Veteran leader Tedy Bruchi probably said it best at the teams training camp recently. Youll see how we bounce back when we start playing games.
What Went Wrong?
There are too many variables to describe without turning this column into a short story. Suffice it to say, that the Patriots didnt make the plays they needed to when they needed to. Sure there was a lot of hype of running up the score, or teams having figured out how to beat the Patriots by establishing a blueprint, but the reality is that the Giants just made more plays than the Patriots did. Those plays came at a crucial time in the game, and even though the Patriots held the lead late in the game, the Giants managed to put together the type of drive that had been lacking from their repertoire throughout the season. Players like Tyree made catches they usually didnt make. Tight End Kevin Boss made hay in the middle of the field, and the Giants defensive line went from very good to unstoppable. End result: Giants 17 Patriots 14 and the dream of the perfect season gone.
Can they do it again?
For this particular writer, that answer is why not?
Go ahead and try to name the teams to beat the Patriots this year. Its a fun exercise. For every team you list that has a chance to beat them, those same teams had that chance last year and failed. For every argument you can come up with why the rematch will have a different result, you can find a reason why the Patriots have an equally good reason to win two in a row.
Lets take a look at the also-rans and examine why they havent done enough to pose a credible threat.
New York Jets: Plenty of people say that the Jets built their roster to defeat the Patriots. To those Gang Green supporters (my neighbor included), I say what are you smoking? There is no quarterback to pick apart the Patriots biggest questionable area the secondary. The offensive line is better with Alan Faneca, but is Damien Woody really the answer? Uh uh. Sorry Jets fans its 0-2 for you again.
Buffalo Bills: This is a team I take very seriously. You have to be a fool not to. The Bills have improved in every area, including the secondary, AND they have a quarterback of the future. Theyre years ahead of The Jets and they didnt spend the GDP of a third world country to get it done. Still, as much as I like the Bills chances with Marshawn Lynch and Trent Edwards, Im not sold that the Buffalo defense can slow down Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Tom Brady and crew.
Miami Dolphins: One Tuna can make a big splash, but its a big ocean. Sorry, but becoming Dallas East doesnt make the Dolphins a contender. Again, the problem is that Miami is a team facing quarterback issues. If you cant pick apart the opponents secondary, you are not going to survive against a healthy defensive line.
Thats 6-0 in the division. What about the other 10 games?
San Francisco 49ers: As much respect as Mike Nolan deserves, his team just doesnt have the type of roster to unseat the Patriots. Patrick Willis is a beast on defense and deserves props, but one man does not a defense make. Just look at Tedy Bruschi in New England, Ray Lewis in Baltimore and Brian Urlacher in Chicago.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos have rebuilt their defense a number of times, but they still have concerns about the front seven. The Browncos as Ive called them in the past, underachieved in the Mile High city similarly to what happened to them on the city by the lake. Running back concerns, line concerns and an uncertain future with the quarterback who has a medical condition could be enough worries to keep Denver in the L column.
St. Louis Rams: Do you really need someone to tell you all the reasons why the Rams arent the same team that met the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI? Torry Holt returns but Issac Bruce is in San Francisco with Mike Martz. The offensive line had issues, Stephen Jackson had health issues, and even Marc Bulger struggled. Its going to take more than one season for Scott Linehan to rebuild that roster, and a rebuilding team is going to have trouble slowing down the Patriots.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are one of the better also-rans. Im not one to discount them easily, but neither will the Patriots. The Cardinals have a solid looking defense which unfortunately lost rising star linebacker Calvin Pace to the Jets. They havent decided if Matt Leinart really is the next coming of Neil Lomax. And although Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Bolden give the team some weapons, protecting the quarterback long enough to find them is a concern. Sorry, but no to AZ.
Oakland Raiders: What? Thats not even worth dignifying with a debate. JaMarcus Russell is not the next best thing since sliced bread. Oaklands playmakers are gone, and it will be the Randy Moss, LaMont Jordan payback show when these two teams meet. Nope Tuck Rule memories aside, I just cant picture Oakland winning this one.
Kansas City Chiefs: I like Kansas City, I really do. A sea of red, one of the best homefield advantages in the NFL, a wholesome Midwest flavor with a blue collar coach. Unfortunately the game is in Foxboro, and the Pats arent about to lose their own homefield advantage. Besides, Herm has a young team which hes admitted has some growing pains to go through. See St. Louis for the rebuilding excuse.
Seattle Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck is the type of quarterback who can find a way to derail any juggernaut. When the Patriots meet the hawks in week 14 at Seattle, it will be all they can handle. Homefield like none other, a solid defense with rising stars, and an offense that seems to be finding itself, means that Seattle spells trouble for the Pats. But its trouble I think they can handle although it may be a squeaker.
San Diego Chargers: Yes, the Chargers were hurt last year. Yes, they were missing their top producers. Yes, it was a close game at one point on the scoreboard last year, but New England has San Diegos number the same way they had the Colts number for years. As long as San Diego doesnt find a way to turn up the temperature and pipe in crowd music, the Pats should be okay. New England survived one playoff game against the Chargers, and theyll probably have to do it again, but I still dont trust Philip Rivers (or his mouth) and neither should you when these two meet. Good Luck LT, No, Michael Turner and No, Lorenzo Neal
Indianapolis Colts: The golden gem of the schedule. Good thing it comes early (week 9) a little while after the Pats bye. Unfortunately for New England, its a night game at Indy. A healthy Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Joseph Addai, combined with a healthy Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders, well, doesnt that make you think it will be impossible? This game has to be New Englands biggest challenge. Still, as long as things dont get out of control, the Patriots should be able to find a way.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh shelled out 100 million reasons why Ben Roethlisberger is the man. I just dont see it. Though hes produced for them time and again, there are reasons to think the Patriots still have the ability to silence Anthony Smith a second year in a row.
Thats the regular season for you. With only a couple of tests that can go either way, the Pats could and likely will be undefeated heading into the playoffs again.
So, who are the playoff contenders?
Assuming Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and San Diego all return, the others on the list have to be Jacksonville and Cleveland. Im leaving Baltimore out because youd be crazy to think they can get past Cleveland and Pittsburgh in a three way race.
Jacksonville Jaguars: See previous history of the Jags Patriots in the playoffs. History favors the Pats, and as many accolades as you can pour on Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, the defense concerns me. The Jags are reworking their defensive line with a pair of rookies (Quentin groves and Derrick Harvey), so they may get it by the playoffs, but heres betting they hit that proverbial wall. David Garrard will need to use all the tools in the shed, and you can guess hell run out before he can get a big enough lead to win.
Cleveland Browns: Talk about wildcards. Will the real Browns please step forward? Stop Braylon Edwards, KWII will kill you. Play prevent defense and Jamal Lewis will follow Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach all the way to the end zone. Anderson could have made their last meeting a much closer game if he didnt throw a pass into the waiting arms of Junior Seau in the end zone last season. Still, experience wins out, and New England advances.
Super Bowl Favorite
Im only picking the Cowboys because I just dont see how anyone else from the NFC will knock them out of contention.
Dallas Cowboys: As far as Super Bowls go, this could become a repeat of XLII if Dallas meets the Pats. Unfortunately for T.O. I have to think that it will be his second loss to the Real 81, and his second Super Bowl loss to Bradys bunch. Sure the Cowboys have all the makings of a dominant power, but this is Wade Philips. This is the same Wade Philips who had a chance to snuff out the Pats while at San Diego. The same Wade Philips who had opportunities to do the same in Buffalo. Im not saying Wade is a bad coach, but he resembles his dad more than he should. And a Bum, never wins in the big game.
So in short, or long as the case may be, the Pats can win all their games in 2008. Its about what their opponents cant do as much as what the Pats can do. Im not predicting the perfect season, but I cant find enough good reasons for them not to have one. While the past doesnt matter to the Patriots, thats the biggest reason why they wont suffer the Super Bowl hangover so many others want to hand them. It looks like Vegas is on my side; maybe you should be, too.
This article was published last month in Warpaint Illustrated, the magazine. It was reprinted here with permission for PatriotsInsider.com and scout.com subscribers.