Eerily familiar to Pats fans; similar to the 2002 season as it unfolded; the Patriots defensive unit sprung more leaks than a sieve Monday night as the Colts had their way with the Pats like they were a paying customer at the Bunnyland Ranch.

When one stop, one turnover, or one forced punt could have turned the tide, there was no big play evident from the depleted defensive corps. Where was the big sack-and-fumble play from the defensive line. Where was the big third-and-short stop by a linebacker? When was a defensive back actually going to make a play other than tackling a receiver after a fifteen yard gain?

All I could think of was the frustration of 2002. No Super Bowl march, only a 9-7 record and a three-way tie with the Jets and Dolphins and a trip home after they lost the tie-breakers. Everyone was afraid from the get-go that this year could be like 2002. The need to find the right coaches, to get the younger players the playing time for developmental purposes, to identify who had lost a step and needed to be booted out the door, and to scour the NFL for the next batch of veterans who can help the team rebound and reach the Super Bowl in 2006.

Of course, despite the pitiful showings, this team still should finish first in the AFC East, they should still beat-up on the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins (five games remaining) with regularity, and they should win a few games courtesy of Tom Brady. Last year in the playoffs the Pats offense scored 20 points. This year they scored 21. It is pretty simple, Einsteins: the difference was the defense.

The defense had a few plays where Manning was uncomfortable, hurried, made bad decisions, and made mistakes. For the most part, the entire defense was beaten down. The young defensive line screams for a veteran presence, the linebacking corps needs an infusion of talent, speed, and playmaking ability, and the defensive backfield needs help, and lots of it.

Will the Patriots make the playoffs? Sure. Can they win in January? Maybe, but they need a turnaround on defense not seen since the 2001 season. Could they do it? Of course. Will they? Well, in Bill we trust, so we will have to be patient and wait and see.

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If it were 1988, this would have happened to the Patriots. By now, everyone has heard/seen/read the news of the two Carolina cheerleaders busted for having sex in the bathroom while angry female patrons waiting to use the can grew agitated enough to call the cops. I have a few questions:

1. Were there any hotel rooms in the area or was a bathroom stall just so much more exciting?
2. Why not use the men’s bathroom where no one would have complained?
3. Where was Fred Smoot and the rest of the Vikings?
4. Details, details, details: just what kind of sex was going on in there?
5. In this day and age when everyone and their brother has a picture phone (heck, even I just got one!), all these angry ladies were waiting in line to pee and not one got a picture for the National Enquirer?

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So the rumor du jour is that Theo could maybe just possibly be on his way back to the Red Sox? Umm, right. That is why Larry Lucchino is at the GM meetings interviewing with his short list of candidates. Also, it was interesting to read some of the national press (Jim Caple at for example) ripping into Theo for leaving the Sox because he could not get along with Larry. Since the local press is all so anti-Larry, it was refreshing to read an outsiders view of the whole episode. The Sox move on, Theo heads to wherever, and hopefully the payroll will finally get under $100 million.

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One, none involving Manny Ramierez that do not include two twenty-somethings who throw in high nineties in addition to a solid outfielder (i.e., not Mike Cameron, he of 150+ strikeouts, health issues, and a huge contract of his own).

Two, none involving Kevin Youkilis, Abe Alvarez, Jon Lester, Jon Papelbon, Craig Hansen, Dustin Pedroia, Anibal Sanchez, Kelly Shoppach, or Hanley Ramirez.

Three, all trades are made with the provision that there is
a. no way in hell the team will even bother to make an offer to Johnny Damon,
b. pay more than $1.5 to $2 million a season for two or three years to Bill Mueller,
c. pay one red cent to Kevin Millar who should pay the Sox back for last season,
d. pay more than $1 million for one year for Graff, and
e. at least one trade must include the most bizarrely popular rally killer in Red Sox history, Trot Nixon.

Four, David Wells brings back equal value if he goes.

Five, arbitration eligible pitchers Wade Miller and Bronson Arroyo have value. Do not give either away.

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