After spending the last week lying on the floor in the fetal position, I feel I am finally able to get up off the floor and talk about the season-ending injury to Tom Brady.
(ok, anytime now)
(seriously, I can do this)
OK, the Patriots will be fine.
Yes, they will not be be the 16-0 juggernauts from last season winning games 55-10, but I expect they will look very similar to the Belichick teams of 2001-2003, winning close games and being dependant upon the defense and running game to carry the team to victory. Safe to say, not many of those "nap on the couch during the second half" games like last season and more nail-biters.
Some reasons why I believe the Patriots will remain a Super Bowl contender this season:
1. The running backs: Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney, Lamont Jordan, Kevin Faulk, and Heath Evans.
Whether running the ball, blocking for Matt Cassel, or catching screen passes or dump-offs from Cassel, the running backs are likely drooling at the thought of an increased workload. Rather than being a fallback plan, the backs are likley a centerpiece of the team's gameplan.
2. Wes Welker and Randy Moss:
Whether Matt Cassel is at QB or whether my six year old son is at QB, the gameplan always involves getting the ball into the hands of playmakers. No one makes more plays than Welker and Moss, the two most dynamic pieces of the offense. These two need to get on the same page as Cassel immediately. If Welker cannot get open on third down, the Pats are in big trouble. Randy Moss should be able to continue his image rehabilitation this season and add a "Young QB Mentor" merit badge to his collection. Like I said, Cassel need only get the ball to these two to make himself look good.
3. The Defense:
Always the strength of the Patriots, this group gets a chance to get out of the shadow of the record-setting 2007 offense and flex their collective muscles. Rodney Harrison, Adalius Thomas, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and Vince Wilfork make for seven Pro Bowl caliber defenders on the field. Outside of San Diego, who can top that?
4. Matt Cassel:
That 50+ yard pass out of his own end zone on third and long last week showed some serious chutzpah. Lest anyone forget, Matty ended the game with a 116.0 quarterback rating. In addition, Cassel can move and is much more mobile than Brady. For a few games, that can be a huge asset for him. Finally, this is a contract year for Cassel, and as Matt Schaub will tell you, there is big money out there for him to make by stepping up this season.
Let us also (in hindsight) consider that this injury may be a positive in the long-term. Brady gets a full year to rest the balky ankle and right shoulder. Hopefully, he comes back stronger from the surgery, fully rested, and motivated.
The 2008 expectations should not change--this is a team capable of contending for the Super Bowl.
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