For the legions of Patriots ticket holders that pack Gillette Stadium, missing the NFL playoffs in 2008 must have carried whispers of withdrawal. These Patriots under King Bill are penciled into the post-seasom without a thought. But the loss of Tom Brady early in the season pretty much set the tone for a down year. Here’s my startling though of the day: New England may not have made the playoffs even with Brady. Matt Cassel pushed the Patriots to 11-5, generally considered good enough for a playoff run. Would Tom Brady have made enough of a difference to garner another win? Maybe.
But that’s the past and it’s useless to hash over a bunch of maybes. Now let’s look at the 2009 Patriots. Brady is back and the issue become whether he is completely recovered or will there be lingering effects from injury and rust? My guess is the Pro Bowl QB will take a few weeks to really get in stride but eventually he’ll be all the way back.
More importantly in my mind is whether Bill Belichick can keep up the pace. Early in his career he was surrounded by good assistant coaches. Now, he’s watching his people walk out the door every year. The lack of cohesion could come back and bite New England. Anyway, on to the 2009 Patriots. Big Bill has filled the uneven spots in his roster and attained quality backups across the board. Should Laurence Maroney falter then Fred Taylor is there to pick up the slack. While nobody expects Randy Moss to slip, New England still has Wes Welker, and got Greg Lewis and Joey Galloway to round things out. Defensively the Patriots have some issues. The line has taken a beating and the aging of the linebackers could be of some concern. While Belichick has been busy plugging in replacements there has been no crop of young defensive backs to spring up.
The Patriots schedule for 2009 has some challenges. The hot Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan, the Miami Dolphins, and an opener with Buffalo that could expose a rusty Tom Brady. It all remains to be seen but Bill Belichick and Patriots tickets have been down this road before. Expect a return to the playoffs and a shot at another Super Bowl.