I was debating on many columns this week; my ideas ranged from naming Wes Welker “Best Patriot Not Named Tom Brady,” to discussing the recent Randy Moss fiasco that has flared up for no reason whatsoever. As I was trying to fix my PC that contracted a virus this past week (it was from an
e-mail. No, seriously, it was), I flipped the TV on in order to relieve my frustrations. And to my delight, NFL Films was documenting the legendary Tuck Rule Game. That’s when it hit me. Watching the 2001 Patriots was like comparable to a proud mother watching her 18 year old’s toddler videos-and don’t get any ideas, Mom. The Patriots looked so loose and just looked like they wanted to have fun. They didn’t appear to be stressed or frustrated; and if it weren’t for the snow, I don’t think I’d be able to tell the difference between this and a preseason game. When the film crew showed New England coming out of the tunnel they just seemed happy to be there.
That was back in the day when the Patriots were the media darlings; the underdog that could. They scrapped out an improbable victory, and one would be as foolish as a Minnesota Vikings player on the highway to think that Lady Luck didn’t give Pat the Patriot a huuuuuuge kiss on the cheek. Anonymity was the Patriots biggest asset in their historic win over the St. Louis Rams. They had a baby faced quarterback who never started an NFL game until that season, a group of young receivers that were only recognized by their families and a defense that was still trying to make a name for itself (I’m talking to you Mr. Milloy and Mr. Law). Everybody knows the story. The St. Louis Rams were introduced individually, with future Hall-of-Famers Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner all getting the superstar treatment. New England defined the epitome of team-everybody from the fifth string lineman to Tom Brady was all treated as one, as they all came out together.
Now today? Whenever I hear of the Patriots or anything else coming out of the Foxborough camp, it’s negative. Moss doesn’t try anymore. Belichick isn’t the genius we thought he was. Brady knocked up another girl. No matter what it is, it has to be spun in a negative light. The media doesn’t want to talk about how Moss frees up Welker on nearly every play; they want to talk about how Moss is taking plays off (which he doesn’t; ESPN’s Merril Hoge said that he watched the Patriots-Panthers game on film and said that his performance was “One of Moss’s best games without the ball in his hands that I can remember”). Also, whenever a team is facing a fourth-and-two, it’s inevitable that no matter how long I live, the Patriots 2009 game against the Indianapolis Colts will be etched into my memory. If I wasn’t the NFL aficionado that I am and just read sports headlines, I’d assume the Patriots were having a disastrous season, not 8-5 with a very favorable schedule heading into the stretch run.
The 2001 Patriots had the media on their side, even the nation on their side after the terrorist attacks on September, 11. Nothing represented America better than a team called the “Patriots,” donning red, white and blue. The old Patriots also had one other thing: the enviable “it” factor. What’s the “It” factor? Well, besides a crappy TV show on Bravo, it’s the idea that when you look at a game, you know the team with the “It” factor has what it takes to win the game. They just have “It.” The team just shouts “There is just simply no way you’re beating us tonight, and if you do, it’s because of bad officiating for a miraculous play” (Yes I’m still bitter about the Giants Super Bowl). I remember my young body watching the XXXVI Super Bowl, and watching the Pats come out together like it was the coolest thing I’ve seen since Jack Bauer’s first appearance. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Patriots had the swagger and the look of a championship-winning team. Sure enough, Adam Vinatieri won the Super Bowl and that was a catalyst to the Patriots ridiculous championship run.
The team this year? I’m not sold. At times the Patriots will drive down the field and score at will. Other times, they’ll look like Big East offense run by an ACC point guard. (Wait, a team actually tried that?) The passion, the drive, the will just doesn’t appear to be there-right now. If-and that seems like a bigger if than it should be-the Patriots make the playoffs, things can change, and hopefully they will. But right now, they just don’t look like a team capable of winning a Super Bowl. The Colts, the Saints, the Vikings all have a look that says “We’re going to put our foot on your jugular until the game ends, and even after the game, it’s going to take an army to get us off of you.”
The 2007 Patriots had the “It” factor, no doubt. I think it’s because of the new faces on defense, because the 2007 Pats defense was absolutely fearless. You just did not want to run on these guys, with Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison just licking their chops to put you on a stretcher. And they would too. This year, besides Jerod Mayo and maybe Brandon Meriweather, the Patriots don’t have a guy on defense that is actually feared by the offense. The defense just looks lost at times,especially against prolific passing teams like the Saints and the Colts.
Even though the Patriots didn’t win the Super Bowl-and I’m crying as I type this-they still had the look of a winner. If it weren’t for an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime play (and about 100 missed holding calls; yes I’m still VERY bitter) the Patriots would have hoisted that Vince Lombardi trophy. I’m very skeptical this year. Who’s the leader on the defense? Who is going to step up and be the playmaker in a Wes Welker dominated offense? As much as I love Welker, the Patriots simply can’t win in the playoffs unless somebody steps up. In 2001 it was Brady and David Patten. Who will it be this year? Will it be Sam Aiken? Chris Baker? Julian Edelman? Ed Hochuli? Gisele Bundchen? I’m waiting for that out-of-nowhere guy to step up like Cedric Benson has for the Bengals or how Pierre Garcon has for the Colts.
The Patriots aren’t really screaming anything; they’re a great team sometimes, and sometimes they’re terrible. The X Factor to this “It” Factor business is going to be Brady. No questions about it. Brady already has three rings. Is he still hungry? December is the month where pretenders and contenders set themselves apart. I’m hoping and praying that Brady takes the team and carries them on his back all the way to the Super Bowl. Otherwise, I’m very hesitant to call the Patriots a playoff team, let alone a Super Bowl contending team. Until they find that “It” factor, whether it’s a hard-hitting defensive player or a playmaking receiver or, the Patriots will be stuck as a middle-of-the-road playoff team.
Hopefully this January I’ll be able to watch the Pats in the AFC Championship game, rather than having to turn to the Tuck Rule Game in order to be happy.
TJ Souhlaris is a freshman at the University of Connecticut, majoring in Journalism. You can contact him at Thomas.Souhlaris.@uconn.edu.