New England Patriots

State of the Patriots Union Address

By Ryan McGowan

On December 31, I wrote “Five reasons the Patriots can win Super Bowl XLIV.”

Nice prediction. That’s right up there with the geniuses who predicted the Betamax would clobber the VHS, or that New Coke would be a sales bonanza for Coca-Cola, Inc. Predictions like that basically show why I don’t make my living picking NFL games, though I did win the Poor Man’s PTI regular season pick-‘em championship for the umpteenth year in a row, so what does that tell you about the guys on the show with me?

In light of the Patriots’ embarrassing first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, I thought it would be a good time to take stock in our local NFL franchise and deliver my State of the Patriots Union Address for 2010 and beyond.

[All rise as two guys in Minutemen outfits holding imitation muskets fire them off and announce BostonMac’s arrival in the room for the speech. BostonMac shakes a ton of hands and makes his way to the podium. He delivers copies of the speech to Mr. Freeze, assistant ambassador of Patriots Nation, and Bill Simmons, the Nancy Pelosi figure in the room. Teleprompters are ready… BostonMac begins the speech.]

My fellow citizens of Patriots Nation…

Yes, I realize that “Patriots Nation” is just as douchey a moniker as “Red Sox Nation,” and not even original. Hey, at least the Pats don’t sell official membership cards. But I digress.

Friends, the Constitution of Patriots fandom requires that BostonMac, as the self-appointed official ambassador of Boston sports for, deliver from time to time a message to the fandom about the state of the teams. I can report, first and foremost, that this is a high honor for me to deliver this address, despite the unprecedented panic-ridden situation we as a fan base find ourselves in after the Ravens loss.

Well, it’s not entirely unprecedented, since the franchise’s entire pre-1994 history outside of a few rogue seasons pretty much sucked, but let’s face it, we haven’t been in this dire of straits since Pete Carroll was getting Ben Coates all jacked-and-pumped to play against Jim Harbaugh and the Colts.

Because, fellow New Englanders, despite the recent setbacks of the last few years—the last-minute loss to the Colts in the 2007 AFC championship that ruined our post-season invincibility against Peyton Manning, the heart-wrenching defeat to the Giants in SB XLII that spoiled the perfect season, the revenge-tour-that-wasn’t with Matt Cassel at the helm in 2008, and the injury-riddled inconsistent monstrosity that was 2009—despite all that, the state of our Patriots’ union is strong.

It is strong despite the subpar season turned in by our golden boy, Tom Brady, who despite enjoying the second-best statistical season of his career, was hampered by nagging injuries all year and never quite found the rhythm he enjoyed in the 18-1 season. It is strong despite the national perception that our fearless leader, the genius-like Bill Belichick, has lost his edge, as evidenced by the infamous 4th-and-2 call against the Colts (which was still the right call, of course). It is strong despite the uncertain contractual situation of our all-everything nose tackle, the great Vince Wilfork, who for all intents and purposes can expect to have the franchise tagged slapped on him for 2010. And it is strong despite the disappointing, season-ending ACL/MCL double-tear suffered by the inimitable Wes Welker in Week 17 against Houston, keeping him out of the playoffs.

To paraphrase the way one local radio commentator described it, the ugly loss to the Ravens was like a blacklight in a hotel room; every flaw in this team was exposed in that game the way a month-old DNA sample at the Best Western becomes visible in a blacklight.

The linebacking corps is subpar. Folks, Ray Rice’s 83-yard touchdown run, right up the middle, on the first play from scrimmage exposed this one. Jerod Mayo got hurt in Week 1 vs. Buffalo and was never the same after he came back; it is widely accepted that he pushed himself to return too early. Either way, the front office’s complete lack of attention to this spot in the draft (outside of Mayo, of course) is starting to unravel the unit.

The defense has no pass rushers. My fellow citizens, even though Joe Flacco didn’t have to pass much at all in the game, when he did pass, it was evident that this defense doesn’t have the capability to pressure a quarterback if it wants to. Belichick’s philosophy has often been to contain a quarterback with a four-man rush, while punishing receivers physically and confusing the quarterback mentally with a complex scheme. In the Bill Polian-manipulated passing rules of today, the ability to be physical with the Ty Laws and Rodney Harrisons of the world is no more. And since the Pats’ defensive backs are about in the same shape as their linebacking corps, more pressure on the quarterback would have to be the only way to remedy that deficiency.

The offense is too finesse-based now. Friends, back in the first half of the decade, during the three Super Bowls in four years run, the Patriots were known as a physical team. They didn’t have the talented wideouts or the stud running backs, but they were deep and tough, and made the plays when it counted. Sometime between then and now (probably the record-setting 2007 season), the offense morphed into a carbon copy of the 2001 St. Louis Rams or the 2003 Indianapolis Colts, a latter-day Greatest Show on Turf which featured Randy Moss’s superior athleticism on deep balls and Wes Welker’s incomparable guile and quickness underneath and over the middle. Somehow, though, the Patriots lost the ability to be physical when it counted. In the aforementioned Indy game in November, people forget that before the fatal 4th-and-2 was a 3rd-and-2. Knowing that they would probably go for it on fourth down, most coaches would probably try to power something up the middle, leaving them (hopefully) a short 4th-and-inches if it falls short. Belichick (and departed offensive play-caller Bill O’Brien) thought their best chance was a short arrow route to the flat—for both plays! The Belichick-Weis combo of 2003/2004 would have undoubtedly given the ball to Antowain Smith or Corey Dillon and asked questions later while Brady knelt on the ball in victory formation.

The defensive line is suddenly a question mark. Fans, as recently as a year ago, the Pats’ defensive line was without a doubt the best in football. With Jarvis Green, Richard Seymour, and Wilfork on the line (with outside linebacker help in Mike Vrabel and a productive Adalius Thomas), the Patriots controlled the line of scrimmage on the defensive end and forced teams to adjust their offenses accordingly. Then, in the 2009 preseason, Belichick first traded Vrabel to the Chiefs (along with Cassel) and packaged Seymour to the hapless Raiders for a future first-round pick. A shrewd move, yes, because Seymour surely would have walked away after this season with no compensation for the team. But now with Wilfork’s contract status unclear (with a franchise tag almost certain) and Thomas going completely in the tank mentally and physically after Bill sent him home from practice one morning, the status of the defensive line is quite unstable. Wilfork was been outspoken about his unhappiness with the prospect of being franchised, calling it a sign of disrespect (although few objective observers would consider a guaranteed contract that puts you among the five highest paid players at your position disrespectful).

And so, fellow Patriots fans, I propose to you a series of moves which will put our team back on top for 2010 and beyond. Just as China and India aren’t sitting around, letting the United States complacently stay on top of the global economics race, the Jets, Colts, Steelers, Ravens, and Chargers aren’t going to sit around this offseason and allow the Pats to reclaim their spot as AFC royalty. Here is what needs to be done.

1. Franchise Wilfork. Then sign him to an extension. Pay the man! Too bad if Vince feels disrespected by the franchise tag. I’m sure the fifteen BMW’s he’ll be able to pay cash for will help him get over that really quickly. In the meantime, sign him to a front-loaded extension (since 2010 will probably be an uncapped year and you don’t want to tie up too much money in back-loaded deals not knowing what the CBA will look like in ’11 and beyond).

2. Draft a stud linebacker who can rush the passer. I’m not a draft guru and I don’t even know if one is out there. But they got Mayo two years ago. And Belichick used to coach Lawrence Taylor for God’s sake, so he knows how to work with someone who can get to the quarterback. Tully Banta-Cain can’t be their only answer at that spot if they expect to compete for the AFC title.

3. Salvage Laurence Maroney… or say “See ya, saw ya” to him. Maroney’s fumble-itis around the goal line this year was maddening. His fumbles might have single-handedly cost the team two wins, maybe more. Maroney can still be a solid back, as evidenced by his increased productivity this season when he chose to run hard and stop dancing around the holes. If Maroney can’t be a dependable back the way Smith and Dillon were (and Smith was a journeyman who didn’t have half the natural talent Maroney is blessed with), then he needs to be jettisoned. The experiment has gone on long enough, and 2010 is a make-or-break year.

4. Get some real coordinators. I couldn’t believe that both Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel were back on the market this year, and the Patriots are losing both O’Brien and defensive coordinator Dean Pees (gone to the Ravens to be a linebackers coach… I guess if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em) and Weis and Crennel are going to Kansas City, instead. I realize that it might be wishful thinking to expect that hiring the coordinators responsible for the three Lombardi Trophies would bring back those glory days, but it should be noted that Belichick hasn’t won a title without his chubby right-hand men (much like Bill Parcells never won a title without Belichick). Maybe Bill can sweet-talk his buddy (and Parcells’ son-in-law, KC general manager Scott Pioli) to sending the two fat men back to Foxborough for a 2010 reunion tour that will top Michael Jackson’s 1984 “Victory” tour that almost bankrupted the team’s owner at the time, Billy Sullivan.

So, Nation, that is my four-point stimulus package for the return to greatness for our beloved Patriots. Since we last watched Bob Kraft, Belichick, and Brady hoist the Lombardi back in Jacksonville on that cold winter day in 2005, we have had to endure two Steelers titles, two Colts AFC titles (and at least one SB title at the time of writing this article), and the ascendance of the Jets as the team to beat in the AFC East for 2010.

Once again, the State of our Patriots Union is strong. Let it be known that for us as fans, the cause of fandom endures, the hope for more playoff victories lives, and the dream of another Super Bowl title will never die.

God bless you all. And God bless the New England Patriots franchise.


By BostonMac

Ryan is a teacher, writer, journalist, basketball coach, sports aficionado, occasional real estate agent, and political junkie. He graduated from both the College of the Holy Cross (bachelor's) and Boston College (Master's), and knows anyone who has never heard of Holy Cross probably would never have gotten in there anyway. He is an unabashed Boston sports fan and homer who, according to lore, once picked the Patriots to win for 25 straight weeks on the "NFL Picks Show," which he co-hosts with Vin Diec, R.J. Warner, and Burton DeWitt. He is also an original co-host of SportsColumn's "Poor Man's PTI." He is married, lame, and a lifelong Massachusetts resident (except for a brief sojourn into the wilds of Raleigh, NC) who grew up in North Attleboro and currently lives and works in Everett.

4 replies on “State of the Patriots Union Address”

You know you’re in bad shape when Jets fans feel better about their team at the end of the season and going into next season than you do…

Ha thanks RJ. By the way the BC band plays “Shipping Up to Boston” probably six times at every home football game. It starts to wear after a while.

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