Maybe Bill Belichick did exactly what the rest of us would have done. He got himself a shiny, new toy and he couldn’t resist taking it out and showing off. After all, that Tom Brady-led offense was as good as it got.
The attack was at its newest and shiniest in 2007, when the Patriots set a record with 589 points. The toy was broken in ’08, but once repaired it was nearly as good as new. So the boy with the toy showed it off some more, and the Patriots scored 427 points in ’09, good for sixth in the league. And then they led the NFL with another explosive season this past year, scoring 518. What a show!
But there’s a reason seven of the final eight teams in the postseason were ranked in the top eight in points allowed. (Only Seattle, ranked 25th, screwed up an otherwise perfect stat.) It’s because of the one old adage that has remained true: Defense wins championships.
The Patriots had first- and second-ranked defenses when they won their last two Super Bowls, and a sixth-ranked ‘D’ when they lost out on a perfect season. Instead of showing off their toy with all the bells and whistles, maybe the Pats should take a page out of Theo Epstein’s playbook. Run — er, point — prevention works even better in football than in baseball.
It’s why Ben Roethlisberger is still playing, while Brady is golfing. Teams with top defenses can survive when their quarterback is mediocre, even terrible, but the Pats couldn’t. It’s why a guy like Mark Sanchez can lead a team to the AFC championship two years in a row.
Of course, optimistic Patriots fans believe this year’s young ‘D’ showed enough to indicate it will be better next year simply by virtue of being older … and presumably smarter. But is there really any evidence of defensive players getting significantly or noticeably better? Most of these guys enter the league and show what they are right away. Is Jerod Mayo suddenly going to become a much-needed playmaker instead of just a tackle machine? Is Devin McCourty going to improve on seven picks? Will Vince Wilfork be better?
Let’s just say I’m not convinced. Perhaps it’s more likely that the Patriots need different players to become a better defense. And they can do it. They’ve got all those draft picks to work with, and free agency to consider. But getting The Genius some tools to work with needs to be the No. 1 priority as the Patriots prepare for Super Bowl XLVI.
—Bob Halloran is a sports anchor and author. Follow him on Twitter @BobHalloran63.
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