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- Patriots’ recipe for success

Sports Critic January 25, 2005
Sports Critic

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By Alex Fitzsimmons, email alexcolumn@aol.com

If there was any doubt that the New England Patriots are the best team in football, last Sundays domination of the Steelers erased any of it.

Against the number one rush defense in the NFL, the Patriots ran for 126 yards and one touchdown, most notably a 25 yard romp compliments of Corey Dillon. Even wide out Deion Branch ran for 37 yards on two carries.

Quarterback Tom Brady was efficient, throwing two TD passes and no interceptions, and Branch lit up the Steelers secondary catching four passes for 116 yards, an average of 29 yards per reception.

And defensively, the Patriots showed they have no superior, picking off then undefeated rookie Ben Roethlisberger three times and holding Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis to only 64 yards rushing.

On the flip side, the Steelers turned the ball over four times, and that proved to be their undoing. Cornerback Eugene Wilson intercepted two of Roethlisberger’s passes while safety Rodney Harrison picked off one pass and returned it for an 87 yard touchdown.

The Patriots were just better.

And two weeks ago, in the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs, the favored Indianapolis Colts, led by the most cerebral quarterback in the game, Peyton Manning, pranced into Foxboro as if they owned the Pats, when recent history would prove contrary. Not only did the Colts boast undeserving cockiness, on the Colts team website, shirts were being sold that celebrated the Colts winning the AFC Championship Game, before they even played it.

Slightly ironic that the Colts ended up losing before even getting to the AFC Championship Game, self-imploding to none other than the Patriots in the Divisional round, where the illustrious Manning was held to three points while the Patriots’ offense ran circles around the Colts perplexed defense.

The Patriots were just better.

Now the Patriots are on a one way trip to Jacksonville where they will square off against the Eagles for the ultimate prize in football. And if there’s a team in the NFL that knows a thing or two about performing when the pressure is on, it’s the Patriots.

There aren’t many flashy superstars on the Patriots team, just players that know how to win. Brady isn’t the most athletic quarterback, nor does he have the strongest arm; but he has the mindset, the intelligence and the poise to make smart decisions and give his team a chance to win. And that’s all Brady does, win.

Linebacker Tedy Bruschi might not have the biggest biceps in the NFL, but he still packs a powerful punch when tackling, and unlike most defensive players, he actually uses proper tackling mechanics, making him more consistent than most linebackers.

The same goes for the rest of the team: these players aren’t concerned about how many records they set, how many catches they make, or how many passes they pick off. The only stat they are concerned with is the score, and making sure their team has a higher one than the opponent’s at the end of the game. Everything else takes a backseat.

If every team in the NFL played with the same integrity that the Patriots personify, the NFL would have fewer players like Randy Moss, the egotistical ball hog, who represents everything the NFL wants to avoid.

That’s not to say the Patriots are soft in any way. New England uses a brutally relentless style of football to overpower their opponents. Mixing a hard nosed running attack, a spread-the-ball offensive passing strategy (Brady completed passes to seven different receivers on Sunday) all while playing tough, hard-hitting defense, the New England Patriots are the toughest, most complete team in football.

Running back Corey Dillon, previously slammed with the title “bad boy” of the NFL, while with the Cincinnati Bengels, revoked that lackluster title and claimed another: great runner. Dillon was fantastic this season, accumulating 1635 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns, both career highs. Dillon combined a between the tackles running style, while still maintaining enough finesse and elusiveness to rip off huge gains and burn speedy safeties. Dillon can once again be considered one of the best running backs in the game, thanks to the team that rejuvenated his career, the Patriots. It just goes to show that a great team like the Patriots can change any misguided player for the better; that is the mark of a true champion.

But it wasn’t just Dillon who had a standout year, Brady had another Joe-Montana-like season, throwing 28 touchdown passes, only 14 interceptions, and achieving a 92.6 passer rating. Wide out Troy Brown actually split time playing as a defensive back while the decimated Pats secondary rekindled from its injuries. Wide out David Givens had by far the most fruitful season of his short tenure in the NFL. Givens recorded 56 receptions and 874 receiving yards this season, when his previous career highs were a mere 34 receptions and only 510 receiving yards.

Offensively, the Patriots were certainly elite, but on defense, the Pats set the benchmark for all other teams to live up to. Head Coach and defensive mastermind Bill Belichick preaches persistence and grind-it-out, hard-nosed defense. The Patriots showed these qualities Sunday, against one of the most physical offenses in the NFL, an offense led by nerves-of-steel Head Coach Bill Cower and arguably the most physical running back of all time, Jerome Bettis. As afore mentioned, Bettis was pounded, bruised, battered, and held to one of his lowest performances this season. The Patriots proved once and for all they have no superior in the NFL defensively, no matter what the stats say.
This Patriots defense is comparable to the “Steel Curtain” of the 70’s, and one could make a solid argument that this defense is the best of all time. In order to have success on defense, a team can’t have a group of superstars vying for supremacy; they must show comradery, teamwork and selflessness in order to achieve greatness. The “Steel Curtain” possessed all these traits. The Patriots also possess these traits, but not only on defense, in all facets of the game.

The Patriots are just better.

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