The Patriots gave it a good run, but they had 40 years of history against them. No team since the 1972 Dolphins has ever won the Super Bowl after losing it the year before. It’s just too physically and emotionally draining to go that far, play that many games, come up short, and then have to try it again. No Super Bowl runner up has even made it back to the Super Bowl since the 1993 Buffalo Bills. There’s a reason I had the Patriots going out in the Conference Championship pre-season. And it’s not just Super Bowl runner ups that have issues. No defending Super Bowl Champion has won a playoff game since the 2004 Patriots. Look at what happened to the Giants. It’s the same reason.
It’s easy to poke holes in Tom Brady’s legacy after what happened against Baltimore and it was bad. I hadn’t seen him legitimately get outplayed by another quarterback in years. That was their biggest defeat since the middle of the 2010 season, their first by even more than 8 points in that time period, and whenever they have lost, it’s almost always been more the defense’s fault than the offense’s. In this game, the two quarterbacks could have switched defenses and the final score wouldn’t have been any different. The Patriots’ defense held out as long as it could, but the offense couldn’t keep them off the field. Tom Brady legitimately looked lost out there, for the first time since maybe the Baltimore loss in the playoffs in January of 2010.
However, Tom Brady still has an NFL record 17 post-season victories and his 17-7 post-season record is superior to Joe Montana’s 16-7. Joe Montana has won 4 Super Bowls and never lost one, but Tom Brady has made 5 in fewer seasons and if you don’t lose in the Super Bowl, it’s because you lost before then. They haven’t won a Super Bowl in 8 years, but no franchise has been as consistent as this one over the past decade. The Patriots will be around again in 2013 and probably for the next few years and another Super Bowl victory would tie Brady for the victory and break the record for Super Bowl appearances, in addition to the post-season wins record he already possesses. In the meantime, they have some obvious holes to fill.
Tom Brady didn’t have very good receivers when he won his 3 Super Bowls, but he also had a much better defense. Like any quarterback, Brady is better when surrounded by better receiving talent. Their lack of depth in this area was exposed by injuries, however, as Julian Edelman, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski all missed significant time with injury. Gronk was the biggest loss.
Welker and Brandon Lloyd were their top guys at wide receiver this year, and both stayed healthy this year, but those two will both turn 32 this off-season and Welker is a free agent. Things will only get worse here if Wes Welker is not re-signed and Edelman is also a free agent. Deion Branch saw far too much of the field this season already. At the very least, they need to add a young receiver early in the draft for the future, but they could also use a veteran replacement for Welker if he leaves. They’ve been tied to Percy Harvin, who the Vikings could opt to move if they can’t get him signed long term.
The Patriots have some good pass rushers on the outside, but they don’t get much of anything in terms of pass rush from the inside of their defensive line. Vince Wilfork’s strength is the run and he’s never gotten to the quarterback much, while Kyle Love shouldn’t be anything more than a situational run stopper. Wilfork also turns 32 next season. They need a young pass rushing defensive tackle in the mix and they may also bring back veteran Richard Seymour.
Once again, the Patriots had to go patchwork in the secondary and they ranked 28th against the pass overall as a result. Aqib Talib is now a free agent. I almost don’t want to see them take another defensive back through the draft because they’ve had so many that didn’t pan out. Patrick Chung, Ras-I Dowling, Terrance Wheatley, and Brandon Meriweather were all picked in the first two rounds and didn’t pan out and now they have Tavon Wilson, a 2nd round pick from last year, to wait on. But they have to do something. Alfonzo Dennard looks like a keeper, but as long as McCourty is kept at safety, Dennard is their only good cornerback under contract. They could have interest in Nnamdi Asomugha if the Eagles let him go or they may opt to bring back Talib.
Same story as cornerback here, they need help and they haven’t had any success early in the draft. Patrick Chung is a free agent, but he barely played down the stretch anyway. Devin McCourty is a keeper at either cornerback or safety, but it looks like it’ll be safety for now. Steve Gregory is alright and Tavon Wilson has some promise, but they still need help here. They’ve been tied to Ed Reed, who is a free agent this off-season.
Sebastian Vollmer is a free agent and will need to be re-signed. If he’s not, I guess Marcus Cannon would get the first crack at the starting job, but they’d need some competition.
Dan Connolly is the weak link on what was one of the best offensive lines in football this past year. Donald Thomas played really well in limited action in place of the injured Connolly and the injured Mankins this season and he should be the starter in Connolly’s spot, right guard, long term, but he is a free agent.
Wes Welker and Julian Edelman returned punts for them this season and they did a very good job, but both are free agents.