EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 20, 2014

New England 'Vellanos' officially run out of gas

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — The biggest talker we know, ex-NBA superstar and current TBS color man/loud mouth Charles Barkley, made a blanket statement last week while stopping by Gillette Stadium to see his buddy, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. And it wasn’t complimentary of the New England region.

He said he reads the stories on the Internet and he has come to the conclusion we — all of us, you, me and everybody else that follows this franchise — don’t appreciate the New England Patriots.

He, of course, is wrong. Dead wrong.

The Patriots lost 26-16 to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game yesterday.

But the 2013 New England Patriots are one of the few successes since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady teamed up that didn’t win a Super Bowl.

In fact, this team, this coach and this quarterback are and were admired beyond belief the last five months. Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected any of this.

Overcoming injuries to stars were the story in 2013. No team had experienced the losses they did to Pro Bowl-caliber starters, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (Oct. 3), middle linebacker Jerod Mayo (Oct. 16), offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (Oct. 29), defensive lineman Tommy Kelly (Nov. 2) and tight end Rob Gronkowksi (Dec. 9), who played in only seven games.

But it might have been the rib injury to cornerback Aqib Talib, who is probably the best Patriots player not named Tom Brady, that finally finished the Patriots off for good. It was the same thing that happened in AFC Championship game last January, when Talib pulled a muscle, never to return, and the Baltimore Ravens took over the game.

Would the Patriots have won if Talib hadn’t gotten hurt? Tough to say. But it probably would have come to the last drive.

There are only so many Joe Vellano, No. 72, the undrafted guy who filled in admirably for Wilfork, to go around. When Talib left, the Patriots didn’t have the all-important cover guy on the opposition’s best receiver.

How about second-year defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, who had played in seven games his career before yesterday? Or the Rutgers boys, rookies Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan, who replaced Alfonzo Dennard’s right cornerback position because Dennard replaced Talib’s right cornerback position.

There were other “no-names,” like Chris Jones on the defensive line, another rookie, and linebacker Jamie Collins, who might be a very good player going forward.

They almost pulled the wool over all of us, including Peyton Manning.

Brady didn’t have his best game. But let’s be honest, he needed help in 2013, like most quarterbacks, including Manning (see Manning’s receiving corps).

The Patriots were one of the best teams in the NFL this year. Their 12-4 record and impressive playoff victory last week over the Colts were not flukes. They were in every game, even the four losses, until the final minute of every game.

But as we saw yesterday, as the player losses hit a breaking point, the New England Patriots were a fine line from being the New England Vellanos, the try-hards that never quit.

Sure it was a disappointing ending. It always is for the Patriots and Mr. Sore Loser, himself, Bill Belichick. But it was a nice season. It really was.

They just ran out of gas. You can’t fault them for that.

Email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.