EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 25, 2013

Some fond memories of 2012 Pats season

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Have we all had enough time to vent? Is four days of “the New England Patriots are the worst team evah!” enough?

The Patriots are to blame here. Their standards have been off the charts for a dozen seasons, now. They are 153-46 with Tom Brady as a starter.

Of course, everyone around here expects championships every years.

Many of you have learned the hard way, that that’s not realistic, particularly when 31 other teams paying 53 players and a dozen or so coaches $120 million per year, too.

Today is chance to step back and appreciate some of the good things that happened in 2012:

Pats improved from ‘11

While the 2011 Patriots went to the Super Bowl and probably should have won the game with semi-ease, the 2012 Patriots were better.

The front seven were legitimately among the top 10 “front sevens” in the NFL. It was hard to run on the Patriots.

And on the other side of the ball, the Patriots ran the ball much better than they had the previous six seasons.

There was a commitment to running, which appears to be a vital component in January football.

The Pats were better in 2012. And with a little good fortune (injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Aqib Talib), they might have been the best in the NFL.

Belichick can coach

He was mocked after “4th-and-2” in 2009 in Indianapolis, as possibly over the hill, but since then the Patriots 14-2, 13-3 and 12-4. And that’s with sub-par defenses, which you would expect to be exposed much more than they are.

He is one of the best coaches ever to coach in the NFL.

The numbers bear that out and so did the Lombardi Trophies.

He also is not in retirement mode. And his penchant for being a sore loser is stronger than ever, which means he isn’t ready to use the boat on Nantucket in the fall.

He’s not a bad GM either

Bill Belichick’s acquistion of Aqib Talib was a genius move that almost meant a Super Bowl berth. If he doesn’t get hurt, the Patriots don’t lose to the Ravens.

All they gave up was a fourth round draft pick, which is a very small price for the chance at a championship. The Patriots had some other key additions, including rookies Chandler Jones, Justin Francis, Dont’a Hightower and Alfonzo Dennard, four starters next year.

While Jones and Hightower were disappointments in crunch time, they still appear to have Pro Bowl-type upsides.

The point is Belichick know what’s wrong with this team better than anyone and I’m guessing he will be overly aggressive this off-season to fix it.

Wins over Houston

Maybe this is most impressive, but the Patriots exposed the Texans as pretenders.

We all thought they were the best team in the AFC in 2011, only to be eliminated from the playoffs when starting quarterback Matt Schaub was hurt. Well, Belichick exposed that falsehood by pummeling the once-mighty Texans twice this season. It was also a good lesson about the importance of toughness (I probably overuse the term), as the Texans weren’t up to snuff with the Patriots.

Gronkowski is for real

If there was any notion that 2011 was a freakish season for Rob Gronkowski, that was put to bed in the games he was able to play in 2012.

If not for the “freakish” injury on the extra point block team (?), Gronk was on pace to nearly reach his historic 2011 numbers of 90 catches, 1,327 yards and 17 TDs.

He was the second most important Patriot not named Brady and Belichick will probably look to accept a little less production in 2013 regular season and save for the big games in January and February.

Edelman is legit

We mocked this move early, but Julian Edelman has a bigger upside than a lot of us realized. Will he replace Wes Welker (if Welker walks after becoming a free agent)? No, not statistically. But he has big play capabilities and has a little edge to him.

Again, he is prone to injury and his “touches” will have to be monitored in 2013, but Edelman can be a major player in this offense going forward.

Ryan, Jets were exposed

The New York Jets are supposed to be entering the fifth year of a five-year plan.

Instead, they are starting all over or picking up where they left off.

I can’t figure out which way they are going.

This means the Patriots biggest foe for 2013 won’t be ready for prime time, which means the Patriots will have time to get everything in their proper place over four months.

They can be patient. They don’t have to take any risks in September or October.

Congratulate them now.

Your Patriots will be AFC East champs in 2013.

Talib’s free advertisement

Whether Talib returns with a hefty new contract is another issue, but Talib’s lengthy statement to me a few weeks before the playoffs was something all prospective free agents will no doubt read this off-season.

Talib said he had the most fun playing football than he ever had in his life.

Fun?

A Belichick football team?

Yes.

While we could argue with their “fiscally responsible” approach and the way they keep away from the expensive playmakers, players love being here.

Football is a business. But the organization and discipline is rare.

It brings out the best in some of the worst (see Talib’s off field antics).

If a talented player is looking to rehab his image, this is the place to do it.