EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 20, 2012

Patriots still have big holes to fill

Bill Burt

Of all the things that stick out about the disappointing second straight Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants, one was above the rest as I was flying home from Indianapolis.

Despite the statistics, MVP trophies and Bill Belichick calling the shots, Tom Brady can't do it alone. He needs support.

And by that I don't mean more wide receivers, though it "appears" — I use that term loosely, because it appeared the Patriots stole Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco last year for pennies on the dollar — the Patriots got Brady improved, low-risk "weapons" in receivers Brandon Lloyd and Anthony Gonzalez.

I meant a running game and a defense. Remember those components of Super Bowl championship football?

Let's rewind six-plus weeks ago.

The Patriots led the Giants by eight points (17-9) with 11:20 remaining in the third quarter. Better yet, they led the Giants for 25 minutes in the second half.

But Brady seemed to lose this precision, which has happened all too often in the playoffs the last half-dozen years.

The Patriots defense, which we must mention, brought its "A" game to Indianapolis and tried its darnedest to preserve the second half lead, but honestly it couldn't. It wasn't built that way.

And the Patriots running "attack," while having moderate success in the second half against the Giants (10 rushes, 53 yards), couldn't get in that knockout blow the 2001, 2003 and 2004 champion Patriots teams seemed to do so often. In fact, I don't think the Patriots had a memorable running play while in Indianapolis.

In the end, Brady and the offense lost their "mojo." Sure he had a Super Bowl record 16 consecutive completions from the middle of the second quarter through the middle of the third quarter, and was 20 for 23 with 201 yards after the Patriots took that eight-point lead. But Brady was 7 for 18 (75 yards) the rest of the game.

That is to be expected. That's what happens in January and February. The teams, particularly on defense, are usually among the best in the league. Being so one-dimensional, particularly during crunch time, isn't so successful when there are two or four teams remaining.

Are we having this discussion, about Patriots holes, if Wes Welker didn't drop that pass while turned awkwardly? Maybe not. But, as some football guru once said, "Three things can happen when you throw a pass ... and two of them are bad (interception and drop)."

The Patriots not only haven't addressed their running back situation, but it appears that their best back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, is going to get double what the Patriots are offering to play somewhere else. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, third and second round picks last April, were non-factors for most of the season, which is not a good sign.

The Patriots have addressed their no-name defense, particularly with the additions of defensive end Jonathan Fanene (ex-Bengal) and safety Steve Gregory (ex-Charger). But I wouldn't put them in the all-important game-changing category.

There is still time to find that "edge rusher" or "semi-shutdown cornerback," as well as running back that can win a fourth quarter on his own (Antowain Smith was a free agent when signed in 2001 and Corey Dillon was acquired for a second-round pick in 2004).

But until then, it's way too early to hand over the AFC Crown or Super Bowl favorite mantra to the Patriots. Their biggest holes in Indianapolis, as far as these amateur eyes can tell, haven't been filled yet.

Email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com