EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 21, 2013

Pats regressing into NFL version of Oakland A's

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

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FOXBORO — As the final seconds of your New England Patriots’ football season drifted away here at Gillette Stadium amid a sea of Terrell Suggs’ “F-bombs,” two words — the same two words that crossed my mind last February in Indianapolis — crept to my tongue.

Scott Hatteberg.

Your Pats — once thought of as the late 90s Yankees (who won 4 titles in 5 years) — have drifted into football’s version of the 2002 Oakland Athletics, a franchise built to win games in the regular season that self-destructed in the playoffs.

They are “Moneyball,” a team laden with Scott Hattebergs. Value picks and scrap-heap signees are mixed with safe high draft picks with very little room to grow. Singles hitters abound. And the home run hitters have disintegrated into a myriad of smurf-ish, awful defensive backs, who don’t belong in this league.

Bill Belichick stars as Billy Beane. And everyone else, save for Wes Welker and Tom Brady, plays the part of Scott Hatteberg.

Scarily, this football team is no longer a contender, not for titles.

Belichick has built a product that reigns over the arduous 16-game long haul but simply can’t be trusted when a decent opponent swings back.

I know they fell two wins short. It might was well be 20.

All night long, I uttered “7 and 7, 7 and 7, 7 and 7 …” and there was no bartender in sight. Your Patriots still employ the game’s dominant coach. And Tom Brady, once 10-0 as a playoff starter, still calls the signals.

But the sons of Bill have gone 7-7 over their past 14 postseason games. Remember how we mocked the Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s when they lost in four straight Super Bowls?

Jim Kelly was 7-4 in that span, the Bills as a team were 8-4 in that stretch.

Your band of gridiron Hattebergs is 7-7.

As Vince Wilfork told us after the loss yesterday repeatedly, “I think we have a great football team.”

Sorry Vince, but all the stockpiling of picks and the short-changing your superstars like Asante Samuel and Richard Seymour and Deion Branch the first time around has re-shaped the face of this franchise.

Like Scott Hatteberg was at the plate, they are consistent. Given the blood-curdling state of their three AFC East foes, the Pats can waltz out to midfield with Tom Brady and guarantee themselves a division title and at least 10 wins.

Stick some cheap, coachable pieces around Brady, meld together a bend-but-break only when it’s absolutely necessary and double digit victory totals keep coming.

But if division titles mattered, I’d be watching the Bruins right now. These are the Patriots, a franchise that was called a dynasty back in 2004.

Players win playoff games. Hattebergs lose them.

Where are all the home run hitters on this football team?

You guys again bought the company line.

Rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower were budding superstars, and linebacker Brandon Spikes were the impact types that could change things around here.

All three young linebackers withered as the season went on to the point where they couldn’t even hang with the ultimate Hatteberg, Jerod Mayo.

This is a defense that ranked 25th this year, coming off a 31 and a 32. How much better are they? Don’t tell me the difference is significant.

You fell for it. And the Pats again fell short, just like Beane, Hatteberg and the A’s.

Tom Brady’s football team is 7-7 in their last 14 playoff games. The truth really hurts, especially on a day like today.