5. Must get tougher.
The Patriots were tougher in 2012 than they were in 2011. But guess what? It wasn’t tough enough. The common denominator in the last five playoff exits has been the opposition — N.Y. Giants (2007), Baltimore (2009), N.Y. Jets (2010), N.Y. Giants (2011) and Baltimore (2012) — has been tougher, in some cases much tougher. The Patriots “mighty” pass-first offense in those games averaged only 16 points per game. Whatever happened to those 12-0 defense-based wins we were accustomed to from 2001 to 2004?
6. Talib will be signed.
The Patriots have a keeper in Aqib Talib. He was their second best defensive player behind Vince Wilfork. Talib was a perfect soldier during his two months here with the team. He is big and physical, something the Patriots haven’t had at that position since Belichick has been here. Talib couldn’t say enough good things about his experience here, saying “I am a Patriot.” He’s a perfect fit and fills a need.
7. Running backs are OK.
We have to give Stevan Ridley a pass on his big fumble on Sunday night, with the Patriots moving the ball and down only eight points in the fourth quarter. That was a brutal hit by Pollard. Ridley is tougher than we originally thought. He has semi-breakaway speed and appears to have improved on blitz blocking. Shane Vereen is a great change of pace backup. And Danny Woodhead will always serve a purpose as a dependable backup in times of strife. This position hasn’t been this solid in nearly seven years.
8. Stretch the field on offense.
Either Tom Brady is the worst down-the-field passer in the NFL or offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is afraid to call for a jump ball “bomb” that so many other quarterbacks throw. It seems that defenses play closer to the line of scrimmage, particularly the good ones in January, thus taking away some of Brady’s shorter pass opportunities. If Brandon Lloyd can’t ever get past the cornerback or safety, find a receiver who can.