No one in New England, not even in America, Europe and Asia or on the planet Earth imagined that the New England Patriots would finish their 2010 season with 14 wins.
Ask any Patriots fan this week and surely they may say, “I knew this would happen” or “Of course they were destined to earn 14 wins because of their quarterback, Tom Brady.”
Yet, despite all the doubters who tossed around the ideas of the Patriots being a .500 team or even worse, clearly, their analysis was proven wrong.
Entering training camp in July, no one exactly knew what this Patriots team would be like or if they had fully recovered from their 33-14 beat down by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2009 NFL Playoffs. There were the usual faces, as well as multiple rookies or first-year players that made many fans begin to doubt the outcome of this squad. Although, under the guidance of Bill Belichick, it is almost a guarantee that they will have immediate success no matter who plays or sits every Sunday.
In fact, excluding his first season with the Patriots in 2000, he has led the squad to five AFC Championship contests, four Super Bowls and has acquired three Lombardi trophies.
The defense was the biggest concern during July and August, but so was their offensive line. Who was going to fill the void of Logan Mankins for nearly half the season? Was Brady healthy enough to lead his team to victory during the fourth quarter? Would Wes Welker be the same player he once was before tearing his ACL during the final regular season game in ’09?
Questions, questions and more questions continued to build prior to their opening game against the Cincinnati Bengals, but after an impressive win, Randy Moss tried to steer the ship in the wrong direction by complaining for 14-minutes straight about needing a new contract. Unfortunately for Moss, his message didn’t distract the Patriots too much and eventually he was forced to leave town and return to the team that he began his NFL career with, which was the Minnesota Vikings.
Moss’s comments could not bring down the Patriots and neither did a Kevin Faulk season ending injury too during their week two contest against the New York “Football” Jets. Although, with a few minor tweaks and only one loss through the first five weeks, the Patriots seemed destined to finish the season 15-1.
The Patriots continued to pile up impressive wins against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Indianapolis and eventually New York on “Monday Night Football,” which prompted all Bostonians to believe that they were indeed watching one of Belichick’s finest teams. They may have not been the squad that finished [16-0] in ’07, but they were a team that relied heavily upon teamwork and hard work ethics.
Various players that had joined the team midway through the season or were deemed the typical rookies began to shine at important moments. Running back Danny Woodhead became a household name, as well as a fan favorite too. His small frame allowed fans to connect and realize that maybe they too could be the next Patriots running back, (fat chance).
Both rookie tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski became reliable targets for Brady, whether it was for a short yardage pick up or red zone strike, both young men were there to make the difference.
On defense, it was clearly cornerback Devin McCourty who provided great defensive coverage on all-star opposing receivers. Even linebacker Brandon Spikes chipped in when he could, although, it is debatable if he was more effective on the field or off it.
Besides these “no names” or rookies, the Patriots exceeded on all sides of the ball, but most importantly, they showed the importance of team football. They have always strived toward playing “team football” and not being one or two stars, but in the end, they clearly exceeded their pre-season expectations and were able to walk out of their locker room Monday feeling somewhat proud or optimistic for the future.
The Patriots maybe young and inexperienced at some positions, although, after a few more years of remaining as a unit, this squad could return to their ’03 and ’04 form and add a few more Super Bowl banners to Gillette Stadium.
For the time being, lets at least consider that this year was unexpected and that winning 14 games was unexpected, but beating rivals and all those “heavyweight” opponents clearly demonstrated to any casual or aggressive fan that expectations were exceeded.