By Andy Lindberg
Well my Red Sox top-10 of the 21st century got lit into a few times, which I was happy to see, because it means people are reading and looking at the website. However it is now my great pleasure to create even more of a fervor with my top-10 Patriots of the 21st century. The bottom line is, with lists like these when you can only pick ten players, you’re leaving out some great athletes. That’s the challenge of creating such a list. No matter who you put on there, people will always desire another player or two who were left off the list.
10 Rodney Harrison: Harrison came to New England and immediately won two rings. He had 317 tackles from the safety position and brought a mean streak to New England that had opposing receivers quaking. Harrison shut down Peyton Manning on numerous occasions, including in the playoffs.
9 Kevin Faulk: This is the pick that will probably catch the most heat. However, Faulk was indispensable for the Patriots in the past 11 years. While it seems his tenure is done now, he was extraordinarily reliable and executed his role fluently as the 3rd down back and return man. Faulk is a threat as a runner and coming out of the backfield as a receiver. In his New England career, he has averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
8 Ty Law: One of the members of the original Law Firm (Law and Lawyer Milloy) Ty Law picked off 16 passes in the five years he played for New England this century, including a pick-six off Rams’ QB Kurt Warner in Super Bowl 36. Law was the shutdown corner the Patriots missed so much after he left.
7 Asante Samuel: Samuel didn’t leave New England on the best of terms, especially after dropping an interception in Super Bowl 42 against the Giants that would have clinched New England’s fourth title of the decade, but he did win two rings and picked off 22 passes in five years for New England, including 10 in 2006. Samuel had opposing quarterbacks consistently trying to take advantage of Samuel’s hyper-aggressive play, but were unable to do so. Here’s to hoping Devin McCourty emerges as the next shut down corner in New England.
6 Vince Wilfork: Big Vince has been with the Patriots for seven years now and has already won one ring, has been to two Super Bowls, and has made three Pro Bowls. Running up the middle is not a viable option for many teams against New England, as the big fella sits tough. Wilfork is a cog in the 3-4 system, and is arguably one of the best nose tackles New England has ever had, if not the best.
5 Richard Seymour: What has happened to New England’s pass rush since the trade of Seymour should be answer enough to how important and effective Seymour was for the Patriots. He spent eight years with New England and won three Super Bowls, as well as racked up 39 sacks for the Patriots, including pressuring the quarterback into poor throws on countless occasions.
4 Matt Light: Light played in four Super Bowls with New England (to this point), while protecting the blind side of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play professional football. Given the importance of the pass rush teams have placed on defenses over the past decade, Light’s job became harder and harder with the players he had to guard annually, and he did so in an exceptional manner, making three pro-bowls and one first team all-pro at left tackle.
3 Tedy Bruschi: Bruschi was long a staple of the New England defense, manning the inside of the linebacker corps for 13 years, a long time for any football player, let alone a linebacker. One of my favorite Bruschi stats was having intercepted four consecutive passes and having brought them all back for touchdowns from 2002 to 2003. Hardly a sack artist, Bruschi was the epitome of tough. It seemed like he never made a poor play and rarely missed a tackle, something we see all too much of in today’s NFL, where wrapping up is an afterthought. If Bruschi got to a ball carrier, that ball carrier was going down. Bruschi overcame a stroke and a hole in his hear to win the Comeback Player of the Year in 2005 after it looked like his career was over and won three Super Bowls with New England.
2 Willie McGinest: Willie played with the Patriots for six years this century, making his mark with three Super Bowl victories. He racked up 38.5 sacks from his outside linebacker spot in those six years, and his presence was sorely missed after he left, with New England still unable to rush the passer effectively.
1 Tom Brady: There really should be no argument here. Brady took New England to three Super Bowl titles in four tries, including beating the 14-point favored “Greatest Show On Turf” in his first year as a starter after replacing the injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Brady is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and holds the record for touchdown passes in a season with an even 50 in 2007. In his time with New England this century, he has amassed a 111-32 record as a starter with 261 touchdown passes. Keep in mind that’s all with having missed the entire 2008 season after suffering a catastrophic knee injury in the first quarter of the season opener against Kansas City. Brady also happens to be a two-time NFL and Super Bowl MVP. We may never see another quarterback even remotely close to Brady in New England in our lifetimes, so enjoy him while you still can.