Season over for the New England Patriots, who will rise to the top?

They fought hard.  They fought all year to establish themselves again, to find an identity.  There will be much analysis, many bits and bytes consumed opining on the issues that plagued, and are plaguing, our favorite team.  However, the further this team gets from the glory days of 2001-2005 the more difficult it is to hold them up on a pedestal, to stare at those three trophies and say, "Yeah, team of the decade."  Call it what you want: a building year, a brief respite while the organization reboots itself.  We will spend a great deal of time in the coming days, weeks, and months analyzing what went wrong and what needs to be done to fix it.  But I have an opinion as to what is systemically wrong with this team.

More after the jump...

There are clearly missing links from a skills perspective: pass rushing, a 3rd receiver, offensive line, ball hawk corner back, offensive coordinator, you name it.  Like I said, we will analyze all of this in the coming months.  As I read through the post apocalypse Boston MSM stories there was one overriding theme that caught my eye: leadership.

Tom Brady, one of the offensive captains, was very revealing on WEEI this morning:

Speaking during his weekly appearance on WEEI, Tom Brady acknowledged that, indeed, there was a leadership problem in the Patriots' locker room. And he was fine with the assessment that losing guys like Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Larry Izzo and Mike Vrabel was one heck of a contributing factor.

"We've all thought about that," Brady said. "Those are special players and special guys, and it's not the uniform that makes players play the Patriot Way."

Take a moment and look at that list of players, would you?  Are you kidding me?  Leaders, every one of them.  In an effort to get younger, to extract "maximum value" from players, head coach Bill Belichick and the Kraft family may have gutted this team.  Granted, Harrison and Bruschi left of their own accord, but Seymour, Izzo, and Vrable were shown the door.  In doing so, the powers that be tied leadership to the firing squad pole and filled it full of blazing lead.  How do you replace that?  How do you cultivate a leader?

Rodney Harrison was like an on-field coach.  Hand picked from San Diego by Belichick, he prowled the defensive backfield looking for opponents who unwittingly stepped into his territory.  Safe to say, when the game was done the knew whose ground they had trespassed on.  But that wasn't all Rodney brought to the table.  He worked harder than any other defensive back on and off the field.  His intensity and fire inspired others and if you didn't get the lesson, Harrison would make sure it stuck.

Tedy Bruschi had been the heart and soul of this defense for so many years.  A stroke and a hole in his heart couldn't stop the man.  He felt blessed to play football, especially after overcoming what he had to overcome.  If you weren't fired up for a game, you'd better find a hole to crawl in and hide.

OLB/DE Tully Banta-Cain confirmed Brady's opinion on the lack of player leadership:

The players, though, seemed fairly certain that Brady's assessment was a good one. I thought Tully Banta-Cain -- who was here from 2003-06, then left, and came back -- would give a unique perspective, since he wasn't immersed in things over the last few years. And he did.

"Obviously, when you lose veteran guys, like the [Tedy] Bruschis and [Rodney] Harrisons, you miss their presence," Banta-Cain said. "They’re always kind of the example to look at. And this year with a lot of different guys, guys trying to figure out what their role is and how they fit in, it’s kind of tough for anybody to be that vocal guy, because everybody is so focused on just doing the best job that they can do.

Is there a leader in this group?  Is it Jerod Mayo?  Is it Brandon Meriweather or James Sanders?  Or is it a younger FA in the mold of Junior Seau?  Only time will tell, but I hope this organization understands the value of players who are leaders and I hope they understand rather quick like.

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