It's official, the Patriots have been elected the Team of the Decade. To celebrate, PatsPulpit held some polls back in December to decide who we, the fans, wanted as OUR Patriots Team of the Decade. Here are the results of the voting, as well as a category I call "backup" for most positions. The backup is not usually the guy with the second highest vote count - that would be too simplistic. There are guys who spend their entire NFL careers simply as "backup" to the star. This category is for them. The backup is defined as a guy who rarely started (except when the starter was down), but you still felt pretty darn good about him when he saw playing time. It's a tip of the hat to the perenial #2 that you were glad was in the depth chart - usually for veteran minimum.
Bill Belichick - aka Hoodie. Head Coach, GM, Offensive Coordinator, and Defensive Coordinator all rolled into one. But what's in a title? Bill is the conductor that lead the Patriots organization throughout a very successful decade. Not one to open up much to the news crowd, he's painted as a villain often as not. A victim of his own successes, his assistant coaches are raided early and often for job openings in the NFL and college ranks. The man lives and breathes football and thankfully, for us Patriots fans, he does it in Foxborough. Long may he reign.
The players after the jump.
The Patriots of the Decade: Starting Offense
#1 Tom Brady - OFFENSIVE TEAM CAPTAIN - We didn't vote to get him on the team (did we need to?), but he was overwhelmingly voted as Team Captain. Mr. Brady has been the face of the franchise through the entire 2K decade.
Backup: Matt Cassel - spent years on the bench as #2, and came through big time in 2008 when Tom went down. He's got his own franchise now, but for us he was the backup.
Running Back: (We picked 2 here, because of our committee system for all of 2K)
#1 Kevin Faulk - 64% of the popular vote, our do everything / 3rd down back is as solid as they come. When the time came for him to pound the rock, he showed that he has what it takes to get it done. He's getting long in the tooth, but Mr. Faulk found the field for the whole decade.
#2 Corey Dillon - 26% of the popular vote, defined what a primary ball carrier should be. This hungry veteran ran hard for the chance to pick up a ring, and it worked.
Backup: Sammy Morris - backup more often than not, but has filled in at half-back, full-back, and split out as a wide receiver. Sammy won't be a starter in the NFL, but do we mind when he carries the rock?
#1 Heath Evans - Unfortunately, the Full Back position was included in with the other running backs, but Heath was the clear favorite. Much more than a fan favorite, Heath was a solid contributor. Blocking, short yards, catching out of the backfield, Mr. Evans did it all. When the field got small, Heath came up big.
#1 Ben Watson - 54% of the popular vote, a physical specimen that at times has seemed to under-perform. He has set behind him any talk of rock hands, and has shown that he can be a big time playmaker as well as a solid blocker. What more could you want from a tight-end?
Backup: Daniel Graham - had 27% of the popular vote, so this is more of a nod to him than anything.
Wide Receiver: (Three for the spread. These I will list more by field position)
#1 Randy Moss - 29% of the popular vote (2 less votes than the next two), a one of a kind field stretching machine. Despite the fact that defenses game plan to stop him, he can still turn up the heat. Putting Randy in the #1 spot only makes sense, since he is the first receiver defenses and Brady look at.
#2 Troy Brown - 32% of the popular vote, putting Mr. Patriot at number 2 could be an age before beauty option or a nod to the guy that did whatever it took to help the Pats win Super Bowls. Either way, he deserves it.
#3 Wes Welker - 32% of the popular vote, putting Wes in the typical slot position is perfect for this Slot Machine. He owns the three highest Patriots catch totals for his three years as a Patriot. Wes has the most catches this year of any Patriot despite sitting out nearly three games. Troy Brown defined a do everything player, Wes Welker perfected it.
Backup - Jabar Gaffney - always #3 or #4 on the depth chart, the Patriots did pretty well when the ball came his way. Not as tall or fast as Moss, not as shifty or wily as Brown or Welker, but a third receiver that this offense sorely needed.
Left Tackle: Matt Light - 48% of the popular vote, Matt has guarded Tom's blind side through good times and bad.
Left Guard: Logan Mankins - 16% of the popular vote, Logan has stood by Matt's side and launched running back projectiles at opposing defenses. If you need a hole opened, follow Logan.
Center: Dan Koppen - 14% of the popular vote, Dan is the play caller on the offensive line. Tom calls out the Mike, Dan calls out the coverage. When an offensive lineman is doing his job, other playmakers shine. It's only when Dan is missing, do we realize how much we need him.
This is where our line breaks down a little, so bear with me.
Right Tackle: Damien Woody - 6% of the popular vote, while Woody was a center for us, Wikipedia says, "He has played every position on the offensive line except left tackle." Thanks for filling in, Woody. It's what Patriots do.
Backup C/G: Russ Hochstein - Russ showed Patriot versatiliy by playing Center, Guard, Fullback, and special teams. Brady stayed upright when Russ played, and for the O-line, that's a badge of honor.
Backup T: Dan Connolly - Signed by the Jaguars, their practice squad, our practice squad, and finally on the 53 man roster. Connolly was primarily a backup at both Tackle spots as well as special teams. With LeVoir and Vollmer on the roster, he's slid inside to backing up the guards. Thanks for the versatility, Dan.
The Patriots of the Decade: Starting Defense
#1 Vince Wilfork - We didn't vote on this one for a simple reason. Washington had one year of eligibility in this decade. Seymour was supplanted when Wilfork entered the scene and Wilfork has owned the position in 6 out of ten years this decade. After all that service, he headed to the Pro Bowl again and all we can say is "Pay Vince!" This is as much a no-brainer as it gets.
Backup: Mike Wright - very few guys can step into Vince's rather large shoes. Mike is the guy that gets the playing time when Vince needs a breather.
#1 Richard Seymour - 85% of the popular vote, Richard filled in at Nose Tackle for three years until Wilfork took the job, and then proceeded to wreak havoc at defensive end. With Vince and Richard both needing double teams, offenses quickly run out of blockers. Seymour came in as a #1 draft pick and left us with a #1 draft pick. How's that for value?
#2 Ty Warren - 15% of the popular vote, Ty is not as dominating as the other two linemen, but he is a solid threat that can turn it on when needed. With Seymour gone, Ty is seeing more double teams and is still performing.
Backup: Jarvis Green - backup until this year, he was Hoodie's choice to fill in for the vacating Richard Seymour. Jarvis has had a solid first season as a starter, and shows some potential upside.
#1 Mike Vrabel - 55% of the popular vote, whether rushing the passer, setting the edge, dropping into coverage, or filling in as goal line Tight-End (perfect catch record), Mike did it all. He had a phenominal year in 2007, and struggled a bit in 2008 both with the porous secondary and the lack of a book-end pass rusher. Mike was a solid veteran presence in the locker room and looked out for the player's interests with the union.
#2 Willie McGinest - 37% of the popular vote, was a solid pass rusher who made the biggest plays at all the right times. He had a knack for shifting into that extra gear when the defense needed a big stop or a turnover.
Backups: Rosevelt Colvin and Tully Banta-Cain - had 2% of the popular vote each, and I had a tough time deciding. The reason I qualify them for backups is Rosie jumped in late last year when every other LB we had was injured. Tully came back to the fold this year and has supplied what little pass rush we've had. They both deserve a nod.
#1 Tedy Bruschi - DEFENSIVE TEAM CAPTAIN - 83% of the popular vote, Tedy worked his way up from special teams to be a fixture at inside linebacker. For most of the decade, the question wasn't whether Tedy would play at ILB, it was who would line up next to him. The comeback from the stroke was phenominal, and while he wasn't quite the player he was before, he made up for speed with knowledge and still managed to get the job done.
#2 Jerod Mayo - 7% of the popular vote, (I'm glad someone finally picked a #2 guy) Jerod came in his rookie year and lit up the field with tackles. Enough to become the Defensive Rookie of the Year. With the injury to Bruschi last year, the rookie wore the green dot and became the defensive playcaller. This year, his responsibilities increased and he is responsible for much more of the defense. Jerod's upset at himself because he feels he could make more plays. Hoodie's not upset at all; with all the responsibilities firmly placed upon Mayo's shoulders, he's still making plays sideline to sideline. He doesn't get as many tackles because people run away from him.
Backup - Junior Seau - While Junior started for years with the Chargers and even for us (and may be a lock for the HOF), he is here mostly to fill a role. That role has changed from year to year. While he's had more career tackles than most of the defense combined, he is content to fill in whereever and however he's needed. What more could you ask for from a backup? Thanks for filling in Junior, and enjoy your well earned retirement.
SS: Rodney Harrison - 77% of the popular vote, defined the Strong Safety position with a hard hitting style that punished offenses for entering his turf. Adept in run stopping, blitzing, man coverage, or just prowling the field, Rodney played with an all or nothing approach to the game. If he was on your team, you loved him; if he wasn't, you hated him. Hot Rod was good with that.
FS: Lawyer Milloy - 13% of the popular vote, all around solid cover safety and run stopper. I slid him to free safety, because Hot Rod earned the SS nod. He came up with several interceptions and passes defended in route to the Patriots first Super Bowl victory.
Backup : James Sanders - With Harrison starting at SS, and Meriweather starting at FS, Sanders was the odd man out. He's had starts, but he's also had very long periods (like this year), where he's been pushed down the depth chart. A solid veteran presence and good playmaker.
#1: Ty Law - 66% of the popular vote, was a solid cover corner while also a ball hawk. Ty walked the fine line between cheating on coverage to get a chance at a pick. Solid enough to play man on an island, good enough to make a play on the ball when needed. The best of both worlds.
#2: Asante Samuel - 29% of the popular vote, the balance Ty had was missing somewhat in Asante (Asante is Swahili for thank you for those that haven't heard it a million times on TV. For those that just learned something new, Karibu, you're welcome). Asante was a ball hawk, but he cheated routes to make plays. When he was successful, you loved him. When he got burned, you loathed him. Live by the pick, die by the pick.
Backup : Randall Gay - Primarily a nickel corner and backup safety, Gay was one of the few cornerbacks that didn't screw up on Black Sunday. He didn't get burned for touchdowns, drop interceptions, or leave his man to make helmet catches. At least it's something.
The Patriots of the Decade: Special Teams
#1: Adam Vinatieri - Jewelry and clutch kicks are enough to win this spot. Adam was the irreplaceable clutch kicker that brought home three rings for the franchise. You need a field goal, he's your man.
#2:Stephen Gostkowski - No pressure at all stepping in for a living legend, right? Stephen's booming kickoffs and accurate field goals sent him to the Pro Bowl in 2008. How good is Stephen? The answer is a question: Adam who?
Backup: Wes Welker - When the kicker went down, Wes jumped into service converting both of his kicking opportunities (a field goal and an extra point) to become the first player in NFL history to record a punt return, a kickoff return, a field goal, a tackle, an extra point and a kickoff in the same game. Welker earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his efforts. That was AGAINST the Patriots? I know, yet another reason we got him.
#1: Chris Hanson - Every year a new punter comes into camp to challenge Chris. Every year Chris stands alone.
#1: Lonie Paxton - An easily overlooked position (when everything goes right), Lonie was the definition of consistency. Just take a look at the blooper reels when the long snapper messes up and you can see that Lonie was something special.
Special Teams Players:
#1 - Larry Izzo - SPECIAL TEAMS CAPTAIN - Larry earned his paycheck week in and week out on special teams - every formation. A solid blocker and tackler that filled in as needed at Linebacker.
#2 - Kelley Washington - Special teams gunner that got the reciever worried when catching the ball. A special combination of speed, timing, and pain. Are those footsteps I hear?
Special Teams Returners:
#1 - Bethel Johnson - Kick returner. Nothing to it, field the ball, dodge the gunner, follow your blockers and all within seconds.... Well some guys make it LOOK easy.
#2 - Troy Brown - Punt returner. Hoodie went into a 5 minute dissertation on the difficulties of fielding a punt. Some guys never can get it. Not so with Troy. Just one of the many things he did that made him Mr. Patriot.
Backup Ellis Hobbs - Hobbs had a knack for coming up with a big return right when you needed it (like the TD right after their special teams got a TD). Nothing like keeping the momentum on our side.