The last time I wrote one of these was after a loss to the Giants in Week 9. It wasn't fun to write then and it's even less fun to write now.
I'm no miracle worker. If I was, I would have a lot more money and I would be typing this article from a beach somewhere as I sipped some girly tropical drink and adjusted my gut so I tanned evenly and didn't have pale white lines across my stomach that made me look like some weird, out-of-shape version of Freddy Kreuger. I'm under no impression that I have the answers or know much about anything. I also don't think that I'll be able to make anyone feel any better this morning, no matter what I say here. I even debated not even bothering with this article, as I was worried that it might come across as empty and meaningless. But I've had a lot of time to think over the past two days, as I lay awake in bed staring at the ceiling all night, and the truth is that there is still plenty of reasons for optimism around New England - although it may not seem like it at the moment.
What I have to offer is not going to take the pain away. But hopefully I can at least help some of you realize that once we get through this initial hurricane of sadness, there is actually some light on the horizon. A fair number of you expressed optimism in the comments section of yesterday's Fan Notes, and there were some very good points to be made. I've taken some of them, added a few of my own, and come up with six things that might help to get you through what promises to be a long, long offseason.
I figure since it was a slightly bigger loss than the last time, we could use one extra.
We've dealt with worse. This hurts. This hurts bad. And I know some of you disagree with me right now, and I get that. But honestly, this loss isn't anywhere near as awful as it was in 2007. There was a lot at stake here in terms of revenge and getting that 4th ring and putting Tommy B up there alongside Joe Montana, but at the end of the day it's simply impossible for any sporting event to break my heart as bad as Superbowl 42, and this wound is going to heal much faster than the last one did. I know it's hard to imagine now, as the loss is so fresh, but the truth is that this team made an absolutely remarkable run this year, and they did it with a defense held together with safety pins and bubble gum. Once again, we were a drop and yet another crazy catch away from a Super Bowl victory. What that means, in terms of the bigger picture, is that the Pats were two plays away from having 5 rings in 12 years. If two measly plays out of the thousands that have been run since 2001 go the other way, the conversation surrounding this team is markedly different. You can take that stat as some kind of nail in the coffin or insult to injury if you want, but I think that's pretty amazing. This past decade has been an absolute blast to watch, for better or for worse, and I for one am grateful.
The return of the haters. A lot of Patriots fans can't stand the Patriots haters. They are sick and tired of hearing about SpyGate and 18-1 and how Tommy B has gotten soft and how the dynasty is over and all of that other stuff that we've been hearing for the past seven years. And yes, it would have been reeeeaaaaalllly sweet to shut them up for a change with a 4th Lombardi trophy. Man, would that have been great. But you know what? I don't mind the Pats haters at all. For one, there is nothing they can really say at this point that either hasn't been said a million times before or isn't just a modern twist on some old news. And secondly, as long as there are people trolling our message boards and pouring every ounce of their being into hating our team, that means that we are still pretty damn relevant in the grand scheme of things. When people stop getting that sense of smug self-satisfaction from watching the Patriots lose, when they stop making excuses for why this team is so consistently dominant each and every season, when they stop breaking down our wins to illustrate how we just got lucky or got the game handed to us, when an entire nation outside of the New England area wants nothing more than to see this team fail - well then maybe the dynasty will be over. But until then, this team is going to be in the spotlight. And I'm going to love every last second of it. In the words of El Pres over at BarStoolSports, haters gonna hate, Slaters gonna slate.
Core still in place. The vast majority of our offense will be back next year. We're likely to lose BenJarvus Green-Ellis, as I see him getting an offer for more money elsewhere that the Patriots won't be willing to match with so many backs already on the roster. There are a few other guys set to hit the market as well, but none of them are major cogs in this offense (I didn't mention Wes Welker because there is no way he isn't a Patriot next year). Other than Benny, all of the New England skill players will be back, in addition to some others. Brandon Lloyd is on record saying he loves the way Josh McDaniels runs offenses - so seeing him in a Patriots uniform is not out of the question. Our rookie backs all have a year of experience now, and we get a lot of out IR'ed defenders back from injury. We still need to address the defense this offseason (more on that in a minute), but this team is positioned well for 2012 and beyond.
Tom Brady isn't done yet. Buckle up for months and months - and months - of talk about the size of the black mark on Tom Brady's legacy and how he's washed up and how the dynasty is over and how Eli Manning simply has his number. We can try to avoid it, but that would take a complete media blackout until next February, and we all know that's not going to happen. The best thing we can do is embrace the storm of Giants love and Patriots hate that's coming, and hope that it resonates with Tommy B. He was as dejected as I've ever seen him after the Super Bowl, and he's the kind of competitor that won't rest until he has retribution. He still has some good years left, and he's playing as well as he has ever played. New England under Tom Brady hasn't seen it's last deep run in the playoffs - of this I'm certain. Plus, if Tom Brady's career resume is what qualifies as a tainted legacy, sign me up. I'll take two tainted legacies to go, please.
Plenty of draft picks to address the defense. Yes, I know that this is going to be a moot point when we trade those draft picks down and end up taking three tight ends, a quarterback, and a punter with our first five picks, but for now it gives me at least some small semblance of hope that we are in position to get a bona fide pass rusher and a quality safety to start alongside Pat Chung. There is a lot of talent in this draft, which we will all start breaking down soon, and as usual the Patriots are in the drivers seat in terms of picks. New England also has a lot of cap room, much of which will be used to re-sign Wes Welker, but there are some solid free agents on the market this year that I would love to see the Patriots go after: Robert Mathis, John Abraham, Robert Meachem, and Dashon Goldson are all guys to keep our eye on as teams manipulate the salary cap and hand out franchise tags. Goldson is likely to get franchised, but I can see all of the other names I mentioned hitting the open market and they would all look great in a Pats jersey. I know it isn't how things have been done in the past, but as Tom Brady nears the end of his career, Bill Belichick may finally decide to enter "win now" mode and invest heavily in giving Tommy his best shot at one more title run. Probably not, I know - but crazier things have happened.
At least you aren't me. I live in New York City. All of my co-workers are Giants fans. I can't get a cup of coffee right without seeing Eli Manning's ugly face on every newsstand surrounded by a bunch of New York jerkwads in GIants jerseys and hat that this city was oddly lacking about a month ago. My inbox is full of friends asking me if I'm OK and hoping to hear from me soon. My phone is full of text messages from people who I used to think were friends rubbing this one in my face (my favorite so far: "don't worry, buddy. I'll be sure there's room for an 18-1 shirt and an ELI-TE shirt on your coffin when you kill yourself over this loss." With friends like these, eh?). The sad thing is that between those two assaults, I don't know which I hate more. Even worse, the Giants parade will be going by directly under my window at work and the masses are already starting to assemble outside of my office. I am quickly realizing that there are few beings more insufferable on this planet than New Yorkers after a championship. And it's only just beginning. I have to live here through an entire offseason of reminders that the Giants beat the Pats three straight times, two of which were in the Super Bowl, and how Eli Manning is a better quarterback than Tommy B (he isn't, we all know. But try telling that to these knuckleheads). I have no outlet of escape, no matter where I go or what I do. Hopefully most of you live elsewhere, where you have the option of turning away in disgust when push comes to shove. I don't. Be grateful that you aren't me. I'm right behind enemy lines and I have a massive target on my back that isn't going anywhere for a looooong time.
At least none of us are Jets fans. Never mind. That one is mean. And a little too easy.
We're going to be okay. We are. The beautiful pain of being a sports fan is that, when it comes to championships, your team is going to be out of it more often than it is going to be in it. But still, we all forge ahead.
We lost the Super Bowl. We had it right there, but we couldn't capitalize and New York could. There's no way around it. The only thing to do here is take it on the chin, heal from it, and come back next year as fired up as ever. I'm as proud to be a Patriots fan today as I was on Sunday morning. I'm as proud to be a fan as I was when I was 11 years old and New England drafted some tall pale guy named Drew Bledsoe out of Washington. Nothing is going to change that. I'm going to be right here posting all offseason, and I'm going to be good and hydrated in the stands next fall for New England's home opener. I still have an entire lifetime of cheering for this team ahead of me, and while the rules of this league are such that the Pats aren't going to be good forever, they are damn good right now, and I'm going to take this time I've been given and run with it - for better or worse.
To be honest, I'm already a little less depressed than I was yesterday. At this rate, I'll be able to eat solid food again by Memorial Day, and by the time Opening Day comes around in September, I'll be right as rain.
Nobody likes to lose. But you know what sucks more than losing?