There are many times, when trying to be an objective blogger, that I lean in the direction of a sportswriter and only report facts. Wanting to be fair and balanced so ALL can read what I have to say and get something out of it, I go out of my way to write with a level head. This is not one of those times.
The Patriots, led by Hoodie, will adopt a "make do with what we have" attitude and trudge on. The players, taking their tone from Coach, will do the same. Blame our troubles on injuries? Not a chance. Make do with what we have. Replace a struggling backup quarterback in the beginning of the season because we were embarrassed in our outing against the Dolphins? Nope. #16 received unconditional support from his coaches and teammates. And he's now leading his team to victories or, if we lose, scaring the daylights out of them.
The team will not blame their troubles on injuries and nor will I. I will, however, stand proud. I'm proud of this team for all they've overcome and for what we're finding out about those players normally standing on the sidelines. It takes talent to be a starter and it takes perseverance to hang on to that position. However, as a "backup" player, it takes mental toughness to stand on the sidelines, game after game, always ready for "the call". I think the backup's job is harder than the starter's. The constant state of preparedness, coupled with the thought of never playing a down, must be mentally grueling. Many of these "always at the ready" players are finding out a lot about themselves this season.
Remove from the picture, 3 starting running backs. Suddenly, a UFA with one of the longest names in football, has a chance to shine and shine he has. Take away onfield DB coach Rodney Harrison? The secondary is struggling, but hanging on. Double team Welker and Moss? I would like to introduce you to Ben Watson, Jabar Gaffney, and Sam Aiken.
And then there's Matt Cassel. Many people, this blogger included, were calling for Cassel's head on cut day, but Bill and the coaching staff recognized something this fan didn't see. I'm now embarrassed to admit that. Cassel has progressively and methodically "fixed" things that were issues at the beginning of the season. Plagued by jittery-ness in the pocket, Matt now has a much better pocket presence and knows when to throw it into the third row or run for the first down (he was the leading Patriots rusher against the Jets, by the way). Saddled with an inability to convert in the red zone, the Patriots went 3 for 4 this past Thursday night. Oh, and they were passing TDs. Finally, for those lamenting he's had no connection with Moss, Matt rolls out to the right under pressure and tosses a ball only Moss can catch, all the while being mugged by Ty Law.
Tell me what you want about rankings and DVOA - that's past performance and not always a good predictor of the future. Bring up the easy schedule and I will tell you that was day one of the season - we're not in Kansas anymore. Finally, complain that this team is a shell of its former self, relying on second, third and fourth stringers and I will tell you that means depth - this "shell" of a team was very close to ending Indy's playoff chances and an OT coin toss away from owning the East.
This team has its troubles, but they're showing true talent, grit, and depth. They're adjusting, adapting, and certainly not out for the count. I'm prouder than ever of my team. You should be, too.