A Bonus is: Something given or paid in addition to what is usual or expected. So what was expected with the New England Patriots? Lets see.
Take the 2009 Patriots team featuring twelve rookie players minus: Mike Vrabel - shipped to Kansas City, Richard Seymour - jettisoned to Oakland, Tedy Bruschi - retired, Rodney Harrison - retired. Add in locker room unrest with Shawn Springs and Adalius Thomas. Throw in a search for a third receiver that featured Joey Galloway, and top it all off with a Welker knee injury a one and done spanking via the Baltimore Ravens AT HOME in the playoffs.
But wait, there's more than one course to this banquet. Let's start by adding in a few stories about the lack of focus and the flowing mane of our star quarterback; will he or won't he questions about Welker; Vince not at voluntary practice; Mankins holding out, Moss unhappy, and Brady in a car accident. Season with a few preseason injuries to starters: DE Ty Warren, CB Leigh Bodden and LG/RT Nick Kaczur. Sprinkle in twelve new rookies including first round head scratcher Devin McCourty, and you got a recipe for success. Right?
Well, not exactly. Stories from the start of the season were predicting the beginning of the end for the Patriots; slamming a lid on the dynasty once and for all. Brady? Ok, he had his second best (at the time) statistical season last year, but he looked so un-Brady-like. Moss was shrinking from games. Welker started and ended the 2009 season with injuries (yet still managed 123 catches). The defense that was questionable in 2009, just HAD to be worse without Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden. Didn't it?
The season started out well enough. We managed to get past the Bengals who seemed much tougher during the off-season. We shipped Laurence "DDR" Maroney out after sitting him with the Bengals. Then there was the loss to the Jets where Brady tried and tried to force the ball into Moss' hands. Kevin Faulk went on IR. How do you replace a guy like that? The battle in Buffalo followed, and surely this HAD to be a rebuilding year. The offense was slow to start. The defense gave up too many yards. And what the heck is a Woodhead? A reasonable expectation was 9-7 because we hadn't even come close to the teeth of our tough schedule.
Miami was a nice surprise. Chung had a big day and Ninkovich was hot. Perhaps I had been too quick to judge these guys. Then we dump Moss like a sack of potatoes and grab Deion "what have you done lately" Branch. Obviously to outsiders, Belichick was cashing in the season and betting the future on next year's draft.
The overtime slugfest with the Ravens was interesting because our porous defense that gave up too many yards forced three and outs REPEATEDLY to win the game. It's been years since I've seen that. Next up was the Chargers who basically gift wrapped the game for the Patriots who did their absolute best to keep the score close. Minnesota brought Moss back to Foxboro, where he and his new team were spanked. But this wasn't the Vikings of a year ago that would have been a challenge. This was a team struggling to stay afloat.
The sure-fire win at the Browns turned into a trip to the woodshed for the Patriots who were exposed as inexperienced frauds. Did I say 9-7? Maybe 7-9 with the toughest teams still to come.
Pittsburgh and the Steel Curtain? More like tin foil. If we were pretenders, then moreso the Steelers. Squeaked by the Colts, with the leaky defense doing just enough to save the game. Detroit looked like a powerhouse for a half, and looked like an 0-16 team the rest of the time. How do your gauge a team that plays so inconsistently?
By beating a division rival, the Jets, decisively. 45-3 Was that a fluke? Win over snowy Chicago: 36-7. Another squeaker with the Pack, and then two more decisive victories in the division.
The theme for the year? One way or another, these guys come together to win. Offense struggles? Defensive stands. Special teams turnovers. Defensive turnovers. Dan Connolly running back a big one. Defense slipping? All hands on deck and we have a lot of hands.
These guys feel a lot like the Pats from a decade ago. Brady's favorite receiver? The open one. Bend but don't break. Guys stepping up and playing for each other and DOING THEIR JOBS.
Does that equate to a Super Bowl win? Not necessarily, but things are looking good. In fact, far better than we have any reasonable right to expect. This is truly a bonus season, and no matter what, I believe that 2011 will be even better.
This week we have the brash and bold Jets vs the understated and hard working Patriots at home in the Razor. It's no easy task, and the loser is heading home to watch the playoffs on TV. Brady and Branch can attest to how if feels to win a Super Bowl. Welker will tell you what it's like to lose one. Last year's one and done is fresh in the minds of most of the team, and the guys that weren't there have been brought up to date. The team is as ready as a man named Belichick can make them. They're as healthy as they're going to get. They've got great leaders in Brady, Crumpler, Wilfork and Mayo.
This looks to be a great game, and no matter what the outcome, I've enjoyed this season more than I can say. With the Patriots, I usually expect success. This year, it came uninvited and took me by surprise.