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As we await the final chapter, the 2011 Patriots

The last chapter of the book tells us much about how we'll view the story going forward. As we look forward to the final chapter, we're eager and anxious to know how the heroes will fair. If they fair poorly, we'll likely never read the book again. If they battle bravely, and emerge victoriously, this be a book that we want to return to over and over, passing on to our children as a treasured gift. The final chapter is important in how we view the whole book.

As Patriots' fans, we saw the last chapter of the 2007 season end tragically. The perfect season was ruined by a fluke catch and a couple missed plays. The perfect season would have been remembered forever even as the 1972 Dolphins are remembered today, yet the final chapter sullied the rest of the book. Most of us won't touch that book and can't read that last chapter again.

We had comfort, though, in knowing that the team was mostly intact and 2008 could be our redemption. That is until the first game was played. In this case, the first chapter felt like we should just close the cover on the whole season. Without the general, how would the heroes perform? While they did quite admirably, they lost Harrison and most of the linebacker corps by season's end. The book was shorter than hoped. The last chapter: a disappointment.

In 2009, the general emerged again, but many of his captains had left: Harrison, Bruschi, Vrabel, and Seymour. It was a new team of young players and mercenary bodies filling the many gaps that were left. It had the feel of many of those cheap movie sequels that try to cash in on the success of the first movie, only to fall far short of expectations. The loss of Welker in the second to last chapter, made the defeat at the end all the more painful.

In 2010, the team was almost completely remade. Our "deep threat" was dumped, multiple Tight-Ends gave the offense a whole new look, and the return of Branch, a hero from an earlier story, gave the offense a familiar feel. The defense was still struggling to find and identity, and a 14-2 season was a complete surprise to many of us. We hoped that we were finally "back", but there was still something the team was missing. Something that didn't feel right. As the final chapter opened and the team looked beaten halfway through, it was apparent the team lacked heart. In hindsight, It had been apparent all along as they struggled to stop teams in the red zone.

My hopes for 2011, were basically 2010 part two. Another cheap sequel. More of the same. Yet early on, I noticed something. A red zone stop. Then another and another. Even when they couldn't stop teams anywhere else on the field, they could hold them to three or less in the red zone. That didn't happen in 2010, or 2009. Some come from behind victories showed that these guys are scrappier than teams in the past. When they're knocked down, they get back up swinging. The Ravens victory showed that the defense can win games when they need to.

There has been a lot of talk about why they are fighting, but no dispute that they are, in fact, fighting. They trust each other and they watch each other's backs. They're a team, moreso than any other the Patriots have fielded in recent memory. This season has been action packed. The story has been terrifying and thrilling and has, more than once, kept me on the edge of my seat. I've enjoyed every page to date, and now, like you, I'm waiting for the final chapter. I have a feeling, I'm going to love how this book turns out.