When a team makes it to the NFL's final four, the roster is usually pretty well-regarded and no extraordinary changes are necessary. The New England Patriots aren't a normal team.
Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and company have lost to Peyton Manning for the third time in the playoffs, with all three knockouts coming in the conference championship game. That's okay, though- the Patriots usually rebound in a major way after these losses.
Every knows the history of the Patriots after the loss to the Colts in 2006. New England should have won in Indianapolis, but Manning manufactured one of the all time great comebacks in NFL history to steal the victory and an easy romp over the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.
The talent differential on offense was extremely evident, and many can point to the fact that four of of the five most productive Colts were first round picks Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Joseph Addai. The fifth was another runner back Dominic Rhodes.
But that doesn't paint the full picture. The Patriots offense featured just as many well drafted players, with three first round picks (tight ends Ben Watson and Daniel Graham, running back Laurence Maroney), four second round picks (wide receivers Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney, running backs Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk), and even a third round pick in fullback Heath Evans.
The issue came with proven ability, so the Patriots decided to shake up the entire offense to bring in some players with proven ability.
The Patriots brought in Donte' Stallworth and Sammy Morris on offense, and, oh wait, they traded for Randy Moss and Wes Welker to help form the greatest offense the NFL has ever seen. This post-Manning, 2007 team went undefeated in the regular season and reached the Super Bowl.
In 2013, the Patriots were extremely banged up and had to travel (once again) to face Manning on his home turf. While Brady was forced to throw to chopped liver again (Austin Collie, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Matthew Mulligan were actually a part of the Patriots offensive game plan), Manning was throwing to the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Knownshon Morneno. The Broncos won with ease.
But instead of revamping the passing attack in 2014, the Patriots acknowledged that the offense suffered from the loss of All World tight end Rob Gronkowski and that then-rookie Aaron Dobson deserved more time to develop. Belichick decided to shake-up the defensive side of the ball to better handle the Broncos offensive attack.
While Devin McCourty was adjusting nicely to playing safety, the rest of the Patriots secondary consisted of Aqib Talib (injured during the conference championship), Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, and then safety Steve Gregory.
Talib signed with the aforementioned Broncos and the Patriots responded by signing cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, along with safety Patrick Chung.
The Patriots secondary instantly went from okay to All Star and the defense was able to stifle the Broncos and every opponent in their way en route to winning the 2014 Super Bowl.
So we are watching the Patriots coming off another loss to Peyton Manning in an AFC Championship Game, probably for the last time. The team is already shaking up the offense, with the releases of LaFell and tight end Scott Chandler, and the team knows that the inability to run the ball severely hampered the offensive success in the playoffs.
The Patriots lost in 2006 because the receivers couldn't catch the ball, and lost again in 2013 because the cornerbacks couldn't stop the receivers. Perhaps the fallout of the 2015 loss will be a total revamping of the way the Patriots run the ball.
The 2013 excuse of injuries and youth that allowed the team to ignore the offensive side of the ball could apply to the offensive line this past year, with almost every single lineman missing a game due to an injury and with the young core of Shaq Mason, Tre Jackson, and Bryan Stork on the interior.
Perhaps the team could add a solid veteran to the offensive line that could perform at an above-average level, but don't expect a major overhaul.
And it would seem that the mutual interest between the Patriots and running back LeGarrette Blount could point towards consistency in the backfield.
There's a big change coming; we just don't know what it is.