It was one year ago this week, following Week One of the 2007 NFL season, that New England Patriots fans were smacking from another, much different bombshell. After a Patriots' drubbing of The New York Jets, the controversy that was to become known as Spygate came to light, and a season long storyline was introduced. Now, the Patriots and their fans find themselves in another dramatic predicament. After the loss of their star quarterback, Tom Brady, the season is in serious doubt, and the nay sayers are again circling above. Just as in 2007, however, all is not lost. Don't believe me? Well, consider the following:
Who Are Those Guys?: Here is a list of quarterbacks not named Brady to appear in Super Bowls since the 2000 season (*denotes winner): Trent Dilfer*, Kerry Collins, Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson*, Rich Gannon, Jake Delhomme, Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselback, Ben Roethlisberger*, Rex Grossman, Peyton Manning*, Eli Manning*.
Sure, there are Mannings, a McNabb and a Roethlisberger, but for every MVP there is a Trent Dilfer, a Rex Grossman and a Brad Johnson. The idea that this a quarterback's league has been a bit overblown and artificially inflated by the advent of pass-friendly rule changes and the fact that you cannot watch t.v. for eleven minutes without seeing a commercial featuring one of the Manning brothers. Granted, new Patriots starting quarterback Matt Cassel will be a lucky man if he ever finds himself on any list of starting Super Bowl quarterbacks, but so would Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Tony Romo or Drew Brees. Each of the "second tier" quarterbacks on the list above had one thing in common: an excellent supporting (or leading) cast making up the team around them. Sound familiar?
The Favre Factor: Speaking of The Jets, they've suddenly become a popular pick to dethrone The Patriots as AFC East champions. These are the same Jets who last year won a total of four games, two of them coming at the hands of the lowly Miami Dolphins (who won only one game last season). Why this sudden, perceived turnaround from zeroes to potential heroes? A new quarterback, Brett Favre. Farve is a great quarterback, certainly, but in order to seriously contend for a division crown, a team must realistically aim to win ten games. For the Jets, this would mean a swing of six games. That is a tall order, especially when being placed, for the most part, in the hands of one man. Is it possible for a quarterback to have a six game effect on a team's record? Time will tell. In the case of the Patriots and Matt Cassell, a six game swing from last year's regular season total would put the team at ten wins, and in serious contention for the division crown.
You'd Better Be Sure: Last year, during the Spygate controversy, the Patriots did what they have done so many times over the course of their recent dominance: they banded together as a team. As has become their habit, the team adopted an "us against the world" attitude. Do you think the fifty-two players on this year's roster are having trouble coming up with a rallying point for this season? Better yet, do you think it wise to tell Richard, Rodney, Tedy, Randy, Wes, Laurence or any of the others that they no longer seem a threatening bunch? I'm sure there is some one out there, a la Pittsburgh's Anthony Smith, or former Eagle Freddie Mitchell - both of whom took the risk of publicly questioning the legitimacy of the Patriots and paid for it - who will. Well, you'd better be sure.
The Patriots and their fans have been through these situations before, and not only survived - but thrived. Last year, following week one of the NFL season, I wrote a commentary piece regarding the situation of The Patriots following Spygate. The closing words still ring true today:
"Where then, does this leave us? It leaves us exactly where Coach Belichick has always us wanted to be: rooting for a team that everyone is out to get. But this time, instead of having to conjure up Freddie Mitchell or a beat writer for the Charlotte Observer, he can point to the plain reality that is confronting his team."