New England Patriots have screamed from the roof tops for years that the team needs to put more “weapons” around Tom Brady.
“Hey Sully, the Pats receivahs suck wicked hahd. They need some weapons!”
Those cries began a decade ago, after the Patriots had won three Super Bowls in four years. But winning championships with rock-solid fundamental football wasn’t good enough for most fans – not with guys like Peyton Manning or Terrell Owens stealing all the headlines and trips to the Pro Bowl from Tommy Boy and his cast-off collection of second-rate receivers.
Fans wanted to win sexy. Those cries for more “weapons” were echoed by the generally ignorant Boston sports media “pundit” – folks who don’t really know what factors win and lose NFL games, even though they should. Factors you and we know as Cold, Hard Football Facts.
So the Patriots raced out and put a collection of high-powered weapons around Brady. They sure as hell looked sexy. It yielded high ratings. Passing record. Receiving records. A 16-0 regular season. Two AFC titles. And the first team in history to score 500 points in four different seasons.
But those “weapons” did not yield a single Super Bowl victory, despite some dominant teams over the past seven years.
Yet those cries to do more of the same and get some "weapons" reached a fever pitch over the past year, after the Patriots lost nearly their entire receiving corps to attrition, injury, trade, free agency and the long arm of the law before the 2013 season. The loss to Denver in the AFC title game renewed those cries again in recent months.
But if the history of Tom Brady’s Patriots, and the 12-4 team of 2013 in particular, has proven anything, it’s this: the team does not need to put "weapons" around Brady to win games. Hell, last season they nearly conquered the AFC with an army of troops carrying flintlock rifles in the era of supersonic jet fighters.
Instead, the Cold, Hard Football Facts have been very clear about New England’s fortunes. And the great missing links since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl in 2004 have been two things and two things only:
- A shutdown cornerback
- A game-changing pass rusher
All of which is a long way of saying the New England Patriots should be a better team with Darrelle Revis at cornerback than they were without him. The Patriots, of course, signed him to a one-year, $12-million deal on Wednesday. He essentially replaces Aqib Talib as the team's top corner. Talib played well for the Patriots, but couldn't stay on the field, especially in the playoffs. He was signed by the rival Broncos.
The Patriots now hope for a 2015 trip to Phoenix by way of foreboding Revis Island.
Revis is, of course, a legit shutdown corner, arguably the best in football. The former Jets and Buccaneers star fills one of the two needs that have prevented to the organization from padding its record-setting resume with one, two or even three more Super Bowl victories.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts have contended that this lack of play-making capabilities in these two critical areas cost the team very good shots at Super Bowl victories in an incredible five different seasons: 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The 2006 Patriots defense suffered an epic collapse in the second half of the AFC title game, victimized by Peyton Manning and the Colts in the greatest title-game comeback in history. It was this game, a 38-34 loss, that caused the organization to change its philosophy and go chase "weapons" like Randy Moss and Wes Welker. In reality, the team should have doubled down on its Super Bowl-winning formula and rebuilt its defense. After all, the Patriots scored enough points to win that day, with or without brand-name "weapons."
The 2007 Patriots surrendered two fourth-quarter touchdowns to Eli Manning and mediocre Giants offense, as the defense failed to pick up the load when the offense melted down. This defense needed to make just one stop in the clutch, the kind of plays they used to make from 2001 to 2004. They got zero stops in the clutch.
The 2010 Patriots dominated the NFL with a 14-2 record but then the defense made abysmal Jets QB Mark Sanchez look like Joe Montana in the divisional playoffs. Sanchez’s 127.3 rating that day was the second best performance of his career.
The 2011 Patriots were yet another offensively dominant 13-3 team, but the defense once again made mediocre Eli Manning a Super Bowl MVP performer while surrendering a 90-yard, game-winning drive in the game’s final minutes.
The 2012 Patriots were the spitting image of the 2011 team, behind yet another of the greatest offenses in NFL history; the offense tanked in the AFC title game, but so, too, did the defense, surrendering three second half TD passes, and two in the fourth quarter, to Baltimore Ravens QB “Ordinary” Joe Flacco.
Those were five New England teams all with great offenses, all with legitimate Super Bowl-winning capabilities.
But each team was sorely lacking one skill: not one of them were capable of making a game-changing defensive play when it counted. In fact, three of those five teams were just one defensive stop away, just ONE PLAY AWAY, from winning the Super Bowl or at least reaching it yet again. All three of them lacked the necessary "weapons" on defense.
That inability cannot be overstated. Consider this: the Patriots have not enjoyed a non-offensive score in the postseason since 2004 – the year they last won a Super Bowl.
Championships in the NFL are won year after year, decade after decade, but balanced teams: teams with the ability to make plays in all phases of the game, not just with their sexy offense. If anything, the 2013 season should have proven that eternal truism.
The Seahawks were the most balanced team in football last season. They dominated the NFL, and they dismantled the sexy but imbalanced Broncos in the Super Bowl, a Denver team that looked a whole lot like the imbalanced Patriots of recent vintage. The end results were the same, too.
So Revis is a step in the right direction. But only one step.
New England now needs to find the next Revis or the next Richard Sherman in the draft. To contend for several years, they need to find the next 22-year-old Revis out of college more than they need the 29-year-old Revis (his age at the start of the 2014 season) with a one-year deal
The Patriots have not drafted a game-changing corner or pass rusher since 2003, when they landed Asante Samuel as a gift in the fourth round.
Some have tried to argue the case for Chandler Jones, the pass-rushing specialist who recorded 11.5 sacks for the Patriots last year and 17.5 during his two NFL seasons. But we’re trying to remember the big games he’s actually changed. Not a knock on him. Just noting that Jones is not YET a proven game changer, even if he has the potential to become one.
Those game changers have been the great missing link. New England tried the more "weapons" approach. And it failed.
Revis helps them correct the wrongs of their personnel wrongs of the past.