Where have we seen these Pats before?


Where have we seen these Pats before?

By Rich Levine

I was out on Friday night after the Celtics game, but no one felt like talking about the Celtics.

On one hand, you couldn't really speak positively about the team, seeing that theyd just lost to the Kevin Durant-less Thunder. On the other, it was only one loss in mid-November.

The Cs have played far too well for one bad game to initiate any level of controversy or concern. It was a tough loss. They happen. Every one was just ready to move on.

And by move on, I mean talk about the Patriots, because lately, that's all anyone in Boston wants to talk about anyway. The Pats have completely captivated the city.

How good are they? How good can they be? Is it all because of Randy? Could this have happened without the trade? Is the defense for real? Is the whole team for real?

Its what we all want to know. And after Sundays win over Indy, that want will only intensify.

In a way, it's just like old times in Patriots Nation, but another question is: Which old times?

Maybe its part of the process of convincing ourselves that this team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. But over the past few weeks, there's been a hurry to determine which Super Bowl team theyre most like.

Who do they most resemble?

And to this point, it hasnt really been close.

"Man, this feels just like 2001."

I hear that all the time. I heard that at least three or times on Friday. In each case it was unprovoked.

And to a certain extent, I get it.

I see the lack of star power on offense and the somewhat unproven defense. I see the polarizing midseason decision (Bradys our man!Were through with Randy!) that unified the team instead of tearing it apart.

I also think its fun to compare any team to that 2001 squad because it would be amazing to experience that run all over again, and this time, to actually understand and absorb whats going on, instead of freaking out the entire time like a 13-year-old during his virgin make-out session.

Who wouldnt want to re-live the 2001 season? Why not just convince ourselves that this is it? Instinctively, I think weve all been drawn to 2001.

But theres one huge difference between the 2001 and 2010 teams that kills the comparison at least for me and gives off the vibe of a different championship run:


Back then, New England didnt know what winning was it'd been 15 years since Boston had won in any sport. So, when the Pats went along their winning ways, we never thought about pointing out the problems, the things that they could have done better or could potentially haunt them down the stretch. We were too busy obsessing over the positives. We were too busy trying to understand how the hell this team was suddenly winning football games. It didn't make sense.

The problems weren't a big deal because we already knew they existed. The good stuff! Thats what was so perplexing. That was all we cared about.

In 2010, thats clearly changed. For me, comparing 2001 and 2010 is difficult because the two teams operated, and operate, in two completely different realities. The way that we see the organization, the coach and the quarterback changed so drastically at the end of that 2001 season that I dont think anything will ever compare. That was the season that changed things forever; it will never be duplicated.

And obviously, none of the three Patriots Super Bowl seasons will be duplicated, but if you're looking for the closest thing to this year, just set your DeLorian to 2003 instead of 2001. Then you'll wonder if thats not whats currently unfolding in Foxboro.

You look back on that 2003 season, you see the 14-2 record, and you feel like it was pretty easy. You want to think it was just like 2004, and combine those two seasons together. But they were so different. 2004 was pure dominance; 2003 was, well a lot like 2010.

The Patriots' historic win streak started in Week 5 of that season the same week these Patriots traded Randy Moss this year. The Pats were already 2-2, had been through the disappointment of choking in the post-Super Bowl year, the emotions of the Lawyer Milloy move and the drama surrounding Tom Jacksons big month.

Their win over the Titans that day wasnt pretty. They actually trailed in the fourth quarter while most of the fans were wrapped up in the SoxAs playoff game taking place at Fenway before Ty Laws late pick six sealed the victory. Good win, but not their greatest effort.

A week later, Tom Brady had 91 net passing yards in a win over the Giants. The next week, Olindo Mares missed field goal allowed Brady to find Troy Brown deep in overtime. The next week, the Pats never found the end zone in an ugly 9-3 win over the 3-4 Browns. The next week, a late intentional safety was the key play in New England stealing a Monday night win in Mile High. The next week, they eked out a 12-0 win at home over the Cowboys. The next week, they needed overtime in Houston to beat the 4-6 Texans.

By the time Patriots beat the Colts in the famous "Goal Line Stand" game in November of 2003, it marked New Englands eighth straight win on the season. Theyd go on to win 13 more in a row after that, but at the time we had no idea.

All we knew was that they were a team that somehow always found a way to win. Winning pretty? That had nothing to do with it. For the 2003 Pats, the idea of playing a complete game was as foreign as Semih Erden. Each time they took the field, theyd give us flashes of greatness and glimpses of all their flaws.

We could find something wrong with every win they had. There was always something they could have done better; there was always a way that they could be better. But while they spent each week exposing various potential problems, they kept winning. They could struggle all afternoon, but when the game was on the line, and the play needed to be made the 2003 Patriots made it.

They were never perfect until they had to be.

And after Sundays latest historic showdown with the Colts, were starting to get there with the 2010 Patriots.

At this point, were no longer surprised by their ability to win the big games like we still were every single time with that 2001 team. We expect them to do so.

It's never easy. So far, almost every game has been surrounded with some cloud of doubt. Even in the post-Randy Era. We wished the offense was more effective (especially in OT) against the Ravens. We wished they hadnt let the Chargers hang around so late in San Diego. Same goes for the Vikings; that game was uglier Josh Cribbs toe x-rays. Which brings us to Cleveland that was one big mess. And then Pittsburgh OK, maybe that was a pretty complete game, if not for that lack of killer instinct. And then yesterday against Indy, after the Patriots nearly coughed up another huge lead to Peyton, many Pats fans were left thinking:

"OK, its great to get that win there, but that didn't leave a great taste in my mouth."

It never does, but an ugly win still tastes a lot better than a loss of any kind. And aside from that one clunker in Cleveland which wasn't really about coming up short in big moments, but more just never coming to play in the first place the Patriots always do enough. They expose their own flaws and learn more about themselves every week, but nearly every week, they do so in victory. And at some point, that's no longer an accident.

Every team in this league has issues, but the great teams are the ones whose flaws aren't so glaring that they overshadow their strengths. I know that's a pretty basic point, but it's the truth. This team isn't perfect. There will always be something to complain about; something that they can do better. Unlike in 2001, we can't look past that stuff anymore. We've now been to the top. Winning is no longer a privilege; it's just the expectation.

But just like that team in 2003, the 2010 Pats continue to meet that expectation. And as long as they do, what more can we ask for?

Nothing, I guess. Expect for maybe the chance, someday in the future, to look at a team and say: "You know, these guys remind me a lot of the 2010 Pats. I think we're in for something special."

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.   

Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children.  He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.

Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004.  He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.

The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993. 

In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.

“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”