By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
Tom Brady was voted the top player in the NFL by his peers.Pretty easy call. His chief competition in the voting was Peyton Manning. But Manning had a down year in 2010. It was a bleak followup to his brilliant 2009, a season Manning capped by throwing the ball to the wrong team at crunch time in the Super Bowl. A different outcome against the Saints and Manning may have been No. 1 no matter what Brady did in 2010. But legacies are indelibly written by what happens in title games (see Namath, Joe) and Brady's three rings and two Super Bowl MVPs are non-refundable proof of how he's generally played in big spots. There was, however, a line of thinking that emerged among analysts and fans who weren't sold on Brady. If Brady is so great, the notion goes, why did the Patriots go 11-5 in 2008 without him? If Manning were ever lost for an extended period, the Colts would be a two-win team. It's a question that - if left dangling - seems a bit damning. Until you consider just how significant the dropoff actually was. The 2007 Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season and were 18-0 and leading the Giants in the Super Bowl until strange stuff happened. The 2008 Patriots didn't make the playoffs. In 2007, Brady threw 50 touchdowns and eight picks and New England scored an NFL record 75 touchdowns. Cassel threw 29 fewer touchdown passes for the Patriots in relie of Brady in 2008. To take it out a little further, consider what Matt Cassel has become. In 2010, he threw 27 touchdowns and 7 picks and made the Pro Bowl. Cassel is a really good player. The Patriots didn't faceplant completely in 2008 when Brady went down because they prepared for the eventuality of having to play without him. Yeah, they had success in 2008. But relative to the success they had when Brady was in there, the difference was stark. The Patriots have the best "program" in the NFL. That they went 14-2 last year when they were revamping is more proof. And what the 11-5 record in 2008 really demonstrates is just how great a gap there is between the program the Patriots have developed and the rest of the league aside from a handful of other elites.
By Tom E. Curran