Where have we seen these Pats before?

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Where have we seen these Pats before?

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

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:

History.

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

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

When trying to figure out what the Patriots will ultimately do with Jimmy Garoppolo, forget about the speculation and instead focus on the little things the team does. 

Like how they are tending to Jacoby Brissett. 

After having thumb surgery on Oct. 7, Brissett was put on IR. But the team used its one "Get off of IR free card" on Brissett and he's been practicing with the team for the past couple of weeks while not taking up a roster spot. 

That alone isn't compelling evidence that he's the backup-in-waiting and Garoppolo's about to be packed up and shipped out, argued my compadre, Senator Phil Perry. The team had no other players on IR that they could use the designation on at the time. Why not use it on Brissett?

Prior to that, though, we've seen Brissett accompanying the team to away games including the cross-country junket to San Francisco. A reason? Since the Patriots played three straight at Gillette at the start of the season when Brissett was the direct backup to Garoppolo, he didn't get a good look at the road operation and the tempo of being the visiting team. How things work on flights, in meetings, at opposing stadiums and on the sidelines is worth getting a promising young players' eyes on. Also, getting his offensive teammates used to having him around is probably an even bigger benefit. It's not unprecedented to have IR players travel but its not conventional practice either. 

With so many quarterback-needy teams around the league, Garoppolo is perhaps the most attractive option out there. By the end of this year, he will have apprenticed three seasons behind the best quarterback of all-time in a sophisticated offense for a program that's as demanding as any in the league. In the 10 quarters he was able to play as a starter in place of Tom Brady, he was sensational.

He got hurt and that's not great. But any team making a deal for him that has concerns about his durability can take him for a spin for one season. Garoppolo is on the books for $825K in 2017 and then his contract is up. The team that dealt for him can franchise him if they need another season to think on it. 

I don't think the Patriots are itching to move Garoppolo. They know they are sitting comfortably with a stack of the most valuable commodity in the sport -- good quarterbacks (or at least one great one and two promising ones) - piled in front of them. They can let the game come to them. 

If it does, as former Patriots executive and Bill Belichick consigliere Mike Lombardi thinks it will, the Patriots can rest easy dealing Garoppolo knowing that they already did advance work getting Brissett up to speed. 

Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

FOXBORO -- What could have been an awkward plane ride for Tom Brady and John Harbaugh was made less so thanks to a high school lacrosse player. 

Brady and Harbaugh shared a private plane back from Michigan where Jim Harbaugh and his University of Michigan program put on an event for National Signing Day. About a year earlier, Brady told a room full of reporters that Harbaugh and his coaching staff should study the rule book and "figure it out" after hearing that they were pretty upset about the unusual formations the Patriots ran during their AFC Divisional Round win over Baltimore. 

They may not have been on the best of terms.

"I was pissed off," he told ESPN's Ian O'Connor before the start of this season. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed. ... So yeah, that should never have been said."

But on the flight was Harbaugh's daughter Alison, a high school lacrosse player. When Brady took some time to share a few thoughts on competitiveness with her, he and Harbaugh found common ground.

"We had a lot of fun," Harbaugh said of the flight. "I don't know if he's talked about that at all, but we ended up sharing a plane ride along with my daughter and a couple of his people, friends of his. We just had a chance to just talk for a couple hours. And really more than anything, Alison got a chance to listen to Tom Brady talk about competing and what it takes to be great at what you do.

"And one of the funny things about it was, he was so nice to her. He gets off and they go, and we get back on the plane and we're talking, and she says something like, 'Boy, Tom really is a nice guy.' And I look at here and go, 'Tom?' I'm thinking 'Mr. Brady' would have been more appropriate. She said, 'He said to call me Tom.' I got a kick out of that.

"It was good. Lot of respect for him and a lot of respect for what he's accomplished. He's very tough to compete against. The best quarterback that's played, certainly in this era, without question in my mind. That's how I would rank him. And it's just another tough challenge to have to play against him."