’08 Preview: Blemish won’t slow down Patriots

It was all there for the taking. A championship. Perfection. History.

And then the Giants snatched it away.

Were the Patriots any other organization coached by any other man, the crushing defeat in Super Bowl XLII would likely mark the death knell for the franchise’s run. Teams simply do not come back from that type of heartache. Just ask the 1986 Red Sox.

But the Patriots have proven relentless under coach Bill Belichick, shaking off both the sting of a last-minute loss in the 2006 AFC title game and the scandal of Spygate last year to run the table all the way to Arizona.

Belichick is a master motivator who keeps his team up week after week after week. And if the last eight years are any indication, his Pats won’t mope about what might have been.

2008 TEAM PREVIEWS

AFC EAST: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC NORTH: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC SOUTH: HOU | IND | JAC | TEN

AFC WEST: DEN | KC | OAK | SD

NFC EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS

NFC NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN

NFC SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

NFC WEST: ARI | SEA | SF | STL

They will simply start another assault on the NFL and dare everyone else to stand in their way.

Offense

While offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has added some wrinkles – such as crafty screens and the occasional trick play – he is basically running a system that dates back to Charlie Weis.

Even with Randy Moss stretching defenses, the Patriots make their living underneath to the likes of Kevin Faulk and Wes Welker. They prefer a controlled passing game and should be a classic “throw to get the lead, run to keep it” team in 2008.

Defense

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees cannot be blamed for the breakdowns that resulted in the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. He had his defenders in position to make game-clinching plays, but failures to record a sack or an interception on two different plays kept the Giants’ drive alive.

A Belichick disciple before he even knew the coach – he cut his teeth as a coordinator under Nick Saban at Toledo and Michigan State – Pees runs the Belichick defense to perfection, disguising coverages and rush packages while relying on the versatility of the team’s base 3-4 scheme.

The book on: Randy Moss

A rival sizes up the Patriots’ wide receiver:

“He’s one of the few guys I know of in this league who, when defenses line up, knows what coverage it is. (Cris) Carter caught a whole lot of footballs by telling the quarterback what the coverage was going to be.

“So to say the guy doesn’t know how to run routes and he’s not this and he’s not that, those things are totally false. I don’t know how many guys you know who can line up and tell the quarterback what the coverage is, but Randy is one of them.

“I don’t think his attitude has ever been what people have made it out to be. He’s one of those intense competitors that, whether it’s marbles or fishing or anything, hates to lose.

“Which is why he wants the ball all the time. He’s also a guy who has kind of a magnetic effect on his teammates. He’s always holding the barbecues or saying, ‘Let’s go here as a group’ or ‘Let’s go watch this high school football game as a group.’”

Bottom line

With an easy schedule and no shortage of motivation, the Patriots should once again be a force in 2008. As long as Brady stays healthy, they will be a 12- to 14-win team.

SN prediction: 14-2, first in AFC East.

John Tomase covers the Patriots for the Boston Herald and Sporting News.


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Updated Thursday, Jul 17, 2008