|Patriots put Spygate, Super Bowl loss behind them|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 21 August 2008 10:55|
The New England Patriots learned that last season when they won their first 18 games - but critics wouldn't let them forget Spygate. And when that streak ended in the Super Bowl, the sound of them crashing from their pedestal was met by cheers from those who enjoy the decline of the dominant.
``You're going to find something wrong with somebody because in our nature, in our human aspects, it's hard to believe that someone can be perfect,'' cornerback Ellis Hobbs said.
So when Usain Bolt spread his arms and pounded his chest in the final strides of his world-record 100-meter sprint in the Olympics, Hobbs found the perfect example of how people, through jealousy or plain disbelief, find fault in stunning feats.
``How amazing and physically talented that guy was to win the 100 like he did,'' Hobbs said. ``Now people have a problem with the way he celebrated, and it's mainly the people that can't run.''
People who can't play football - fans and commentators - and some who could questioned the Patriots' success after they were caught taping the New York Jets' defensive signals in the season opener last year. That transgression brought coach Bill Belichick a $500,000 fine, and the club a $250,000 fine and the loss of a first-round draft pick.
As far as the Patriots are concerned, that's as dated and forgettable as 35-millimeter film. It's a new season with new problems and potential, a season in which everybody is unbeaten as the regular season draws near.
The problems: Star cornerback Asante Samuel left for Philadelphia, the offensive line has been banged up and the backup quarterback spot is weak.
The potential: a solid rookie defensive group led by first-round pick linebacker Jerod Mayo, a deep corps of running backs, and the Tom Brady-Randy Moss and Brady-Wes Welker connections, which could be even better in their second season together.
``We are very far ahead of where we were last year'' in training camp, Brady said. ``I hope that shows up when we start playing the regular season.''
Once the Patriots begin that Sept. 7 at home against Kansas City, memories of last season will fade even more - and that's just how they like it.
Their motivation, they say, comes from the desire to win rather than to make up for big losses - like their 17-14 upset by the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
``That's far away,'' defensive end Jarvis Green said. ``Like Coach always preaches to us: It's the past. We've got to move on because if you keep thinking about it you're not going to do well in the future.''
The Patriots added several veterans on defense - nine-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch, cornerback Fernando Bryant and linebacker Victor Hobson.
One reason Lynch signed is the team's success: three Super Bowl wins in the last seven seasons.
``You also understand what they have done in the past doesn't really stand for a whole lot right now,'' he said. ``We have to create this season.''
There's been less change in the offensive personnel of a team that set an NFL record with 589 points, many provided by two other record-setting performances - Brady's 50 touchdown passes and Moss' 23 scoring receptions.
Third-year running back Laurence Maroney has another year of experience and is part of a solid, veteran group that the NFL's reigning MVP can hand the ball to.
``With what we did last year, I don't think we can live and dwell off that because that was last year,'' Moss said.
But their own expectations soared with last year's output by an offense that was together for the first time in last summer's preseason camp.
``For us to have a whole offseason and training camp under our belts to really understand the offense is scary,'' Moss said. ``I am nervous because there is really no telling what we are going to do. The bar is set high.''
He could lose some of those jitters by looking at the Patriots' schedule: only four games against playoff teams and 11 against teams with losing records last season.
They do have four games on the West Coast, which could jolt their body clocks and cause fatigue. And two division rivals in the AFC East improved at quarterback with Brett Favre going to the Jets and Chad Pennington to the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots, of course, have Brady.
``He's just as good as it gets,'' said Lynch, who spent 11 years with Tampa Bay and five with Denver. ``But the thing that I think is so representative of what these guys have done (is) when the game's on the line they make plays.
``They have the ability to make the plays when they count and (Brady) has always done that. He makes them all the time, but particularly when the game's on the line.''
But not in last season's Super Bowl.
After the Giants went ahead with 35 seconds left on Eli Manning's 13-yard pass to Plaxico Burress - with Hobbs trying to cover him one-on-one - Brady threw three incompletions and was sacked once on the Patriots' last four plays of the season.
``So far back. So far back. So far back,'' Hobbs told reporters at his locker. ``Next question.''