Why The 2016 Patriots Feel Eerily Similar To The 2010-2011 Teams
By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Before Sunday night's Patriots loss to the Seattle Seahawks, I implored you not to overreact to the outcome of the game. So while this next take may sound contradictory, this has been ominously bubbling underneath the Patriots' entire season with the way the defense has performed, not just from Sunday night.
The 2016 Patriots have too often resembled the ill-fated teams from 2010 and 2011.
While there may be problems behind-the-scenes that no one is seeing or hearing about, it's too far to compare this Patriots team to the 2009 roster that was simply toxic, perhaps the worst of the Belichick-Brady era. The 2010 and 2011 teams are a more apt comparison, mostly because of issues on the field. And it's been going on for the whole season, certainly since Brady has returned.
You'll remember that those teams ultimately lost in a similar fashion that the Seahawks beat the Patriots on Sunday Night Football. They run into a quarterback who can't be stopped and scores touchdowns instead of field goals, while the opposing defense slows Tom Brady down enough to get the win.
Russell Wilson was the first elite quarterback the Patriots faced all season, and he shredded their soft zone defense for 348 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. They mostly struggled to get pressure on Wilson while the secondary was a mess attempting to cover the Seahawks' receivers. This is the same toxic combination that doomed the Patriots defense in 2010 and 2011.
Rex Ryan's New York Jets presented the Patriots with perhaps the single greatest opposing game plan ever implemented against the Belichick/Brady Patriots in the 2010 AFC Divisional Playoff. Ryan's defense generated pressure with just three or four down linemen while they flooded the middle of the field and short-to-intermediate routes with coverage, which made Brady look like a mere mortal. The Jets' Mark Sanchez, who turns out to have stunk as a professional quarterback, took what was given to him and methodically drove the Jets down the field for three passing touchdowns and no interceptions.
If the Patriots do not get that fifth Super Bowl ring for Tom Brady in 2016, that is how it will be done. Brady is less-than-unstoppable and the defense, in the words of Bart Scott, "can't stop a nosebleed." Wilson and the Seahawks offense badly exposed the Patriots defense, while the Seahawks D is certainly a formidable matchup for Brady and the offense. A rematch in Super Bowl LI would be a tall task.
The bright side, of course, is that the 2011 Patriots made it to the Super Bowl and came within a Wes Welker catch of perhaps clinching the victory. Unfortunately, Brady did not have his best day against the Giants' relentless pass rush while Rob Gronkowski was a shell of himself playing with a high ankle sprain. Eli Manning, meanwhile, made the big plays he needed to make as he drove the Giants down the field on the porous Patriots secondary to snatch the 21-17 win away from New England.
The Patriots remain the best team in the AFC and should be the favorite to represent the conference in the Super Bowl. But their defense suddenly has an alarming lack of impact players that ultimately killed their chances in 2010 and 2011. Even if they make it back to the big game, there's a chance that they run into a high-powered offense (Atlanta, Dallas) or a great defense that can slow Brady down (Seattle). A playoff loss will inevitably (and justifiably) bring back questions about the team's decision to jettison playmakers like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins when it appears that they didn't necessarily have to.
Like 2010-11, the Patriots are still a great team with the best quarterback in the league, but they do have a potentially fatal flaw. If they don't close the deal in the Super Bowl this season, it will be easy to understand why.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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