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Age no barrier to New England success

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Neil Reynolds | 14:13 UK time, Friday, 9 October 2009

I spent a few days at the New England Patriots training camp in August and quickly discovered what the team that visits London to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley in two weeks' time is all about.

You can be the strongest, fastest, most physical beast in the NFL, but if you don't know how to play the game, the Patriots don't have a place for you on their roster.

A wise old coach once told me that speed alone is not enough to succeed in the NFL because if you don't know where you are going, all that pace will do is ensure you are out of position faster. His belief, and it is one shared in New England, is that football intelligence is as important as athletic ability.

The Patriots have been perennial winners since Bill Belichick took charge in 2000. The numbers speak for themselves: six AFC East Division crowns, four Super Bowl appearances and three title-game victories. With these credentials, it's no wonder that we've deemed the Patriots worthy of a spot of commentary on BBC 5 live sports extra live when they take on the Broncos this Sunday.

Since the start of the Belichick era, New England have proven themselves to be one of the smartest, 'team-first' organisations in the NFL. Boston has also been home to some veteran performers who were considered past their prime or simply not worth the hassle of signing.

Recently-retired safety Rodney Harrison was at his best in New England after being deemed a step too slow by the San Diego Chargers; Corey Dillon excelled at running back after being jettisoned by the Cincinnati Bengals and 32-year-old Randy Moss has been given a new lease of life after growing disgruntled with the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders.

Belichick doesn't care what the date reads on your birth certificate - all he cares about is production on Sundays.

The latest veteran to rock up in New England and prove he still has a few miles left on the clock is Pro Bowl running back Fred Taylor, who was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars at the conclusion of the 2008 campaign. He's a fine example of Belichick's vision.

Belichick and Taylor
Taylor is yet another veteran to experience success under Belichick at New England

Taylor is in his 12th season and has rushed for 11,472 yards and 64 touchdowns. Early in his career with the Jaguars, he missed his fair share of games through a variety of injuries and earned the nickname 'Fragile Fred', and news has emerged today of an ankle injury which will certainly keep him out of this weekend's game against the Broncos.

But in the opening quarter of the season, Taylor has supplanted the much younger Laurence Maroney as the main weapon out of the backfield, leading New England with 201 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries.

Taylor has averaged 4.5 yards per carry and I can see him becoming the focal point of the running game even more as the season unfolds if he is able to overcome his injury, especially when you look at Maroney's figures of 27 carries for 78 yards and no touchdowns.

When looked at on their own, Taylor's yardage totals are not that dazzling - but they are proving valuable. And he is yet another example of a smart, reliable veteran producing the goods in New England in the autumn of his career.

So Taylor won't mind if quarterback Tom Brady, Moss and receiver Wes Welker garner more headlines in New England. After 11 years with rarely a sniff of a Super Bowl ring, Taylor will be content to be one small piece of the jigsaw that brings a fourth championship this decade to Massachusetts.

Given the way the Patriots are grinding out wins with both Brady and Welker yet to reach full speed (Brady is still fighting back from last season's torn knee ligaments and Welker has missed time this term with a knee injury), it would be a brave man who bets against New England being there or thereabouts come the season's end.

Game of the Week

The Patriots (minus Fred Taylor) travel west to take on the undefeated Denver Broncos on BBC 5 live sports extra from 9pm on Sunday. The Broncos passed their first big test in defeating the Dallas Cowboys last weekend but they have a tough month ahead, starting with the Patriots.

Denver are much tougher on defence and Kyle Orton has done a solid job at quarterback. But these Patriots keep finding ways to win games and I see Brady being the difference-maker, providing he resists attacking Broncos Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and targets other areas of the field.

New England 24, Denver 20

You can catch Neil commentating on an NFL game every Sunday on BBC 5 live sports extra throughout the season.(UK users only).


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Neil,

    Great blog as always which pretty much sums up the Patriots Organisation.

    Denver have suprised me this season, i thought after the whole Cutler saga, it would be a tough job for McDaniels to keep the team sprit together let alone start 4-0, saying that I thought last week Brady was slowly starting to look like his old self and we all know he won't be throwing too many balls in Big Champ's direction unlike Romo.

    Looking at the games on a whole this week its hard to see where any shocks will come from.

    Also what's your take on the Pats taking back Junior Seau?

  • Comment number 2.

    Spot on - that's what's remarkable about Bellichick, every experienced player seems to start playing his best ever football when they join the Pats. There's a lot of coaches that seem to pick up quality experienced players only to turn them into liabilities, which seems never to happen to the Pats (Stallworth was perhaps the only exception in recent memory).

    What worries me about a little the Pats this year actually is that on the defensive side of the ball they lost a helluva lot of experience all in one go. Harrison, Vrabel, Bruschi, and then Seymour left quite a gap. I think it helps enormously that Bellichick is a defensive guy, and I am sure he would not have let all that experience go if he did not think the newer faces were up to it. So far, the signs are encouraging, shutting down Atlanta and keeping the Ravens at bay (just), but it's still a bit of a work-in-progress.

    On your prediction... can't really disagree, don't think it will be a high scoring game, but can't see the Pats disintegrating like the Cowboys and they have more quality in the skill-positions.

  • Comment number 3.

    Much as it pains me to say it, you have to admire the way the Patriots run themselves (cheating aside). You could probably give their organisation a roster from any team in the NFL and they could make it work.

    Having said that, I think this one will all come down to D and I fancy the Broncos with home advantage to just take it in a low scoring game. I've bet against Belichick before and got egg on my face though.

  • Comment number 4.

    I actually think - upon reflection - that the Taylor injury could end his season. They might keep him on the roster but doubt he will be back until the playoffs... so worth putting on IR and freeing up a roster spot.

    Sammy Morris runs hard so should pick up the slack.

    But they have other veteran additions who are excelling in their system... defensive backs Leigh Bodden, Shawn Springs and Brandon McGowan are good examples.

  • Comment number 5.

    The patriots are an impressive organisation but surely the whole spygate affair weighs heavily on the team's reputation and perhaps even their legacy since Belichick has been there? What do you think?

  • Comment number 6.

    Yup, they seem to get the best out of their players. Funnily enough I have the suspicion that the rest of the league is starting to catch up with them. May be wishful thinking.

  • Comment number 7.

    This year's Pats are not the team of years gone by. The Jets stuffed them impressively and they've had to eke out some narrow victories.

    Mile High is not the place you want to take a group of aging players, either. The outcome will depend on Kyle Orton and whether he can figure out the the different looks which the Pat's "D" will give him. If he doesn't toss any interceptions and they don't turn the ball over, Denver will win.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    I wouldn't say the Jets stuffed them impressively. 16-9 is not exactly a thrashing and had the Pats converted some of their Red Zone opportunities it would have been a different game.

    The Denver defense is pretty solid and without Taylor, the Pats might become more dependant on their passing game (Denver might be able to cover this better without the Taylor weapon as a distraction).

    Orton's surprised me, but I'm not convinced yet. The NE defense is also somewhat underrated - it reads the game pretty well and guys like Brandon Merriweather go about their business so effectively without being noticed.

    I think this is another one that's going to hinge on who takes their Red Zone opportunities. But with Wes Welker back, my money's on the Pats

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Neil,
    Good Blog, was just wondering what you make of the Michael Crabtree situation? Do you think that potentially it could harm, what has been a really good start to the season, having him come in and disrupt the offense, and his presence in the locker room?

  • Comment number 11.

    I think the Pats will miss Taylor a bit but they are very deep at Running Back, with Maroney, Faulk and Morris still there.

    I think people forget that Maroney really played a big role in getting the Pats through the play-offs in 2008. This could be his chance to regain the number one RB spot as surely he can't have been very happy getting displaced by Taylor.

    Speaking of running games, here's hoping Turner the Burner will be back on form this week after as slow start, I know the 49ers have a great record against the run this season but the Falcons need to get the game on the ground going so the game opens up for Matty Ice, otherwise the Saints will be running away with the NFC south.

  • Comment number 12.

    While most of the examples are good, Randy Moss was hardly an unwanted castoff and would have done well anywhere after he had suffered through his time at the horrible raiders organisation.

    It should be an interesting match-up for the Broncos, people are still questioning whether or not they are for real with who they have beaten or how they have done it, but they are clearly showing that a good defence will always give you a chance to win.

  • Comment number 13.

    To my British Brothers: Take good care of our Pats. We love them here in New England.

  • Comment number 14.


    I don't think they'll have any problems over here, seeing that the Pats are the best supported/most popular NFL team in the UK :-)

    Go Pats!!!



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