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Better believe in these Patriots

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 2, 2011 09:13 PM

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Ten brief, possibly coherent, and overwhelmingly positive thoughts on the 14-2 Patriots before I pack up the gear here at rainy Gillette and paddle my rowboat back to Maine . . .

gronkfinn103.jpg1. I know he had 50 touchdown passes three years ago. But you're not talking me out of it. Given the reliance on rookies and the personnel tweaks during the season, this was the most impressive regular season of Tom Brady's career. Thirty-six touchdowns. Four interceptions. It's as close to flawless as a quarterback can be.

2. Like many of you, I suspect, I've been down on Julian Edelman this season, mostly because he'd entered today's game with nearly as many drops (3) as receptions (4). But today's performance in place of Wes Welker (can't blame him for missing the rest of the regular-season finales of his career if he so chooses) was a reminder of why we were so optimistic about his future just last season, when he had 37 catches in his first year playing receiver after starring at quarterback at Kent State. He has lateral quickness that can't be taught, only enhanced with hard work, and by all accounts he puts in the time. Today's lesson: Don't quit on him yet.

3. I don't think I've even been more pleased to see a running back achieve the 1,000-yard milestone than I was for BenJarvus Green-Ellis today. The man earned his way into the league the hard way, and he's earned every hard yard he's gained since.

4. And by the way, that's one of the half-dozen reasons I hate the idea of the 18-game schedule. It makes the relevance of a 1,000-yard season obsolete.

5. Green-Ellis had 80 yards today on 20 carries. Laurence Maroney had 74 yards this season on 36 carries. I'm not sure what my point is, because I almost feel bad for Maroney, who seems to have the UFL in his near future, but it's worth pointing out nonetheless I guess.

haynesmikefinn.jpg6. Loved hearing Mike Haynes's name come up twice today in the Gillette press box: When McCourty pulled down his seventh interception of the season on Miami's first drive, pulling him within one of the Hall of Fame cornerback's rookie record of eight set during his legendary '76 season, and again when Julian Edelman took a punt back 94 yards for a score, eclipsing Haynes's record 89-yard return during the '76 season. It's not that we like seeing Haynes's records challenged or fall, but the reminder of a genuine and perhaps somewhat underappreciated legend in Patriots history is always worthwhile.

7. So Rob Gronkowski finishes his rookie season with 42 catches for 550 yards and 10 touchdowns (and a tip of the cap to my old friend Mike Reiss, who predicted early in the season that Gronkowski would reach double figures in TDs). It should be noted that Mark Bavaro had 37 catches for 511 yards and four touchdowns during his rookie season with the '85 Giants. I think you know what we're getting at.

8. As wonderful and entertaining and, to many alleged prognosticators, surprising this season has been, it is not the best coaching job of Bill Belichick's career. In fact, I'd put it third. There has never been a more improbable champion than the 2001 squad. While some players were better than we realized entering that season (Tom Brady, Troy Brown, Mike Vrabel, Roman Phifer to a degree), there was also a staggering lack of depth. J.R. Redmond was the third-down back (and a playoff hero). Jermaine Wiggins was the best tight end (and a playoff hero). Fred Coleman was the third receiver for a time (and a beatin'-the-Jets hero). To say that this season is better is to forget so much of what happened the year this all began.

9. As for his second-best coaching job? Doesn't it have to be 2008, when Brady was lost less than a quarter into the first game of the season? Matt Cassel has turned out to be a terrific quarterback, and it was fun to watch him continue to improve in '08. But if I recall, there was an outcry that the Pats should sign Chris Simms . . . or Daunte Culpepper . . . or Tim Rattay . . . because they couldn't possibly win with this kid who couldn't even get on the field in college. Instead, they won 11 games, an one of the greatest regrets of that season -- right behind Sammy Morris not pulverizing Bernard Pollard into the turf when he had the chance -- was not getting an opportunity to see what Cassel could do in the playoffs.

10. I'm a little surprised that the Patriots are playing at 4:30 p.m on Sunday the 16th. I figured that it would be the Saturday night game, which has usually been their preference. But I'll take a 4:30 start over an 8:30 start anytime. Now, with the time and place set . . . who do you hope they play in that game? I rank 'em this way, most worrisome to least worrisome: Colts, Ravens, Steelers, Chiefs, Jets. So in a way, I'm glad the Colts got the No. 3 seed, since they can't face the Patriots until the AFC title game. But all things considered? The team I've seen these last eight weeks -- the one that has put up at least 30 points in each successive win while the defense continues to grow -- is the one that I believe has the best chance at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy that February night in Dallas. Based on what you've seen and what you know about this team, do you believe it too?

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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