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No raining on Patriots' parade

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  August 23, 2011 10:07 AM

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Have to admit, I didn't think it actually rained on Tom Brady. See, he is just like the rest of us! Or maybe he's just walking on water?

Of course, this is nothing to joke about. It's a good thing he didn't catch a cold, for instance. The sniffles can linger -- cost Tony Eason (questionable, runny nose) three full seasons in the mid-'80s, if I recall correctly.

Brady's brash decision to go without an umbrella -- arrogance obviously learned by being in the proximity of Bill Belichick all these years -- could have ruined the Patriots season before it ever got started, you know.

By the way, how many Super Bowls has "The Genius" won without Brady? That's right, caller. None. The two as defensive coordinator of the Giants? How dare you suggest those belong to anyone other than the great Parcells. Did you know Belichick once dumped Bernie Kosar for Todd Philcox? The hubris of the hoodie lingers long after you wish it would go away. Like a cold. Or Bon Jovi.

Annnnnnd with that particularly long and feeble introduction, I believe I've fulfilled my apparent obligation as a member of the Boston sports media to find something about the 2011 Patriots to be snarky or snide about.

Sorry for putting you through that, but it's tough to fulfill a designated scold's obligations when the honest opinion is that the Patriots are right there with the Super Bowl champions Green Bay Packers and the remodeled Philadelphia Eagles as the best bets to be celebrating under a shower of confetti come February 5 in Indianapolis.

That's right. You can keep your rain clouds and your gloomy contrarianism. It's all sunshine around here. This team is stacked, and barring the unforeseen -- yes, always a possibility on those vicious Sunday and Mondays in the NFL -- it has a damn good chance of collecting that elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy.

Out of obligation and because it does feel a bit foolish to suggest a team will play in the season's final game before it has played its first game, I will repeat the mantra of August football: It's just preseason. It's just preseason. It's just preseason. And I will acknowledge that the combined 78-26 advantage they've had over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers through the first two preseason games probably isn't the best gauge of where the Patriots stand at the moment.

Jacksonville is coached by a guy who carries himself on the sideline like he would make a great crony for Fred Smerlas and Steve DeOssie. And Tampa Bay, with a young coach and quarterback, could be one of the teams that will suffer for the abbreviated training camps.

For the Patriots, the opposite is widely and properly regarded as being perhaps their greatest advantage entering this unusual season. With Belichick and Brady entering the 11th season of their legendary partnership, the Patriots have preparation, continuity and extraordinary competence on their side in a season when all are at a premium. It's a safe conclusion to draw through two preseason games -- they are ready.

If not for the need to get into the same playbook, let alone the same page, as new receiver Chad Ochocinco while also best figuring how to implement the most versatile collection of offensive players he's ever worked with, there might be some temptation to put Brady in bubble wrap until the Monday night opener at Miami. Brady's cruelly precise performance against the Bucs proved he's ready to try to duplicate his Most Valuable Player performance of a year ago. Maybe he will play until he's 40.

Belichick, to no one's surprise, has been ready all along -- not just for the season, but for the prelude, the scramble to fill out rosters in the wildly fun free-agent frenzy after the collective bargaining agreement was reached. More than any other team, the Patriots have capitalized on the supply of readily available veteran talent, not just by supplementing the roster with low-risk, potentially high-reward trades for Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco, but by signing the capable likes of defensive ends Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis and Mark Anderson and unsung safety/special-teams standout James Ihedigbo, often a nuisance as a Jet.

mayopats818.jpgUnless he enhances his famous football book collection by writing one of his own someday, we'll probably never know the extent to which Belichick read the tea leaves this offseason and when he recognized that there would be an essentially unprecedented opportunity to enhance a talented roster with capable, inexpensive veterans. (The offseason between 2000-01, when 22 veteran free agents were signed, was different simply based on the weakness of the Patriots' roster. Antico Dalton anyone? Jeff Paulk?)

But I'm willing to bet it was weeks and even months before all labor matters were settled that Belichick recognized the opportunity ahead, particularly when it came to remodeling the Patriots' defense. He knew he could get the players he needed, in abundance if necessary, to make the adjustments to the defensive scheme, from a frequently 3-4-structured unit to one that has the beef inside and the edge rushers to be a dynamic 4-3.

Witnessing the aggression with which the Patriots' defense attacked the Buccaneers' offense wasn't just the most enjoyable aspect of the their victory last Thursday -- it was also the most encouraging. Rather than reacting to the offense, they made Freeman and the beleaguered Bucs react to them, whether it was Carter screaming around one end or Jerod Mayo unleashing a pass-rushing fury that often seemed the only thing missing from his All-Pro package of skills. Sure, there are soft spots that could become flaws -- at last check, Brandon Meriweather, the Scott Cooper of safeties, was still taking paths to the ball carrier that would make a butterfly dizzy.

But if this defense is nearly as good as it looked Thursday night, it has a chance -- a chance -- to be the best the Patriots have had since 2004. If you recall, the sunshine that year became that glorious shower of confetti at the end. Even in August, it's OK to be optimistic that a similar scene can take place this February. Especially since you've already begun to collect some compelling evidence.

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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