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Unconventional preview: 2013 Patriots

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 5, 2013 09:36 PM

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I know, I go to the Martin well often here. What can I say, he's probably the Patriots player I admired the most in those last years when I was a fan before anything else. But in a season in which the Patriots are carrying 14 rookies, it seems right to revisit Martin's 1995 NFL debut -- a 102-yard performance in which he scored the winning touchdown in a 17-14 victory over Bill Belichick's Cleveland Browns. You know the story so well by now that it's probably starting to sound apocryphal. But it's not. As Martin was surrounded by media in the postgame locker room, Patriots coach Bill Parcells walked past the scrum and hissed with a smile: "Don't go putting him in Canton just yet, fellas." The funny irony, of course, is that Martin, who ran for 14,101 yards in his 11-year career, made it to Canton before Parcells did. All rookies should arrive with such success.


Do you feel inspired yet? You're inspired right? It amuses me how many observers -- including many in the media who should know better -- believe the real Belichick is the monosyllabic stone-faced guy who grunts and snorts his way through so many press conferences. Sometimes I wonder whether that image is counterproductive -- I think Spygate would have gone away sooner had he addressed it -- but it's the approach he's going with, and it clearly has had very little if any effect on the on-field product. Still, some need that reminder that he's more than an automaton in a gray sweatshirt programmed to say "it is what it is" every third answer. And fortunately, there are a lot of reminders out there, whether it's the remarkable lessons he provides on the tactical history of football when the mood strikes, or the heartfelt verbal sendoff he gives to beloved retired players such as Tedy Bruschi and Troy Brown. Or something like this: A reminder that there is much more to him behind the scenes, as well as a reminder, as if one is actually required, that the Patriots are damned lucky to have him as a coach.

The passing game will endure more hiccups than usual as the rookies adjust to playing with a quarterback who will stare hate-lasers through the back of your head if you make the same mistake twice. But if Gronk and Amendola are reasonably healthy, they'll be fine, and certainly much, much better than the Doug Gabriel And The Interpretive Pass-Route Running Band of 2006. Besides, the versatile running game led by Stevan Ridley and everyone's favorite breakout candidate Shane Vereen will pick up the slack in the early going, and a young and versatile defense might actually take some of the burden off Brady and the offense for once. Barring catastrophe, and you know exactly what that means, the AFC East crown belongs to the Patriots before a game is even played, and the regular season is nothing but a warmup for the postseason. They have old faces in familiar places, and yet in a lot of spots youth is on their side. This is a very good team, one that could be playing in the New Jersey snow in February if most of what needs to fall right does. Prediction: 13-3, with postseason wins over Indianapolis and Denver. I can't pick them to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl just yet. But I can't pick them to lose to Pete Carroll in a Super Bowl, either. To be continued.

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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