“If you’re going to be a part of this organization, there’s a responsibility and a sense of obligation that comes with it, because in my family’s mind, you’re carrying our last name as well.’’
— Jonathan Kraft, August 2011
The Patriots have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. The AFC is weak, and once again the tomato cans are falling down in front of the Patriots. The window for Tom Brady is closing and these golden opportunities don’t come along every year.
Did you see anything over the weekend to discourage the prospect of the Patriots getting to New Orleans? New England is a 5-3 team (three losses by 4 points) at the midway point, but nobody looks great in the AFC. The Texans appear to be the top competition. The Patriots might have to win the AFC Championship game in Reliant Stadium. We’ll get a good read on Houston when the Texans play at Gillette Stadium Monday, Dec. 10.
The Ravens don’t scare me anymore. The Broncos are playing well and Peyton Manning looks like his old self, but John Fox cannot beat Bill Belichick. The Steelers might be coming up on the outside. They will be viewed as the new threat when the Patriots resume their season at home Sunday against the Bills.
You all know that the Patriots last week traded a fourth-round draft pick for troubled Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib can’t play for the Patriots this weekend because he’s finishing a four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Before his PED sanction, Talib had considerable trouble with teammates and cops. He is a “lawyers, guns, and money” acquisition in the spirit of Albert Haynesworth.
Most of us are OK with this now. This is professional football. It’s the best vs. the best and you cannot win without talent. Young athletes make mistakes and get second, third, and fourth chances. We are used to all of this. Seasoned Patriots fans today are more likely to worry about the value of the fourth-round pick than the perception that the franchise has morphed into Oakland Raiders East.
It’s all good as long as the Patriots cut their losses when things don’t work out (see “Haynesworth”) and as long as Belichick’s bosses cease and desist with the once-quaint notion that the Patriots are different.
You remember all that, right? Myra Kraft would object and Christian Peter would be gone. The Patriots were about family. Team above self. The Patriot Way. We do things differently here.
Baloney. That ship sailed a long time ago. Colleague Greg Bedard explained this beautifully in his Sunday pro football column, writing, “The Patriots unquestionably have become a win-at-all costs organization. They’ll entertain the acquisition of any player, no matter his issues, as long as he is talented.’’
And there’s nothing wrong with this. As long as we don’t have sanctimonious statements from above.
To his credit, Belichick never has positioned himself as holier-than-thou. His Hoodiness is comfortable being cutthroat. He is a professional football coach, one of the best of all time. He is paid to win football games. He is not Denzel Washington in “Remember the Titans” or Bing Crosby in “The Bells of St. Mary’s.’’ He is not here to sculpt souls of young people.
The coach was predictably obtuse when asked about Talib during Monday’s conference call.
“Right now, really, our focus is on the Bills and the players that will be preparing for the game with the team and the players that are here at this time,’’ said Belichick. “We’ll take that as it comes. When he gets here, we’ll deal with that then.’’
When is that?
“When the league allows him to; it’s a league suspension, it’s not in our control.’’
Right. I’m sure Bill has no idea when Talib will be around for his first practice.
Later in the useless conference call, when an intrepid reporter tried to come back to Talib, Belichick admitted, “I think he’s a good player. I think he can help our football team. That’s why we traded for him.’’
The Patriots scouted Talib thoroughly when he came out in the draft in 2008. Belichick said that was helpful in making the deal.
“I think everything that you know about a player is somewhat of a factor,’’ said the coach. “Whatever that whole composite is, or wherever all that information comes from, all put together and you try to boil it down based on everything, all the information you have.’’
All the information. Including the rap sheet.
I tried to get hold of Bob and/or Jonathan Kraft to ask about the “responsibility and sense of obligation” that comes with being a Patriot. I wanted to ask them if they agree with Bedard’s contention that “they’ll entertain the acquisition of any player, no matter his issues, as long as he is talented.’’ I wanted to know if they acknowledge things have changed in Foxborough. Do they still really think they are different?
Attempts to reach the Krafts were unsuccessful. Maybe we’ll talk about it in their luxury box at Sunday’s game.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.