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When Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain suggested earlier this week that the New England Patriots are "just a finesse team," he likely didn't mean it as harshly as it sounded. Unfortunately, there are few adjectives crueler in the football lexicon.
The insinuation is essentially that a finesse team is soft and masks its lack of toughness with a skilled approach (most often on the offensive side of the ball). For the better part of the past decade, including their march to three Super Bowl titles, the Patriots preyed on finesse teams, their toughness helping them overcome a general lack of star power.
Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts were a finesse team. Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams were a finesse team.
Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said as much. Dig back into the archives from New England's first Super Bowl triumph during the 2001 season and you'll find this quote from Bruschi after the Patriots stunned the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI: "It was force versus finesse, and something had to give. It wasn't too complicated. We just concentrated on hitting them hard."
McClain's comment suggests that, somewhere along the line, the Patriots went from being a lunch pail-toting group of overachievers with a smashmouth defense to some version of the Greatest Show on Turf, an offensive juggernaut with little defensive backbone.