Commentary

'08 Patriots look better and better

Sorry state of Colts highlights what Bill Belichick accomplished without Tom Brady

Updated: October 24, 2011, 9:37 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

After the Indianapolis Colts' horrid performance Sunday night, the 2008 New England Patriots never looked so good. For those who tuned in, and then probably quickly turned off the Colts' embarrassing 62-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints, did that thought cross your mind as well?

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel and Bill Belichick
AP Photo/Michael DwyerBill Belichick guided backup QB Matt Cassel and the Patriots to an 11-5 record after losing Tom Brady for the season in Week 1.

This season's Colts motto already has been established -- "No Peyton Manning, no chance" -- and team president Bill Polian takes the hit for this one, his failure to adequately address the backup quarterback spot making this a lost season in Indianapolis.

For Patriots followers, it should lead to a greater appreciation for what the team accomplished in 2008 when Tom Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury on the 15th offensive play of the opening game. The Patriots turned to backup Matt Cassel and finished 11-5 that season. They weren't able to beat the top teams and missed the playoffs, but they were still competitive. At least they had a chance.

Now imagine what it would be like to follow the Colts this year. You're seven games in, the team is 0-7, and there's nothing to look forward to the rest of the way other than possibly being a part of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.

Clearly, the Patriots don't need anyone to toot their own horn; the consistent results in the Bill Belichick era speak loudest. Belichick has directed the Patriots to a winning record each of the past 10 seasons. The only other NFL coach to have at least 10 straight winning campaigns with one team since the 1970 merger is Tom Landry, who did it with the Dallas Cowboys from 1970 to 1985.

That consistent success is something that is highly valued by Belichick, who has built his Patriots clubs on the foundation of a strong middle class instead of one that has a few stars and a big dropoff. It has been part of his yearly message to players, that anyone can flash greatness occasionally but it's much harder to do it over an extended period of time.

This isn't to say Belichick and the Patriots don't make their share of missteps, which have been scrutinized, dissected and debated in this intense media market (Chad Ochocinco one of the latest). That's generally the way it unfolds because, for better or worse, the negative and controversial "sells" more than the positive.

But in a week that the winless Colts bottomed out and bombed in prime time, and the Raiders paid a ransom for quarterback Carson Palmer after losing starter Jason Campbell, a spotlight can be shone on what is, after three Super Bowl wins, one of the top accomplishments of the Belichick-led Patriots -- drafting and effectively grooming Cassel (a seventh-round pick) for the moment they hoped would never come.

For years, the questions were asked: How would the Patriots be different without Brady? And how would the rival Colts be different without Manning? Now we know, and although he wouldn't admit it publicly, there has to be some validation in the results for Belichick.

With Manning sidelined and the Colts sliding hard to the back of the NFL pack, the Patriots have remained in the upper tier. This makes it unlikely that the teams' Sunday night game in Foxborough, which is annually a circle-the-date event, will remain in prime time on Dec. 4. It almost certainly will be flexed to the afternoon with a more appealing, competitive game taking its place.

Meanwhile, as the Colts have scrambled at the game's most important position, the Patriots tweaked their own approach, with Belichick acknowledging earlier this year that he was risking things in 2009 and 2010 by having only Brian Hoyer behind Brady on the 53-man roster. That contributed to the team's decision to select Ryan Mallett in the third round of this year's draft, giving the team three signal-callers on the depth chart.

"I don't think you can have too much depth at that position. We've all seen what can happen there," Belichick said after making the pick. "You put your whole team at risk if you don't have a quarterback that can run it."

The Colts are finding that out the hard way, which around these parts leads to greater respect for what the Brady-less Patriots accomplished in 2008.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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