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|Missing the leadership of veterans like Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour, the Patriots' defense seemed rudderless at times, none more so than Sunday against the Ravens.|
“The Seymour deal sent ripples through the locker room, highlighting the often-sensitive divide between management and players. Receiving a 2011 first-round draft choice was a steal, one that will help the franchise's goal of sustained success, but what did it say to the players who were thinking about the here and now? As for Vrabel, it was clear to many that he was declining on third down, but it now seems as if the Patriots were looking at things backward. Vrabel's toughness on first and second downs, against the run as an edge-setter, was something the 2009 team sorely lacked and that alone would have been worth keeping him around, especially given the minimal return in his trade to Kansas City. Not to mention that Vrabel could have helped in the transition to a young defense that was learning on the job. That's where Bill Belichick's planning for 2010 can start. This team, first and foremost, needs more Vrabel-type toughness. The box score doesn't lie: The Ravens ran 62 plays Sunday and 52 were runs. It was nothing fancy, it was simply here we come, try to stop us. That the Patriots couldn't was stunning, given that toughness and run-stopping is a trademark of a Belichick-coached defense. Other priorities for the future include a major focus on the pass rush and giving Brady more weapons to throw to at receiver while factoring in Wes Welker's recovery from torn knee ligaments. The Patriots have some good ammunition with which to work -- their own first-round draft choice and three second-rounders. In the event there is no salary cap, they also won't be restricted in free agency: The final eight playoff teams, a group the Patriots are not part of, won't be able to sign a free agent unless they lose one. The top players with contracts expiring are Wilfork, defensive end Jarvis Green, offensive guard Stephen Neal, running back Kevin Faulk, cornerback Leigh Bodden, defensive end Derrick Burgess, tight end Benjamin Watson and pass rusher Tully Banta-Cain. Guard Logan Mankins and kicker Stephen Gostkowski also have expiring contracts, but if there is no salary cap, as expected, they will revert to restricted free agents, making it a near certainty they will return to New England. Wilfork acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding his situation.
I think it's something that we all reflect on and individually, that's where we have to make more of a commitment to each other. I think [for the] guys that are going to be here next year -- the 2010 version of the team -- it's going to be something we can learn from this year.” -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, on the team's lack of mental toughness and leadership and discipline and commitment at times this season