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By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO -- Remember that quaint little story from late July?
The one where we found out Bill Belichick put "expunge past" at the top of his 2010 offseason to-do list, the pictures of Ty Law and Willie McGinest were torn down and the holes in the walls left by Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi's pregame helmet-swinging were spackled over?
Remember? Yeah? Well it worked. This 2010 team is THE Patriots. But it's not THOSE Patriots. The cord's been cut. The wistfulness and wishful thinking -- at least in the locker room and coaches offices -- are done. They aren't looking back anymore.
"Yes, absolutely, I would agree with that," Bill Belichick told me Monday afternoon when I asked if the page has finally been flipped. "These guys don't...they're just trying to go out there and do their best. Whatever kind of personality our team has it's new. It's been created. There isn't a lot of carryover or as much carryover as we've been used to in the past."
Look, nobody likes to hear some writer who hasn't bought a ticket or sat in the stands at a Patriots game in more than 15 years giving pointers on what should be "appreciated." I get that. But I'm going to make an observation here.
People are missing the boat on just how remarkable this season has been so far.
The Patriots haven't played this far over their heads since 2001 yet few people seem to be getting how much they've accomplished.
It happens. For God's sake, including playoffs they're 119-36 since Tom Brady became Belichick's quarterback.
Joe Montana went 114-44 in his 13-year run with the 49ers under Bill Walsh. As far as I'm concerned, Montana and Walsh's Niners of the '80s and early '90s are the gold standard you compare any quarterback/coach/franchise to. And the Patriots have exceeded them.
Yet all the excellence since 2001, those days and nights in the cold and the snow here in Foxboro, in the sunshine out in San Diego, in the hostile ugly of Pittsburgh or the antiseptic dome in Indy, they've all been smeared together. Our little mental hard drives are full.
So instead of appreciating something that happens now and letting it stand on its own merits, it's immediately put up for comparison with something we saw before.
Patrick Chung brings a Harrisonian intensity. Rob Ninkovich could be Vrabellian in his contributions. This guy's not Ty Law. That guy's not Asante Samuel. Where will they find another McGinest or Seymour?
We keep relating what we see now to what we watched from 2001 through 2007 because that period's Patriots are the measuring stick for excellence.
But it's not a fair comparison anymore. This struck me Sunday and Monday. The 2010 Patriots shouldn't be expected to deliver excellence even if Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the quarterback and head coach.
Look at all the guys on IR (Leigh Bodden, Ty Warren, Stephen Gostkowski, Kevin Faulk).
Look at the youth on their defense and at all those skill positions because of bad drafts from 2006 to 2008.
Who the hell is left from the glory days?
And yet we're going to wonder why an offense with Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis at running back, rookies at tight end, a first-year wideout (Brandon Tate), a brittle wideout (Deion Branch) and a still-recovering one (Wes Welker) can't close out the Indianapolis Colts?
We're going to tsk, tsk and cluck-cluck about a defense with scrubs and rookies at every spot except safety, inside linebacker and nose tackle when they get lit up by Peyton Manning?
I don't know if I heard this on Monday: "Holy crap, they've beaten Baltimore in OT a week after trading Randy Moss, San Diego on the road, Miami on the road, Pittsburgh on the road and the Colts and Vikings at home with THESE guys?"
There was some shoe-peeing over the offense going stagnant on the final three drives. And eye-rolling over the defense allowing Indy receivers to wander in wide open spaces and convert 11 of 14 third downs.
Monsignor Felger even said on 98.5 The Sports Hub Monday afternoon that the Patriots choking on offense set the stage for the Colts to choke.
Look, the Patriots didn't drape themselves in glory down the stretch on either side of the ball. But there's a difference between failure to execute and an outright choke.
You can go chapter and verse on all the new parts Indy's trying to work with on offense and all the injuries they've got. Three retorts to that.
1. The Colts are running the same offense they've run since 2000 with the same set of coaches. The Patriots aren't.
2. The injuries and spare part utilization on both sides are fairly similar this season.
3. The Colts are 6-4 and out of the playoffs right now. And they haven't beaten anybody yet.
When the Patriots are an unlikeable and underachieving team -- and they were both those things in 2009 -- it's easy to point that out. But right now they're overachieving.
Yet the demand for "more" seems stronger than appreciation for what they're doing.
The 2010 Patriots have already done a lot. The biggest things? Cutting the cord to the past. Ceasing to compare themselves to the 2001-2007 teams and their players. Expecting success because of the uniform.
And the funny thing is? These Patriots are doing those Patriots proud.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Tom on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tomecurran