As we waited to find out who the Patriots would draw in the Divisional Round, the three of us at Foxboro Blog decided to have a little "round table" discussion to look back at some of the more memorable moments in 2010. Up first is the topic of the season's "biggest surprise".
Rick: On the offensive side of the ball, I am going to go with Danny Woodhead. The reason I use Woodhead is because being in New York, I got the chance to watch this kid whether it be on Hard Knocks or in Jets' preseason games and I wondered when would this kid get a chance. It turns out he had to go from a secret giver to a guy who had to step in for one of the best Patriots' running backs ever in Kevin Faulk, particularly on third downs. Woodhead has been vital both in the run game and on the receiving ends on third downs because he always fought for that extra yard to keep a drive alive. For example, you can look at the game against the Vikings when Woodhead got a huge first down with the team up 21-18 in the 4th quarter.
Jason: My biggest surprise on offense would have to be Deion Branch. When the Patriots brought him back into the fold after trading away Randy Moss, the move was met with a collective shrug across the league. All he's done since coming back is post a 48-700-5 line in 11 games and be arguably Brady's most reliable option in the passing game. It's hard to envision the team being 14-2 without him.
Derek: I'd have to say that the biggest surprise this season is Tom Brady. Yeah, we all knew that he was a great quarterback, but this great? After losing the 2008 season due to injury and a 2009 that was lackluster by his standard, I don't think anyone saw his performance this season coming. In many respects, 2010 has been even better than his legendary 2007 effort. What's even more mind-boggling is that through the first four games, the Patriots weren't looking so hot. They beat Cincinnati, but then lost to the Jets, struggled in a win over Buffalo, and looked pretty anemic in the first half against Miami before the special teams fireworks went off. So you have a team that is looking a little shaky, and then you take away the quarterback's #1 target. Seems like a recipe for disaster, right? Not for Tom Brady. He only leads his team to an 11-1 record the rest of the way, while putting up numbers, the likes of which this league has never seen. Pretty surprising!
Rick: On the defensive side of the ball, I will go with cornerback Devin McCourty. For one, I think he has a real case for defensive rookie of the year in the NFL. With the injuries to Leigh Bodden and Brandon McGowan in the secondary, this team needed a playmaker in that spot. I think back to draft day when New England kept trading their picks and passed up on WR Dez Bryant. I was screaming for Bryant and was somewhat disappointed when McCourty was taken. However, watching this kid at Rutgers University, he was a playmaker in the return game as well as making interceptions into touchdowns. He had seven interceptions this year, one shy of a Patriot record, but his ability to cover big time receivers like Calvin Johnson, Braylon Edwards, and Greg Jennings is what improved over the course of the year
Jason: On defense, McCourty is the obvious choice, but I'd like to focus on the guy on the other side of the field. Kyle Arrington really came out of nowhere to claim a starting spot opposite McCourty, and he has done a serviceable job as a starter since Week 3, racking up 83 tackles. His pick six against Green Bay was a bit overshadowed by Crazy Legs Dan Connolly's wild kickoff return, but that defensive TD turned out to be the difference in the game. Darius Butler has been showing steady improvement and is pushing Arrington to reclaim his starting spot, but that is a good problem to have.
Derek: McCourty and Arrington have both been huge for this team and definitely worth noting. In the spirit of being different, I'll go with the defensive line. We all knew that Big Vince Wilfork was going to be the foundation of the D-line, but there were some big questions this off-season when it was announced that Pro-Bowler Ty Warren would be going on season-ending IR. Veteran Gerrard Warren stepped in and the defensive line hasn't missed a beat. Despite continued injuries throught the season, a rotation of Kyle Love, Myron Pryor, Mike Wright, and Ron Brace has filled in admirably. Not many teams have had big rushing days against the Patriots, and the team has been much better at putting pressure on opposing QB's. I don't think anyone saw that coming from this patchwork D-line.