One of the most heated debates among New England Patriots fans is which team was better, the 2003/2004 squad or the 2007 version. The argument usually comes down to dominant defense versus a high-scoring offense, but what is truly underlying the divide is how much you value toughness in a football team.
I, for one, sit on on the fence on this one. It all depends on whose rules they’re playing by. In 2004, the team would win because they would rough up the receivers. By 2007, they couldn’t do that without getting called on every play. Despite those rules, however, toughness does still matter in professional football.
And for the first time in a long time, Tom Brady and the Patriots are the team coming into a game with the clear-cut advantage in the toughness department. Of course, it’s fitting their opponent is Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Manning spent the ’03 and ’04 seasons being the punching bag for those tough, defensive-minded Patriots championship teams. Now he once again comes into the contest as the leader of the less tough team, but this time it isn’t the Patriots’ defense that is going to rough up his squad.
This time it’s the New England offense that is going to push around the Broncos. The Patriots have finally found a power running game which is yet another example of why Bill Belichick is the best coach in the league. Belichick is so good because he’s always ahead of the curve. He sees what’s coming down the line and adjusts to it.
For a man known as being a curmudgeon, he’s actually the most flexible man in football. He knew one of the reasons his team was continually disappointing in the playoffs was their lack of toughness, and he went out and fixed it.
It’s been the hidden secret of Patriots fans for a while now. Their team might be the most talented year in and year out, but that talent hasn’t always led to championships. This time around they find themselves at a skill-level disadvantage but with a decisive advantage in the toughness department.
If history is any indication, that toughness advantage will be the reason they find themselves getting ready for the Super Bowl after Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.