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Pats team of the decade?


They are poised to become the first "team of the decade" of the 21st century. If any team in the NFL is an early favorite to win that distinction, the Patriots are certainly it.

Why? Is it because the Patriots have already won one Super Bowl title in this millennium? That's part of it, but it goes so much deeper.

The Patriots could become this decade's top team because no team in the league is operating their franchise with the efficiency with which owner Bob Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick are operating theirs.

"We are not a bunch of guys in here who really pat ourselves on the back. We sort of look at the next opponent and the next challenge," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "You look at the film from the last game and you close the door on it. That's what we want to do; close the door and forget about it."

Such is Belichick's personality: He likes to close the door and look at film. His is an undynamic – sometimes abrasive – personality that allows for nothing more than football.

It's a personality that got him fired in Cleveland. Belichick made a fatal mistake: If you're going to be all about football, you better win, and he didn't. His fate was sealed when he decided to take on Bernie Kosar, the most popular quarterback in Cleveland since Otto Graham. Never mind that Belichick was right in cutting Kosar.

In New England, Belichick has been no different; same undynamic – sometimes abrasive but not as much these days – personality that allows for nothing more than football. But he hasn't made the same fatal mistake: He's still all about football, but he's winning.

This time, getting rid of the quarterback (Drew Bledsoe) didn't cost Belichick his job because it resulted in the Patriots' winning the Super Bowl and, the following spring, cemented their future when Belichick traded that quarterback for high draft choices.

Simply put, Belichick is the game's best coach. No coach in the league has done more to put his team on firm ground for the future while, at the same time, winning in the present. And if Belichick's personality isn't dynamic, his personnel moves certainly have been.

His future drafts are loaded with extra picks, as a result of trading players such as Bledsoe and Tebucky Jones, and the Patriots' salary cap is in good health because Belichick isn't afraid to jettison high-priced players such as Lawyer Milloy. Of course, it didn't hurt that Belichick was able to replace Milloy with rookie Eugene Wilson, who has three interceptions and may be the top defensive rookie in the league this season.

The draft is at the root of Belichick's and the Patriots' genius. Because they have drafted so soundly, they are able to trade players for more picks, and cut high-priced players instead of mortgaging large chunks of their future salary caps.

This Sunday, in two-year-old Gillette Stadium, the Jaguars will get a first-hand look at the NFL's hottest team. At 11-2, the Patriots have already clinched the AFC East Division title and own the NFL's longest winning streak, nine games.

The Patriots are a top team with a sensational defense and a big-game quarterback who has a 7-0 overtime record that is the best of any quarterback in NFL history. Their coach is one of the best defensive strategists in the game's recent history, and they would clearly be the favorite to win it all again this year, if it wasn't for one distinct shortcoming: The Patriots don't have much of a running game. They are 24th in the league at running the ball, and that's not what postseason football is all about, especially cold-weather playoff football.

Yeah, they may be the best, but nobody has it all in today's NFL.

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