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The New England Patriots were gradually starting to become a franchise with expectations in the latter part of the 1970s. Thus, while they were a far cry from a dynasty, they had played consistently well enough to merit excitement at the start of each season.
The Pats had talent, starting with left tackle John Hannah, a 1st-team All-Pro and in the conversation as the greatest offensive lineman of all time. Defensively, there weren’t any Pro Bowlers in 1981, but inside linebacker Steve Nelson had achieved that designation previously and the corners were very talented, with Raymond Clayborn and Mike Haynes both having lockdown ability. In spite of all this, the Patriots were mediocre on offense (15th in the NFL in points scored) and subpar on defense (22nd in points allowed).
New England opened the season at home with the Baltimore Colts and in spite of playing a bad team, the Pats allowed 249 yards on the ground and dropped a 29-28 decision.
Grogan threw three interceptions at Philly and had been relieved by Matt Cavanaugh, the quarterback of Pitt’s 1976 national championship team, but mostly unaccomplished in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers were falling into mediocrity, two years removed from the last Super Bowl title of the Steel Curtain era, but they jumped out to a 14-zip lead on New England. New England’s season had already slipped away—no team had ever made the playoffs after an 0-4 start and that streak would hold until the San Diego Chargers pulled it off in 1992.
The rush defense was no better, but this time the Patriots answered with a potent ground game of their own, as Collins led an attack that piled up 240 yards. New England traveled to old Shea Stadium to face the New York Jets, who were trying to recover from a slow start themselves, having begun the year 1-3-1.
The Johnson-to-Morgan passing combination worked to create another touchdown pass the next week at home against the Houston Oilers.
The calendar went to December and though New England was a miserable 2-11, there was still a chance to play spoiler, with a road game in Miami and home date with Buffalo.
The 1981 season was misery for New England, with the bookend losses to Baltimore—a much more horrific team, who set defensive records for incompetence—being the lowlight point. In fairness to New England, Sims was a consensus #1 choice, and they aren’t the only team who would have made the mistake.
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Tom Brady, husband of supermodel Gisele Bündchen, could be done with the New England Patriots sooner than you think if reported tension grows within the team. In an astonishing report today by ESPN, there is strain between Tom and the coaches, which could lead the veteran quarterback to finish his playing career with another team. In another shocking report, by CBS Sports, everyone on the team is not "untouchable," including coach Bill Belichick and Tom himself.
Mortensen also reported that Tom is unhappy with the decisions made in regards to the players signed by the team in recent years.
The Patriots are a disappointing 2-2 so far this year with an important Sunday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Do you believe all the drama going on with the Patriots and Tom, or is the media blowing it out of proportion?
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ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that there is growing tension between Tom Brady and the coaching staff, as his input on the offensive game plans has been greatly diminished after the loss of longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins. Mortensen added to the report, saying that two sources informed him that when the Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round of this year’s draft, they did not select him simply to be a backup and then a trade chip. CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora also reported on Brady on Sunday, saying the 37-year-old quarterback still plans to play into his 40s. Regardless, it’s clear that as the Patriots prepared to host the Bengals on Sunday night, their 2-2 record and embarrassing performance on Monday Night Football last week has the team in various levels of unrest. Tom Brady was not a happy camper Sunday after the New England Patriots blew a 10-point halftime lead and lost to the Miami Dolphins by a score of 33-20. It is certainly understandable that Brady and company were profoundly disappointed by such a woeful second-half performance and subsequent loss, but it’s how the Patriots veteran signal-caller dealt with his disappointment that is somewhat curious.
Gisele apparently was not a fan of Brady sporting the scruffy look, which makes it surprising that the facial hair lasted as long as it did. No photographs have surfaced as of yet documenting the quarterback’s  impulsive transition from Bearded Brady to freshly-scrubbed, Clean Cut Tommy.

One thing I do know, however, is that Brady’s decision to shave his beard is the most controversial development involving his appearance since Black Eye-Gate last October.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick listens to a reporter's question during a media availability at the NFL football team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Oct.
How Castonzo has allowed just six sacks over the last two years is anyone’s guess, considering the enormous amount of pass attempts (1,243) the Colts have racked up during that time. Hughes received his net worth in a new deal this offseason, and he earned it as a member of the best defensive line in football. Star Lotulelei was supposed to be the stud on the interior of the Panthers’ defensive line, but fellow 2013 draftee Short has arguably been more effective.
Nelson represents the true value of free agency, a reminder that it’s not all about the Ndamukong Suhs of the world. You know a guy is unheralded when he is an underrated punter; punters are anonymous already. That’s what makes the complete collapse of the 1981 New England Patriots even more disheartening. They had balance at the skill positons, with fullback Sam Cunningham and a good rookie in Tony Collins in the backfield.
But even those disappointing ranks should have at least given the team a respectable record.
The next game was in Philadelphia, where the Eagles were coming off a Super Bowl appearance and would get off to a 6-0 start in 1981. Cavanaugh got the call for a Monday Night home date with the Dallas Cowboys and threw four interceptions of his own. The Patriots still trailed 21-7 when Cavanaugh rallied the offense to tie the game, forcing overtime on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Morgan. Another running back, Andy Johnson, got in the act with the passing game, finding Morgan for a touchdown on a halfback pass. More important, Collins outrushed the great Houston back Earl Campbell and the Pats won going away, 38-10. When New England gave up a punt return for a touchdown, the Patriots ended up on the wrong side of a 24-22 final. But the inability to run the ball caught up with the Pats in the fourth quarter and the Raiders won 27-17. Grogan got the game off to a strong start, hitting Morgan on a 76-yard touchdown pass and the Patriots led 17-6 against a team that would ultimately win the AFC East and get the 2-seed in the playoffs. Another AFC East rival squarely in the mix of the playoff race was the Buffalo Bills, the defending divisional champs who would be a wild-card this year. They were tied 14-14 with the Dolphins, but the typically poor rush defense again caught up with the Pats in the fourth quarter of a 24-14 loss.
Whether that career continues with the Patriots is a question that is now being asked within NFL circles.
Though he’s fully capable of blocking on passing or rushing downs, Sherman has been particularly effective leading the way for star running back Jamaal Charles. The second-year pro caught 76 balls for 1,210 yards — with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum and the legendary Tom Savage chucking him the ball. After Carson Palmer was hurt, Floyd was left to work with Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley — and yet, Floyd succeeded. Among tight ends in the AFC, Walker’s total tally of 890 receiving yards was second only to Rob Gronkowski.
Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin will continue to overshadow Free’s solid play.
He and teammate Marshal Yanda formed the top guard tandem in pro football last year, as both were maulers in the run game. Moreover, he is a principal figure in Houston’s run game, creating seams for Arian Foster to knife through, time and again. That’s baffling, especially when you remember he pre-dates Luke Kuechly and pretty much every notable defender in Carolina outside of Thomas Davis. Perhaps only the Jets can claim their unit is equal to the group in Buffalo, and Hughes’ 20 sacks over the last two seasons have played a big part in that success.
Sacks might make headlines, but you can’t get those if your opponents are facing too many third-and-shorts.

Speaking of Wagner, how many Seahawks defenders get at least 10 times the press given to Wright?
At 33 years old, the former Jaguar is the oldest player on our list, having entered the league back in 2004. Yet, when you think about the reigning Super Bowl champs, Collins is probably the 10th player you think of. He faced stiff competition, edging out Mike Adams and James Ihedigbo, among others, simply because he is almost never mentioned on TV or radio or in print.
Instead, the 1981 New England Patriots mastered the art of losing close games and the losses just piled up, all the way to the number one pick in the ensuing spring’s NFL draft. Facing a 1st-team All-NFL running back in Tony Dorsett, it’s no surprise that the defense continued to get muscled up front, again allowing over 200 yards in a 35-21 loss. The following week in Washington, they were in position to get some momentum, when they jumped out to an early lead against a lowly Redskins team. Just as the Jets game gave an opponent new life, this one did the same for the Redskins—they stormed on to finish 8-8 after losing the first five and one year later won the Super Bowl. But Grogan also threw four interceptions, the rush defense again allowed 200-plus yards and the game went to overtime tied 27-27.
New England was competitive on the road, with the improbable Andy Johnson-to-Stanley Morgan passing combo producing its third touchdown of the year on a 56-yard play. Their problems came early against Buffalo, giving up a couple early touchdowns in a 19-10 defeat.
New England drafted defensive tackle Kenneth Sims out of Texas, who proved to be a monumental bust.
But given how disappointing the 1981 season was in Foxboro regardless, the draft legacy was just one more dose of salt in the wound.
Perhaps a triumphant return of the facial hair will occur someday … so long as Gisele is cool with it.
Larry Fitzgerald still gets the headlines in the desert, but Floyd is the Cardinals’ WR1.
Players like Harrison clog the middle, leading to early-down stuffs that turn into third-and-throws. Still, there can be no question that Short has been a force inside in Carolina’s rotation.
Because he should be given the status of a Richard Sherman or a Darrelle Revis — more so, I would say, than the widely lauded Patrick Peterson. Blanton secured over 100 stops last season, and you could count on one hand how many he missed.
Even the three years where they missed the playoffs (1977, 1979, 1980) were marked by winning seasons. Steve Grogan was at quarterback, and while he was mistake-prone, he also had a demonstrated capacity to be prolific. These two division rivals, within a half-game of each other coming in, would go in opposite direction.
Allen, of course, would be a Super Bowl MVP by 1983, a league MVP by 1985 and make the Hall of Fame. A decisive runner, Forsett averaged nearly 5 yards per carry even before his breakout last season. He racked up 116 tackles, four sacks, four forced fumbles, two picks and two recoveries in 2014. DeMarco and Dez might have gotten the buzz this offseason, but Big Blue sure noticed Harris come free agency, inking him to a five-year, $17.5 million deal. The former Notre Dame first-rounder is also a well-known commodity whereas Blanton, who’s effective against the run, is anonymous.

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