In the dog days of Summer the only major sport still playing is baseball. Sure Wimbledon is going on, but, I mean, it's tennis, who cares?
For the next month it's just baseball to hold you over until training camps start in August. So I'm here to help with some football content!
This upcoming season will be the 5th time in franchise history that the Patriots enter the year as reigning Super Bowl Champions. In one of the four previous occurrences they were able to defend their championship and repeat (2004).
With the Patriots winning yet another Super Bowl last season, it got me thinking. Thinking about all the great teams that came up short, and players who missed out on rings. Yes, the organization has been head and shoulders above it's competition since 2001. Yes, they have the greatest owner, coach and QB combo in league history, and yes, they win all the time.
However, since they've been lucky enough to hoist two more Lombardi's the last three seasons it may be easy to forget the "hard" times in Foxboro. For a decade this team did not win a Super Bowl. 10 years. It was 3 out of 4 right away, 10 years of heartbreaking and teasing, then 2 out of 3. Weird run. Yes, they were always right in the mix, but despite a lot of great teams and players they were unable to get back that mountaintop. From the 2005 to 2013 season the Patriots went to two more Super Bowls, and five more AFC championship games, but were never able to completely seal the deal. For ten seasons the Patriots had fans wondering if they'd ever win again.
Now hear me out. After they lost the 2012 AFC Championship game doubts started to really creep into my head if Brady would ever lead the Patriots to another championship. After the decline in 2013 and v early 2014 season, I really started having my doubts.
There's no denying that the Patriots have had a great ride and been the class of the league, but they too had their dark days. I'm going to sound like a spoiled brat here, but getting so close and losing is a million times worse than being a fan of shitty team. Do you have any idea what it's like to have the greatest team in NFL history become a laughing stock because some mouth-breather escaped a sack on a play that should've been blown dead to link up with a career special teamer for the greatest catch in Super Bowl history to ruin the perfect season? Or to be the best team in the NFL all year long only to lose a home playoff game to a coach with a lab band and a foot fetish? Or to have one of the 5 best players on your team get a fucking murder charge?
The Jaguars or Browns haven't dealt with anything like that.
2005-2013 Patriots were my formidable years. These were my high school and college days. Where I went from a boy to almost a grown man. While I watched and followed the first three Super Bowl champs, it was also my first years of following football. I was young and spoiled and truly didn't understand or appreciate how big of a deal what was happening was. These were the teams I really knew and followed. Which is why I think they deserve some honor and recognition. Winning the Super Bowl is fucking hard man (obviously). We've seen that with these last two rings. All the breaks that you need to go your way. The Patriots very easily could've won either Giant game or lost the Seahawks and Falcons ones.
This is a list of IMO the 10 Best Ringless Patriots of the Belichick Era. FTR I'm talking about their time as a Patriot and impact they had on the Patriots. Junior Seau is probably the best overall football player on this list, but we're talking about time with the PATRIOTS. Enough with the foreplay, let's dive in.
10. Safety #36 James Sanders 2005-2010
Sanders was a starting safety for the Patriots from 2006-2010. During his time with the Patriots he had 8 interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. Sanders was never going to be an all-pro, but for 5 years he was a very reliable safety for the Pats. Sprinkled between the end Rodney Harrison and beginning of Devin McCourty Sanders may have been forgotten by Patriot fans, but of the players from the "dark days" he was one of the more underrated and underappreciated. In 2010 he picked off Peyton Manning to seal a victory over the Colts in what would be Manning's final appearance as an Indianapolis Colt against the Patriots.
His release in 2011 came a shock to Patriot fans, much like the next man on the list.
#9. Safety #31 Brandon Meriwhether 2007-2010
Two Time Pro Bowler (09, 10)
The Party Starter!
The man who nearly killed Todd Heap, Brandon Meriweather was the Patriots 2007 first round selection. The U and 7th floor crew alum quickly saw time on special teams and as the team's third safety before the aforementioned Sanders and Harrison. By 2009 he was a Pro Bowler, as he was also in 2010, by 2011 he was out of town. When I think about Brandon Meriweather, I think of hard hits. The dude threw his body around like he could just go buy another one. In the age of taking head shots out of the game, Meriweather was one of the last true hit man in the NFL.
However his reckless style of play, while garnering him the love of Patriot fans, did not bode well with Belichick, as he was one of the final cuts going into the 2011 season. A season that saw the Patriots defense struggle for most of the year, despite a Super Bowl berth. Who knows how things could've turned out differently with one more year of the Party Starter in Foxboro. After the Patriots he bounced around with the Bears, Redskins and Giants and has been out of the league since 2015.
#8. Linebacker #55 Junior Seau 2006-2009
While definitely far past his prime in New England, Junior Seau was a key piece of the Patriots defense, especially in 2006 and 2007. He was beloved by fans and teammates alike.
After "retiring" in 2006, four days later he was a New England Patriot. Clearly looking for the one thing that had alluded his soon to be Hall of Fame NFL career, a Super Bowl ring.
In 06 & 07 Seau was part of teams who suffered two of the most heartbreaking losses in Patriots history; the 2006 AFC Championship game and Super Bowl 42. Although in 06 he did not play after breaking his arm earlier in the year.
While Junior Seau was not the same player he was in San Diego, he was a key contributor to an aging linebacking core that included Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Roosey Colvin, and Adalius Thomas (gross) both on and off the field. He should've won a Super Bowl in 2007. Broke my heart then, broke my heart now. I can still remember pregame interviews when he was talking about becoming a part of "ever" with a Super Bowl win. It never happened. Who know's how that ring could've changed things for Junior.
#7. CB #31 Aqib Talib 2012-2013
2013 Pro Bowler & 2nd Team All-Pro
Unlike everybody else on this list, Talib never played in a Super Bowl with the Patriots, and has won a Super Bowl elsewhere, as he was a member of the 2015 Denver Broncos that won Super Bowl 50. However that does not keep him off my list.
In a season and a half with the Patriots Talib absolutely changed the way the Patriots played defense. His physical man to man style opened up endless possibilities for the Patriots defensively. Talib made his name known in New England after a 59 yard pick 6 against Andrew Luck and the Colts in his first game with the Patriots.
However, Talib to me, and most Patriot fans will be remembered for his durability, or lack thereof. He got hurt in both AFC Championship games the Patriots made, drastically hurting their chances in both games. Joe Flacco absolutely lit the Patriots up after Talib went down, and the next year Peyton Manning passed for 400 yards against the Patriots with Aqib off the field after a questionable block by Broncos receiver Wes Welker (who we'll get to soon).
In 2013 Talib was a Pro Bowler and 2nd team All-Pro for the Patriots before signing with Denver in the offseason, which led to the Patriots signing Darrelle Revis en route to their Super Bowl 49 Championship. So in a way Talib laid the groundwork for high profile rental CBs for the Pats.
#6. TE #81 Aaron Hernandez 2010-2012
We all know the horrible things Hernandez did in his 27 years on earth, but he also did some incredible things on the football field when he wasn't busy shooting people in the face. Can we also talk about for a second how, idk if impressive is the right word, but remarkable it was for him to balance being a top 5 NFL tight end, and murderer for three years? Talk about time management skills. I think people have forgotten how dominant Aaron Hernandez was as a Patriot, probably, and rightly so, because of the murders.
But look at his numbers from his 3 seasons in Foxboro.
2010: 14 games 45 catches 563 yards 6 TD
2011: 14 games 79 catches 910 yards 7 TD
2012: 10 games 51 catches 483 yards 5 TD
6 games 35 catches 360 yards 2 TD
He did all of that as the 2nd tight end. There were a lot of mouths to feed during the 2010-12 run the Pats had, Welker, Branch, Gronk, Hernandez, Woodhead just to name a few, yet he still put up monster numbers for a tight end, and also could run the ball out of the backfield if they needed it.
Obviously he was a piece of shit human being and also is dead via his own hands, and horrible decision making. But as a football player for the New England Patriots Aaron Hernandez was simply incredible. It's a shame between Gronk's injuries, and Hernandez' own stupidity that we weren't able to see what they could do together for longer. In 5 years he went from catching a touchdown in the Super Bowl to a dead man. He definitely is one of the ten best players from this run to not win a Super Bowl, regardless of how shitty of a dude he was.
#5. RB #39 Danny Woodhead 2010-2012
The man who scored the Patriots other touchdown in Super Bowl 46, Danny Woodhead lands at #5.
In 2010 Woodhead became a fan favorite after the Patriots picked up from the Jets who cut him after one game that season. I mean he's a 4 foot tall white running back who played D 2 football in college, what's not to love? Danny Woodhead responded by racking up nearly 1000 yards from scrimmage in 2010 as the Patriots went 14-2 and were the #1 seed in the AFC.
In his 3 seasons with the Patriots the team went a combined 39-9 in the regular season, in large back to Woodhead's work out of the backfield, mainly as the team's 3rd down back. While he's never going to be a pound it between the tackles 25 carries a game running back, he has a specific skill set that he worked marvelously during his time in New England. It was nice to see a #39 running back who didn't suck ass after Laurence Maroney.
4. RB #42 Benjarvus Green-Ellis 2008-2011
The Law Firm!
Probably a little too high, but I don't care I loved the Law Firm and how much he meant to the Patriots during his short tenure with the club. Honestly before the top 3 I think you could have any of these guys in a different order and I could be convinced.
Benjarvus Green-Ellis was Legarrette Blount before Legarrette Blount. The Lawfirm never fumbled as a New England Patriot which earned him the trust of Belichick and Brady. In 2010 he was the Patriots first 1000 yard rusher since Corey Dillon in 2004.
What the Law Firm meant to the 2010 and 2011 Patriots earns him a spot on this list. In the 2011 AFC Championship game he scored a touchdown to help lead the Patriots to Super Bowl 46. In four seasons with the Patriots BJGE ran for over 2000 yard and 29 touchdowns. Most of it coming in his final two years with the Pats.
In 2012 his first season with the Bengals BJGE rushed for 1000 yards again, before retiring after the 2013 season.
Here's when things get dicey! For the record I think the next three guys all should be Pro Football Hall of Famers.
#3. WR #81 Randy Moss 2007-2010
2007 Pro Bowler and 1st Team All Pro
Randy Moss is the greatest wide receiver of my lifetime. Jerry Rice is the GOAT, but most of his damage was done in the 80's well before Ole Dozo was around. For my money Randy Moss is the most dominate WR I've ever seen. However after two poor seasons in Oakland many believed he was finished.
Bill Belichick did not.
He traded a 4th rounder for the Marshall University product and in exchange got the greatest season a WR has ever had. 98 receptions for nearly 1500 yards (1493) and 23 touchdowns. Moss scored in 13 of 16 regular season games.
In Super Bowl 42 Randy caught what could've and should've been the game winning touchdown for the Patriots that would've capped off a perfect season and nearly brought in a Hail Mary in the final drive.
Although times would never be as good as they were in year one, Moss still put up great numbers during his time with the Pats. At least 1000 yards every full season he played, with at least 11 tds. It's really shity Brady got hurt in 2008, we were robbed of another season between the greatest QB of all time with one of the game's best ever WR. In 2008 with Matt Cassel Moss still had 1008 yards and 11 TDs. In 2009 he again lead the NFL in touchdown receptions with 13.
Although things flamed out in 2010 and led to him being traded back to Minnesota Randy Moss still managed to have one of the greatest highlight catches of his entire career that season.
#2. WR #83 Wes Welker 2007-2012
5 Pro Bowls
4 All-Pro Teams
What sucks for Wes Welker and all the 2011 Patriots is that if he catches that 4th quarter pass from Tom Brady they are probably Super Bowl champions and this list never needs to be made. However, as well all know Tom Brady cannot throw and catch the ball as Gisele let us all know after the game. Welker who caught 672 passes in his time with the Patriots will forever be remembered for the biggest one he dropped.
Despite all of that, I believe Wes Welker is a HOF receiver for what he accomplished from his time in New England. Look at these fucking numbers.
Led the league in receptions 3 times in 6 years. Over 100 catches 5 of 6 seasons, and it would've been 6 had he not torn his ACL in early 2010 which impacted his 2010 season. Simply put Wes Welker was Mr. Reliable for the Patriots for 6 years. He got the hard yards, he was the one making catches in the trenches, getting absolutely lit up, likely taking years off his life. Welker's 2011 season is the greatest season a slot receiver has ever had in the NFL 122 receptions for nearly 1600 years. He averaged nearly 100 yards per game at a time where Tom Brady also had the two headed tight end monster of Gronk and Hernandez.
Wes Welker simply put was the best slot receiver in the NFL for 6 years, and still was pretty damn good his first year with Denver. During Welker's time in New England he was a 5 time Pro Bowler and 4 time all pro. That gets you into Canton IMO.
I hated letting him go at the time, but it ended up being the right move given his physical condition and the secret weapon the Pats had in Edelman. While Julian has two rings to Welker's 0 do not for one second think Edelman is better than Welker. Without Welker there is no Julian Edelman. Wes Welker is the 2nd best Patriot to not win a Super Bowl during the Belichick era and IMO is one of 9 Hall of Famers the Patriots should have from the entire Belichick-Brady run. (Brady, Wilfork, Seymour, Law, Moss, Welker, Seau, Revis, and the final man of this list)
#1. LG #70 Logan Mankins
6 Pro Bowls
6 All-Pro Teams
Logan Mankins was the Patriots 1st round draft pick after winning Super Bowl 39 in 2005. After his shocking trade in 2014 the Patriots went onto win the Super Bowl. His career with New England was book ended by Super Bowl wins in the season before and after his arrival. During the years between there was no guard in the NFL better than Logan Mankins.
A mainstay of the Patriots offensive line, Mankins was a Pro Bowler in 2007, 2009-2013, he also voted to the All Pro team in those seasons as well. Mankins helped protect Brady for 9 seasons at an elite level, most notably his 2011 season where Mankins played the entire year with a torn ACL without telling anybody. Total bad ass. He tore his MCL in the playoffs that year and still played through the pain in hopes of winning a Super Bowl. It never happened, but Mankins did all he could to try. A well respected leader on and off the field IMO Logan Mankins is the 2nd best offensive linemen in Patriots team history after John Hannah. I think he has the resume to make it to Canton, but given the position that he played and the fact that he is the poster child of ringless Patriots from this era may hurt his cause.
What do you think? Who did I miss? Who's too high or too low? Let me know what you think! Thanks for reading!