Wednesday, June 19, 2013
By Mike Lowe firstname.lastname@example.org
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- So what's next for the New England Patriots?
PACKING UP: New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork walks past boxes of gear in the locker room Monday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots wrap up their season after Sunday’s night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game.
Where do they go from here?
The team that was once considered a dynasty after three Super Bowl championships in four years in the early years of this century continues to be very good, but not good enough to win another title.
It's now been eight years since the Patriots won their last Super Bowl and Sunday night's 28-13 home beatdown to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game was certainly one of the most jarring losses New England has had in a long time.
"That's the NFL," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "The last game -- (if) you're playing a game this time of year -- (it's) either euphoria or crash landing. For us yesterday, it was crash landing. A year ago at this time, it was the other feeling.
"It's one or the other; there's no in between. There's certainly no soft landing. A season that's very much alive and with great hopes and expectations and energy suddenly crashes and it's over. That's the way it is."
So on Monday, instead of preparing for a trip to New Orleans to take on the San Francisco 49ers, the Patriots were filling empty cardboard boxes and beginning their off-season.
"It's on to next year," Belichick said.
For players like defensive end Rob Ninkovich -- the one guy who could be counted on all season to make big plays -- that means taking a couple of weeks off "to get my body right" and then starting the long process to get back to this point.
"You've got to move on," he said. "You can't really dwell on everything that happened to us. You've got to move on from it. You hope that the guys who were in the game learn from their mistakes and their experience from getting to the AFC and how it hurts.
"I'm going to keep working to get back and have a better year next year."
The Patriots have a lot of decisions to make. They have 31 free agents (including the eight players on the practice squad and two on injured reserve). The biggest?
Wide receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Aqib Talib, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, running back Danny Woodhead, wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Kyle Arrington.
On paper, Welker and Talib look to be the biggest ones, but will also likely cost the most. Welker is certainly one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, someone that quarterback Tom Brady has called "the heart and soul" of the team. Talib made the Patriots defense measurably better after he was acquired in a Nov. 1 trade.
When he left the AFC championship game with a tweak of his right hamstring with 5:10 left in the first quarter -- "It just wasn't strong enough to return," he said on Monday -- the game swung dramatically in the Ravens' favor.
Do the Patriots spend a lot to bring them both back? And what about Vollmer, who has developed into one of the league's better right tackles?
"We will not make any decisions on any players into the future now," Belichick said. "You just can't do it. There are too many factors, too many unknown things."
Talib, while addressing the media, said his situation will play out later.
"I had a lot of fun," said Talib. "The most fun I've had playing football in a long time. I definitely enjoy being a Patriot. Right now I'm in the training room with the guys, having fun. Free agency doesn't start until March. Till then, I'm a Patriot."
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