New England Patriots: Ranking the top 5 defenses of the 21st century

Kyle Van Noy #53 of the New England Patriots celebrates with his teammates Terrence Brooks #25, Stephon Gilmore #24 and Matthew Slater #18 (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Kyle Van Noy #53 of the New England Patriots celebrates with his teammates Terrence Brooks #25, Stephon Gilmore #24 and Matthew Slater #18 (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /
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New England Patriots
The New England Patriots 2006 defense (Photo by Joe Murphy/NFLPhotoLibrary) /

New England Patriots top defense No. 4: 2006

The fact that the 2006 New England Patriots even made it to the AFC Championship game was impressive, and could they have held onto a 21-6 halftime lead over the Indianapolis Colts, they probably would have had another Super Bowl to add to their collection. While the Pats defense was a big reason for their untimely downfall this season, that also ignores the fact that this team would certainly not have made it as far as they did without their contributions.

The 2006 defense finished seventh in DVOA and second in overall scoring (they allowed just 14.8 points per game), making them one of the best squads in the league. The Pats offense didn’t have the firepower they would have just one season later (Reche Caldwell was their leading receiver with 760 yards), which made it absolutely vital that the defense stepped up and delivered. And boy did they ever.

The Patriots defense wasn’t as dominant as they had been in seasons past, but they had a truly solid cast of characters leading the way. Richard Seymour was the only player to earn Pro Bowl honors, and as we will see in a minute, there was absolutely no way that should have been the case. Seymour finished the season with just four sacks, but he was pretty much constantly in the opposing teams backfield, picking up 12 QB hits and eight tackles for a loss.

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The attention Seymour drew helped open things up for the rest of the front seven, and they delivered. Rosevelt Colvin led the team with 8.5 sacks, with Ty Warren and Jarvis Green both right behind him with 7.5. It was a very balanced pass rush that always seemed to deliver when called upon.

Colvin teamed up with Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi to form one of the better linebacker corps this team had ever seen. Bruschi logged his fifth and final 100+ tackle season, leading the team with 112, while Vrabel picked up 89 tackles and 4.5 sacks, establishing himself as one of the most versatile linebackers in the game.

The secondary was led by cornerback Asante Samuel who had a breakout season that should have ended with Pro Bowl honors. Samuel was targeted all season long, but he turned that into a league leading 10 interceptions and 24 deflected passes. While the rest of the secondary wasn’t as solid, Samuel’s presence helped limit what opposing offenses could do in the air.

The 2006 Patriots will be remembered for throwing away a great shot to add to their Super Bowl tally, which results in the defense not really getting the credit they deserve. With the focus shifting towards the offense afterwards, this was really the last great defensive squad New England had for awhile. If it weren’t for their collapse against the Colts, they probably would be remembered as such.