Seven years ago, the New England Patriots hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Since that fateful day, every single season has ended in an absolute gut-wrenching fashion. Now, with New England playing in its seventh Super Bowl, Brady, Belichick, and the rest of the Patriots have the opportunity to finally put those lost seasons to rest by achieving the ultimate redemption. But before they do, I wanted to take a moment to revisit each and every one of those six seasons of pain. I’ve been covering the Patriots since 2002, and at the end of every season, I took the time to reflect on the final game and the season as a whole. For the next six days, I’ll be re-running the end-of-the-season article from the past six years. It’s time to rip open the scabs and pout salt in these old wounds. Because until you’ve spent time in the valley, you’ll never appreciate the view from the top of the world.
Written on January 16th, 2011
It’s hard to believe the Patriots’ 2010 run is over. After looking so good for so long, the season came to a grinding halt. Making matters even worse is that they lost to the their hated rival, the Jets, and opened the door for a solid eight straight months of smack talk regardless of whether the Jets win the Super Bowl or get ousted next week. Then again, I doubt Rex Ryan and the Jets would have shut up even if the Patriots had won 45-3 again. I’ve got a lot to get off my chest, so I’m just going to move forward with it. I had kept pretty quiet all week, mostly due to a busy schedule, so there’s a lot to cover.
We’ll start with my thoughts on the game.
- I had feared for weeks that Tom Brady’s interceptionless streak would be broken at the worst possible time. Even though the Jets didn’t get any points off the 1st quarter Brady pick, it did appear to be a potential game-changer. The INT definitely killed what would have almost certainly been a New England scoring drive. The key for the Patriots was to get points on the board early and force Sanchez to try to play catch-up. It was just an awful throw by Brady. There was still a lot of football to be played afterwards, but that pick was certainly very costly.
- On a similar note, the drop by Algie Crumpler in the end zone on the next drive was also very costly. If Brady doesn’t throw that pick and Algie catches that ball, you’re looking at a 10-0 or 14-0 lead. Don’t tell me that a lead like that wouldn’t have ruffled the Jets game plan. (Although props to Algie for hustling and making the tackle on the Brady pick to save the TD.)
- The fake punt towards the end of the first half might have been the dumbest play call I’ve ever seen by this team. Apparently, Pat Chung has the green light to call fake punts when he sees a favorable formation from the defense. Favorable or not though, it’s just not a smart call in a four point game with barely any time left in the half. A 7-3 deficit at half time is nothing to worry about, especially when you’re getting the ball to start the 3rd quarter. There was no need to risk giving the Jets favorable field position, which they then used to push the lead to 14-3 and really put the pressure on. I’m at least glad to hear that it was Pat Chung who called the play and not Belichick, or I’d really have to question our coach’s judgement. Whether a criticial decision should be left up to a 2nd year player is another story, but at least it wasn’t Belichick making a dumb call.
- The Patriots managed to recover them, but the two fumbles they had would have really killed them if the Jets had pounced on them. The Patriots were very fortunate that this was just a one-turnover game. Over all, their ball security was very out of character. For a team that’s 82-3 in the past decade when winning the turnover battle and shattered the record for fewest turnovers in a season this year, it was very disappointing.
- The biggest game-changing play came early in the 4th quarter. The Pats had clawed their way to a touchdown, hit on the two-point conversion and appeard to have the momentum shifted back their way. Then Sanchez nailed Jericho Cotchery for a 58 yard gain, which was the key to a 5-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Overall, the Jets didn’t do a whole lot to move the ball down the field. Their other three touchdown drives were 49, 37, and 20 yards, respectively. That early 4th quarter drive was the one point where this Patriots defense caved and allowed the Jets to pull off a long scoring drive. After that, the clock became the Patriots’ enemy.
- Still, down ten points, with over 10 minutes to play, the Patriots were far from finished. What did kill them was a late-game drive lasting 7:45 where they walked away with no points. I don’t know what was going on here, but apparently the Patriots decided to take a page from the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, and show absolutely no urgency while trailing by a two-possession deficit. With the amount of time that they took, even a touch down would have made things tight time-wise. It was just awful clock-management from a team that so often excels in that area.
- Deion Branch dropping that 4th and 13 ball… Just killer. This was the only game of the season where I missed Randy Moss. The Patriots just weren’t explosive at all tonight.
- The Pats were essentially going “all-in” on that first onside kick. If they didn’t recover it, they would have to burn their timeouts and really make a long march down the field, which they had showed no ability to do. Cromartie ended up recovering and set-up another touchdown with his long return. I know it’s 20/20 hindsight at this point, and if the Pats recover, which they almost did, we might have seen over time, but I think the safter play would have been a deep kick, pinning the Jets, and getting decent field position to move towards a final score. The Patriots, after all, did end up tacking on a TD with a late drive there in the final moments.
- Overall, a turnover, dropped balls, that dumb fake punt, and poor clock management killed this team. Very, very un-Patriot-like.
My thoughts on the Jets…
- Antonio Cromartie’s expletive-laden comments about Tom Brady: classless. I don’t know why the NFL didn’t fine him for that. That can’t be what they want coming from their players. The way I see it, at least Tom Brady supports the children he’s fathered and knows their names.
- Bart Scott threatening Wes Welker: even more classless.
- I’ll give credit to Mark Sanchez for managing the game well and not making any dumb mistakes. And, by the way, I absolutely love Mark Sanchez. I mean, imagine how good the Jets would be with a real quarterback. He basically helps the Jets “not lose” most of their games, including tonight. He got the W, but outside of a few throws, didn’t really light the world on fire. If the Jets manage to down Manning, Brady, and Roethlisberger in three straight games, it’s not going to be because they had a better quarterback.
- When the Jets scored their last big touchdown, they cut to a shot of Rex Ryan hobbling down the side line towards his players. Phil Simms wondered if he had an injured leg. I’m pretty sure that’s just how 400 lb. people walk.
- The AFC Championship: Cromartie, Rapistberger, Santionio Holmes…
Pretty tough pill to swallow, when you see scummy guys get rewarded. If you throw Ray Lewis into the mix, the Pats were probably the only one of the final four AFC teams that didn’t have a prominent player on the roster who probably would be in jail if he weren’t an NFL player and gotten off the hook for his crimes.
My thoughts on the Patriots…
- Just a phenomenal season. Well, at least regular season. Perhaps the only 16-game run I enjoyed more was 2003, where the Pats also went 14-2 and strung together some phenomenal last-second victories. 2007 was fun, but also very stressful with the winning streak and did have a bit of an “angry” tone to it. This was just unexpected and fun, with a great group of young guys. There’s definitely a lot to look forward to with this team.
- You won’t hear me say this often, but Rex Ryan had a great point about the Jets having 190-something playoff games under their belts, and the Patriots only have 100-something. You figure the bulk of the Patriots’ games belonged to Brady, Branch, Wilfork and the O-line. For all the “tradition” that this franchise has accumulated over the past decade, most of the Patriots players were either in their first playoff game, or had only last year’s Baltimore debacle on their resume. I think that had a lot to do with the “tightness” and “out of character” play we saw from the Pats.
- Would have loved to see more of Rob Gronk and Hernandez tonight. I felt the Pats really got away from that. Maybe it was a result of the Jets’ defensive scheme, but I felt that there was too much forcing the ball to Woodhead and BJGE, not enough plays to our rookie tight ends, and definitely not enough play-action.
- The Patriots lost two games to the Jets, and one to the Browns. All three games featured a similar scheme to get the Patriots off their game plan. This is a copy cat league, so Bill Belichick better figure out a way to counter this type of attack.
- I’m glad Belichick benched Welker to start the game. I was pretty disappointed with his “foot” routine. Look, I’m all for trash-talking and making fun of our opponents on this blog, but I’d rather not hear it from the players. There was no need to stoop down to the Jets’ level on this one. I don’t want to sound like I’m on a high horse or anything. I just don’t like the fact that our locker room didn’t keep up the brick wall. Welker’s act just showed the Jets that their words had gotten to the Patriots. While Ryan let profanity and threats go unpunished, Bill took even the most subtle of jabs seriously. No question who’s the class-act there.
- Six picks in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft? Yes, please. And, Carolina’s 33rd pick, is pracitally a third, 1st round pick! 2010 was the Patriots’ chance to “steal” an unexpected Super Bowl title, like the 2001 team did. New England will certainly be poised to make some serious Super Bowl runs down the stretch as their young players develop and even more talent is added.
- The last time the Patriots dropped a playoff game to a hated rival, Bill Belichick stacked his roster and went 16-0. I’m just saying, you may want to start getting a little excited for the 2011 season.