It still stinks when you have to clean out your locker and you know that you’re not going to get that ring.

Or have a date with duck boats.

All year long, much has been made of how much the 2013 Patriots accomplished despite having to overcome numerous potholes along the way.  Bill Belichick, who obviously looked emotional and very melancholy at his postgame press conference on Sunday following his team’s 26-16 dismissal from the NFL playoffs at the hands of the Denver Broncos, can still be credited with perhaps his finest coaching season, or if not, his best since 2001.  The 2013 Patriots went about as far as they could have gone, and simply did not have the material to carry it through at least to the Super Bowl.

The season comes down to maybe five benchmark moments, which helped to define this season and to put it in the history books as a successful season rather than a disappointment.

No offense, Wes.  Just business.

The sight of Adam Vinatieri in a Colts uniform is still appalling after all these years.  The sight of Wes Welker in a Broncos uniform was right down there too.

The departure of Wes Welker to Denver via free agency turned out to be bad thing for the Patriots in 2013.
(USA TODAY Images)

In keeping with the long standing team tradition of the organization uber alles, the Patriots let Welker dangle in free agency, then watched as he signed with Denver on March 13.  Welker and the Patriots simply could not agree on a new deal, and Welker wound up signing with Denver for only $2 million more than what the Patriots offered.

Okay, he has a history of dropsies and concussions.  There was a risk in re-signing him.  Welker did not make it through 2013 injury-free.  But Welker’s replacement, Danny Amendola, was also just as health-risky.  Both men missed significant time in 2013.

The result:  Welker is going to the Super Bowl at his previous team’s expense.  Some experts think his hit on Aqib Talib, knocking the cornerback out of the game, was the critical juncture of the game and his final means of “sticking it” to his former head coach.  Whatever the case, as of right this second, Denver wins this in a slam-dunk.  The Patriots could have badly used Welker this year.

This claim is for 2013 only.  A few years from now, the Patriots might be proven right.  But not at the moment.

Okay, Lenny.  Pick him up!

The sight of Aaron Hernandez being led from his home in handcuffs last June 26 is still chilling.  The story itself is far worse.

To a lesser team, this would have perhaps deep-sixed the season right here.  Welker bolts via free agency, Rob Gronkowski is still battling his ailments, and now this.  Hernandez is perhaps up the river for life, three men are dead perhaps because of him, and the image of the Patriots is still somewhat tarnished.

Wherever Tom Brady was at the time, one has to wonder if the words “retirement” ever crept into his brain.  Of course, he is still at the helm of the Patriot offense.  But if you were to shoot Brady up with some sodium pentothal, one would perhaps be fascinated at what he must have been thinking when the bust went down.  Who am I going to be throwing to this year?  Has management finally gone too far in imposing the “Patriot Way” on everyone and everything?  How long until I get Gronk back?  Now Aaron is charged with murder?

The first few weeks of the 2013 season told us all what truth serum could have back in late June.  Brady was constantly seen snapping on his new wideouts.  Everyone complained for Brady losing his cool and not portraying good leadership.  Others gave Brady a pass, and instead admonished the new receivers to shut up, work hard, listen to Brady, and get better.

Maybe Officer Steve Horgan Was At Gillette Stadium Also

It turned out to be one of the more memorable sports days in New England in quite some time.  That night at Fenway Park, David Ortiz hit an eighth inning grand slam to tie Game 2 of the ALCS at 5-5.  Torii Hunter of the Tigers dove into the Red Sox bullpen as Boston Police Officer Steve Horgan raised his arms in a touchdown signal.  The picture of his arms and Hunter’s legs went viral and gained instant immortality.  The game was perhaps the best postseason game at Fenway since Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

A few hours earlier, at Gillette Stadium, Kenbrell Thompkins caught a 17-yard pass from Brady as time expired to lift the Patriots to an improbable 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints.  The play nearly sent Scott Zolak to the loony bin (“Where’s the beef?”), but more importantly, it exposed the Patriots for who they really were in 2013.  If they could pull off a comeback win like this over a team like New Orleans, they could perhaps do anything.

They would match this sort of comeback six weeks later.  Trailing Denver, 24-0 at home, the Patriots went on a second half rampage and won in overtime thanks to a punt return blunder by Welker.  This was actually the biggest comeback in team history, but it had its genesis in the New Orleans game.  It gave New Englanders hope that perhaps, in the midst of all the bad that had been going on, they could make a memorable season out of this one.

Call this “Woodson’s Revenge”

But a week after the Thompkins miracle, the Patriots went down to the site of this year’s Super Bowl.  The 5-1 Patriots were taking on the New York Jets.  This game went into overtime, and the Patriots went four and out on their first possession.  The Jets took over at their own 20, but any score would win the game.

The Jets drive to the Patriot 38, then stall.  Nick Folk lines up for a 56-yard field goal and misses wide left.  But a penalty marker is thrown.  Tony Michalek, the umpire, ruled that Chris Jones pushed Will Svitek into the long snapper.  That is a new rule in the NFL for 2013, that a second-level defender cannot push a first-level defender into an opposing lineman to aid in blocking a kick.  The 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty put the Jets at the Patriot 23, and three plays later, Folk nailed the game-winner from 42 yards out.

Some experts blame the Patriots for losing the Miami game as the main reason why the Patriots had to play at Denver on Sunday and not at home.  Others blame this game.  The Patriots were done in by an obscure call just like Charles Woodson and the Raiders were in the Snow Bowl Game of 2001.  If this call had not been made, the Patriots would have gotten the ball at their 38 and perhaps might have driven towards a winning field goal themselves, and then they would have hosted Denver on Sunday.

Belichick acknowledged after the game that he knew the rule, but did not concede that Jones was a “second-level defender”.  Jones is a down lineman, as is Svitek.  Jones took the blame after the game, saying that he knew the rule and that Michalek made the right call.  But it remains a galling loss for the Patriots that perhaps cost them the season down the road.

Season ends at the hands of Manning.  The horror.

If you could pick one opposing quarterback you wouldn’t mind the Patriots losing a playoff game to, Manning would perhaps be at the bottom of the list.  He’s overrated.  You’re sick of him.  You’d rather have Brady.  He’s old.  Why is he still in the league?  He Broke Brady’s passing records.  And he had Welker help him do it.  What is this old guy doing going to the Super Bowl?

No, the season didn’t end well for the Patriots.  Everything broke the Broncos’ way on Sunday.  They got the home game.  The weather was so perfect it seemed like Manning’s Almighty wanted him in the Super Bowl.  Welker was cleared to play in the game, coming off still another concussion.  Manning got to play against a team that needed to consult the Red Sox as to how to play in this city (cross-reference: the 2007 World Series).

The bottom line is that the better team won Sunday and it’s the Broncos that get to go to Super Bowl XLVIII and not the Patriots.  Manning gets to try and equal his brother’s total of two Super Bowl wins, and Welker gets to try and do what he could not do in New England, provided he brings along a little bit of stick-um or rosin for his hands and fingers.  The Broncos take on former Patriot head coach Pete Carroll, but that’s a story for another day.

The 2013 Patriots can pat themselves on the backs and congratulate themselves on a job well done.  Naturally, the players are angry right now and cannot wait for 2014 to begin.  But they did well in 2013.  The fans can pretty much agree with that.

But a major goal of 2014 is for the Patriot front office to give Brady enough material to win at least one more Vince before he is done.  Maybe Charles Barkley is right.  Once Belichick and Brady leave, well, you know what he said.