By: Ian Logue
Something feels different about this football team.
Anyone who has followed this football team for longer than the 2007 season knows what I’m talking about. Most of those casual fans who hopped on the bandwagon during that year hopped off as soon as that final game ended and they realized that perfection wouldn’t be attained that year. But the ones who have been around before that may understand the feeling I’m talking about.
You generally don’t want to say, “I have a feeling” and put it out there because you know that if it doesn’t work out, you’ll get lambasted by thousands of fans who will think you single-handedly placed a jinx on their football team. Granted this generally comes from irrational non-diehard fans, because the true diehards understand that these types of columns carry no real effect on the fate of the football team. On the other hand, they may think their own gameday routines can be the difference between a win and a loss on any given Sunday, but they generally realize anything others may write doesn’t matter.
But something is definitely different. And in the coming weeks fans may be surprised by just how far this team goes into the postseason, and the possibilities that lie ahead.
Maybe I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself, but it’s hard to deny a couple of key points that make this season even different from the one in 2007 where they broke all the records:
Patriots QB Tom Brady has played mistake-free football in recent weeks, and appears poised to lead the Patriots toward a surprising playoff run. (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)
1) They’re playing well down the stretch. – Heading into the final weeks of their season in ’07, they weren’t exactly playing their best football. Their final regular season game was a 38-35 nail-biter against the New York Giants, with a couple of other games that despite the margin of victory didn’t exactly feeling like a ‘given’ until much later in the game.
Even in the Green Bay game this year, while the Packers did a good job of controlling the clock and staying in the game, the Patriots continued playing mistake free football and most fans knew it was just a matter of time before Brady pulled the offense ahead and they won that football game. Let’s be honest, the record-setting performance they’ve put on in the turnover differential has been staggering, and that’s a critical area that if you continue to hold the advantage – you tend to win football games. They’re continuing to play well with an overall group of better receivers than Brady even had in ’07. Between his performance and the players they have now – that’s a good reason to feel pretty confident about where they’ll end up in the coming weeks.
2) They won big even with some of their best guys sidelined – Don’t get me wrong, I want Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker back on the football field when this team takes the field again on January 16th. However, they won Sunday’s game (and rather convincingly) despite having all three of these guys sidelined. Where that comes into play is if you look back and watch how badly they struggled offensively during last year’s playoff game against the Ravens after Welker got injured in the final regular season game against Houston. During that playoff game, at no point did it feel like they were going to be able to come back and beat Baltimore.
It was tough to watch because as soon as the Ravens got up early, Brady appeared frustrated and didn’t look like he even believed himself that he had enough firepower to get them back in the game. That’s not the case this season. This year even with some of his best players out of the line-up, it looks to be a different story. They have a lot more talent at the receiver and tight end position, and as a result they still put up points. This is about as confident as he’s ever looked, and if he continues to throw the ball the way he is and making good decisions, you have to like their chances.
The big question is obviously going to be how they manage to play on the defensive side of the football. Granted all you can do is take a look at how they’ve played in recent weeks, and clearly we’ve seen a fairly solid effort from the guys up front and in the secondary. Obviously one would believe that if the guys up front who have missed time are healthy, that will help them immensely. One key factor is the fact that many of these young players have the advantage of playing in front of the home crowd over the duration of the postseason. They don’t have to go into an overly-amped up road environment where everything is different and the implications mean absolutely everything to that fan base.
Let’s be honest – home field is a huge advantage, especially to a young football team. The fact they went out and put up 14 wins this season is an amazing feat, but it’s given them an edge that could get them one step closer to playing in February. They’ll have a bye next week, and then have to win a mere two home games for a shot at getting to a game that a high percentage of guys who were drafted with them may never get. All the while they’re being coached by one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.
That’s a big edge. Hence the reason why it’s hard not to have a good feeling about this football team in the coming weeks.
Maybe I’m alone, but as I said something feels different about this football team. In a year where there’s no “clear cut winner” along with the fact they’re about to potentially battle against teams they’ve already proven they can beat in the coming weeks, my optimism is pretty high about what could happen. For now I’m focused on seeing who they’ll play in two weeks before I look too far ahead, but the point I’m trying to make is that I think they’re better now than they were even in ’07.
They’re back to trying to create opportunities by spreading the ball around while doing it without also turning the football over. Considering the talent they have and how Tom Brady is playing, I don’t see that changing in the coming weeks.
I haven’t felt this way since 2003 when I realized the way they were running the ball and playing defense, I thought they had a chance to finish exactly the same way they did in 2001 after they missed the postseason in 2002.
We all know how that turned out, and it worked out that way for two seasons.
Whether or not it works out that way again remains to be seen. But for those of you who were around during both of those seasons, it’s hard to deny the similarities. After all, it’s not how you start, but how you finish. No other team this year has won eight in a row to close out the season, nor have they done it the way New England has. Even the teams who are riding high heading into the playoffs have won, at best, four straight. Of those teams you have the Indianapolis Colts and the Ravens, each of which have won four in a row. New England has already beaten each of them once this season, and the Patriots are playing better football now than they were during each of their last meetings against either of those two teams.
For now I’ll put my money on an older and wiser Brady – who’s obviously playing at the top of his game at this point in the year. Should many of his teammates get healthy in the coming weeks, this Patriots team appears to be a dangerous one – provided the rookies can continue to handle the “one game at a time” approach that has been the staple of this football team. If they can continue to play to that level, that in itself should have fans feeling pretty confident about where this team may be headed in the coming weeks.
But something definitely feels different about this football team. Whether or not that means a trip to Dallas is in their future – we’ll have to wait and see. But I’m excited to find out if that means that January won’t be the last month we’ll see this team playing football.
After all, I was right before. Hopefully in the coming weeks we’ll find out if something special is about to happen again.