Now it begins.
The NFL season is a long one. It lasts sixteen games spanning well over four months. Sixteen games, all for a chance to play three (or four) contests that really matter.
For the Patriots, that’s essentially what the last four months have all been about. It’s been about trying to fight and battle and overcome all the adversity that comes along over that span and for this team, 2015 has included more than they likely could have ever expected. This is a team that was healthy for such a short period of time and experienced personnel losses so great that it made the idea of even getting back to this point seem improbable after everything they went through.
Yet here they are, with the chance to make another run. For Tom Brady, the job of getting here wasn’t easy. This was a team that at the start of the year was full of talent and was plowing through opponents, but by midseason the offense was forced to morph and adapt as the names began to drop. Gone are players like Dion Lewis, Nate Solder and LeGarrette Blount, with Julian Edelman also going down but thanks to the timing of his injury he’ll get a shot to take the field for the first time since November this weekend.
Overall, the 2015 regular season didn’t exactly go to plan, with the team losing four of their final six games as the injuries reached a point that left them in difficult situations seemingly every week. The loss in Denver back in Week 12 was big and seeing Rob Gronkowski get carted off the field took the energy out of a group that went on to lose their first game of the season. Looking back, while that night ended their unbeaten winning streak, losing the game was a small price to pay given the fact that Gronkowski’s injury ended up not being serious.
After all, what Gronkowski did in the playoffs last year can’t be understated. The veteran tight end caught 16 passes for 204 yards along with 3 touchdowns, one in each postseason victory. His loss would have been devastating to their playoff hopes and that moment out in Denver may be one that we look back on as one of the few key breaks the Patriots caught this season.
Julian Edelman was part of a long list of injured Patriots in 2015. (USA TODAY Images)
For now, the regular season no longer matters. Here in New England, the Patriots don’t play the regular season the way the rest of the league does. For the majority of the NFL, teams play with the hopes of somehow at least getting to the playoffs. For New England, this team plays September through December with the intent of trying to bring that year’s roster together while putting themselves in position to make sure that by the time January arrives, they’re ready to make a run.
All of that got them to where they are now and for this week, they’ll have to take on a Chiefs team that blew out the Texans on Saturday and is obviously playing with plenty of confidence. They’ve won eleven consecutive games and are a prime example of the fact that this is the time of year where only the best teams remain. Against good football teams, winning games really does require sixty minutes of great football, with several games this weekend starting out one way before ultimately being decided in the final moments.
That’s something New England knows far too well. The best teams are generally the ones who play to the final whistle and after what we saw this weekend, Bill Belichick will likely instill into his team as they begin their preparation for Saturday’s Divisional match-up. For most of the players on the roster who have been in this position, they know that everything they put in, all the hard work and everything they overcame to get to this point, this is what it’s all about. For the rest, they’re about to find out how hard this team prepares and exactly what it’s going to take to play at a championship level.
But in the end, Saturday is just the first step in a journey that will decide how this 2015 team is remembered. Will they be remembered as champions? Or will they be remembered as a team that came close but couldn’t quite finish the job?
Brady recently pointed out a quote that said, “I didn’t come this far to only come this far.” After everything they’ve been through, the time is now and it’s all within their reach.
And for this week, it’s on to Kansas City.
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