A Funny thing happened on the way to the Patriots funeral last night. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots made a slew of national writers delete their columns that were set to run on Monday morning that signaled the end of the Patriots run and then hammer home the idea that were cracks in the New England foundation.
Not that there was ever any doubt, but Sunday afternoon hammered home the truth. And while the guys who make a living spewing those hot takes on the air every week will point to minor stats that mean nothing or whine about an official’s call, Brady, Belichick et. al made them face an inconvenient truth. Although it is one that they won’t want to face, it is there and it is, as one hot taker likes to say, undisputed. On the Mount Rushmore of Coaches and Quarterbacks, the two of them come before everyone else. And the debate is over, finished, thanks for playing, and be careful driving home.
In the age of parity, the NFL has made it hard for teams to have continued success. Look around, there are different teams every season who end up vying for a Super Bowl berth from each conference. But every season, there is one constant, and now to the rest of America that doesn’t reside in the New England area, their nightmare is complete. Four the third time in the past four years, the Patriots are once again going back to the Super Bowl.
And in the 16 years that Brady has been the starting quarterback for the Patriots, they’re going to their eighth Super Bowl in Minneapolis in two weeks, an average of one every other year. That kind of success is unprecedented in the Super Bowl era and will be very hard for another team to replicate. And they’re not finished yet.
The manner in which they did it on Sunday was vintage Tom Brady. Down 10 points in the fourth quarter against the top defense in the NFL in the Jaguars, there were a lot of people who were waiting to signal a shift in power to the young, hungry, physical Jaguars defense. But there would be no changing of the guard here. The Jaguars coronation was put on hold.
Brady turned 40 in August and for a guy with five Super Bowl wins, he heard a lot of naysayers this season talking about how “no 40-year old”…yada, yada. The season started off badly, his best, most reliable receiver, Julian Edelman, tore his ACL in a preseason game and was lost for the year. The team started slowly and limped to a 2-2 start.
But he led the league in passing and put up MVP-type numbers. And yet every week, the hot take crowd would tout another MVP candidate as it became the “anyone but Brady” race. Late in the season, there were molehill distractions created about his personal trainer Alex Guerrero, his “fractured relationship with Bill Belichick, and the absolute best was that he’s so mentally fragile that he couldn’t take his backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo pushing him that he lobbied owner Robert Kraft to trade him away. And this just happened to be the week before the Divisional Playoff against the Tennessee Titans.
Brady and the Patriots came out and wiped out Tennessee 35-14 and they were on to the AFC Championship Game for the seventh year in a row. The Jaguars were young and hungry with a new coach and a new attitude and went from 3-13 in 2016 to 10-6, winning the AFC South and beating both Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
Just three days before the game, Brady had a freak collision with teammate Rex Burkhead and gashed the inside of his thumb on his throwing hand. Brady needed a dozen stitches and then missed the important Thursday practice and the anti-NE part of the media was running wild. One particular pinhead who has been predicting Brady’s demise every year was ready to burst with glee over the news. And then the news got worse.
In the second quarter with the Patriots down 14-3, their best target, TE Rob Gronkowski went down with a concussion and was lost for the remainder of the game. And down by 10 with time running out in the game, Brady went to basically his fifth option on most days, Danny Amendola. Amendola was huge in that fourth quarter as he and Brady worked their magic once again. The play that got them going and was the tide-turning moment on a 3rd-and-18 play where Brady gunned the ball deep down the middle to Amendola, who got past the sticks and came back for the ball. The result was a 21-yard game and the offense began to click.
Two touchdowns later, the Patriots are ahead 24-20 and the Jaguars defense is left to shake their heads. How many QBs, minus their top two receivers, down by 10 in the fourth quarter of a championship game against the top defense in the league make that comeback? Only one. It happened three years ago against the Seahawks defense in the Super Bowl, where Brady and NE were down 10 against the “Legion of Boom” and he brought them back.
It happened last year down 25 against the Falcons in the Super Bowl without Gronkowski. And it happened again yesterday for the 54th time in his career. If the game is close near the end and Brady gets his hands on the ball, the guy with the most indomitable will in the game will much more often than not find a way to win. He has nerves of steel and isn’t a fragile egomaniac who is afraid of competition. It is what drives him to be the best. There is Brady, and then there’s everyone else.
Belichick is the master at morphing his teams from week to week to play any style that they’ll need to be in order to win. Want to play smashmouth? Finesse? It doesn’t matter, they meet you and rise. He’s also outstanding at finding players who were cut loose elsewhere and finding a role for them that plays to their strengths. Look at the Patriots defense. Marquis Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Pat Chung, Ricky Jean-Francois, Adam Butler, Malcolm Butler were all players who were considered busts or special-teamers only, or in the case of the two Butlers, were undrafted rookie free agents who are all playing significant snaps and roles on the defense.
No one practices situational football or works on their conditioning more than New England. And a big part of the reason they excel in the late moments of these games is their conditioning. When the Jaguars visited for the joint practices in the dog days of August, after a spirited two and a half hour practice session, the Jaguars watched as the Patriots ran sprints up and down the hill behind the fields as a team. Belichick likes to say that the sprints they run in August will win them the close games in January. And it is true.
Their situational football practices are another reason why they are so successful at crunch time and why other teams fail, or as Patriot-haters love to say, “gave the game away.” New England practices situational football heavily and this is why they never panic when they get in crunch time situations. This is a major reason other teams always seem to fail. And when they do, that’s when they commit penalties.
And in the case of penalties, this isn’t kindergarten recess, the referees don’t have to split the calls 50/50. If Team A commits 10 penalties and Team B just 2, the referees aren’t duty bound to call more penalties to even things out. The pass interference call was exactly that. The fact that it was New England and not another team was the reason it is now an issue. It takes away from the coaching that Belichick has done for years.
The Patriots under Belichick rattle off 12+ win seasons like clockwork and yet every year, the coach of the year (du jour) is someone else where he barely registers in the vote.
So the Patriots and Eagles are advancing to the Super Bowl, and for the sportswriters and fans from New York, this is a Stephen King nightmare scenario. The Eagles had the best team in the NFL all season and then rebounded nicely after losing their starting quarterback. We look forward to a great Super Bowl worthy of its name. But if the score is close at the end of the game, don’t bet against #12.
Posted Under: 2017 Patriots Postseason
Tags: 2017 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Danny Amendola Julian Edelman New England Patriots NFL Patriots Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady