Most Patriots fans generally like to feel pretty good about their football team, but this year’s group has certainly challenged that faith at times this season.
It’s strange, despite their 11-5 finish, it’s safe to say it’s been a tough year. New England was a team who didn’t start off well and didn’t exactly finish the 2018 regular season in convincing fashion, which had most fans left with more questions than answers heading into the playoffs.
In September, they struggled out of the gate after suffering defeats out in Jacksonville and Detroit, as well as dropping two big road games down in Miami and Pittsburgh down the stretch in December. That left most people wondering how they’d play when the postseason started.
Yet, they surprised most people with how terrific they looked in each of their two victories against clubs who many pundits predicted would end their season, largely because of how inconsistent the Patriots had been for most of the year. They didn’t think they’d look anything like they did once the bright lights of the playoffs switched on.
Meanwhile, the two teams New England beat to earn this trip to Atlanta, the Chargers and Chiefs, each came into the postseason on a relatively high note. The Chargers had won two out of three games, including getting past the Ravens in the Wild Card round with a hard-fought 23-17 win. The big question at the time was whether or not the Patriots had enough personnel to put up much of a fight, or if they were healthy enough to keep up with a Phillip Rivers lead offense that had been one of the best of his Chargers career.
Instead, the Chargers saw their defense let them down as Tom Brady sliced and diced it in a 41-28 victory that wasn’t anywhere near as close as the final score would indicate.
The critics after the game blamed it on the failure by Los Angeles to adjust on defense, despite the fact New England was having their way with them. As a result, very few seemed to feel the Patriots would have that same success against the Chiefs.
Brady and the offense dominated the Chiefs in the AFC Championship.
But that ride continued, with the Patriots maintaining terrific execution as they dominated the time of possession by moving the chains and keeping Patrick Mahomes off the field. The offsides penalty by Dee Ford that nullified a game-sealing interception by Kansas City has been the topic of discussion all week, calling the Patriots lucky while believing New England shouldn’t have advanced.
However, one of the things that really has stood out during this run is the fact it really doesn’t matter how a team plays during the regular season, it’s more about getting hot at the right time. And fortunately for the Patriots, they’ve been on fire.
Let’s be honest, New England wasn’t able to string together a consistent stretch all season, leading to some ups and downs that were frustrating. We didn’t know what to expect from one week to the next, and it was like that all the way up until the very end of the season.
The good news is, they’ve played their best football in the last two weeks, which is exactly why they’re still here, much the chagrin of the rest of the country. All those opposing fans clearly hoped it would be Mahomes and Company. Thankfully, Brady and his teammates ended up writing a different script.
Most of that success came thanks to their turnaround on 3rd down, which was their Achilles Heel all year. During the regular season, they converted just 41% of their third down attempts, with Brady completing just 52.4% of his passes. In the playoffs, it’s been a completely different story. They’ve converted 60% of their third downs, with Brady completing a staggering 82% of his passes.
Tom Brady's Third Down Passing in the postseason has been crazy:— PatsFans.com (@PatsFans) January 27, 2019
2018 Reg Season:
65/124 (52.4%) 787 12TDs 3INT
18/22 (81.8%) 191yds 1TD 1INT#EverythingWeGot #StillHere pic.twitter.com/tTZclDcHAn
That’s the type of play they’ve been looking for all year, and it’s probably the first time during Bill Belichick’s tenure that he’s seen his club wait until it matters most to finally start playing their best football.
As the saying goes, better late than never. With just a couple of days to go before they battle the Rams, the timing certainly couldn’t be any better. With some still questioning nationally whether or not this Patriots team is for real, there’s clearly no shortage of motivation within that locker room with players who would love nothing more than to prove them wrong.
Brady is looking to prove the doubters wrong this weekend.
The Rams, meanwhile, are a team that joined the Chiefs as a club who could put up points in a hurry and many believe that coupled with their defense, are the team best suited to win this weekend. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has had success against Brady, with the quarterback having completed just 58% of his throws in his last six games against Phillips’ defense during his tenure with various teams. He’s also completed just 45% on third down over that same span.
But this year just feels different. And in a completely different way than the “different” people were talking about earlier in the year when people thought they just didn’t have enough to end up where they are right now.
It’s funny how much things can change and a reminder that perceptions in September and October don’t really matter. Even how they look in December isn’t necessarily an indication of what’s to come, either.
Fortunately, it all came together at the right time. Brady is clearly playing with a chip on his shoulder and this team looks overall like as much of a tightly-knit group as we’ve seen in years, with both sides of the football executing better than they had all season.
Thankfully, it’s led to two memorable wins. Hopefully, they’ll cap it off with a third on Sunday.