Raise your hand if the 2020/21 NFL playoff run felt a little…strange.
It’s been a long time since those of us in New England found ourselves as spectators during the month of January. After all, 2008 was a long time ago. Despite finishing 11-5 with Matt Cassel at the helm that year, the Patriots ended up out of the playoffs after losing the division to Miami in a tie-breaker. The more frustrating part was the fact they were playing well heading into the final weeks of the season but thanks to the NFL’s playoff formula, they were out while the division-winning 8-8 Chargers moved on.
So instead of being able to see what kind of damage Cassel might have been able to do in the playoffs, we sat back and watched Ben Roethlisberger enjoy the luxury of not having to get stopped in the postseason by the Patriots as he went on to win a title.
If you despise the Steelers, you’ll probably agree, it was beyond irritating. It was also the last time fans in New England were in this position.
Fast-forward to this offseason and it was strange, to say the least. With the Cam Newton debacle of a season in the rearview, we sat back and watched as the various Wild Cards and Division winners battled it out. It was an odd feeling, but whether or not you root for the laundry, it was hard not to get a little wrapped up in what Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were doing down in Tampa.
Before the postseason started, a run by Brady seemed improbable. Things didn’t exactly line up the way they needed to and for those of us who have followed the team all these years, going the route of the Wild Card and winning it all that way for Brady seemed unlikely. Worse yet, it meant going on the road for potentially all three games. It also meant Brady needing to win a tough road game in Washington in a match-up that seemed poised for an upset, followed by a trip to New Orleans and possibly Green Bay. Given Brady’s history against Drew Brees in that building, and having to win a game against Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field, getting to a Super Bowl, let alone winning it, seemed pretty unlikely.
Yet, Brady ran the table. They took care of Washington in the Wild Card round, beat the Saints in the Divisional round, and shocked the Packers in the NFC Championship game during a mistake-riddled second half for Brady that Rodgers couldn’t make him pay for.
It was crazy, yet he pulled it off. But anyone who honestly thought he’d beat a Kansas City Chiefs team that seemed a little too tough after their previous meeting, especially without Bill Belichick, is probably lying if they tell you they never had a doubt. Again, we’ve seen Brady in big games over the years. He’s been great, but it’s been stressful.
Yet, somehow, it didn’t end up being that way. Tampa’s Super Bowl win over Kansas City was obviously the most lopsided of Brady’s career with a Lombardi Trophy on the line. He was smooth as silk, guiding the Buccaneers through it with ease before winning his 7th title.
Brady’s run took some of the sting away from the Patriots not making the playoffs.
Meanwhile, for Patriots fans, by the time Brady won that weekend, the NFL regular season already felt like it was months ago. It was hard not to write pieces here at the site and not get a little thrown off while using terms like, “last season” vs “this season” when referring to the team. Watching Cam Newton make throws in the dirt feels like a lifetime ago.
Instead, getting caught up in the weekly battles within the AFC and NFC straight through to the end ended up being a different experience. In the past, there’s always been the stress of knowing any given playoff game could mean a disappointing end to another promising Patriots season. This year, most of us knew any shot at the postseason was out the window by Thanksgiving.
Fortunately, after a rough year, we at least had Brady to lessen the sting. Some might say that with Brady no longer on the club, rooting for him is like rooting against the Patriots. That’s sort of a tough way to look at it. You can always appreciate him as a player and after two decades of terrific play, that only makes sense. Don’t get me wrong, when the Buccaneers visit Gillette Stadium next season, he’s the enemy and the goal will be for the home team to walk away with the win. But if you didn’t have a little fun letting Brady and Gronk provide a distraction after watching a disappointing Patriots club in 2020, then there may be something wrong with you.
Now, you might think that statement might be a reason to question my allegiance, but you’d be sorely mistaken. I didn’t watch any Super Bowls following each of the team’s playoff losses to Peyton Manning because I fell into the group that was always frustrated that Brady was never given his just due as a player while Manning was in the league. As a result, my family didn’t watch any of his Super Bowl appearances because I had no desire to see him potentially add a Lombardi trophy to his overrated list of achievements.
To answer your question, yes, if you go out to dinner during a Super Bowl, you’re the only ones there and the servers seem to genuinely hate you.
Am I disappointed Brady is gone? Yes, but primarily because I fall under the mindset of believing that Belichick should have at least extended him a couple of more seasons until they had a capable replacement on the roster. Instead, the team played hardball when he had just Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, neither of which, as we learned, ended up being capable players. After the failed experiment with Newton, they head back into 2021 in pretty much the exact same place they started prior to this season. That’s what’s the most difficult part of this season. In 2008, they had Cassel’s development to at least feel good about. This year, they just have the sting of a losing season.
Most reports have said they’ll be aggressive this offseason and as great as that is, getting a quarterback remains their biggest need. Without a QB, having January off might become a ritual that some of us might start getting used to, whether we like it or not.
At the end of the day, this was an interesting postseason and it’s great that it at least worked out the way it did. But it’s also a reality that none of us are ready to embrace, and one that we can only hope isn’t the start of things to come going forward.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2020 Patriots Season 2021 NFL Postseason Brian Hoyer Cam Newton Green Bay Packers Jarrett Stidham Kansas City Chiefs New England Patriots New Orleans Saints Rob Gronkowski Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tom Brady