Seven years ago, the New England Patriots hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Since that fateful day, every single season has ended in an absolute gut-wrenching fashion. Now, with New England playing in its seventh Super Bowl, Brady, Belichick, and the rest of the Patriots have the opportunity to finally put those lost seasons to rest by achieving the ultimate redemption. But before they do, I wanted to take a moment to revisit each and every one of those six seasons of pain. I've been covering the Patriots since 2002, and at the end of every season, I took the time to reflect on the final game and the season as a whole. For the next six days, I'll be re-running the end-of-the-season article from the past six years. It's time to rip open the scabs and pout salt in these old wounds. Because until you've spent time in the valley, you'll never appreciate the view from the top of the world.
Written on January 16th, 2011
It's hard to believe the Patriots' 2010 run is over. After looking so good for so long, the season came to a grinding halt. Making matters even worse is that they lost to the their hated rival, the Jets, and opened the door for a solid eight straight months of smack talk regardless of whether the Jets win the Super Bowl or get ousted next week. Then again, I doubt Rex Ryan and the Jets would have shut up even if the Patriots had won 45-3 again. I've got a lot to get off my chest, so I'm just going to move forward with it. I had kept pretty quiet all week, mostly due to a busy schedule, so there's a lot to cover.
We'll start with my thoughts on the game.
- I had feared for weeks that Tom Brady's interceptionless streak would be broken at the worst possible time. Even though the Jets didn't get any points off the 1st quarter Brady pick, it did appear to be a potential game-changer. The INT definitely killed what would have almost certainly been a New England scoring drive. The key for the Patriots was to get points on the board early and force Sanchez to try to play catch-up. It was just an awful throw by Brady. There was still a lot of football to be played afterwards, but that pick was certainly very costly.
- On a similar note, the drop by Algie Crumpler in the end zone on the next drive was also very costly. If Brady doesn't throw that pick and Algie catches that ball, you're looking at a 10-0 or 14-0 lead. Don't tell me that a lead like that wouldn't have ruffled the Jets game plan. (Although props to Algie for hustling and making the tackle on the Brady pick to save the TD.)
- The fake punt towards the end of the first half might have been the dumbest play call I've ever seen by this team. Apparently, Pat Chung has the green light to call fake punts when he sees a favorable formation from the defense. Favorable or not though, it's just not a smart call in a four point game with barely any time left in the half. A 7-3 deficit at half time is nothing to worry about, especially when you're getting the ball to start the 3rd quarter. There was no need to risk giving the Jets favorable field position, which they then used to push the lead to 14-3 and really put the pressure on. I'm at least glad to hear that it was Pat Chung who called the play and not Belichick, or I'd really have to question our coach's judgement. Whether a criticial decision should be left up to a 2nd year player is another story, but at least it wasn't Belichick making a dumb call.
- The Patriots managed to recover them, but the two fumbles they had would have really killed them if the Jets had pounced on them. The Patriots were very fortunate that this was just a one-turnover game. Over all, their ball security was very out of character. For a team that's 82-3 in the past decade when winning the turnover battle and shattered the record for fewest turnovers in a season this year, it was very disappointing.
- The biggest game-changing play came early in the 4th quarter. The Pats had clawed their way to a touchdown, hit on the two-point conversion and appeard to have the momentum shifted back their way. Then Sanchez nailed Jericho Cotchery for a 58 yard gain, which was the key to a 5-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Overall, the Jets didn't do a whole lot to move the ball down the field. Their other three touchdown drives were 49, 37, and 20 yards, respectively. That early 4th quarter drive was the one point where this Patriots defense caved and allowed the Jets to pull off a long scoring drive. After that, the clock became the Patriots' enemy.
- Still, down ten points, with over 10 minutes to play, the Patriots were far from finished. What did kill them was a late-game drive lasting 7:45 where they walked away with no points. I don't know what was going on here, but apparently the Patriots decided to take a page from the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, and show absolutely no urgency while trailing by a two-possession deficit. With the amount of time that they took, even a touch down would have made things tight time-wise. It was just awful clock-management from a team that so often excels in that area.
- Deion Branch dropping that 4th and 13 ball... Just killer. This was the only game of the season where I missed Randy Moss. The Patriots just weren't explosive at all tonight.
- The Pats were essentially going "all-in" on that first onside kick. If they didn't recover it, they would have to burn their timeouts and really make a long march down the field, which they had showed no ability to do. Cromartie ended up recovering and set-up another touchdown with his long return. I know it's 20/20 hindsight at this point, and if the Pats recover, which they almost did, we might have seen over time, but I think the safter play would have been a deep kick, pinning the Jets, and getting decent field position to move towards a final score. The Patriots, after all, did end up tacking on a TD with a late drive there in the final moments.
- Overall, a turnover, dropped balls, that dumb fake punt, and poor clock management killed this team. Very, very un-Patriot-like.