Why Do We Ever Doubt The Patriots?
Moments after the New England Patriots repeated the same drill they’ve executed for the last eight years, this time crushing the Chargers en route to another AFC Championship berth, Tom Brady had a message heading in next week’s penultimate game in Kansas City. “You know everyone thinks we suck and can’t win any games so we’ll see. Should be fun,” a fired up Brady told CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson.
While you’d be more likely to find a vegan downing a cheesesteak than a human with any brain cells who believes the Pats “suck,” the doubters have lurked. I’ll admit, I was one. I picked the Chargers based on their road record, what I thought would be a ferocious pass rush that would rattle Brady, the notion of a decrepit Rob Gronkowski and a belief that Philip Rivers would torch the Pats with some semblance of offensive creative. I was so wrong on every account.
The Chargers were stymied from the start. The Pats won the coin toss and opted to receive, a rarity in today’s NFL, then proceeded to orchestrate a beautiful, methodical drive that resulted in a touchdown and knocked 7:11 off the clock. Lots of runs, a few passes underneath, Brady as his typical masterclass maestro. Even when the Chargers marched back o the ensuing drive, the inevitable was clear. The Patriots were winning this game because they were more prepared in every facet, but most notably in the trenches.
The Pats offensive line, along with tight ends Gronk and Dwayne Allen and running back James Devlin made the Chargers run stoppers and pass rush completely irrelevant. Up front, Los Angeles couldn’t even start to think about schemes and finding lanes to Brady because they couldn’t get off the block. Not surprisingly, Sony Michel and James White had monster statistic days. Michel torched the Chargers for 129 yards and three touchdowns. White added 97 yards in the short passing game. The Pats got off to a quick double-digit lead, and the Chargers never had a chance. Brady is now an astonishing 112-2 when getting out to a two score lead at home.
Brady was magical. The blocking was magical. As was the Patriots defense, led by Brian Flores who will soon be departing to coach the Miami Dolphins. The Pats blitzed and shook Philip Rivers from every angle, rendering him largely ineffective until some garbage drives toward the end made the score seem a lot closer than it was. New England’s run defense completely shut down Melvin Gordon who ended the day with just 15 yards on nine carries
So why did so many of us think the Pats wouldn’t be up for this challenge, no less at home where they’ve been perfect? It seems pretty absurd in hindsight. A large part of it has to do with absolute disbelief that the Patriots have kept this dynasty going at this level in today’s NFL. It feels like something’s got to give at some point, be it coaches leaving, a mostly new set of wideouts, another year of existing for Brady, all the reported infighting from last season. But none of it chinks the armor.
So here we are with the Patriots appearing in the AFC Championship for the eighth year in a row. Most of the NFL’s jaw-dropping stats involved Brady and the Pats, and this postseason run of AFC Championships is the most awe inducing of all.
Sure, it’s easy to ponder the Pats shifting to a more difficult division and not atomically being crowned before the season starts. But this team is just as ferocious out of conference as in it. With few exceptions, they are more prepared and adjust better in games than their opponents.
The Patriots have opened up as three point underdogs against the Chiefs. They are a different team away from home (3-5 the season) and the Chiefs have played them as well as any opponent over the past few years. There was Kansas City’s opening win in Foxboro last season, and they almost repeated the rare feat in this October’s shootout. But to think that the Patriots have any major disadvantage, especially fueled by some notion that people think they “suck,” would be not paying any attention to this team for the last 18 years. As long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are alive and on the Pats payroll, betting against them is moronic. I certainly learned my lesson Sunday.