Anything that says "this isn't easy" can apply to the 2013 Patriots. And much of it has already been said here.
The slowly evolving "Miracle in Foxborough" slogged along Sunday with a No. 2-in-the-AFC-clinching 34-20 victory over Buffalo. Sunday's game was another step the development of the Patriots, even thought it came in Week 17 of the season.
These are now the Patriots that win with their quarterback throwing the ball just 24 times for a whopping 122 yards. Running for 267 yards in the wintry rain.
Tom Brady began this season with Aaron Hernandez in jail. Wes Welker posing with Peyton Manning. Rob Gronkowski on the inactive list. Danny Woodhead seeking Middle Earth in San Diego. And Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch fading into retirement/obscurity.
He and the Patriots ended the regular season with running back LeGarrette Blount bulldozing his way to 334 all-purpose yards, including 189 yards rushing and a pair of kickoff returns that went for 83 and 62 yards. Those Adrian Peterson pills were working.
Blount was acquired from Tampa Bay for Jeff Demps after Belichick checked with his super secret "assistant pro personnel director" Aqib Talib. "Everything he said about him was absolutely right. He's a good football player who loves to play, works hard and is a team player; great guy for the team in the locker room. He's been all those things."
That's 1,002 feet of offense in one game courtesy of the Bucs, who amassed 75 yards rushing Sunday in their loss to New Orleans.
Score one for Belichick's Dark Side sorcery.
The Patriots' offensive line and the downhill, down-your-throat running of Blount and Stevan Ridley were too much for the Bills. Blount was quick to credit his lineman, as was Belichick. Blocking. Shifting. A few lucky bounces. One of the dirty little secrets about football is that offensive lineman are often the smartest guys on the team because they have to understand every offensive play and scheme. The Patriots offensive line Sunday was both wicked tough and wicked smart.
With Hernandez facing a murder trial and Gronkowski finished for the season with injury, the entire foundation of the Patriots' offensive scheme had disappeared. The rest of their woes are well documented. It seemed with each week came another injury. Another test. Vince Wilfork. Jerod Mayo. Sebastian Vollmer. Tommy Kelly.
Gone. All gone. Just like Ralphie's "A Christmas Story" turkey after the Bumphus hounds were through with it. Ralphie's family improvised and ended up with a memorable Christmas and some "Chinese turkey."
After losing so many key players for either most or all of the season, the Patriots' goose appeared to be overcooked in the minds of many about a month ago.
Things took another terrifying turn on Sunday when Logan Mankins needed help walking off the field after suffering an ankle injury. Mankins, much like the team he represents, defied the Doomsayers and returned to the game after missing just one possession.
Pharmaceuticals and needles can work wonders. Mankins left Gillette Stadium in a walking boot, according to Comcast Sports New England.
"There's nobody tougher than Logan Mankins," Brady said after Sunday's game. "There's nobody that I've ever played with that is as tough as him."
A little hyperbole can be excused.
With each injury, and the occasional and often excruciating and/or officiating-tainted loss, the Patriots found themselves doomed on paper, and up and down the internet.
It's far too fashionable to be cynical these days. The Patriots have been ultimate sports Rorschach test this season.
What do you see?
A team that dug its own grave by singing Hernandez while letting the likes of Welker and Woodhead walk as free agents. A team whose subpar drafts finally caught up to them. A team that can't make big third-down stops in the final few minutes. Bill Belichick losing his touch. Bob Kraft spending foolishly.
Or are they a team that continues to pull-out last-minute victories. A team that could be 14-2 had two questionable calls been flipped. A team that found itself with a first-round bye after starting James Develin and Michael Hoomanawanui on offense, along with Sealver Siliga and Duron Harmon on defense in its final game. Bill Belichick putting together his best coaching effort since the invention of video tape. Bob Kraft spending wisely.
This season's been far too enjoyable to watch to simply wallow and get lost in the negative. The Patriots' biggest deficiencies are that big third-down stop on defense and that big third-down conversion on offense. That's undeniable. All the nice swag we got the kids for Christmas won't change that.
For those who see nothing but demons, nothing but another Super Bowl victory will eliminate them. And even if the Patriots were to win the Super Bowl this year, we'd still be hearing about how the
Jose Iglesias trade Danny Amendola acquisition was a flop.
Last season's team that lost in the AFC title game after a miserable performance was a letdown, a failure, a disappointment. This season's team has given New England NFL fans a helluva ride. They also offer the potential of the most improbable ending of all.
Any reasonable analysis - objective or otherwise - circles back to the Patriots have redefined themselves for the final chapter of Brady's career. No longer are they even trying to say: "It's all on you, Tom."
Amid the demise of the "dual tight-end" scheme, the Patriots have emerged as a legitimate running threat. If it only rained like this every week. The Patriots lose two Super Bowls to the Giants in part because they couldn't run the ball and extend possessions late. Sunday's game produced another glimmer of hope [or fool's gold] for those dreaming of Belichick holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft at Met-Life Stadium, while basking in the hatred of eight million New Yorkers and Roger Goodell.
The worst-case playoff scenario for this team has so often been that "low-scoring, close game" where New England needs to rely on both its running game and defense. The running-game thing seems to be taking shape.
As things appear to get more difficult, the Patriots are getting simpler and simpler. Opponents continue to game-plan for Brady's arm, which makes it even more enticing to rely on the legs of others. The message: "Block. Hit. Run. Score. And if that doesn't work, we'll just go with Tom Brady."
Not a bad fallback plan.
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