It’s been 1,077 days since the New England Patriots last went to the Super Bowl, 2,541 days since the team watched perfection whittle into nothing in the desert heat of Glendale, Ariz., and 3,633 days since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady last danced with Lombardi.
For the first time in (gasp) three years, the Patriots are headed back to the Super Bowl where they’ll face off against Bob Kraft’s old friend Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks. They’ll try to win their first Super Bowl in a decade, at the place where it all went to hell in the initial days of 2008.
All apologies to the overwhelmed Indianapolis Colts, of course, but Gillette Stadium’s guests could have bothered to show up. The AFC Championship game, a 45-7 laugher, was a bigger washout than the monsoon that showed up in the Foxboro area right around the time the halftime restroom lines started to peter out. Mea culpa to those who laughed at the notion that the Colts could march in Foxborough and deliver a knockout blow, particularly after what the Pats went through against the Baltimore Ravens last weekend.
The Colts may be ready one day under Andrew Luck, but it’s difficult to pinpoint when that may exactly be after a game in which their only score was a direct result of a Brady interception. LeGarrette Blount ran for 148 yards and three scores, pretty much what he did last January against this team. Pretty much what Jonas Gray (two carries, one yard, but hey, active) did two months ago. There was no secret to the Patriots’ approach and the Colts could do nothing.
Oh, the disrespect angle was a theme the Colts media attempted to create in the days leading up to the AFC title game, but really, what else were they expected to do? Figuring out a way the overmatched Colts could beat the focus of Belichick’s Patriots would have been like finding soap in Occupy Boston.
But Patriots fans have been on the other end, not so long ago, when they were the disrespected team, the up-and-coming bunch who proved good enough to shut the Pittsburgh Steelers up and stop the powerful St. Louis Rams, planting the seeds for what would become a dynasty. New England fans haven’t forgotten that much.
But they have hardly ever (the Ray Rice, 2009 game notwithstanding) shown up like that in the postseason. Andrew Yuck, right?
The reality is that there was no way the Patriots were going to let this game escape their Lamar Hunt grasp. From the very beginning of training camp, the expectation was that anything less than a Super Bowl would have been a disappointment. Well, from 2-2, to “On to Cincinnati,” and the emergence that followed and hinted that those summer aspirations weren’t quite dead yet, here they are, AFC champs for the second time in four years, headed to the eighth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. That ties the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers for the most in NFL history.
Anyone predict that would ever happen during the 70’s and 90’s heydays of those teams?
Thirteen years after the first Super Bowl title in franchise history, the Patriots are headed back to a location to fight for Lombardi for only the second time since New Orleans, where they’ve played the Big Game three times. In Glendale, they’ll remember the place where they lost the perfect season, David Tyree’d in the desert. But the Giants aren’t around this time, and frankly, the last time the Patriots lost the big one to anyone else was to the Packers in 1997.
For a while it seemed like we might have that rematch, were it not both for Seattle’s frenzied scoring in the 28-22 game’s final minutes, compounded with Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy mind-numbing decision making. Instead, the Krafts get to take on their former head coach in a battle of what could be referred to as a “Showdown of former New York Jets head coaches,” however briefly one of them might have held the position.
General prognosis has noted that Seattle would be a bad matchup for the Patriots. But so were the Ravens a week ago. So were the Rams in 2002.
That’s why some level of hope was left out by the back door for the Colts’ chances on Sunday.
Boy, were we dumb.
But if this is indeed the Patriots’ last, best chance to win with Brady at the helm, it’s one hell of a showdown to get it done against Richard Sherman and the suffocating, big-play defense of Seattle, which routed the Denver Broncos a year ago for its first Super Bowl crown. With Luck under center, the Colts aren’t going away, though with the way they played on Sunday, that date of arrival might be set for 2025 instead of 2015.
The Packers should serve as a lesson not only for what fueled the Pats against Indy, but for the next two weeks; Don’t settle. Never, ever, settle (no matter who whines about running up the score). I mean, how many Phoenix-bound flights do you think were refunded from the Wisconsin area Sunday evening alone?
Settle for field goals and you’ll get burned eventually. Settle for just getting one step further, and you’ll end up…well, the Colts.
Progress in the NFL can be swift, and the fall can be even faster. On that note, Belichick and Brady are going to their sixth Super Bowl together.
Fourteen days until they’re back in the NFL showcase.
Fourteen days until they look to bury some semblance of the bad taste they left there seven years ago.
Fourteen days until they look to add a fourth Lombardi to the trophy case, one for the back nine of Brady and Belichick’s gloried New England careers.
"We're on to Seattle," Belichick told the crowd at Gillette with a smile - a genuine smile - on his face.
Patriots vs. Seahawks. Somebody tell Sherman that we’re just mad about it ‘bro.
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