By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
We’re never going to learn, are we?
Even in defeat, the most shocking of letdowns, the Patriots show resilience. They keep things in perspective. And they put disappointments behind them better than any team in the league. A year ago, back-to-back losses in Miami and Pittsburgh appeared to light the “Not Their Year” beacons in New England. This season, the alarms are being sounded after an inexcusable home loss to the lowly Dolphins and a date with Wild Card weekend.
Now that they have to win the Super Bowl without a first-round bye for the first time under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have yet another unprecedented challenge ahead of them. But they’re used to overcoming those challenges. Certainly they couldn’t win the Super Bowl with the Seahawks holding the ball on the 1-yard line. They definitely can’t come back from a 28-3 deficit. And absolutely do not tell me there’s even a remote possibility that they could win on the road in Kansas City or shut down the Rams’ high-powered offense.
Now? There’s no possibility whatsoever that they could even dream of winning the Super Bowl having to play a Wild Card game, right?
We should know better by now. The Patriots aren’t dead until they’re dead. And entering Monday, they’re still very much alive and getting a do-over on their home field against the Titans next weekend. Even in their defeats this season, the Patriots have shown their trademark resiliency. They’ve been hard to kill.
There’s no doubt that the Dolphins stunned the football world by nailing the Patriots’ Week 17 coffin shut. But losses like Sunday’s are also a good time to put things in perspective. The Patriots had made the playoffs, with a bye, for nine straight seasons. Playing on Wild Card weekend is far from ideal, but it’s simply another opportunity for the Patriots to deliver one more eff you to the too-large crowd of people declaring them dead before they’re actually dead. Things could be far worse, and there’s still a chance it ends better than it does for 31 other teams.
“Certainly it is a different situation, but it is important for us to have the proper perspective,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater. “We have been very blessed to have the type of season we have had and being in the playoffs. A lot of teams don’t get that opportunity. Would it have been nice to have the bye? But now we don’t have one. We have to do everything in our power to recover and prepare and be excited about our opportunity. Let’s not mope around and feel sorry for ourselves, we are in the playoffs. Our team has worked hard and we should be appreciative of where we are.”
“You’ve got guys that are packing up and going home. It is still a great accomplishment and stuff like that [to make the playoffs],” said linebacker Elandon Roberts. “We just have to get ready for next week. You come into the season working for the playoffs. Of course you don’t want a loss going in to it, but at the same time you have to respect it because there are teams week in and week out that come out here to beat you. We have teams coming at us and we are trying to win. So you have to respect that part of it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to make the playoffs in this league. We have been very blessed in our organization. It is a blessing to be in this position and we will just come back and work tomorrow.”
It’s quite possible that the Patriots’ flaws come back to haunt them in the playoffs. Maybe Tom Brady isn’t sharp enough or the receivers can’t get open and hold onto the ball. Maybe the run game stagnates. Maybe the defense gives up too many big plays. But to predict the bad ending before it happens? What do you gain from that? You were right with your pants-pissing tweets from the first quarter? Congratulations, I suppose.
In the case of the Patriots, it’s more advisable to look at this team and see a resilient group that will play to the very end even when things aren’t going their way. They almost pulled off a late miracle in Houston in a game they had no business winning. They scratched back from a 17-point deficit to nearly tie the Ravens before a back-breaking turnover buried them. They came within five yards of tying the Chiefs at the end of a one-score loss. And in one of Brady’s worst performances of the season against the Dolphins, he still gave them a four-point lead with 3:53 left in regulation.
If you’re giving the Patriots no chance, if you’re expecting them to just face-plant and let a team run them over in the playoffs, you simply haven’t been paying attention. That, or you’re not respecting their resiliency and mental toughness enough. You’re probably in the same camp of people who felt winning a playoff game on the road was impossible in 2018. Yes, this is 2019 and last year doesn’t have much bearing on the here and now. But what matters to this year’s team is the resiliency is still there.
Apologies for the optimism amid an understandably confidence-shattering loss. But no, you still cannot count this Patriots team out. To do so would be to demonstrate a lack of understanding of this team’s makeup. It’s the kind of makeup that few teams in the NFL have, perhaps none. And it’s going to be something they need to tap into in order to take a flawed but experienced and mentally tough team to yet another championship.
Are you really going to say there’s no way they can pull it off? Again?
“This is a high-character football team, we have a lot of good men on this team,” said Slater. “That’s certainly something that doesn’t get talked about enough. But the character in this locker room has carried us for a number of years, and it continues to carry us. We’re going to have to fall back on that now, and we’re gonna have to fight. Every team in the playoffs is gonna be fighting for the same thing, and we’re no different than anyone else.”
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.