Missed Lombardis: Less-than-ringing endings by the Pats
It really is the height of arrogance, ya know. Kicking rocks when some other team wins the Super Bowl because you know – down in your cells, you KNOW – that the Patriots shoulda won it. But there’s a lot of that this week.
People losing their brains because a Broncos team with one of the worst offenses in recent Super Bowl history will be holding a parade and visiting Obama.
This isn’t the first time people in New England have given region-wide side-eye to the team that wins the Lombardi. By my count, there are six seasons Under Bill in which woulda, coulda, shoulda applies. In each of those years, something – injuries, personnel decisions, single-game meltdowns – intervened and the Patriots had to watch someone else with their trophy. I started following the team in 1976. Buried my face in the shag rug and cried when Kenny Stabler scored to beat that team in the playoffs out in Oakland. It’s hard for me to fathom the level of entitlement that people feel now, after four Super Bowls, when I spent most of my pre-reporting days just hoping for a playoff appearance.
Knowing how it used to be probably informs my coverage and opinions now. I have a hard time getting my indignation to the same height that others can because I know what crappy, hopeless football looks like and I know that, probably within the decade, it will be back again.
By then, people will be begging to see the Patriots within a game of the Super Bowl, never mind watching the local entrant play in five straight.
Until that time comes, though, let’s unleash the laments about these good, old days and list the years when the Patriots absolutely, positively, hands-down should have won the Super Bowl.
Record and Seed
12-4, No. 4
How it ended
A 38-34 AFC Championship loss to the third-seeded Colts, who also finished 12-4 and were the higher seed thanks to a 27-20 Week 9 win over the Patriots.
Why it’s maddening
Because it was so, so, so preventable. Deion Branch wanted a new deal prior to 2006 – the final year of his rookie contract when he was going to make just more than $1 million. The Patriots made him a tepid offer and then – the way Branch saw it – folded their arms and wouldn’t talk anymore. So Branch held out and the Patriots shipped him to Seattle. Meanwhile, the team let David Givens walk in free agency where he latched on with the Titans.
The Patriots, as a result, opened 2006 with newcomers Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, rookie Chad Jackson and 35-year-old Troy Brown at wideout. They were still able to start the season 6-1 but they showed vulnerability against good teams, losing 17-7 to Denver, 21-0 to Nick Saban’s Dolphins, 17-14 at Eric Mangini’s Jets and 27-20 at home to Indy on a night Brady threw no touchdowns and four picks. That loss – in which Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne combined for 14 catches and 235 yards receiving compared to Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown who led the Patriots with a combined 10 catches and 68 yards – ensured the Patriots would be on the road if they met the Colts in the playoffs. And they would. After breezing past the Jets, 37-16, the Patriots escaped San Diego with a stirring, almost-impossible, 24-21 win against the top-seeded, 14-2 Chargers. The Colts, meanwhile, took out the Chiefs then upset the second-seeded Ravens in Baltimore, 15-6 thanks to five Adam Vinatieri field goals. Vinatieri was also a newly-minted ex-Patriot.
So, after playing on the West Coast then returning home and the team battling a rash of illnesses, the Patriots had to go to Indy. Where they got up 21-3 with Peyton Manning playing like he always did – tiny in a big spot. And then the walls came down. Manning tracked the Patriots down in the second half. There was a garbage end-zone PI on Ellis Hobbs (the NFL later admitted there was no contact), Dallas Clark toasted linebacker Eric Alexander (a depth guy pressed into lead duty), and the Patriots didn’t pick up an easy third-and-4 with 2:30 left when Brady and Troy Brown couldn’t get on the same page. Manning then went 80 yards the other way and Joseph Addai scored with 1:02 left to make it 38-34. Brady got picked to seal it.
In the Super Bowl, the Colts went on to easily dispatch a truly pedestrian Chicago Bears team that the Patriots beat earlier in the year. You can look back now and say, “Well, Indy had to break through at some point with all that talent . . . ” but the truth is, they were still massive underachievers. They allowed 173 yards per game on the ground including giving up 375 in one game to the Chiefs late in the year. The return of injured safety Bob Sanders, the Defensive Player of the Year, changed things but the fact is, that was a very flawed Colts team. The Patriots were flawed as well with their lack of offensive personnel and the chickens came home to roost in their final game when Caldwell had a horrific couple of drops.
Why you can still be mad
I have no good answer for this one. I mean, I get not re-signing Givens -- he was hell-bent on getting paid, and did with a five-year, $24 million deal. But hardball with Branch, too? For what? The Patriots at the time were very concerned about precedents and letting players know that it was the team and not the talent that caused the success. He’d been a key part of two Super Bowl teams and was set to make $1 million in the final year of his deal. It just didn’t have to happen. You can still be mad.
Justifiable Sustained Rage Level