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.
So we'll spend the next few days unleashing our laments and listing the years when the Patriots absolutely, positively, hands-down should have won the Super Bowl. Today we look at: 2007.
Record and Seed
16-0, No. 1
How it ended
A 17-14 Super Bowl loss to the Giants after becoming the first team to complete a 16-0 regular season.
Why it’s maddening
Because they were perfect, for God’s sake! And the team they lost to had a coach on the hot seat and a quarterback who looked wholly inept for a huge chunk of the season. Besides that, everyone in the other 44 states of the Union wanted them to lose to the Giants. Why? A variety of reasons.
First, the NFL dug its nails into them the first time that season, turning a jaywalking crime of taping an opposing sideline from field level into a crime against football. But even before the Jets ratcheted up a back-of-the-room spitball fight by running to the teacher, the league had grown weary of the Patriots. They were no longer the plucky Cinderella story they were in 2001, they were arrogant, entitled and loathed. They’d gotten their comeuppance in 2006 when the good guys – Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy – finally beat them, but by adding Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and Adalius Thomas, the Patriots had re-armed. And they proceeded to unapologetically annihilate opponents while barely breaking a sweat, leading to high-school level laments that the Patriots were running up the score on teams.
As the Patriots-related sniping and scrutiny continued throughout 2007, the gap they’d established over the rest of the league kept narrowing. After a 52-7 win over the Redskins, the Patriots came-from-behind to beat the Colts, 24-20 in Indy. A 56-10 Sunday night win the next week was followed by two heart-stopping squeakers – 31-28 over Philly and 27-24 over the Ravens. The Patriots erased a late deficit once more in the season finale at the Meadowlands, winning 38-35 in a game that mattered not a whit to either team in terms of the standings but which was (in my opinion) one of the most pure football games I’ve covered because of the way the two teams played. It also foreshadowed the Super Bowl.
Having finished 16-0, naysayers lined up to say it was either a stained accomplishment because of Spygate (absurd, since the charges were levied Week 1 and the team stampeded after the infraction), or that it was worthless if they didn’t finish it off. The Patriots were poised to be indisputably the best team of all-time when they took the field February 3, 2008 in Arizona. But the Giants front-seven manhandled the Patriots offensive line, New England missed chance after chance to finish off drives with points and – on the Giants’ game-winning drive – two interceptions were dropped, a fourth-and-1 was converted, a third-and-12 was converted and, oh yeah, a guy caught a ball he pinned to his helmet while being slammed to the ground. The Patriots went from being the best team ever to the best team to not win a Super Bowl. The black funk that descended on Patriots fans in the aftermath remains hard to describe. That the indignity was administered by a New York franchise and the brother of Peyton Manning were just additional, gratuitous indignities the gods opted to heap on.
Why you can’t still be mad
You may disagree, but the Super Bowl 42 loss to me doesn’t totally erase the historic, relentless, resilient brilliance of that collection of players, coaches and personnel people. The Patriots responded to the disappointment of 2006 by emptying the bucket in terms of adding players. After the NFL and the country turned against them with Spygate, they just kept winning. And when the rest of the league began to catch up as the season wore on, and the pressure of being the hunted and chasing perfection mounted, the team still found ways to win football games. They didn’t choke in the Super Bowl as much as they got beat. People will never recover from 2007. Here’s what’s interesting: that team getting to 18-0 earned it an aura of machine-like invincibility. But closer inspection showed it was a bunch of players and coaches performing at the highest level under pressure until, finally, they met their match and had nothing left to give.
Justifiable Rage Level