Here's how close the Patriots are to 10 Super Bowl wins by now
“Isn’t it a bit disappointing that the Patriots are only 5-3 in Super Bowls?”
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk and Football Night in America asked me that last week.
“Mike, that’s 60 percent,” I pointed out. “They win 60 percent of the time against the best team in the other conference in the last game of the year. Aside from that, look at the details of how those Super Bowl losses came to be. They could have very easily won every one of them.”
When experts get to ranking contributing factors for the Patriots success, “luck” sometimes gets wedged in there somewhere. The Patriots, for instance, were lucky there wasn’t a clean replay shot to determine whether Tom Brady’s hand touched the ball as he brought it back in during the Snow Bowl. They were lucky the Seahawks threw the ball or Dee Ford decided to line up offsides.
But the breaks even out, as they say. Because the truth is, the Patriots could have 10 Super Bowl wins by now. So, actually, maybe Florio is right. Maybe 5-3 is a disappointment. Here’s how close the Patriots are to 10 going chronologically.
The Patriots lost to the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, missing a chance to advance and play the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl 41. They led 21-3 late in the first half. But after (we’re really going to play up the Patriots frailties here) a coast-to-coast flight to beat the Chargers and a wave of the flu that went through the locker room, the team was flagging in the second half as the Colts reeled the Patriots in. The play to lament came with 2:30 remaining and the Patriots up 34-31. It was a third-and-4 from the Patriots 46. Tom Brady tried to hit Troy Brown on a little throw out to the right. But Brown stayed put inside instead of breaking outside. The miscommunication caused a simple throw to fall incomplete. Indy would have had to burn its last timeout and – if Indy even got the ball back - the clock would have been down under one minute left. Instead, the Patriots punted, Indy scored, Brady got picked, the Colts went to the Super Bowl where they beat a Bears team that was quarterbacked by Rex Grossman and who the Patriots easily beat in the regular season.
The Patriots were chasing the first 19-0 season in NFL history. Tom Brady’s touchdown pass to Randy Moss put them up 14-10 with 2:42 remaining. Then the fateful final drive. With 1:34 left, the Patriots failed to make a stop on fourth-and-1 as Junior Seau got blown out of the hole. On third-and-5, a wrapped up Eli Manning broke free from a bear hug while his offensive linemen held Patriots with impunity. Manning threw downfield where David Tyree leaped, pinned the ball to his helmet as he fell and withstood the furious tugging of Rodney Harrison for a 32-yard gain. On a third-and-11 from the Patriots 25 with 45 seconds left, Brandon Meriweather left Steve Smith uncovered for a 12-yard gain. Even after all that, Brady threw a 75-yard bomb that tipped off Moss’ fingers with 19 seconds left which would have put the Pats in position for a game-tying field goal.
Despite an opening-drive safety taken by Tom Brady, a 12-men-on-the-field penalty that wiped out a Giants fumble at the Patriots 7 and an injury that rendered Rob Gronkowski moot, the Patriots still had the 17-14 lead and the ball with under five minutes left. A second-down throw from Brady to Wes Welker fell incomplete when the leaping, twisting Welker failed to hold on. It wasn’t a great throw but neither should the bar be lowered for Welker on the drop. It was the kind of catch he’d make more than 90 percent of the time. After the drop the Giants forced a punt, Eli Manning threaded a brilliant 38-yard throw to Mario Manningham to dig the Giants out and New York scored to take a 21-17 lead. Even then, the Patriots weren’t done as Brady hit Aaron Hernandez in the hands with a last-second Hail Mary. The ricochet fell at the feet of the hobbled Gronk who – had he been full strength – would likely have pulled it in for the most absurd finish in Super Bowl history.
As injured as the Patriots were going into the 2015 AFC Championship Game, as inept as they were on third down (2-for-15), on the ground (44 yards) and in protecting Tom Brady, if Jamie Collins didn’t get burned once, but TWICE by aging Broncos tight end Owen Daniels on play-action touchdowns in the game first 17 minutes, the Patriots would have been in the Super Bowl against the Panthers. Even with that, the Patriots still had a chance to tie the score at 20 and send it into overtime. But their two-point conversion attempt directed to Julian Edelman with 17 seconds left (forced by a Stephen Gostkowski PAT miss after the Patriots first touchdown) was picked off while a seemingly open Gronk ran across the back of the end zone. Would the Patriots have handled Carolina? For the sake of this slide show, sure!
If the NFL had stayed consistent with the way it officiated its “catch rule,” the 22-yard touchdown pass to Corey Clement that came on a third-and-6 in the third quarter of the Super Bowl a year ago would have been ruled incomplete and the Eagles would have settled for a field goal. Also, if the officials caught the formation miscue by the Eagles on the Philly Special touchdown before the half, that score would have been off the board. Or the Patriots could have just decided to play Malcolm Butler instead of forcing a defensive domino effect that put Jordan Richards and Johnson Bademosi on the field in key situations where they came up short. There were a boatload of woulda, couldas and shouldas a year ago that have yet to be explained and will never be corrected.