Hindsight 2020: The Patriots should have won 11 Super Bowls — seriously

Hindsight 2020: The Patriots should have won 11 Super Bowls — seriously

Let’s get greedy. You enjoyed those six Super Bowl parades, right? What if I told you there could have very, very, very easily have been four more.


Ten Lombardis from 2001 through 2018. Do you know how close the Patriots were to that? And I’m not even really talking about plays that arise easily when we get to lamenting — the helmet catch or Welker’s drop.

I’m talking about plays that were more hidden than those. Different dominoes in championship games which — if they wobbled and fell in a different direction — would have almost certainly led to Super Bowl wins.

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Plays that woulda, coulda, shoulda been made by Hall of Fame players. Legends. We’re not here to vilify them for those plays. The Patriots wouldn’t have been in these high-leverage spots in the first place if they didn’t have these guys.

But, still … with the benefit of hindsight it’s human nature to sometimes wonder, “What if?”

And what better way to spend your time quarantined during a pandemic than to wallow in opportunity lost.

Up first? What if Troy Brown worked to the outside in the 2006 AFC Championship Game against the Colts?

You know the story. The Patriots were bludgeoning Indy at halftime of that AFCCG until a Peyton Manning-led comeback against a gassed Patriots defense methodically closed the gap in the second half.

But the dirty detail of how Manning got to his first Super Bowl after nearly a decade of the entire NFL genuflecting at the altar of his supposed greatness is that it took a miscommunication by Brady and the great Troy Brown to clear the way for Manning.

The Patriots led 34-31 with 2:30 remaining. They had the ball at their own 46 and were facing third-and-4. Indy was down to one timeout. A first down would mean Indy would burn its final timeout before it got the ball back. If it got the ball back.

Brady was in shotgun. Brown was split wide to the right and motioned before the snap so that he was at the hip of Jabar Gaffney. At the snap, Gaffney pressed inside and Brown subtly pressed inside as well then stopped just past the sticks. He stopped his route there, turned and waited. Brady threw. Bob Sanders jumped the route and broke it up — nearly intercepting it.

As the ball hit the turf, Brady looked at Brown and jabbed a finger toward the sideline as if to say, “It was empty out there! You shouldn’t have sat down, you should have gone to the empty space!”

The camera then cut to Brady and Brown as they left the field. Brady’s exasperation was obvious. You can go to the 2:02:00 mark to see the play and aftermath.

The bigger aftermath? The Patriots punted, the Colts went on a penalty-aided (chintzy roughing the passer on Tully Banta-Cain), injury-aided (Eric Alexander in for Tedy Bruschi was burned for a 32-yard completion) drive that ended with a touchdown and sent Indy to the Super Bowl where they got by a boring-ass, Rex Grossman-led Bears team the Patriots destroyed in the regular season. Had the Patriots played Chicago on that rainy night in Miami? Undoubtedly, it would have been their fourth Super Bowl win in five seasons.

If they had won that year, would they have loaded up like they did prior to 2007 with Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Adalius Thomas? Hard to say. But since they did do that load-up, let’s look at the next lament. If you can.

The two most painful games in Boston sports history are the Red Sox 1978 one-game playoff loss to the Yankees and the Super Bowl 42 loss to the Giants. I think most would agree.

And while most of the focus on what might have been in SB42 is locked on either David Tyree’s catch or Asante Samuel’s would-be pick … just wait, THERE’S STILL MORE.

The first? Eschewing a 48-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal attempt late in the third quarter when the score was 7-3 and the Patriots faced fourth-and-13. The Patriots had already run 14 plays on the drive and saw it extended on an earlier third-and-13 completion by Brady and a Giants penalty on a punt. A Michael Strahan sack on third down when he blew past Nick Kaczur backed the Patriots from the Giants’ 25 out to the 31.

Gostkowski was 3 for 5 outside 40 yards in 2007 and was 8 for 8 on field goals in the postseason before SB42. The Patriots instead tried to run Gaffney on a double-move to the end zone. That was covered, Brady looked short to Kevin Faulk who came up lame near the sideline and Brady went back to Gaffney with a late throw that landed well out of bounds near the end zone. See 1:10:30 for that exchange.

The Giants' final drive was a cavalcade of what-ifs. On the first, with 1:59 left, an Eli Manning balloon could have been picked by Rodney Harrison.

The second? It was fourth-and-1 at the Giants 37. Manning turned and handed to Brandon Jacobs. Tedy Bruschi shot a gap and took on Jacobs’ lead blocker. Mike Vrabel, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour were at or near the point of attack. Junior Seau loomed at the second level. Vrabel and Warren crushed the right side of the Giants line. Wilfork had a great initial anchor but got turned out of the hole. Seau got walled off at the second level. Jacobs fell forward for a yard. First down.

The next four plays were insanity. First, Manning nearly got strip-sacked by Thomas. Then he threw it to the sideline and Samuel had his near pick, then came the helmet catch. That was followed by ANOTHER balloon to the sideline that could have been picked by Brandon Meriweather. That was as lamentable as the Samuel missed pick. And then, on third-and-11 with the Giants just trying to pick up a chunk, Meriweather got hung up on a rub and allowed Steve Smith to gain 11 yards. The next play was the Plaxico Burress touchdown which was really a formality.

I gotta stop with this game. I’m sorry. But rewatching Manning on that drive doesn’t cement his HOF candidacy for me. It kills it.

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Let’s talk about more misery. Super Bowl 46.

Aside from the Welker drop (bad throw by Brady, missed connection, whatever you want to call it), the ball was rolling ALL OVER THE FIELD THAT DAY and the Patriots couldn’t come up with a damn fumble.

And when they did (like on a third-and-3 from their 11 when Brandon Spikes fell on a loose ball) it got wiped off the board by penalty (too many men on the field). And then came a touchdown.

Late in the third and early in the fourth, the Patriots forced fumbles. Both times, the Giants recovered. Both times they continued on to score.

And when the Patriots found themselves down 21-17 with one last shot? Drop by Deion Branch. Drop By Aaron Hernandez to start the final drive. Despite that, the Patriots still had a last Hail Mary which, if completed, the league would have been forced to shut down since there was nothing else that could ever top it.

And how close did it come to being caught? Inches. If Rob Gronkowski didn’t have a messed-up ankle and could have pushed off, he catches it instead of flopping to the ground a beat too late.

On to the last nut punch. Can you see my mood growing progressively worse and my interest in this exercise waning? Good. Because it is.

The 2015 AFCCG in Denver. Peyton Manning’s arm as useless as a third nipple. And what does Jamie Collins do TWICE?!!?!? Bites too hard on play-action, allowing tight end Owen Daniels to walk behind him and score touchdowns off of Manning flutter-balls.

That accounted for 14 of the Broncos' 20 points. The Patriots ended the day with 18. Why the weird number? You remember why.

Stephen Gostkowski missed his first PAT since 2006 at the start of the game so the Patriots were chasing points. And after they scored a touchdown on a miraculous Gronk-heavy drive to close the score to 20-18, Brady got picked on the extra point, choosing to throw to a well-covered Edelman rather than a (somehow) uncovered Gronk.

Google it yourself. It’s all on YouTube. Anyway, the Patriots win that, they go to the Super Bowl and undress Carolina, which was a paper tiger team that season anyway. There. Ten Super Bowls. Oh, and yeah. We already went over Malcolm Butler last week.

So 11.

You’re welcome. Have a nice weekend.

NFL Rumors: Patriots re-sign undrafted rookie WR Isaiah Zuber

NFL Rumors: Patriots re-sign undrafted rookie WR Isaiah Zuber

The New England Patriots brought one of their undrafted rookies back into the fold on Wednesday.

Isaiah Zuber, a wide receiver out of Mississippi State, reportedly has been re-signed after being cut by the team a week ago.

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Zuber played three seasons at Kansas State before transferring to Mississippi State for his senior season, in which he tallied 14 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns. The 23-year-old's best college season came during his junior year, when he had 52 catches for 619 yards and five touchdowns.

The Patriots have had eight players opt out of the 2020 NFL season so far -- including WR Marqise Lee -- thus opening up roster spots for the undrafted free agents who initially were cut. Fellow UDFA receiver Will Hastings also was re-signed by the team shortly after being released.

NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL training camps officially began Tuesday, but there were some notable absences.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season last Friday, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, multiple players have followed suit, continuing a trend across all major North American professional sports of players declining to participate in their seasons as COVID-19 persists in the United States.

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The Patriots especially have felt the impact of this trend: Eight New England players -- including star linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- already have opted out, the most of any NFL team.

Below is a running list of the players who have opted out of the 2020 NFL season, according to reports or team/player confirmations. The list is sorted alphabetically after the Patriots, with the date of the players' opt-outs in parentheses.

New England Patriots

RB Brandon Bolden (July 28)
OT Marcus Cannon (July 28)
S Patrick Chung (July 28)
LB Dont'a Hightower (July 28)
WR Marqise Lee (August 1)
OG Najee Toran (July 27)
FB Danny Vitale (July 27)
TE Matt LaCosse (August 2)

Arizona Cardinals

OT Marcus Gilbert (August 4)

Baltimore Ravens

OT Andre Smith (July 28)
WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas (July 27)

Buffalo Bills

CB E.J. Gaines (August 2)
DT Star Lotulelei (July 28)

Carolina Panthers

LB Jordan Mack (July 28)
LB Christian Miller (August 3)

Chicago Bears

DT Eddie Goldman (July 28)
S Jordan Lucas (August 3)

Cincinnati Bengals

OT Isaiah Prince (July 31)
DT Josh Tupou (July 31)

Cleveland Browns

DT Andrew Billings (August 4)
OL Drake Dorbeck (July 29)
OL Drew Forbes (July 29)
OL Colby Gossett (August 4)

Dallas Cowboys

CB Maurice Canady (July 27)
WR Stephen Guidry (July 28)
FB Jamize Olawale (August 2)

Denver Broncos

OT JaWuan James (August 3)
DT Kyle Peko (July 28)

Detroit Lions

DT John Atkins (July 29)
WR Geronimo Allison (August 2)
C Russell Bodine (August 5)

Green Bay Packers

WR Devin Funchess (July 28)

Houston Texans

DT Eddie Vanderdoes (July 28)

Indianapolis Colts

DB Rolan Milligan (August 5) 
LB Skai Moore (August 4)
DB Marvell Tell (August 5)

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Larentee McCray (August 1)
DL Al Woods (July 31)

Kansas City Chiefs

OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (July 24)
RB Damien Williams (July 29)

Las Vegas Raiders

LB Ukeme Eligwe (August 4)
CB D.J. Killings (August 3)
DE Jeremiah Valoaga (August 3)

Los Angeles Rams

OT Chandler Brewer (July 31)

Miami Dolphins

WR Allen Hurns (August 4)
WR Albert Wilson (August 5)

Minnesota Vikings

NT Michael Pierce (July 28)

New Orleans Saints

TE Jason Vander Laan (July 28)
TE Cole Wick (July 28)

New York Giants

CB Sam Beal (August 5)
WR Da'Mari Scott (August 2)
LT Nate Solder (July 29)

New York Jets

OL Leo Koloamatangi (July 28)
LB C.J. Mosley (August 1)

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Marquise Goodwin (July 28)

San Francisco 49ers

WR Travis Benjamin (August 4)

Seattle Seahawks

OG Chance Warmack (July 27)

Tennessee Titans

OL Anthony McKinney (July 28)

Washington Football Team

DT Caleb Brantley (July 27)
LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (August 3)

Free Agents

G Larry Warford (July 28)