Stifling win over the Dolphins?
Narrow, last-second loss to the powerful Seahawks on a Sunday night 3,500 miles from home?
A punch-the-clock win over the Raiders where they put Darren Waller in witness protection and ran silly – SILLY!!! – all over Vegas.
Conventional wisdom would say your garden variety Patriots fan would be chest-puffing like it was 2016 all over again.
“Brother, the Patriots aren’t BACK!!! They never left!!! Let’s F****** GOOOOOO!!!!”
But we’re not seeing that. In a highly scientific poll conducted Tuesday for the outstanding and award-winning program "Quick Slants," many respondents believe the Patriots will receive a “Merciless bludgeoning” Sunday from the 3-0 Chiefs.
This study has not yet been peer-reviewed, however, just 39.2 percent of respondents saw the Patriots winning. Of my 136,331 Twitter followers, 84 percent self-identify as “Patriot Honks.” The rest self-identify as “bots.”
So why are so envisioning a bludgeoning? Because they were sentient beings in 2019 when every good team in the AFC cuffed the Patriots around and won with relative ease.
After starting 8-0, they played each of the AFC’s division winners in the second half of the season. Against the Ravens they got down 17-0, they fell behind Houston 21-3, against the Chiefs it was 23-7. Then the Titans ran all over them in the playoffs.
Last year, the Patriots beat the teams they were supposed to beat – often by a lot – and lost almost all of the ones that we supposed were their elite peers. Except definitely-not-elite Miami, which also beat the Patriots in the season finale.
That reality coupled with the hammering the Chiefs put on Baltimore on Monday night means that “staying competitive” should not be an embarrassing goal for the Patriots in this one.
Of course, they’d take deep offense at that suggestion. This is a team that still has players who played in eight straight AFC Championships and won three Super Bowls since 2011.
The script says, if asked whether “keeping it close” would in any way provide a moral victory, the response must be disgusted and indignant.
But somewhere else on that same script is the line: “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.” And wouldn’t making Kansas City sweat a little bit – especially given the ease of their win in Foxboro last December – be progress? After getting ahead 7-0 in that one, the Patriots saw the Chiefs go on a 23-0 run.
They were 2 for 12 on third down and the only touchdown they scored in the second half came at the end of a 19-yard drive after a blocked punt. Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead carried 12 times for 23 yards. They were a good team in record alone by the end of 2019. Are they a good team right now?
Or is their early success and the resultant buzz a partial by-product of: A) teams not knowing what in God’s name they would be all about offensively? B) a team like Seattle being embarrassingly bad at stopping anybody’s passing attack and C) their coaching staff having bigger brains than everyone else?
The Patriots do not HAVE to win Sunday afternoon in order to make progress. Many would be delighted locally if that happened. That’s understandable. But the belief that “good job, good effort” after a narrow loss is beneath these Patriots? Did you snooze through 2019? Did you pay zero attention to the Wild Card game?
Progress, not perfection. Every little bit counts.