By Dan Zeigarnik
Does anyone remember how Patriots fans were taking a victory lap when they found out that they had to face the Jets in the playoffs last year?
New England was 14-2, clearly the best team in the AFC despite its bad defense, and had recently defeated the Jets by 42 points. The 2010 Patriots resemble this year’s Packers, not just because of their great offense, great record, and inability to stop their opponents, but because their fans have already mentally booked reservations for the Super Bowl. However, would anyone be surprised after the fact that like last year’s Jets, the Giants will come in and upset the Packers with a disruptive defense? The Giants have a history of this, as anyone who remembers the Week 17 barnburner against the undefeated Patriots that the Giants lost, only to get the last laugh a short month later. As a fan who has been burned the last couple of years by high expectations, I have appreciated the nervous tension that this year’s Patriots have provided.
This was the collective mood of Patriots nation for a good part of the season, but unfortunately there has been remarkable mood swing. Last week, everyone was petrified of the playoffs, because the team had a terrible month of December despite winning all of its games. The running joke was that they were the worst best-team ever.
Just looking back at the 5 games in December, the games that were supposed to be cakewalks and not prepare the Patriots for the grueling expedition that is the NFL playoffs, makes one wonder where all the newfound exuberance came from:
- For starters, Patriots miraculously played only 2 teams with a winning record all year: Giants and Steelers and lost both of them. That’s right, just 2 games against teams with an above .500 record! For contrast Baltimore is 6-0 against playoff teams. The Patriots also have a 1-2 record against playoff teams this year, losing to the aforementioned Pittsburg and New York while defeating Denver which was 8-8.
- The Patriots, in a pathetic display of mediocrity almost lost a game to the lowly Colts when they just installed a new starting quarterback, Dan Orlovsky.
- They followed the game up with an embarrassing squeaker against the Redskins in which Rex Grossman looked like an All-Pro and had Washington inside the Patriots 10 with a chance to tie the game with seconds left in the 4th quarter, before he threw an interception to Jerod Mayo.
- The next three games against Denver, Miami and Buffalo, saw New England give up big leads early, and only be saved by their opponent’s turnover riddled implosions.
This anemic performance in the month of December has squared perfectly with the criticism that the team has been unable to shed in the past couple of years. Yes, the team is an offensive juggernaut and when they are on a roll its hard to stop Welker, Gronk, and Hernandez. However, their defense is as porous as the Mexican border. They are 31st in pass defense and their vaunted bend-but-don’t-break defense is ranked 23rd in Red Zone defense, letting teams score touchdowns 55% of the time.
Despite all these issues, the team still won 13 games and finished first, but last week fans were incredibly nervous of New England’s ability to make it far in the playoffs, and that’s a good thing. The Boston area’s sense of sports entitlement is nauseating and actually takes away from the enjoyment one gets from rooting on their team. What’s the point of watching the whole season if all you care about is if they win the Super Bowl or not? There was a sense of uncertainty about whether the Patriots of could make it out of the Divisional round, and that’s great. Sports are supposed to have a high level of unpredictability, otherwise why tune in.
Now that the Tebow train is riding into town, everyone assumes that the Patriots will trounce them. Could this happen? Sure and it would be amazing, but I don’t see the reason for such a mood swing. How quickly people have forgotten the lessons from year’s past or even last month’s. Denver ran all over the Patriots until McGahee got injured. Then they proceeded to turn the ball over three times. Without these favorable proverbial bounces of the ball, the game could have turned out much differently.
So let’s hope for a Patriots trouncing of Denver, but to expect it and not take your devilishly-hot streaking opponent seriously is to fail to learn the lessons of history, and we all know what happens to them….
What is with all the one-sided analysis? So take away Denver’s 3 turnovers and the last game would be different? Well, can we take out 3 of the Pat’s bad plays to change the outcome, too? The record of our opponent statement is crap, also. Six of the teams we beat would have had winning seasons if it weren’t for losing to New England. 10 of the teams had winning records at the time we played them. “Enough with the negative waves, Moriarty.”
Lots of comparisons to last year. Big difference is that the Broncos aren’t the rivals the Jets are. Its very easy for the Broncos to make this a game. A couple of TO, run the ball, don’t turn it over themselves. That’s really all the Jets did. Sanchez had really only two big drives in the game. That being said, Patriots SHOULD not have lost last year and this would be worse not because the Broncos are worse than the Jets, just because the Patriots are a better team. They should be able to score 30.
Thanks for commenting, I agree with everything you said, including the fact that we should score 30 points on them. My article was more about the general feeling fans are having going into the game and how we should respect our opponent more, because anything can happen especially given our lackluster defense and our recent history of losing playoff games.
Hi Dan – maybe I run in different circles than you, but none of the Patriots fans that I know are confident of this game. They should win, but it would not be a shock if they don’t. Ever since Super Bowl 42, nothing is guaranteed. I think ultimately it will be 11 points or less (similar to the divisional game against Jacksonville in ’07).
Otherwise I think you cherry-pick stats, especially on defense. Yes, they are 31st in pass defense and 23rd in red zone defense, but their scoring defense in 15th, right behind the Bears and right ahead of Dallas. Not to mention significantly higher than highly regarded Ds as the Jets (20th) and the Giants (25th).
I choose to (maybe too hopefully) tease out the devil in the details and see that perhaps this is the Patriots’ plan. They know their personnel is not good enough to clamp down from the 20s to the 20s, and focus their disguises or more exotic Ds for inside the red zone.
Otherwise I see this as an example of perception: the Packers’ D actually gave up more yards passing and more yards overall, but they don’t “look” as bad, because they have established CBs in Woodson and Tramon Williams. And I think people think that alot of those yards were accumulated in blowout wins; however the Pats and GB tied for the same amount of 10+ wins (8 each) and the Pats actually had more 14+ wins (7 for NE, 5 for GB). Its seems alot, or virtually no one, is talking about GB’s awful D, and if they are, its certainly not with the same slant with the Pats’ D.
Stupid article. You ignored that fact that the Pats beat Dallas (who would have won their division with 1 more victory), Oakland (same deal), Jets twice (would have made the playoffs). Philly (same deal as Dallas). Assiging asterisks for “squeaker” or “pathetic” victories against the Redskins or Colts is pointless. The standings reflect 13 wins, no matter how they came.
The same type of limp argument could be applied to Denver, who barely won nearly every game during the Tebow streak, yet STILL backed into the playoffs at 8-8, needing Oakland and K.C to crap out to get in.
When the Patriots win this game, I fully expect you to start the “can’t beat Houston/Baltimore because…” argument. You suck at being a contrarian.
While I appreciate you taking the time to comment, I find it amusing that you decided to disagree with my ‘asterisks’, while at the same time putting qualifiers on 5 of our victories. Yes if Dallas, Jets (twice), Philly and Oakland, (you forgot the Chargers) were better teams then they would have had above .500 records. But the fact of the matter is, when the season ended, they weren’t even 1 game over 50-50, which makes them mediocre team by definition.
Nowhere in the column do I say that the Patriots don’t deserve to be first place team or that Denver’s wins count more then ours, or that they are a good team. In fact I wrote a whole column last month about how Denver’s wins should not be credited to Tebow’s success but rather the Bronco’s lackluster opposition: http://www.patriotsdaily.com/2011/12/tebow-the-terribl%E2%80%A6%E2%80%A6y-lucky/
Finally, you miss the whole point of my ‘contrariness’. I wasn’t comment on whether or not we can beat the 8-8 Tebowites, but rather that fans should remember how lofty expectations can get fans carried away, and to be weary of any opponent in the playoffs, especially one that is coming off an emotional win, that will be remembered for years to come against a team that thoroughly beat us.
I don’t think it’s a stupid article. It’s a great talking point. However, on the flip side we won every game against playoff teams last year and even beat the eventual SB winner, the Packers. Where did that get us? One of the worst coaching choke jobs of all time. Let’s hope BB doesn’t screw up this time.
Great observation bobd,
just another good example of why players and coaches call the playoffs a whole new season where the slate is wiped clean. I’m sure the Saints did not expect to lose to the 7-9 Seahawks.
I certainly don’t agree this is a stupid article, I am totally with you.
I’m all about tempering expectations, and Denver def has a chance. The article never said we were going to lose, only posits that the 13-3 might not reflect who we are. All of us in New England will be crossing our fingers and praying, although not to Jesus like Timmy T.
Just for the record: the NFL’s awful, worst-in-professional-sports defensive pass interference rule beat the Patriots in the Giants game, not the Giants (that bogus 40-yard call on Arrington on New York’s first TD drive of the 4th quarter still burns me up). Oh, and losing Chung and Spikes to injury on the last NYG touchdown drive didn’t help either.
Pittsburgh was the only team to truly outplay the Patriots over 4 quarters this year–and now they’re gone.
I also wouldn’t worry too much about Baltimore. Joe Flacco had a terrible year, Ray Lewis began to show his age (good luck covering the Pats’ two TE’s over the middle), and they were a .500 team on the road. Yeah, their defense is still great, but the Pats hung some points on them in the regular season game last year at Foxboro (forget the 2009 playoff game–the Pats’ roster has changed by a good 40 or 50 percent since then…it’s irrelevant at this point).
While I’m not assuming anything about Saturday night against Denver, but it’s important to point out that the Broncos’ pass defense–using real stats and not useless “volume” stats like yards allowed–is probably worse than New England’s. (Denver’s Defensive Passer Rating was significantly worse than NE’s this year…it wasn’t even close, in fact.)
I agree with you that the Giants game was very close, and Tom Brady had a game winning fourth quarter drive only to be outdone by Manning throwing to another number 85. It was gut wrenching.
I also agree with you about Baltimore, it all depends on which Joe Flacco shows up. I saw the Chargers beat on the in San Diego, so hopefully their road woes continue.
I think getting Chung back and Spikes is a significant factor, too. When Indy went on their run in 2006, they had one of the worst defenses every to suit up (to that point), but they got Sanders back, and then shut down two good running attacks, in KC and Baltimore in the playoffs.
Alright, Alright, A win over a banged up Steelers team and we should what? be nervous about Tebow.
CMON MAN. Yea, I have “lofty Expectations” for the Pats and I should. 13-3 vs 8-8, we should and will as we did just a few short weeks ago send Tebow and company back to Denver praying, In the name of the father, son, and Tom Brady, again………………..Sorry dude, Patriots Nation has high lofty expectations.
By the way Rex Ryan was spotted crying over a coupke dozen of Krispy Kremes.
I really don’t feel that people are ‘doing laps’ about facing the Broncos like we may have last year when meeting the Jets. I do think that fans are confident considering two things:
– The Steelers, beat up as they were, represented a more complete team than Denver.
– The Patriots beat them 4 weeks ago in a game that was very hyped (remember the prolonged battle of ‘flexing’ the game to NBC?), played in Denver, the Pats did not play particularly well… and won by 18.
I do believe that so often these games are about match-ups, and not linear stuff like ‘team A scored a bunch on team B, and Team C’s defense is not nearly as good, so team A should score even more, easily!’. I think the Pats match-up better offensively with Denver than Pittsburgh, and I think the Pats defense, while flawed, can play more disciplned than Pittsburgh and enjoy success. Stopping the run will be huge, obviously.
Finally, this nonsense about not beating a team that is above .500. Let’s all say it together: they ALL would have been over .500 if they beat the Patriots… but they didn’t. The Broncos are 9-8… but if the Pats beat them Saturday night, they will once again be .500. What then?
In a word…no.
I thought it was a relatively balanced and good article but i agree with the fans who point out the record against winning teams argument as rubbish. NEP beat the teams they were supposed to and some they weren’t so while we can be reserved in our enthusiasm, we are favored to win for the right reasons. While it is always glorious to beat the jets and steelers, this will be a good game against a good and likeable opponent, not like when denver had that detestable blowhard shannon sharp. Is there really doubt that BB can get an effective plan and his team prepared for this second meeting? Broncos had no answer for the TEs so expect a heavy dose. Hopefully no one runs their mouth and gets suspended for the first quarter so we can bathe in the awesomeness of another nailbiting playoff run.