No end in sight for the Patriots
FOXBOROUGH — Guess the no-respect card is out.
The NFL playoffs start tomorrow, and everyone from Vegas to Sports Illustrated is picking the Patriots to win Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas. Peter King takes the Patriots over the Packers. Tony Kornheiser takes the Patriots over the field. If Messrs. Belichick, Brady, and Kraft find themselves hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Jerry Jones’s crib, they are hereby prohibited from saying, “Nobody thought we could do it.’’
This is the eighth time Bill and Tom have taken Bob’s team to the tournament. The first three trips yielded Super Bowl trophies. The last four . . . not so much.
Bill Belichick is doing his best to avoid any overconfidence. He spanked his guys when they returned to practice Wednesday.
Yesterday, Vince Wilfork was asked about the Patriots’ sudden status as front-runners, and Big Vince immediately shifted into Patriotspeak overdrive.
“We’ve got a sign here that says, ‘Don’t believe the hype,’ ’’ he said. “All year we’ve had bumps and bruises. Everybody un derstands what their role is, how we need to approach. There’s things we can clean up as a ball club.
“It’s about the New England Patriots. We don’t pay attention to outside noise. If we do things as a team and go out and practice well, we’ll be OK. We’ve got a bunch of guys in our locker room who hate to lose.’’
Wilfork was here for only one Super Bowl championship. In his other Patriot playoff years, he has gone home with a loss.
For all of their greatness in this century, the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl in six years. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have won two since Belichick and Tom Brady last won one. It hurts even more to remind yourself that Rex Ryan has won two more playoff games than Belichick since becoming a head coach.
Most playoff teams lose their final game. It’s simple math. Twelve teams sign up for the bake-off and 11 of them go home with a loss.
The Patriots have lost their last two playoff games: the 2008 Super Bowl and last January’s rout at home at the hands of the Ravens. The last time the Patriots won a playoff game was the AFC Championship against the Chargers at Gillette on Jan. 12, 2008.
In reverse order, this is the way the season ended each of the last seven times the Patriots made the playoffs:
Jan. 10, 2010: Baltimore 33, New England 14. We all know it was much worse than the sorry score. Ray Rice went 83 yards up the gut on the first play from scrimmage (he could have continued, Gump-like, up Route 1 into Walpole). We like to talk about the Patriots winning 17 consecutive regular-season home games and Brady winning 28 straight at Gillette, but the playoff humbling at the hands of the Ravens stands as the inconvenient truth regarding New England’s Foxborough dominance.
Feb. 3, 2008, Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants 17, New England 14. David Tyree never caught another pass. Asante Samuel took his talents to Philadelphia after letting that pass sail between his hands. History was derailed and there was nationwide applause from those who believed the Patriots cheated their way to greatness. This game forever will be an open wound in New England and will be referenced a few million times as the Patriots plot their return.
Jan. 21, 2007, AFC Championship: Indianapolis 38, New England 34. This is where the seeds were planted for 18-0. This is when Belichick pledged never again to punt the ball to Peyton Manning at the end of a close game. The Patriots led this game, 21-3. They were going all the way. Again. New England’s final drive was stopped when Brady was intercepted by Marlin Jackson. It remains the only time the Patriots have lost an AFC Championship game.
Jan. 14, 2006: Denver 27, New England 13. The Patriots committed five turnovers — half as many as they had in 16 games this season. The key play was Champ Bailey’s 100-yard return of a Brady interception. Ben Watson famously ran down Bailey at the 1, but the damage was done. It was the first playoff loss of the Belichick-Brady era, snapping a 10-game win streak.
Feb. 6, 2005, Super Bowl XXXIX: New England 24, Philadelphia 21. While Donovan McNabb threw up, Deion Branch caught 11 passes and copped the MVP as the Patriots became the second team in NFL history (joining Dallas) to win three Super Bowls in four seasons. Rodney Harrison sealed it with his second interception in a game played at
Feb. 1, 2004, Super Bowl XXXVIII: New England 32, Carolina 29. Brady won his second Super Bowl MVP and Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winner with four seconds remaining. This established that New England’s first Super Bowl was not a fluke. Possibly the most talented team of the Belichick era.
Feb. 3, 2002, Super Bowl XXXVI: New England 20, St Louis 17. The first one is always the best one. Vinatieri’s last-second 48-yarder capped Brady’s dramatic drive in the final minute as John Madden told him to take a knee. Played at the New Orleans Superdome, which should be the site of every Super Bowl, this game triggered a decade of dominance in New England.
“Every year is a new year,’’ Wilfork reminded us yesterday. “One thing we’ve done a great job of is putting the past behind us. Guys who was here for that, we don’t think about it.
“At the same time, we hate to lose. Some guys don’t know what playoffs is all about. We’ve got to do a good job getting guys ready.’’
I think they’ll be ready. These aren’t the same Patriots who were smoked at home by the Ravens last year.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.