THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Opportune time

It appears Patriots have a clear shot

Patriots coach Bill Belichick already has won three Super Bowls, but has a chance to add to his legacy. Patriots coach Bill Belichick already has won three Super Bowls, but has a chance to add to his legacy. (Winslow Townson/Associated Press)
By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / January 21, 2012
Text size +
  • E-mail
  • E-mail this article

    Invalid E-mail address
    Invalid E-mail address

    Sending your article

    Your article has been sent.

FOXBOROUGH - Maybe Steve Wynn wants to rethink trying to put a casino here. If patrons are going to experience the same sort of favorable fortune that the Patriots, who can advance to Super Bowl XLVI tomorrow with a win over the Ravens in the AFC Championship game, have enjoyed this season, it’s not worth the trouble.

Opportunity isn’t knocking on the door here. It’s bashing it down with a medieval battering ram. This might be the best chance that Tom Brady, 34, and Bill Belichick, 60 in April, have left to add to their legacy and trophy collection.

Nearly all relevant obstacles to a championship have been removed from the Patriots’ path, as if Mark Henderson plowed the rest of the playoff field aside for them the way he created a tidy swath of turf for the winning field goal in the Snowplow Game in 1982.

No Peyton Manning. No Ben Roethlisberger. No Rex Ryan. No Drew Brees. No Aaron Rodgers. This playoff field is as soft as a pair of Brady’s UGG boots.

Events have lined up perfectly for the Patriots to host the AFC Championship game and punch their ticket to a fifth Super Bowl in 11 seasons. Call it karma for Patriots owner Robert Kraft helping to end the lockout.

In a season of unabated offense in the NFL that may go down as the Year of the Quarterback, the Patriots can advance to the Big Game without having to take down a single elite signal-caller. The list of quarterbacks the Patriots avoided playing in the AFC playoffs reads like a Pro Bowl program: Manning, Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub, and Philip Rivers.

Here are the quarterbacks they will have beaten if they earn their way to Indianapolis - Tim Tebow and Joe Flacco.

Tebow’s teammate, Champ Bailey, said Tebow has to learn to throw from the pocket, kind of an important quality for an NFL quarterback. Flacco sounds like the Eeyore of NFL QBs. He has spent all week bemoaning critiques and a shortfall of respect after Baltimore safety Ed Reed said Flacco looked “rattled’’ in the playoff victory over the Texans.

Flacco possesses a 5-3 playoff record, including a win over the Patriots in the 2009 postseason. However, he threw just 10 times in that game and has thrown more interceptions (seven) than touchdown passes (six) in his postseason career. Brady threw six touchdown passes last week against Denver. Flacco is still the best quarterback the Patriots have faced in 11 weeks.

Avoiding high-quality quarterback play is a minor miracle when you consider the Patriots’ pass defense allowed the second-most passing yards in the history of the league (4,977), 11 yards short of equaling the ignominious record set by this year’s Packers.

However, the Packers faced two of the three quarterbacks who topped 5,000 yards this season - Brees, who set the season record for passing yards, and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford (twice). The Patriots faced none of the 5,000-yard club, unless you count going against Brady in practice.

If the Patriots go to the Super Bowl they will have to contend with 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who until this year was one of the biggest busts in NFL draft history, or Giants QB Eli Manning, who beat the Patriots Nov. 6.

New England’s history in a Super Bowl with Eli is little bit like Mary Todd Lincoln’s with Ford’s Theatre, but I’d still take my chances with Manning the Younger over Brees or Rodgers, who would slice and dice the Patriots’ secondary like an “Iron Chef’’ contestant.

Making the Patriots’ championship run even sweeter is the fact it’s occurring while their two biggest rivals, the Colts and Jets, are in disarray.

The Jets’ season ended amid bickering, backbiting, and locker room division that made the Red Sox’ September collapse look like a company picnic.

Imitating their outspoken coach, Gang Green has held nothing back, ganging up on each other with anonymous putdowns in the press. Players called wide receiver Santonio Holmes a “cancer’’ and criticized Brady wannabe QB Mark Sanchez as “lazy’’ and “coddled.’’

Even better than the schadenfreude from the fallout of the J-E-T-S, mess, mess, mess is that the Patriots could celebrate a championship in the backyard of their staunchest rival, and enjoy a week of Super Bowl stories about how the Patriot Way has endured while the Colts’ blueprint for success has been revealed to have fatal design flaws.

Super Bowl XLVI is at the Colts’ home field, Lucas Oil Stadium. You think Belichick wouldn’t enjoy toting the trophy around at the site of his most questioned coaching decision ever, the famed failed fourth and 2 in 2009?

He could stick it to both the Colts and his critics. That’s as close to nirvana for His Hoodiness outside of Nantucket.

This is simply an opportunity too good to be wasted by Brady and Belichick, who can become the only coach-QB combo to advance to five Super Bowls, and join Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw as the only duo to win four.

All they have to do to be reminded of the fugacity of such an opportunity is look across the field at Ravens safety Bernard Pollard.

After the almost perfect ’07 season, it was assumed the Patriots would simply pick up where they left off. Instead, Pollard, then a Kansas City Chief, plowed into Brady’s left knee in the first quarter of the 2008 season opener.

It’s taken New England four years since then to get this close to another title shot. They might not get another this good.

The board is clear, Patriots. Don’t waste a chance to do something Super.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.

  • E-mail
  • E-mail this article

    Invalid E-mail address
    Invalid E-mail address

    Sending your article

    Your article has been sent.

Patriots Video