It is seldom that the word perfect can ever accurately describe a situation in sports, much less an entire NFL season. However, no word better describes the 2014 NFL season for the New England Patriots. The Super Bowl champions and its fans endured its fair share of adversity, particularly early on, and were rewarded handsomely five months later when a Russell Wilson pass landed in the arms of the previously unknown and undrafted rookie, Malcolm Butler. Hollywood. Although the Patriots have won four Super Bowls since 2001, this one was quite possibly the sweetest because:
1. They had spent the last nine years losing important playoff games in heartbreaking fashion. Up 21-3 at Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC Championship game. Lost. 18-0 in 2007, seeking perfection, and up 14-10 with 2:00 to go? Lost. Losing to the division rival New York Jets at home in 2010. Up 17-15 with 2:00 to go in Super Bowl 46 in 2011? Lost. AFC Championship Game losses to conference foes Baltimore and Denver in 2012 and 2013 respectively. It became as easy to count the regular season accolades and conference game appearances as it was to count the shortcomings in said contests. 2014 expelled the notion that the Patriots dynasty was over. It may serve as a bookend (Brady isn’t done just yet) to an unprecedented run of success
2. Trent Dilfer:
It took four games (albeit four brutal games) for sportswriters and television personalities to question Tom Brady’s greatness and level of play. Donovan McNabb, Trent Dilfer, and the other fools made it that much sweeter when Tom hoisted his fourth Lombardi Trophy
3. The Patriots wasted little time establishing dominance in the AFC. Clobbered Cincinnati 43-17. Blew the doors off Denver 43-21 and participated in Part I of an annual tradition Patriots fans call The Indianapolis Slaughter 42-20. The Patriots played the best and beat the best.
4. Beat Baltimore. The Ravens have been the thorn in the side of the Patriots since 2009 when they embarrassed the Patriots at home in a playoff game for the first time in the Brady and Belichick era. The Patriots bowed out to Baltimore in 2012 at home again. They were not as formidable this year but gave New England all they could handle. It felt right playing and beating Baltimore en route to a championship.
5. Part II of The Indianapolis Slaughter. Would have loved to beat Peyton Manning but embarrassing a team so clearly not ready for the big stage was enjoyable.
6. DeflateGate. I regret having to make reference to this but after two weeks of Patriots haters doing what they do best, going to bed early AM on February 2nd knowing that all they had to hold onto was a PSI infraction while we had a Super Bowl Championship was pretty special.
7. Super Bowl 49: What a Super Bowl it was. The very fact that Patriots fans sat solemnly in the fourth quarter faced with the harsh reality that New England would likely lose.
Fast forward twenty minutes and they are rejoicing and believing steadfastly that the Pats would win to praying for Seattle to not punch it in or to punch it in and give us the ball back to Malcolm Butler’s interception. The theatre, the highs and lows, sweaty palms, and ultimately, the result.
8. Tom Brady. He is the face of the dominant era, the golden boy, the icon to so many New Englanders. The fact that our guy, at age 37, after all of the backlash from early on in the season, marched the Patriots down the field twice in the fourth quarter against what many consider the best defense of our generation and possibly all time, to score 14 points and go 13-15, 124 yards, and 2 TDs makes it that much more special. OUR guy won it for us and made those championship plays. The same guy we watched make clutch throws to JR Redmond, Troy Brown, and Deion Branch made them ten years later to Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen, and Julian Edelman.
What a season it was! Which brings me to my greatest concern about the team and its fans. What happens after a great night out? A hangover. I worry the same thing will happen to the team but more specifically, its fans. The team is simple. It is hard to have the exact same motivation after achieving the ultimate goal. I have faith that a Tom Brady led team will maintain unwavering focus, but losing Wilfork and not having those guys like Bruschi and McGinest and Light when they were able to repeat will be hard.
For fans, it feels like they are at peace. The aforementioned glory from the 2014 season was perfect and for many it feels like 2015 and beyond with Brady and Belichick is a round of poker with house money. The best thing about playing with house money is you don’t NEED to win. The worst thing about playing with house money is you don’t NEED to win. Winning a super bowl between 2006 and 2014 became an obsession. With every gut wrenching loss, the need became stronger and stronger. I have said it before, but akin to the pre-2004 red sox. I don’t want to see the fan base rest on their laurels.
2014 was THE year. Brady was 37. They signed Revis and Browner. Gronkowski was finally healthy. The AFC was weak. All. In.
DeflateGate happened. Revis left. Wilfork and Browner left. Doesn’t seem to be the same amount of outrage surrounding the departures and controversy. I challenge Patriots fans to maintain that fire and sense of urgency. Brady is turning 38 in August and the rest of the country has spent the last five months discrediting him. 2015 will hopefully be remembered not as a hangover for Patriots fans, but a quest for One for the Thumb.
Just in case you are bored today: