Every year since 2004, basically, the Patriots have been ranked in the preseason to either be the best team in the league or at least a contender to win the Super Bowl. You'll also note that every year since 2005, the Patriots, for one reason or another, did not win the Super Bowl. Yet, they're perpetual favorites. This is strange, no?
This season has been no different. The constant debate around the league and in New England is "can they win with such a bad defense?" The simple answer is no, but many of us don't want to ever count them out, and the reason is just too obvious: Tom Brady's offense has so many dangerous weapons.
This isn't the '07 team that relied on Randy Moss going deep and Wes Welker running quick 8-yard routes. It has three elite players that simply can't be covered one-on-one. You want to take Welker out of the game? Fine, but you're going to get killed by Rob Gronkowski. So you can try to double Gronkowski, and it probably won't work, but then you'll get killed by Welker, too. Oh and there's Aaron Hernandez, who is impossible to cover or tackle, running around, so you probably want to double him, too.
But you can't double all of them, and in the end, you have to pick which one of them you want to let kill you. It's like deciding whether you'd rather get the electric chair, face a firing squad or receive a lethal injection … only the stakes are somewhat lower.
The Broncos chose to die by the way of Hernandez (a worthy choice, I guess) on Sunday, and he thanked them by killing them. Just murdered them. Slaughter. Nine catches, 129 yards, a touchdown, a 16-yard run and another touchdown catch that didn't end up counting on the scoreboard.
Plus, in deciding to "shut down" Welker and Gronkowski, the Broncos limited those two to "just" eight combined catches for 94 yards. That's a pretty good "bad day" for those two.
It's why we can't ever give up on the Patriots, and it's why that team that is mocked and criticized to no end 24 hours a day on local talk radio is 11-3, has the best record in the AFC and is a division champion for the eighth time in nine years. It's why you're not a complete lunatic if you think this team has a real chance to win a couple of playoff games and find its way to the Super Bowl.
Now let's get into all the rest of the leftover thoughts from the Patriots' 41-23 win over Tim Tebow and the Broncos.
–If you logged on to Twitter in the first quarter, you might have thought the '85 Bears were getting blown out with the way people were expressing shock and dismay at how bad the Patriots' defense was performing. What, exactly, were people expecting? This was the league's No. 1 rushing offense against the league's worst defense. It was slightly worse than expected, yeah, but still, it was only 16 points.
–The much bigger surprise was how consistently terrible the Denver defense performed. At no point did the Broncos look like the great defense we've heard about throughout their six-game winning streak, and they ended up allowing 9.1 yards per pass and 3.9 yards per rush. Sure, the Elvis Dumervil sack provides a nice highlight, but it's hardly indicative of the day the Denver defense had.
–That Dumervil sack was painful to watch, and the Patriots are fortunate Brady wasn't seriously hurt. He's already dealt with tennis elbow this year (from all the tennis that guy plays!), and the super-duper slow-motion video that Deadspin posted shows Dumervil's helmet hitting the golden boy directly in the golden forearm. Imagine if that bone snapped. It would have been Bernard Pollard 2.0, and you wouldn't be reading this story. You'd be crying.
–While we're on the topic of sad, depressing injury news, I can't proceed without talking about Andre Carter. I try not to overreact to anything, and I try not to overvalue any one player's importance (so long as that player's first name is not Thomas and his middle names aren't Edward and Patrick), but without Carter, I find it hard to envision the Patriots winning three playoff games. Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo have always been solid and reliable, but Carter added the playmaking element the defense has lacked for years. If Carter does indeed need surgery, like a million reports suggest, then the 32nd-ranked defense just lost its best player. I suppose you could interpret that a number of ways, but I see it as a unit that can't afford to lose No. 93.
–While I think that's the case, I know that the Patriots handled Denver pretty well in Carter's absence, outscoring Denver 34-10 after he left the game. Maybe Mark Anderson can make up for some of those sacks, but long term, the thought of the Patriots without Carter should be frightening.
–Sometimes I'm overly critical on play-by-play guys and color commentators for the stupid things they say, but really, I understand that when you're talking nonstop on live telvision for three hours, you're bound to have a slip of the tongue. But Phil Simms wasn't thinking on his toes or rushing out a statement when he said that Tebow's wildly inaccurate passes are by design so that he doesn't throw interceptions.
That's why he misses receivers by 10 yards? Really? That's the only way he knows how to not throw picks? And that's a good thing? That should be celebrated? Here's a picture of a great throw by Tebow that landed 5 full yards short of his receiver.
–When the officials called a penalty on the Patriots late in the game, I have to admit, John Fox yelling "Bring out the band!" and playing the air tuba was a truly brilliant reaction. At the same time, Fox was far too concerned with the officials all afternoon and not nearly as focused as he should have been on his putrid defense. Maybe if you could come up with a third-down stop, you wouldn't need to cry to the officials.
–It's both a pet peeve of mine and a point of fascination that knowing the actual rules of the game are not a prerequisite to be in the NFL. What exactly were Kyle Arrington and Sergio Brown doing on the botched PAT? And what was Brown celebrating?
–On the "knowing the rules" point, you'd think Simms, after nearly two decades as a network's lead color guy, would know that the punting team can't advance a muffed punt. But nope, Simms was wondering why there was no penalty called for an illegal forward lateral. Not his best moment.
–So CBS is inviting us to watch a new sitcom starring Rob Schneider and Cheech Marin? If that doesn't scream "David Spade guest appearance," then I don't know what does.
–We've grown used to it in New England over the past two seasons, but don't you just cringe every time Hernandez stops running, takes a step backward, looks to be tackled, but then spins and somehow escapes and runs free for 20 yards, then does it all over again? That type of running has never worked for anyone before (well, maybe Reggie Bush against UCLA) but Hernandez somehow makes it happen.
—Chad Ochocinco's touchdown in the first quarter was nice, but I liked his block on Hernandez's long catch and run much more. I probably should have been born in 1920, I'm telling you.
–Keeping on the old-school, hard-nosed football, I'll tell you that I love the way Stevan Ridley runs with the ball. Good, strong, hard running, plus speed, with the fight-for-every-inch mind-set that makes all the difference in the world.
–In the "little things" department, BenJarvus Green-Ellis' first down run on third-and-1 with 2:35 left in the third quarter was just so tremendously important. It kept the drive going, Green-Ellis showed great discipline and patience, and the simple 5-yard gain led to roughly two more minutes taken off the clock and seven more points put on the board. If that were Laurence Maroney, the Patriots would have been punting. Again, it's the little things.
–I harp on it often, but I'm always blown away by Brady's quarterback sneak, which is 100 percent successful when the Patriots need it to be. It's having that in your back pocket that allows you to run a play-action pass to Hernandez for 25 yards on fourth-and-1.
–I know you want to remind me that the quarterback sneak didn't work on the goal line twice late in the game, but that was on first and second down. They didn't need that yard. When they need it, they get it. (Unless Rex Ryan breaks the rules and calls timeouts.)
–My other weekly staple is where I express bewilderment at the opposing team for neglecting my simple game plan of covering Wesley Welker. The Broncos did a pretty good job of that, but they did try this strategy for covering Gronkowski :
–Simms also said that "nobody was open" when Tebow ran directly into an Anderson sack with 5:08 left in the third quarter, just as the replay showed Matt Willis with a step and a half on Nate Jones:
Everyone enjoys a little Tebow Time, but come on, you don't have to lie to our faces. He's not very good. Just tell us that. We can handle it.
–Hernandez is known for "making it rain" after scoring, but his creativity shines through in his miming of where that cash is coming from. He's dug it up in the past and also taken it out of a safe, but it looked Sunday like he was taking it out of the inside of his jacket. I imagine this jacket to look like this, only substitute that cigarette for a fancy pipe.
–No, not that kind of pipe.
–I really loved Danny Woodhead just chilling after scoring a touchdown. He looked like a little kid hanging out in the sandbox. Because he's small. Get it?
–The offense was great, the defense was OK, but there was spectacular punt and kick coverage by the Patriots, providing another reminder that when coaches say there are three phases to football, it's not just lip service.
–The alarming number of people freaking out via Twitter when monkeys were riding dogs around the field was just proof that you really should read NESN.com more often. It'll make you smarter.
—Ross Ventrone got to play, so score one for the little guys, but he stood by idly as Julian Edelman got popped in the mouth on a punt return.
–Saw this cool stat: Brady became just the second player to ever record 35 or more touchdown passes in three different seasons.
The not-so-cool part: The other guy is Brett Favre.
–More fun with statistics: In the Patriots' six-game winning streak, Brady is 139-for-209 (66.5 percent) for 1,890 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception.
–If the Patriots had lost, the entire week on sports radio would have been dedicated to "Should Belichick have challenged Hernandez's touchdown?" debate, which would have been just thrilling. Because the Patriots ended up winning by 18, that discussion will only consume about 9 hours of talk radio per day. Victory!