Their 45-10 victory against the Broncos sent them to the AFC Championship and gave them their first postseason victory since Jan. 20, 2008. There were plenty of emotions in the home locker room at Gillette Stadium after the game — excitement, relief, anticipation — but one victory still wouldn’t be enough to quench their thirst after such a long drought.
“You lose a few playoff games, and it’s a very bitter way to end the season and it sits on your mind for quite a long time,” said Tom Brady, whose 15th playoff victory set a record for the most wins by a quarterback with one team. “For us to come out and play the way we did, have a very solid performance in the most important game of the year is very gratifying. I think that we have eight days until the biggest game of the year.”
While it’s been one of the main storylines around this team for at least one year, if not two or three, the Patriots said they didn’t place any extra pressure on themselves from within.
“Not winning a playoff game doesn’t affect us this year,” cornerback Devin McCourty said. “Past Super Bowls don’t affect us this year. This is all about this team and this year. Everything in the past is different.”
It’s true. In 2008, with Matt Cassel playing in place of Brady, the Patriots became the second team in history to win 11 games and not earn a playoff berth. In 2009, the character of the team was put in focus after getting blown out at home by the Ravens.
But in 2010, the 14-win Patriots were shocked by their rival Jets, putting the playoff drought at the front of the spotlight. Was it a new era? Did the postseason experience matter? Would the regular-season success continue to lead into playoff disappointment?
Maybe the Patriots didn’t feel the pressure. But they certainly felt relief Saturday night as a vast majority of the players — from a 12-year veteran like Brian Waters to their eight rookies — had never won a single game in the postseason. Defensive captain Jerod Mayo was a prime example, as he exclaimed from his locker over his excitement over finally breaking through in the postseason.
But it didn’t stop there, and the players refused to let anyone believe they were satisfied with a sole postseason win. They’ll host either the Ravens or Texans in the AFC Championship, and for the first time in four years, the Super Bowl is within their grasp. Now, they know they’ve got to reach out and take it.
“This is what it’s all about,” wide receiver Wes Welker said. “This is what you play for. This is what you work for. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in this position, and you want to make the most of it.”