EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New England Patriots fans tend a be a little greedy and spoiled at times. I’m sorry if the truth hurts, but you and I both know it’s true.
When the Patriots lack elite players at one defensive position, they “NEED to make a deal at the trade deadline.” When a cornerback gives up a big play, he, of course, “is TERRIBLE.” And when Patriots fans’ favorite team is coming off its fourth Super Bowl win in 15 years, another title is no longer good enough, only immortality.
I understand the appeal of an undefeated season. What NFL fan ever wants to see his or her team lose? Plus, Super Bowl XLII, and the loss of a perfect season, still leaves a bad taste in Patriots fans’ mouths, and only a successful 19-0 run would make that go away.
But is it really reasonable to think the Patriots could go undefeated without their best running back, top wide receiver and starting left tackle? The Patriots showed they can win despite the losses Sunday when they came back late in the fourth quarter to beat the New York Giants 27-26, but eventually, something has to give.
The Patriots themselves aren’t even thinking about it.
“You want to win every game you play anyway,” wide receiver Danny Amendola said. “It’s no different here, and we understand the circumstance. We know our record, but at the same time, we don’t think about it. Each play, each drive, each series, each quarter, each game we have a job to do, and that’s what it’s about. We don’t worry about that (losses) side. We worry about the other side.”
Beating the Giants wasn’t sweeter for the Patriots because it bettered their chances of going undefeated. It was a great win because it increased the Patriots’ chances of reaching their ultimate goal: winning the Super Bowl.
“It doesn’t really matter if at the end of our journey we don’t get what we want,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “(Going undefeated) would be cool and all, I’m not going to say it wouldn’t be, but that’s not really what we’re worried about right now.
“If you’re playing to play undefeated, you’re playing for the wrong reasons. We’re playing to win. That’s what we do. We’re never playing to be undefeated or to win by three or to win by seven. A win is a win. It wasn’t pretty (Sunday), we played a good team, but we came out with it.”
The Patriots are in great shape to win the AFC East for the seventh consecutive year and 14th time in 15 seasons. They shouldn’t have much trouble beating the Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans, but road wins over the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins could require rushing back players from injuries or not resting starters at the end of the season, and that’s simply not worth it in the long run.
With Nate Solder lost for the season and three key offensive linemen hurt, the Patriots’ focus, in order, should be getting healthy, staying healthy, winning the division, locking up a first-round bye, getting the No. 1 seed and then going undefeated. If it happens, that’s great. But the Patriots shouldn’t risk the health of quarterback Tom Brady or tight end Rob Gronkowski by playing them in meaningless games to accomplish it.
This team can’t afford many more major injuries. Solder, Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman are among the Patriots’ most important players. Losing key defensive players might derail not only going undefeated but the Patriots’ Super Bowl hopes, as well. The difference between going 16-0 and 14-2 shouldn’t cloud the Patriots’ ultimate goal.
So, don’t obsess over it. If it happens, it happens, but Super Bowl XLII should be a lesson that the possibility of immortality isn’t worth the sting of a playoff loss.
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images