The New England Patriots were supposed to be cooked four games into the 2017 season.
The sky was falling. There was no way the Patriots could finish with their usual 12-4 record. After all, their defense was a mess, they had lost two games (two whole games!) and the Julian Edelman-less offense would no longer be able to bail out such a porous defensive unit. Some moron wrote the offense lacked an identity early in the season. What a dummy.
More overreactive Patriots fans and media were on to 2018. Even levelheaded folks were more than a little worried after a 2-2 start when the 2017 Patriots were projected to go undefeated.
There were similar — though less extreme — opinions voiced about the 2016 team. Sure, as the Patriots entered last year’s postseason, they ranked first in the NFL in points allowed, but had they played a good offense with a legitimate quarterback? No, so winning a Super Bowl would be a tall task.
Two years in a row now the Patriots have made a Super Bowl with an imperfect team. Perfection is the goal around New England, but can we stop pretending it’s necessary? The NFL is full of imperfect teams. The Patriots’ opponent in Super Bowl LI, the Philadelphia Eagles, is starting Nick Foles at quarterback. Their franchise QB, Carson Wentz, tore his ACL, and the Eagles still made the Super Bowl.
Can we stop acting like the Patriots don’t somehow figure it out every year? They even figure it out nearly every game, deficit or not.
A non-explosive pass rush? An inconsistent receiving corps? A secondary with a tendency to let up big plays? Miscommunication? An occasionally disappearing rushing attack? A defense that allows too many yards? A quarterback with a sliced throwing hand? None of it matters.
Not even halfway through Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, there were fans saying the game was OVAH. They must have missed Super Bowl LI, when the Patriots came back from a 28-3 lead. That’s the point where Patriots fans should be by now.
Do the Patriots trail by 25 points or less? OK, then they can still win.
And after all the early-season moaning about how the Patriots spent too much on cornerback Stephon Gilmore, shouldn’t have traded for Kony Ealy and Dwayne Allen and got little to nothing out of the draft, it didn’t matter. The Patriots still went 13-3 and are in Super Bowl LII.
While the subject of things that don’t matter is fresh, here are some more:
— What color jersey the Patriots wear in the Super Bowl. The Patriots are 3-1 in white, 2-2 in blue and 0-1 in red. If you think jersey color decides games, I don’t even know what to tell you. They’re wearing white as the home team. Whatever.
— Playoff experience. How many more times do the Patriots need to say it? A football game is a football game.
— Officiating. OK, this one isn’t completely fair, because officiating does matter, but the Patriots are not benefitting from impartial officiating because of some vast conspiracy. The Patriots are well-disciplined. End of story.