By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Following and covering the New England Patriots for so long, you get to a certain point where reciting the exceptional accomplishments becomes redundant, lost in the background noise that precedes “Yeah but they only won one Super Bowl in 10 years!”
And, really, it’s not a phenomenon that lacks explanation. The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years. The standard was set; any season that ended with anything less than a new Lombardi Trophy was not one to be celebrated. Such expectations are normal; how could a fan feel great about a 12-4 or 14-2 season that leads to an early playoff exit?
That all makes sense. But still, as the historic accolades continue to pile up year after year for the Patriots organization, their unparalleled level of sustained excellence becomes all the more astounding.
Sunday’s win in Denver brought about the most recent round of accomplishments. At the risk of not getting too carried away and inducing involuntary slumber, here’s a rundown of some of the more impressive facts coming out of that win. Most of these came courtesy of the Patriots’ PR staff, but some come courtesy of my own beautiful brain.
The Patriots have made the playoffs 18 times since 1994. That is most in the NFL, ahead of the Packers (17), Colts (16) and Steelers (14). The Patriots have won their division 16 times in that span, which is also more than anybody. Pittsburgh and Green Bay are tied for second with 11.
The Patriots have won their division for eight straight years. No team in NFL history has ever done that.
The Patriots earned a first-round playoff bye for the seventh straight season. No team has ever earned more than four-straight playoff byes.
The Patriots have earned 11 first-round playoff byes since 2001, more than twice as many as the next-best team. Denver has earned five, while Chicago and Pittsburgh have earned four each. The Patriots, again, have earned 11.
The Patriots have won 194 of their 254 regular-season games since 2001, good for a .764 winning percentage. Take any team that’s succeeded during that era, and the record won’t compare. The Broncos are 152-102 (.598). The Steelers are 164-89-1 (.646). The Colts are 165-89 (.650). The Seahawks are 145-108-1 (.571). The Ravens are 145-109 (.571). The Packers are 160-93-1 (.630). The Giants are 133-121 (.524). Nobody’s even close.
You get the idea. And it’s that list of first-round byes since 2001 — the one that shows the Patriots having earned more than twice as many as any other NFL team — that really drives the point home. This is, of course, all just the regular-season accomplishments. The postseason records will be examined and spotlighted in the coming weeks. But for now, the story is that the Patriots have managed to sustain success like nobody else in the salary cap era.
So that’s that. The big picture. It’s remarkable.
For now, with a short week before the Jets spend their Christmas Eve at Gillette, let’s run through the leftover thoughts from that 16-3 Patriots victory in Denver.
–While we’re looking back on history, let’s fondly recall the last time Tom Brady started game 0-for-6. It came in Week 6 of the 2003 season. It was a sloppy festival of mud. The Patriots won 17-6. Brady finished 8-for-21 (eight for twenty-one!) for 112 yards. Kerry Collins, meanwhile, threw the ball 59 times. He completed 35 passes for 314 yards, which is cool. But he threw no touchdowns and four — four! — interceptions. Mike Cloud scored a rushing touchdown for the Patriots. It was not a great game!
–If you’re keyed in on that MVP race, it wasn’t a good day for old Tommy Boy. He had a 50 percent passing day for just 188 yards with no touchdowns. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan had a two-touchdown day, Dak Prescott ran for a touchdown, and Ezekiel Elliott ran for 159 yards and a touchdown.
It’s difficult to predict who will win the award. Ryan’s probably had the best all-around season for a Falcons team that has been positively surprising since Day 1. But considering the unique circumstances of Brady’s season, it’s not unfathomable to believe some voters may be swayed by the age 39 post-suspension dominance.
But as far as Brady is concerned, the MVP race wasn’t important on Sunday. It couldn’t have been. Denver has been such a difficult place for his team to earn wins (unless Tim Tebow was the opposing quarterback) that the focus was solely on doing what was necessary to win the game. And by not throwing an interception, Brady kept the Broncos from ever sneaking their way back into contention. Just six days after Cyrus Jones and Matthew Slater quickly invited the Ravens back into a game in which they had no business competing, it was a sterling job by the quarterback.
Considering Brady barely made it out of Denver in one piece last January, he probably doesn’t mind the impact Sunday had on his MVP chances.
–There was a sequence early on that was very curious. Very curious indeed. Patriots punter Ryan Allen was contacted by Broncos safety Justin Simmons after the ball had been kicked. The broadcast camera from the end zone caught this moment very briefly:
A flag was apparently thrown on the play, but … it wasn’t thrown?
That’s a strange coincidence.
Hit me with that chin scratching emoji!
–The Patriots are nothing if not unique. I can’t think of a real, rational reason to throw Shea McClellin out as an ineligible receiver in the slot.
John Harbaugh must have been mystified as to why the Broncos didn’t cover McClellin and did cover Matt Lengel, who was actually an eligible receiver.
The great part, really, is that Lengel was never open — not for one second. The Broncos — a professional defense — were well aware of Lengel, despite no announcement about the ineligibility of McClellin as a receiver. You may have noticed that Gary Kubiak’s team didn’t get mentally body-slammed on national TV, and Kubiak himself didn’t have to throw a hissy fit to stop the game and slow things down so that his team could regroup.
See, Mr. Harbaugh? It’s not that complicated. Cover the football players. No hissy fit necessary.
–If Rodney Harrison was watching, he must have shut the TV off when Kyle Van Noy passed up an opportunity to demolish a vulnerable ball carrier.
It may have been the humane thing to do. But the old-school guys must have cringed.
–Speaking of body slams, you have to appreciate T.J. Ward’s dedication to the craft. Even though his foolish decision to drive Edelman into the turf long after a third down pass had fallen incomplete cost his team any hope of mounting a comeback, the man wanted to flex his muscles. And flex his muscles he did.
The best part was that even the flying yellow flag didn’t deter him from continuing to make those biceps pop!
Speaking as someone who flexes in people’s faces at least twice per day, I see nothing wrong with what Ward did. Sometimes, you just have to let ’em know.
–The catch Julian Edelman made in double coverage while tap-dancing along the sideline was ridiculous. But how about that throw? Brady threw that late, off his back foot, with nothing behind it but his arm, looking a bit exasperated. But it turned out he was just dropping the thing in a bucket from about 30 yards away.
That pass was ridiculous.
–Brady also displayed some decent touch on that third-quarter completion to Edelman up the left seam:
–I was impressed with Malcolm Mitchell’s adjustment to a pass that was behind him. It was impressive because it was the first ball thrown Mitchell’s way all day, yet he adjusted to the Brady fastball, turned his body around, and made the catch while hitting the deck to secure the ball.
–Football players are warriors. Humongous men who endure all sorts of pain, who dish out and absorb tremendous hits, who are men among men.
But, still, when you get right down to it, they’re really just third-graders, tattling on the teacher, screaming, “He did it!”
–I said after the game that on days like this one, Julian Edelman is most certainly an MVP to the Patriots’ offense. And while the larger stats bear that out, there’s more to it than that.
Turning this into a first down, for example:
Two plays later, Dion Lewis turned this into a first down:
Those were two of the more underrated plays of the day. They came before halftime, on opposite ends of the two-minute warning. And though they didn’t lead directly to points, they led to clock being eaten, and they led to the Broncos not having enough time to mount a potential point-scoring drive before halftime.
They were run-of-the-mill type plays for people like Edelman and Lewis, but in a defensive struggle, those chain-moving/clock-draining plays proved to be essential.
–I, for one, got a kick out of this play:
Should have thrown to Jimmy!
–Maybe I was reading in to things to much. Maybe. But I felt like Tom Brady didn’t care much for Walt Anderson’s help here.
–Did you catch Patrick Chung going all crafty veteran on the world and waiting for Emmanuel Sanders to roll over so he could try to swat the ball out?
Crafty, indeed. Chung was upset that he didn’t force the turnover. Little did he know, Jordan Norwood was literally just going to give the football to the Patriots about a minute later.
–So, there you go. A 12-2 record that should, in all likelihood, turn into a 14-2 record. A first-round bye. A division crown.
And what is your reward for all of this? What have the universe and the football gods determined to bestow upon you for this feat?
You get to watch the putrid New York Jets. On Christmas Eve.
You shouldn’t have, universe. You really shouldn’t have.