By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Defining the so-called “Patriot Way” has proven difficult for most folks over the past two decades. While it has not been easy to pinpoint certain specifics with regard to roster-building methods or game plan strategies or anything of the sort, the simplest way to boil it all down is to settle on the fact that “the Patriot Way” generally just equates to winning. A ridiculous amount of winning.
From 2001-17, the Patriots went 209-63. It comes out to an average record of 12-4 each year. They’ve won their division 15 times in 17 years, including a current streak of nine consecutive division crowns. They’ve made eight Super Bowls, won five of them, and reached the conference championship four additional times. It is, most simply, an unprecedented run of sustained success, the likes of which we have not seen before and likely will not see again.
All of which brings us to the present day. Sitting at 1-2 on the young season, the Patriots will be hosting a 3-0 Dolphins team on Sunday afternoon. A loss would, obviously, drop the Patriots to 1-3 on the season. The Patriots have had seven full seasons where they lost three or fewer games, so dropping to 1-3 would be completely outside of the New England norm, to say the least.
That’s especially true when you look at the rare instances that a Bill Belichick/Tom Brady team has lost two consecutive games. That alone is a rare occasion, as the Patriots have only lost in consecutive regular-season weeks six times since 2003.
Repeating here, for effect: The Patriots have lost in back-to-back weeks just six times since 2003.
And not once in that stretch of 15 seasons have the Patriots allowed that losing streak to reach three games. In fact, in the games coming off consecutive losses, the Patriots have generally dominated.
2006: Won 35-0 at Green Bay
2009: Won 20-10 vs. Carolina
2011: Won 37-16 at New York Jets
2012: Won 52-28 at Buffalo
2015: Won 27-6 at Houston
2015: Won 27-20 vs. Kansas City (in postseason)
So, since 2003, the Patriots have taken the field six times while coming off back-to-back losses. They’ve won all six games, by an average score of 33-13.
Of course, looking at some of those years — specifically 2006, 2009, and to some extent, 2015 — we know through the benefit of retrospect that these weren’t particularly great teams. The 2006 team lacked receiving talent and blew an 18-point lead in the AFC Championship Game. (But they still did reach the AFC Championship Game, and almost certainly would have beaten Rex Grossman’s Bears in the Super Bowl.) The 2009 season was a grind, capped off by a most-embarrassing playoff loss at the hands of the Ravens. And the 2015 team essentially turned into a two-man squad consisting of Brady and Rob Gronkowski in the AFC title game in Denver. (It nearly worked, too.)
Those teams didn’t get where most everyone expects the Patriots to get — which is, of course, the Super Bowl. Yet even still, those teams were able to avoid three-game losing streaks, and in emphatic fashion.
Taking it a step further, the 2011 team (which went on to make the Super Bowl) responded to two consecutive losses by rattling off 10 straight victories, leading right up to that Super Bowl loss to the Giants. The 2012 team, after dropping to 1-2 on the season, would go 11-2 for the rest of the season.
The factors surrounding those games are all, obviously, different. The quality of opponent varied, as did the locales, the weather, injuries, etc., etc., etc. But what did not change was the result. The Patriots won, with none of the games being particularly close.
From that, we can surmise that this weekend will be significant, beyond the obvious reasons of avoiding a 1-3 record and a three-game deficit in the division. Based on this weekend’s response, we’ll learn whether those who stated “this year feels different” after Sunday night’s thumping in Detroit were right or wrong. If the Patriots come out on their home field and get outplayed by the Dolphins — who have lost nine straight games in Foxboro — then we’ll know quite clearly that this year’s team is indeed “different.”
And, if you were wondering, the Patriots have not lost three games in a row since 2002, when they actually suffered a four-game losing streak after starting the season 3-0. That remains the only Brady-led Patriots team to fail to reach the postseason. A loss this Sunday would have to put the 2018 team at risk of being the second.
The task this Sunday is not easy. The Patriots are banged up, and the Dolphins have quite a bit of talent and a whole lot of confidence. How the Patriots respond will speak volumes about what the makeup and ability of the 2018 Patriots.