By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Belichick has long operated in a different realm of existence from his peers. But now it’s just getting ridiculous.
After all, what else — other than voodoo magic and/or Jedi mind tricks — could explain the run of terrible, awful, no-good, lousy luck bestowed upon each and every team that defeated the Patriots in 2018? Short of sorcery from the future Hall of Fame head coach, there’s simply no plausible explanation.
To some extent, this phenomenon has been known for some time, as the fortunes of the Jaguars and Lions certainly did not improve after those big early-season wins against the mighty New England Patriots. But since then, the bad fortune has continued, taking teams from the point of ecstasy directly to a state of misery.
Let’s recap, shall we? And let’s work in reverse chronological order.
After losing three straight games, the Steelers were circling the drain when the Patriots came to town. Or so we thought. The Steelers put up a great fight against the Patriots and hung on to win, 17-10. Season saved!
They felt so great about this victory that they very nearly went into the Superdome and took down the Saints. Very nearly. If only it hadn’t been for a Juju Smith-Schuster fumble as he got the Steelers into field goal territory in the final minute. And if only it hadn’t been for the FUNNIEST MOMENT IN FOOTBALL HISTORY:
Anyway, the Steelers barely beat the Bengals in Week 17, to briefly keep their playoff hopes alive, only to have the outcome of the Browns/Ravens game break their hearts. Pittsburgh’s collapse from 7-2-1 to 9-6-1 and out of the playoffs was complete.
But that wasn’t all! Since the season ended, we’ve learned that Antonio Brown essentially quit on his team last week and decided not to play in a must-win Week 17 game. Apparently, completely losing one all-world offensive superstar wasn’t enough for Mike Tomlin this year.
“The report, citing several sources, said Brown became ‘disgusted’ and threw a football in anger at one of his teammates during a walk-through.”
“He did not attend Saturday’s walk-through practice and skipped the Saturday night meeting at the team hotel — the latest in missed meetings by the All-Pro receiver. Brown was never on the field for the start of the game against the Bengals and left Heinz Field at halftime, according to multiple sources.”
“Brown left and wouldn’t respond to the Steelers, including team president Art Rooney II, the source said.”
“Some Steelers players thought it was odd that Brown showed up and walked onto the field pregame in a large fur coat instead of Steelers gear.”
“One [teammate] called the situation ’embarrassing’ and ‘the worst I’ve seen.’ That player said the entire situation and the way it was handled affected his desire to play in the game.”
“At least one teammate phoned Brown in the days leading up to the game, but he did not return the call.”
“But Brown’s Week 17 absence punctuates a bizarre year for the All-Pro. Brown threatened a reporter over a story he didn’t like, became incensed on the sideline during a Week 2 loss, responded on social media to a critique from a former Steelers employee with the line “Trade me let’s find out,” and faced lawsuits over allegations that he threw furniture over the 14th-floor balcony of a South Florida apartment balcony.”
Suffice it to say, this was an appropriate bookend to a season that began with the Steelers essentially pushing out Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They’ve won just three playoff games since 2011.
The Dolphins had themselves a miraculous victory over the Patriots in Week 14. It was, without question, pretty amazing. They executed to perfection a hook-and-lateral play, with Kenyan Drake capping off the 69-yard play by outracing Rob Gronkowski to the pylon for the game-winning touchdown.
It was such a tremendous moment for the Dolphins that massive photos of the play were immediately pasted up around the Dolphins’ stadium.
T-shirts were made. The Dolphins went so far as to file paperwork to trademark the phrase “Miami miracle.”
Anyways, that win improved the Dolphins to 7-6, keeping them very much alive in the hunt for a postseason spot.
Except, as it turned out, that miracle play would end up being the final positive moment of the year for the Dolphins. They lost the next week at Minnesota. They lost the week after that, at home to Jacksonville. And they lost in Week 17 … to the Buffalo Bills … by a final score … of 42-17. (The Bills entered that game averaging 15 points per game.) Kiko Alonso got ejected from that game for trying to take off the head of the opposing quarterback.
Then they fired their coach.
Now, the team that needs a new head coach may be dumping its starting quarterback (42-46 career record under center, 87.0 career passer rating) and starting from scratch.
What a moment though. Pretty cool. Get your T-shirt.
The Titans felt awfully good about themselves after beating the Patriots, but nobody was feeling himself more than Dion Lewis.
“That’s what happens when you go cheap. You get your ass kicked,” the running back boasted in the winning locker room. “I know those guys [on the Patriots]. I know that you be physical with them and let ’em have it and they’ll fold.”
Strong words. But unfortunately, we’re going to have to insert a collar pull GIF:
The Titans improved to 5-4 after that win, just a game behind the Texans in the AFC South. It appeared to have been a first step toward reaching the playoffs in year one under Mike Vrabel.
But (there’s always a “but” in this story, in case you weren’t picking up on the trend) the Titans went out the next week and got *THUMPED* by the Indianapolis Colts, 38-10. The following week, the Titans got doubled up by the Texans in Houston, 34-17, to fall back under .500.
The Titans did rattle off four straight wins against the Jets/Jaguars/Giants/Redskins (combined record: 21-43), setting themselves for a “win and get in” pre-playoff game at home against the Colts.
Unfortunately though, quarterback Marcus Mariota was not available, due to a shoulder injury. According to one report, he may never be able to throw the same again. That’s no laughing matter.
What was a little funny though was seeing Blaine Gabbert try to win a do-or-die football game in 2018. It didn’t work out. He threw for just 165 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, both of which came in the fourth quarter when Tennessee was desperately trying to keep its season alive. No dice. The Titans missed the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years.
To be fair, things weren’t exactly going swimmingly for the Lions when they beat the Patriots. They had started the year 0-2, including a blowout home loss to the Jets in Week 1 and a loss in San Francisco to the 49ers, who would end the season going 4-12.
But they did beat the Patriots, and doing that in prime time, on national TV, early in a year? That should have theoretically provided a boost to the team under first-year head coach Matt Patricia.
It did not.
The Lions shortly thereafter found themselves with a 3-6 record, and then a 4-8 record, and then, ultimately, a 6-10 record. Mixed in during that dreadful year was quite a bit of grumbling about Patricia. Players didn’t seem to enjoy practicing outdoors when only indoor games were on the schedule for the coming month or so. And Patricia apparently didn’t enjoy showing up to team meetings on time. And the media seemed to show its fangs whenever commenting on the work of Patricia in his first year on the job. Perhaps that had to do with Patricia critiquing their appearance and posture.
Weird move, Matty P.
The Lions missed the playoffs for the second straight year. They still haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. Half of the current Lions were not even born yet in 1991.
The demise of the Jaguars — from near-AFC champs a year ago to cellar dwellers in 2018 — has been well-documented. But the Jaguars weren’t content to just drift away into obscurity at the end of their 5-11 season. They had to go out with some flair.
That came in the form of running backs Leonard Fournette (injured) and T.J. Yeldon (active but not playing) sitting on the bench throughout the entirety of the team’s Week 17 loss in Houston. This behavior? Whoa boy, you can bet it rubbed Tom Coughlin the wrong way — so much so that Coughlin felt compelled to release a statement about the behavior of his running backs.
“I am disappointed in the behavior today from T.J. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette,” the executive VP of football operations said. “They were disrespectful, selfish and their behavior was unbecoming that of a professional football player.”
Tommy Coughlin. Dropping bombs out here. Woo mama.
The Jaguars organization followed up this statement by voiding the guarantees on Fournette’s contract. (They also fired their running backs coach, for whatever that’s worth.) Whether the Jaguars can actually do that remains a point of contention. The NFLPA may file a grievance about it. Whatever the outcome may be, it now appears clear that the 2017 first-round pick who quite literally carried his team to the AFC title game a year ago is not long for Jacksonville. One way or another, his departure seems inevitable after such an acrimonious ending to his second season.
Fournette followed up his 1,040-yard, nine-touchdown rookie season with just 439 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2018, a year that included seven games missed due to injury and another game missed due to suspension for fighting.
It should not go forgotten that the Jaguars came within one play — one single play –– of beating the Patriots in Foxboro to earn a trip to Super Bowl LII. But they couldn’t make that one play, and they allowed about a baker’s dozen plays to be made against them. And then they went 5-11, and they need a new quarterback, and they’re keeping their head coach who’s now the proud owner of a 31-35 record in the NFL.
How can any of this madness be explained? It simply cannot.
And so, with the playoffs set to begin shortly, teams should be cautioned: Defeat the Patriots at your own risk. Something bad — very, very bad — is sure to follow.