By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
ATLANTA (CBS) — The Patriots are in the Super Bowl. It’s where they always end up. But they probably shouldn’t be here.
Not according to history, at least.
Just by reaching the Super Bowl, the Patriots have outperformed a quarter-century’s worth of teams trying to recover from the sting of losing a Super Bowl the previous season. A team hasn’t made it back to the NFL’s final game of the season after losing it the year prior since 1993. The bad fortune that followed Super Bowl-losing teams in that time was so strong that it came to be known as a curse of sorts. Even the Patriots were not exempt; they missed the playoffs in 2008 and lost in the AFC title game in 2012.
Not only has the Super Bowl losing team not made it back the next season, but many have fallen back to earth in a brutal fashion. Ten out of the last 24 Super Bowl losers — 42 percent — failed to even make the playoffs the following season. Only eight of 25 Super Bowl losers reached the divisional round the following season, and only two Super Bowl losers — the 2013 San Francisco 49ers and 2012 Patriots — reached the conference championship in the following season.
But, as is generally the case, the Patriots are now the exception.
Head coach Bill Belichick was asked about how this year’s team was able to break that trend. While he initially stated his normal response about how last year or the year before doesn’t apply to the present, he then spoke at length about how this team has gotten it done.
Here’s what he said:
“I think what’s important on this year’s team is that these players have worked hard, they’ve tried to improve every single day. As coaches, we’ve tried to do the same thing. Each year, your team is comprised of different players, you face some different opponents, and you evolve into a slightly to a moderately different team than you were the year before. And that’s the case this year, that’s really the case every year.
“We’ve tried to adapt and adjust to our strengths and weaknesses and our opponents, and try to find the right combination to make our team the best that we can. The players have embraced that. They’ve been asked to do a lot. They’ve been asked to do things differently from the way they’re used to doing them, but I think they’ve tried to make those changes because they see it’s for the betterment of the team. I really respect and appreciate their work ethic, their attitude, their physical and mental toughness and their resiliency. Everything doesn’t always go perfect or right, but we go back to work, we try to correct it, we try to fix it. Sometimes we have to change it, and we try to get it better the next time. And they’ve done that relentlessly since the middle of April last year. Minus the month break we had there in June and July, but since the middle of April we’ve been really demanding those types of things from them on a daily basis, and they’ve responded day after day, week after week, month after month. So I have a ton of respect for the individuals and collectively the different units as they’ve tried to do that.”
In breaking the curse that’s lasted a quarter-century, the Patriots join some unenviable company. The Buffalo Bills famously kept losing Super Bowls in the early ’90s, returning year after year for another round of heartache. Prior to that, the Denver Broncos lost back-to-back Super Bowls after the ’86 and ’87 seasons — and then returned to lose again in ’89 for good measure. The Minnesota Vikings likewise lost two straight Super Bowls in the early ’70s.
A team hasn’t won the Super Bowl a year after losing a Super Bowl since the undefeated Miami Dolphins in 1972. The Dallas Cowboys did the same after the 1971 season.
TEAMS TO RETURN TO SUPER BOWL ONE YEAR AFTER LOSING SUPER BOWL
1971 Dallas Cowboys: Result, W 24-3
1972 Miami Dolphins: Result, W 14-7
1987 Denver Broncos: Result, L 42-10
1991 Buffalo Bills: Result, L 37-24
1992 Buffalo Bills: Result, L 52-17
1993 Buffalo Bills: Result, L 30-13
2018 New England Patriots: Result, ???
The Patriots hope to join those Dolphins and Cowboys in the history books, because of course, simply reaching the Super Bowl won’t do. The Bills can attest to that.
For this team to fully eliminate any and all leftover bitterness from last year’s loss to the Eagles, they’ll need to win on Sunday against the Rams. But for now, players aren’t afraid to explain how they got to this point.
“I think guys just come in and believe what the organization is preaching. Just trying to do the right things, working at a certain level,” defensive captain Devin McCourty said. “I’d be lying if I said we knew we’d be back here at the end of the season. It was a hard road. We had to grind and we had to believe in each other. But I think through that though, we built great character as a team, and truly believe in each other.”
When asked how this Patriots team was able to be the first in 25 years to not allow the Super Bowl curse to doom their season, safety Patrick Chung said it was actually very simple. Spoiler alert: It sounded a whole lot like “Do Your Job.”
“We just work hard, man. It’s simple. We just go to work, grind it out, go home. Groundhog Day,” said Chung. “Sometimes it can be a little bit stressful, or overwhelming, but our coach makes sure: ‘Hey, you come in here, you’re gonna work.’ So we just continue to work, man, and bad game, good game, bad play, good play, whatever. You just move on and keep pushing.”
As for the lingering pain of losing last year’s Super Bowl, Chung said it wasn’t difficult to move past it.
“Nah, doesn’t bother me at all. I mean, we lost,” Chung said bluntly. “We had a good game, came down to the last play. I mean, really, and they [the Eagles] deserved it. They got it. But it bugged for a little bit, but after that, saw my son and my family, and I was good after that. So you gotta have a short memory. You just gotta forget it, move on, remember it of course, but move on from there and go to work.”
Still, what this team has already accomplished speaks to the mental makeup of a team that didn’t let a heartbreaking loss — with a Malcolm Butler benching controversy, to boot — sink its chances in 2018. Certainly, not many outside the Patriots’ facility believed last February that we’d be talking about another Super Bowl appearance just 12 months later. Yet, here they are.
That “Still Here” mantra that Brady’s been pumping out for the past month might be tiresome to football fans around the country. But make no mistake about it — this Patriots team is in the midst of a truly rare run.
And if they can finish the job and become the first team to recover from a Super Bowl loss with a win the following year for the first time in 47 years? That would stand as the ultimate testament to the way the Patriots do business under Bill Belichick.