The planets are aligned, the tomato cans are on the shelf and the New England Patriots are hosting the AFC Championship game.
Everything is the way it should be…
Everything is the way we expect it to be. We are charmed, us Patriots’ fans…I hesitate to call it being spoiled for the simple fact that there are those of us old enough that we feel like we’ve paid our emotional dues – and then some. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t appreciate what these guys do consistently day in and day out.
Even the players aren’t immune to taking this dynasty for granted.
“As a guy two years in the league, I guess I just assume it happens every year.” Patriots tackle Nate Solder, who is heading to his second straight AFC title game, said Sunday, “But I know that’s not the case.”
The Patriots are going to be playing in their seventh American Football Conference Championship Game since 2001.
Think about that for a moment: Bill Belichick has led this franchise to seven title games in 12 years – and of the six they’ve already played in, their record is 5-1 - with the lone loss to the Peyton Manning-led Colts, overcoming a 21-3 deficit to beat the Patriots in Indianapolis.
They have won 11 division titles in that span and have gone on the play the National Football Conference Champion in the Super Bowl five times, toting a Lombardi Trophy out after three of them. But after all of that success, does playing in this game ever become mundane, jaded?
Not according to Belichick. Moments like this are what he lives for.
“Of course we’re excited to be heading into the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens.” Belichick said on Monday, “It’s a great honor, really, to participate in the game.”
The only season that they did not win an at least an AFC East title was in 2008 when Bernard Pollard snapped Tom Brady’s knee-guts and Belichick somehow willed Matt Cassell to win 11 games, but they lost out on the title by virtue of tie-breaker.
Along the way there’s been interference by lady luck, no less than two Mannings always trying to take stuff away from Brady, and something called a “Mangini”…
But just as charmed as we fans unwittingly are, this Patriots’ team may be even more so.
No? Need anyone be reminded that this train became derailed almost as soon as it left the station, suffering a two game slide before turning their season around in a fierce come from behind overtime victory over the New York Jets – in that game the Patriots fell behind late when suddenly it was as if someone flipped a switch, Brady leading drives for field goals to first tie the game then win it in the extra frame for a 4-3 record, cruising from that point.
Then around Halloween the team made a serious, desperation move to bring in veteran corner Aqib Talib from Tampa Bay – a move coupled with the rise of rookie Alfonzo Dennard that allowed Devin McCourty to move to safety and the Patriots’ leaky secondary suddenly became solidified and potent.
At the beginning of December they were 9-3 coming out of a tough road win in Miami. Rob Gronkowski had broken his left forearm two weeks earlier, and they were going to be without his services for at least another 3 to 4, and had the 11-1 Houston Texans coming in to Foxboro for a Sunday night Showdown.
As they had the previous two weeks, they had adapted and gone on about the business of winning – opening a 42-14 can of beatdown on the Texans, a loss so profound for Houston that it became the impetus of a slide so steep that their grip on the #1 seed in the conference evaporated by years’ end…
…a horrible first half against San Francisco ensued, but once the Patriots were down by a 31-3 count early in the second half, New England’s offense ripped off 28 points in the blink of an eye, and though they lost that game, that scoring burst gave pause to many a defensive coordinator because it confirmed the existing body of evidence that suggested that no lead was safe, and that it’s merely a matter of time before Brady goes off on your defense.
Walk-through efforts against Jacksonville and Miami closed out the regular season, and as the clock ticked down on the 28-0 shutout of the Dolphins, the Patriots had taken Houston’s first round bye, something that seemed like an impossibility after the loss to San Francisco – two weeks of healing and honing later they took on and whipped those same Texans in the conference semi-finals…
…Denver’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens elevating New England to the highest remaining seed in the AFC and, as a result, will host those Baltimore Ravens in Sunday night’s AFC Title tilt.
So, the Patriots evolved from what appeared to be a jaded 3-3 team with a swiss cheese secondary and a beat up pro bowl Tight End that was going nowhere fast to a charmed 12-4 squad with a championship caliber defense and another beat up Pro Bowl Tight End that suddenly found itself hosting the AFC Championship Game.
Whether you’d call that charmed, lucky or just plain good, the fact is that they are here and hosting the only other team in the conference that should be on the field Sunday night.
Hopefully the Patriots are charmed, lucky and good enough to get to another Super Bowl.