The Patriots are liars. I just want that on the record—all season they made it look like they weren’t invincible this time, that they couldn’t be counted on to make yet another Super Bowl the way they had in three of the last four seasons. Yet here we are again. New England’s 2018 season lied.
It’s not that no one saw this coming—the Patriots didn’t become the preseason Super Bowl favorites out of nowhere. But so many times this season, New England’s inevitability seemed to be in doubt. The Pats lost by huge margins to the Lions and Titans. They failed to earn the top overall seed. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski looked washed at times. And the Chiefs looked like a whole new type of AFC power. This season, the Patriots’ air of inevitability dissolved—until it didn’t.
Now, Brady has been to the Super Bowl more times in his career than he’s missed it, and we’re all fools for ever believing this season would end differently. New England’s regular season was worse than a Marvel trailer. Brady and Co. are back in the Super Bowl, because of course they are.
Here are all the times you may have gotten your hopes up this season that things could end differently—and how the Pats shot them all down:
The Big, Ugly Losses
Remember when the Patriots lost by 11 to the Jaguars, and then it turned out the Jaguars sucked? Or when the team lost by 16 to the Lions? Or by 24 (twenty-four!) to the Titans? Or what about when they scored only 10 points in a loss to the Steelers?
The Pats wound up with five losses to teams that didn’t make the playoffs, and as those L’s piled up it sure seemed like the Patriots were missing that extra magic they’ve had for nearly two decades now. Speaking of magic—one of those losses came on that wild Miami Miracle. And that play nearly cost the Patriots a chance at a first-round bye, moving them below the Chiefs in the chase for the top seed. A week later, the Pats lost to the Steelers and fell behind the Texans in the standings, and suddenly it looked like New England would have to play on wild-card weekend. After an unbelievable eight straight seasons with a first-round bye, the cracks in the armor were showing. About that ...
Not Getting the No. 1 Seed
The Texans ended up dropping their Week 14 game against the Colts, and the Pats moved back into the no. 2 seed. But even that presented trouble: Coming into today, New England hadn’t won an AFC championship game on the road since the 2004 season. Granted, seeing as they’re the Patriots and all, New England didn’t often need to play it on the road—they’ve hosted the matchup an incredible five times since that year.
But Brady has struggled on the road in the postseason, holding just a 3-4 record in road playoff games before today. And surely if there was a team that could take advantage of that, it was the one with the likely MVP under center, a raucous crowd behind them, and below-freezing temperatures. But before we get there, the regular season presented even more problems for the Patriots:
They say Father Time is undefeated, and it seemed like he’d notch another victory this season. Brady threw for his lowest yards per game (272.2), adjusted net yards per attempt (7.26), and passer rating (97.7) since the 2014 season. He had his lowest TD percentage since 2013 and his highest INT percentage since 2011. And all of this came as passing numbers throughout the league exploded. Finally—finally!—the 41-year-old passer was slowing down.
Welp, here’s his stat line in two postseason games this year: 64-of-90 for 691 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
One of those interceptions wasn’t Brady’s fault, and outside of the other one, he’s been brilliant, playing once again like the best QB in football.
Meanwhile, the other player who was thought to be slowing down also showed up big against the Chiefs. Rob Gronkowski had his worst season by virtually every metric since his rookie year, catching only 682 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. Yet he made two of the biggest plays of the game to push the Pats past the Chiefs. First, with 0:54 left in the fourth quarter, he caught a pass for 25 yards that put the Patriots on the Chiefs’ 4-yard line, setting up a go-ahead touchdown. Then, in overtime, he made a 15-yard reception on third-and-10 that put the Patriots in the red zone. Three rushing plays later, the Patriots punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Father Time was supposed to save us. Father Time failed.
Josh Gordon Not Working Out
Gordon was supposed to save the Patriots offense, giving it the downfield threat it so desperately needed after the team traded Brandin Cooks to the Rams in the offseason. He quickly went to work in New England, racking up 720 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games. Then he was suspended yet again for violating the terms of his reinstatement.
Would not having a single true downfield threat doom the Patriots, especially as they faced high-flying offenses in the playoffs? Of course not—Brady was 24th in average intended air yards this season, and he continued to dink-and-dunk his way to yet another Super Bowl appearance. Offenses need a home run threat to take the top off the defense—unless that offense is the Patriots.
Los Angeles had a better record than the Patriots, and was ostensibly the better overall team as well, ranking third in DVOA while New England ranked seventh. What’s more, they’d just come up with a genius defensive game plan to stifle Lamar Jackson and the Ravens—surely they could give the Patriots some trouble, right?
Of course not. They lost 41-28, and that final score doesn’t even reveal the true horrors the Patriots unleashed on L.A. The Chargers trailed by as many as 31 late in the third quarter.
Julian Edelman Tweeting “#BetAgainstUs”
Oh my god, even if NFL fans are guilty of thinking the Pats weren’t the same invincible Pats, just stick this tweet right in the garbage where it belongs. No one counted the Patriots out—the Chiefs were only three-point favorites. But if there is any kind of jinx power in sports, literally taunting people to bet against you should activate it. Unless you happen to be the Patriots, I guess.
And finally, we have the AFC championship game itself. There were so many ways the Patriots nearly lost this one.
First, this ball came as close to touching Julian Edelman without actually touching Edelman as is possible under our current understanding of physics:
Then, this ball certainly hit Edelman … and bounced right off him:
The Patriots got a bizarre roughing-the-passer call that helped them avoid what would have been a critical third-and-7:
15 yard penalty on the Chiefs for "roughing" the passer pic.twitter.com/taeqNFSLcV— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) January 21, 2019
And a few plays later, Chris Hogan had a catch that was this close to being incomplete:
The Patriots had a million other chances to lose as well. The Chiefs took the lead with just over two minutes remaining, and on the ensuing drive, Brady threw an interception that was overturned when the refs ruled a Chiefs defender lined up in the neutral zone. Once the game got into overtime, a coin flip kept the ball out of Patrick Mahomes II’s hands, yet the Patriots faced third down three times on their ensuing drive. Of course they converted all of them.
The Chiefs obviously had many opportunities to win—they weren’t robbed. But every time it looked like the Patriots had a chance to lose, something happened to keep them in the game. You can’t tell me this wasn’t predetermined. Death, taxes, and the Patriots in the Super Bowl.