I had hoped that for my first article with Patriots Insider, I'd be able to write about a blowout win over the Broncos. Instead -- well, you know what happened.
My name's Jenifer, and I'll be one of your fan writers next year. I didn't grow up as a fan. But I've been irresistibly drawn into Patriots Nation by the enthusiasm of friends like Randy "Zip" Pierce (the 2001 Fan of the Year), Karen "Mrs. B" Cardoza (likewise, 2003), my husband Rich, and the many others at the Razor's Edge tailgate party. You've probably seen Zip's "54 Full Tilt Full Time" banner on the rail, or seen his painted face on the Jumbotron. I'll tell you more about these cool people in future articles.
On Saturday night, we had over forty very loud people crammed into Zip's house. The "away tailgate" was in fine form -- during the first three quarters, the folks two towns over could probably hear us screaming at every successful play. But by the time Troy Brown fumbled the punt return late in the game, the only person left shouting was Monty, one of the Razor's Edge regulars. "It's not over yet! Come on, people! It's not over!"
He was right, but who didn't feel deflated by then? Our miracle workers had let us down.
Was it really Tom Brady who was missing those passes? Was it really Adam Vinatieri missing a 42-yard field goal? Were those the Bill Belichick-coached Patriots committing five turnovers, after only six total in their previous ten playoff games? I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and everyone around me looked shell-shocked too.
Sure, we could easily blame the officials for some of this disaster. The pass interference call against Asante Samuel drove us nuts. Zip has a referee doll held together with Velcro; it's made to be ripped apart, flung at the TV, and reassembled. We did a few rounds of that, both then and later when Champ Bailey was called down at the 1 (we saw a touchback). Beyond the officials, we could also blame our string of early-season injuries that caused us to lose home-field advantage. We could even blame the Mile-High crowd, which drowned our offense in noise and may have caused miscommunication between Brady and his receivers.
But the hard, unchangeable fact is that the Patriots simply lost. Denver played a clean, smart game, and they did what they needed to do -- they put pressure on Brady and took ruthless advantage of our mistakes.
Still, let's be clear: I am not going to throw our team under the bus.
First, the mistakes that cost us the game were made by individual players. They weren't systemic problems that they'll have to work hard to overcome next season. Our team usually plays better than that, and we all know it.
Look at what the Patriots have accomplished this year. Despite their ridiculous injury problems, they've won a lot of games. The secondary was constantly changing personnel, but they could still get a good job done in the end. Brady racked up some fine numbers over the season, and he's getting better at the deep passes. We made history with Doug Flutie's drop-kick. The defense welcomed back Tedy Bruschi from a stroke, a historic first. You saw how well the defense played in this Denver game; in their first four scoring drives, the Broncos only moved the ball 63 yards (39 of which were the run that ended in Samuel's bogus penalty).
And remember how well the whole team played against the Jaguars, just last week? We've had some fun games this year! For us fans, the season wasn't a waste just because we didn't go to the Super Bowl.
Finally, think about this. As disappointing as the Patriots' performance was, they went out with class, giving credit to Denver and accepting responsibility for their own mistakes. That class is one of the things our crew of fans likes most about this team.
Some people are saying this might be the "end of the dynasty." Reality check, folks: we won the Super Bowl last year, and went two games into the playoffs this year. That's not a sorry performance by any measure. Bill Belichick is still there next year, Brady is still there, and most of the experienced players and staff will be there. Do you have faith in Belichick and his people? What's to stop them from winning it all next year, or next? No, I don't think this dynasty is done. At all.
See you next season!
Jenifer Tidwell can be found at the Razor's Edge tailgate party during game days. You can also find her on occasion in the forums under the name of BruschiBackerJen.