When it comes to the NFL, no team personifies excellence quite like the New England Patriots. Behind the guidance of head coach Bill Belichick and with Tom Brady driving the offense, they have played in the conference championship game for the last six seasons (winning three) and won two of the three Super Bowls they played in.
Go back to 2001, and they’ve won their division every season but two, played in the Conference Championship game 11 times and won five Super Bowl titles (played in seven).
What makes their run even more impressive than the stats alone is that they have maintained such a high level of excellence while still losing guys to retirement, free agency and injuries. No one but Bill Belichick knows how, but somehow, they get guys to play selfless, team-oriented football—and it works.
They’ve won at least 12 games in each of the last seven seasons. Last season, despite playing without Tom Brady for the first four games of the season, they finished 14-2.
So, when they dropped the 2017 season opener to the Kansas City Chiefs, it raised a few eyebrows. They had only lost one season opener since 2003 (they lost to the Miami Dolphins in 2014). Starting the season with a loss was not something the Patriots do.
They bounced back against the New Orleans Saints, and all was right in the world. But then the Houston Texans nearly beat them behind the surprising play of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Surely, it was just a rookie having a career day, but then they lost the following week to the Carolina Panthers and squeaked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their Week Six game today against the New York Jets will actually be for the AFC East lead.
They haven’t had to play the Jets for the division lead since 2012.
When it comes down to it, while they may be 3-2, they could easily be 1-4. This season’s Patriots are not the Patriots fans know and love.
So what the happened to them? Where are the New England Patriot that a legion of fans have come to know and love? They lost a few guys, but they gained some great ones through free agency and trades. If anything, they should be better—right?
The answer is easy. They haven’t gone anywhere, and nothing happened to them. The Patriots are still the team to beat in the NFL.
Yes, they lost some good players and added some good players. But what fans tend to forget is that it takes time for the new players and old ones to get acclimated to one another. They don’t just step on the field and start playing like a well-oiled machine. That kind of thing takes time.
If anything, fans should be encouraged by the kind of start the team is having. They have had similar slow starts in the past. More often than not, things worked out pretty well for them:
- 2001: started 3-4; ended 11-5 and won the division; went on to beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI
- 2003: started 2-2; ended 14-2 and won the division; went on to beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXIX
- 2005: started 4-4; ended 10-6 and won the division; lost to the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round
- 2009: started 3-2; ended 10-6 and won the division; lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card Round
- 2012: started 3-3; ended 12-4 and won the division; lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the Conference Championship Game
- 2014: started 2-2; ended 12-4 and won the division; went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX
Since 2001, the Patriots have started the season slow, like this season, six times. In three of those seasons, the pass defense was not very good (2001—24th; 2005—31st; 2012- 29th), also like this season (32nd). In the end, they won at least ten games in each season and won the division title. In three of those six seasons, they went on to win the Super Bowl.
Starting slow is never ideal, but Bill Belichick and his staff were able address whatever the issues were and fix them. As a result, after working out the kinks during the regular season, they were looking like a well-oiled machine come playoff time.
The results speak for themselves. If anything, fans should be a little excited for the good times that are sure to come.