The Patriots are still looking very strong as the 2014 season begins to wind down, although it has not always been smooth going this season for the team. They suffered a humiliating loss earlier in the season that had many speculating that the window of opportunity for New England, which has remained open for an incredibly long time, was now closing, or perhaps even already closed. The game was a bruising, blowout loss to the Chiefs at the Kansas City game, and being broadcast on Monday Night Football, the game was seen by a nationally televised audience. Tom Brady, the Patriots all-star quarterback, was struggling at that point in the season, and some were even arguing that it might be time to bench the 37-year old, claiming an emerging quarterback controversy needed to be resolved. Overall, a lot of people were proclaiming an end to New England’s traditional dominance in the AFC East, as the Dolphins and Bills seemed to be emerging as legitimate contenders.
Fast-forward about one-and-a-half months later, the New England Patriots just won their sixth game in a row following that beat down by the Chiefs. They soundly defeated the favored Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Field, the stadium where, arguably, the Patriots have the most ghosts haunting them, of any place in the league. The Patriots have lost some bad games there, including the Super Bowl to the Giants just a few seasons back, as well as some big showdowns over the years with the Colts. New England entered the game riding a five-game win streak, yet many believed that the Patriots would lose. Instead, they dominated, leaving no doubt about the outcome. The victory left them alone, for now, atop the AFC standings in the ongoing race for home field advantage. In the AFC East, they own a two-game lead over the second place Dolphins, and a three-game lead over the Buffalo Bills. The bells ringing the death knell for the Patriots era of dominance, under head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, indeed seem to have sounded prematurely.
It surprised some people that the Patriots are still looking strong, but this probably should be expected by now. After all, since Belichick and Brady came to New England, the Patriots have enjoyed success more consistently than any other team in the league. They are the only team in the league that has enjoyed a winning record without exception, every season since 2001, when the Patriots won their first ever Super Bowl. From that season to the present, the Patriots have reached the Super Bowl five times, while only missing the playoffs twice, both easily tops during that time period. In one of the seasons in which they did not qualify for the postseason, they became only the second team in NFL history with an 11-5 record or better to miss the playoffs. Since 2003, they have managed to reach double digit victories every single season, and it looks like they will extend this streak to an even dozen seasons in a row. They were the team of the decade in the 2000’s, winning three Super Bowls in a span of four seasons, and made it to four Super Bowls in all. During that time, they had the longest winning streak in NFL history, with 21 straight wins from 2003-2004.
The Patriots still have enjoyed considerable success so far in this decade, as well. They made it to the Super Bowl in 2011, although they narrowly fell to the New York Giants. They have qualified for the AFC Championship Game in each of the last three seasons. Right now, following their solid road win at Indianapolis, New England has a record of 8-2, and for now that is good enough to place them atop the AFC standings in the race for home field advantage. If they manage to hold on to that, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will run through Foxboro. Not bad for a team that many wrote off after that bad loss to Kansas City.
Now, the Patriots return home to take on another division leader this weekend, as the 7-3 Detroit Lions come to town. The Lions themselves are enjoying a successful season. They raced out to a 7-2 record, before falling to the Cardinals at Arizona last weekend. It will not be any easier in Foxboro against the Patriots, especially with the game set to be played in the hostile, cold-weather environment that makes road trips to New England, this time of year, so tough for opponents.
A lot is riding on this game. The Lions have a tough defense, and their offense is also loaded with talent and could potentially explode at any given moment. Detroit really needs this game to keep up with the red-hot Green Bay Packers in the NFC North race. The Packers and Lions are tied, and New England will be playing both over the next few weeks, as they are going up to Lambeau Field to play the Packers in their next game after hosting the Lions on Sunday. These games are important for tie-breaking purposes, for both the Lions and the Packers to try and score a victory over New England. Yet, that will be very tough to do, as the Patriots are still looking very strong right now, with the longest active winning streak in the league. In their six-game winning streak, they have averaged over 40 points per game, and their defense has played solid, as well. Criticism of Tom Brady and the Patriots organization as a whole, has largely been silenced, and they opened as a touchdown favorite over the Lions for their game on Sunday.
By Charles Bordeau
Photo by Brian J. McDermott –Flickr