Modern day Patriots fans are a unique bunch.
Long gone are the years when if you told someone from another state that you were a Patriots fan, they'd look at you, shake your hand, and proceed to say "sorry for your loss," in reference to the mediocrity Patriots fans suffered for many years.
Patriots fans of the modern era not only expect to make the playoffs, but they also bank on a first-round bye, and a berth in the Super Bowl. We as Patriots fans, have become spoiled by the aura of Tom Brady's majestic spiral, and patented fourth-quarter drives with so little time left, you can't even finish popping a bowl of popcorn.
When the Patriots miss the playoffs, you would think some grave injustice was done, rather than commending the AFC on yet another successful season. I remember my feelings in 2008 when Pats fans were forced to deposit their faith in an unproven backup named Matt Cassel. Cassel took over for Brady in week two following Brady's broken leg at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs. Cassel led the Patriots to an 11-5 record, and New England still managed to be left out of the 2009 playoffs.
My memory of New England's first Super Bowl title run is very vivid. I was 12, glued to my family's boxy 32-inch television. The thickness of my glasses today symbolizes how close I sat to the television as a kid, especially during Patriots games. I remember coming in from my grandma's house for the second quarter, watching the driving snow pile up on the frozen tundra of Foxboro Stadium. The thought of sitting in the steel bleachers with no backs at the old stadium was enough to make your hair stand on end.
That didn't matter, though, because everyone was standing. When the Tom Brady tuck rule was born, so was a dynasty. I have gone back and looked at that play when Raiders corner back Charles Woodson struck Brady so hard, the ball jimmied loose. The referees determined that Brady's arm was moving forward. If that lucky break didn't favor New England, we may not be talking about the great dynasty of the Patriots.
Brady has been a godsend for Patriots fans, with his GQ smile and heartwarming sixth round draft pick story. A story that by now is as interesting as your grandfather's tall tale about the 25 pound bass he reeled in at Shady Point. Living outside of the New England region for four years during college taught me that many people outside our region greatly dislike Patriots fans. Fans of other teams call us spoiled, loud and boisterous. I think they have a valid point.
Two-years ago I went to Raleigh, N.C. with a good friend from school for a Bruins game against the Hurricanes. Walking through the concourse you could see loud inebriated Boston fans glued to the television for the Patriots vs. Denver game. They could care less about what was going on inside the rink. Patriots fans are a group some love to hate because the team has been so succesful for quite a while.
The current Patriots dynasty with Brady under center has amassed seven 12 winning seasons.
New England's defense combined for seven sacks in the blowout win over Miami. Three of which came from Ron Francis who started the season on the practice squad. The secondary did their job, and were rewarded with an interception by Stephen Gregory. Good news for Patriots fans. If New England makes it through the AFC bracket, they won't have to worry about the Giants. New York was eliminated from the playoff picture, and will instead have to opt for watching the rest of the action from their Lay-z-boy recliners.
New England's defense can be compared to a new dog in an unfamiliar home, scared and unsure of its surroundings.
With numerous new pieces, the team took some time to adjust to defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's system, but as the season progressed, they became, shall we say, more obedient. Any coach will tell you he will take positive progress throughout the course of the season over a hot start and a cold finish. New England gave fans a couple scares with the loss to San Francisco in week 14 and a near trap game slip against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars last week.
Week 16's win over Miami brought numerous milestones to the Patriots program. When you move the chains, good things will happen. The Patriots set an NFL record for the most first downs in a single season with 444 this year. Shutting out the Dolphins 28-0, gives New England the much needed momentum to go into the playoffs.
A bye week can be a double-edged sword: It begs the question of whether we will see the Patriots we saw against San Francisco or the ones who steamrolled Houston. If you are a history guy like me, you will enjoy this little nibblet of Pats history: The last time New England secured a two seed was in 2001 and 2004 -- we all know what happened then, they won the Super Bowl. History is on the Patriots side, and often repeats itself.
Now, I will have to admit I am a bit skeptical of the Patriots' chances after their lackluster showing at Jacksonville a week ago, but a little skepticism never hurt anyone. New England has the most potent offense in the league, having scored a league best 427 points, and their defense has shown glimmers of coming together.
I like the Patriots chances, but how far they go really depends on how their run defense, and secondary, perform. Gregory, and Patrick Chung, will have to be the anchors on the back line of defense, if this New England team wants to go out as the team of the decade.
Patriots fans, if the team comes up short in the playoffs, you have a right to be upset.
Understand that there were some people who never saw the team win one Super Bowl. You have seen three Vince Lombardi trophies. It's been one heck of a run. Let's hope the trophy returns to Foxboro one more time.
On another note, Patriots radio broadcasting legend Gil Santos called his final regular season game yesterday, his booming voice and incredible energy will be deeply missed by Patriot nation.