Next man up! Every football fan has heard this motto before and every football team has said it but in 2013 The New England Patriots have demonstrated that nobody does it better than them. In Foxboro “Next man up” was not a figure of speech but a way of life, before the season even began from the incarceration of Aaron Hernandez which severed the best TE tandem in the NFL while casting a dark shadow over the organization. The ugly divorce of one of the most beloved patriots in recent memory and productive receivers in the games history, to not having their most prolific red zone target available until week 7 (Only to lose him to a brutal knee injury 5 weeks later). As we review the end of the regular season and prepare for the playoffs, consider the difficulty of being a successful quarterback in the NFL week in and week out with receivers you have built a rapport with over time with sweat and tears. Imagine losing four of them in the off season only to have them replaced with 3 rookies and an injury prone receiver trying to make a name for himself that you have never played with (Patriots still finished with a 27.8 pts per game record for second place and actually out scored the number one team in the second half of the season by 2pts). Not the best way to start the year but little did The Patriots or their fans have any idea that things would get much worse with season ending losses to key players like Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Sebastian Vollmer, Jerod Mayo and additional injuries hindering production, consistency and playing time from the likes of Pro Bowler Aqib Talib, to the dynamic RB Shane Vereen and the list didn’t stop there… Yet under the leadership of the greatest coach and QB combo of this generation (And arguably ever) they finished the year winning their 11th division title since 2000 and finishing the year with a 12-4 record.
You could use as many superlatives as you want to describe this incredible feat and it still would not do it justice. When you consider that only two teams in the NFL this year were one game better (And that The Patriots were one catch away from matching that and being the 1 seed in their conference) it was truly a remarkable season for the ages. To think of what this team would have accomplished if they were not plagued with so many injuries to so many significant players is staggering. Mental toughness, resiliency, passion, fire, grit are all hyperboles that are associated with sports but how many teams in sports actually have it? How many of them actually live it week in and week out the way this team did?
The regular season is over and there are 29 teams that wish they were in the same position The Patriots are in. With a bye week and home field advantage for their next game NE will get some well-deserved rest on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The coaches deserve a lot of credit as well with scouting, training, scheming and getting the next man up to do his job (Consider at times there were as many as ten rookies on the field) and they will enjoy some additional time to prepare for the next game. The whole organization has risen above every benchmark that could be expected. 12-4! Think about it, was it pretty? No. Was it tough, gutsy, and impressive? You better believe it! All the above. Since the hiring of Bill Belichick in 2000 there have been 111 coaches hired in the NFL, Change seems to be inevitable everywhere else but in Foxboro the ship is steady as they continue to take care of business in the regular season come what may with amazing resolve and execution.
The New England Patriots have garnered a lot of hate and respect in the last 13 years and this year will be no different. As Tom Brady has stated on many occasions “nobody is going to feel bad for the Patriots.” In the AFC East their competition was as tough as it’s ever been. Finishing with the third best division winning record in the league at 34-30, nothing came easy for The Patriots. Every game came at a price, a price that they paid with their blood and bones. The AFC East may not realize it now but they had the best opportunity to take the crown and they failed. Like the refiner‘s fire, the mettle this team has shown has only made them stronger in the years to come.
With the playoffs beginning this Saturday it will be a new season, everybody is 0-0, it’s win or go home so how far will this team go? I believe The Patriots have just as good a shot as any to make it to the Super Bowl. They have a fantastic coach, QB, running game, and solid playmakers on defense and great kickers. As banged up and inconsistent as their O-line has been throughout they have been very good the last two games and the defensive line has acquired more sacks than any patriot team in Belichick’s tenor. Would having Gronk been better? Of course, just like it would be better with all the other players that won’t be there also. Nevertheless Patriot fans should be optimistic they have a great shot at the title and if they make it to that cold eastern night in February with that QB and that coach you could be in for hell of a ride and expect The Patriots to continue to run and use the play action on offense, this formula seems to be working very well for them. Regardless of how the playoffs turn out take this time in the New Year to ponder what you have witnessed this regular season. A season for the ages, it wasn’t 16-0, but maybe the most impressive season in team history all things considering. Every single patriot fan should be proud of what they have witnessed and grateful to have a team that fights to their last breath. Come what may one thing is for sure as the winds pick up, as the tides rise and the storm thunders one thing will remain the same in New England when the sun sets, the Patriot way!
By: Opinion Slayer