Many low points from the Mile High City
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We have almost six months to digest Blame Pie before it all starts up again.
The clarity and light of Monday did nothing to diminish the regional disappointment that accompanied the Patriots' 20-18 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. The Super Bowl is less than two weeks away, and most New England folks believe that the Patriots should still be playing. The Patriots did this to themselves.
Here are some takeaways from a wasted opportunity that should have ended with Tom Brady's record seventh trip to the Super Bowl . . .
■ The sight of Rob Gronkowski lying on his stomach, sucking on an oxygen mask and getting his legs massaged, should stay with Patriot fans for a while.
It reminded me of a famous Stan Grossfeld photo of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar inhaling oxygen while sitting on the bench at the sweaty old Boston Garden during Game 5 of the 1984 NBA Finals. The Celtics won that epic series at home in Game 7. They won because they played at home in the critical Games 5 and 7.
The Celtics earned that home-court advantage by taking care of business during the regular season, and it enabled them to beat a Laker team that was at least as good as, and maybe better than the Celtics.
Clinching home field is what the Patriots failed to do at the end of their 2015 regular season. Bill Belichick's arrogant/ambiguous game plan at Miami Jan. 3 (a 20-10 loss to a terrible Dolphins team) goes down in Patriot lore as his Grady Little moment. Unlike Grady, Bill will survive because he has the track record.
■ Guess we can all stop mocking the Manning family now. Brady has now lost five consecutive playoff games to the Manning Bros. This would include two Super Bowls and three AFC Championships.
■ Say a little prayer to Pete Carroll today. If not for Pete, the Patriots would be looking at 11 consecutive seasons without a championship.
■ The irony of a missed PAT costing the Patriots was not lost on everyone. Asked about the new rule Monday, Belichick said, “We don’t make the rules.’’
Actually, he sort of did make this rule. This is what Belichick said in January 2014, when he lobbied the league to push the PAT back to the 15 yard line: "I personally would love to see the kicking game remain as a very integral part of the games . . . so that extra points are not over 99 percent converted, because that's not what extra points were when they were initially put into the game back 80 years ago, whatever it was.''
Having reminded you of this, let's not put too much blame on Stephen Gostkowski. The Patriots kicker put all the blame on his own shoulders after the game, but we need to remember that he'd made 523 in a row, and that there were 47 minutes left in the game when he missed Sunday. It wasn't as if he went all Cundiff on us at the end of the game.
Gostkowski deserves the same break we gave Tim Wakefield after Wakefield surrendered the walkoff to Aaron Boone in 2003.
■ You don’t deserve to win when you rush for 44 yards and convert 2 of 15 third downs.
■ At least no one is complaining about officiating — almost a miracle after a Patriot loss. It would be nice if we don’t hear any moaning about injuries. This is football, people. Attrition is part of every season. Ultimately, the Patriots had most of their weapons for the biggest game of the season.
■ What was up with the coin toss? The Patriots won the toss (of course; that’s 28 of 38, an amazing 74 percent), and they opted to TAKE THE BALL. It was only the second time since the 2008 season opener (the day Brady was hurt against the Chiefs) that the Patriots willingly took the football at the start of a game. Ernie Adams no doubt has an explanation.
■ Please, can we stop with the pathetic bouquets to the Patriots’ “not quitting’’? New England’s final-minute TD comeback was clutch and amazing. But professional sports teams get zero points for trying.
The Patriots did not give up. They were still fighting at the end. Swell. That's what they are paid to do, and this was a game with a berth in the Super Bowl at stake.
If you are a sports fan, it's OK to find goats (even if they are the GOAT) and complain about decisions made and plays not made. That's part of the fun of watching sports.
■ It’s still amazing to go back and look at what we were saying and thinking back in those heady days of September and October. After the court decision rendered by Fanboy Berman, it felt as if this was going to be the Patriots’ year. They were going to go to the Super Bowl, maybe go undefeated, and make Roger Goodell look foolish when he was forced to hand over the Lombardi Trophy. This was the Revenge Tour. Defend the Wall. All that nonsense.
■ The good news is that we’ll be right back here at this time next year. The Patriots will gather in late summer and fire up their engine for another AFC East championship. The Bills, Dolphins, and Jets still don’t have good quarterbacks or coaches. They have zero franchise stability.
The Patriots know they will win their division just by showing up. It'll be eight straight and 13 out of 14. Ho-hum. The Patriots will get the first-round bye and the second-round home game. That's when the serious football starts.
And here's hoping that next year they remember that home field is more important than anything in the NFL playoffs.
■ Now that the Super Bowl is off the table, March 3 is the next big date on the Patriot calendar. That’s when the Second Circuit US Court of Appeals will hear the NFL’s case to restore Brady’s four-game suspension.
■ What else can we say? Red Sox Truck Day is Feb. 10.