We love all of our children, but we do not love them equally. By children, I mean Patriots playoff victories in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era, of course.
What now? You thought I meant actual children? Our real kids in our real families? Like, we actually love some more than others? Aren’t you familiar with the concept of the metaphor?
Ranking Patriots’ playoff victories — specifically, the 24 since Tom Brady has been their quarterback, excluding the five Super Bowl victories, since that’s a ranking for another day – isn’t easy.
All of the wins should be cherished to some degree, even if the memories of some stay with you forever while others fade. Hey, it’s a lot to keep track of.
But it sure is fun sorting it out, and there is plenty of room for debate.
This is my subjective countdown from the 24th-most memorable/satisfying/important/entertaining playoff win during the franchise’s dynasty to the most . . . well, you know.
The one in first place was an easy choice. Not much else was. So here you go, worst to first . . . with the worst still being pretty darn special, too.
24.) Wild-card round, Jan. 7, 2006: Patriots 28, Jaguars 3. What I remembered without looking it up: Willie McGinest had a playoff-record 4½ sacks. What I didn’t remember: Pretty much the rest, including that the Patriots led just 7-3 at halftime. That Brady-Byron Leftwich rivalry never became a thing, huh?
23.) Divisional round, Jan. 13, 2018: Patriots 35, Titans 14. The Titans actually scored first, but the Patriots dropped 35 straight points on them, including 21 in the second quarter when James White caught a touchdown and ran for another in a span of 3:58.
22.) Wild-card round, Jan. 7, 2007: Patriots 37, Jets 16. Jabar Gaffney had eight catches for 104 yards, a fine game at the time by a smart and useful player, but a reminder now of how short Belichick left the offense that season.
21.) Divisional round, Jan. 14, 2012: Patriots 45, Broncos 10. Southpaw knuckleballer Tim Tebow had nine completions in 26 attempts for Denver. Brady had six touchdown passes among his 26 completions. And there’s still probably more than one gator brain in Gainesville, Fla., who believes Tebow is the best quarterback of all time.
20.) Divisional round, Jan. 12, 2008: Patriots 31, Jaguars 20. Brady wasn’t perfect, but he was awfully close, completing 26 of 28 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots improved to 17-0. Oddly, Randy Moss had just one catch for 14 yards.
19.) Divisional round, Jan. 13, 2013: Patriots 41, Texans 28. Shane Vereen scored three touchdowns — two receiving, one rushing — and the Patriots treated the Texans like they were a junior varsity, taking a 38-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
18.) Divisional round, Jan. 13, 2019: Patriots 41, Chargers 28. Somewhere at this very moment in Southern California, Philip Rivers is screaming at a random guy in a striped shirt to throw a flag already.
17.) AFC Championship, Jan. 20, 2008: Patriots 21, Chargers 12. Laurence Maroney ran for 122 yards for the second straight playoff game and the defense limited the Chargers to four Nate Kaeding field goals. But the real story was an ankle injury suffered by Brady on a third-quarter sack. He caused a frenzy by wearing a walking cast in the days afterward, and made him a sitting duck for the Giants’ ferocious pass rush in the Super Bowl. Let’s just move on.
16.) Divisional round, Jan. 11, 2014: Patriots 43, Colts 22. LeGarrette Blount rumbled for 166 yards and four touchdowns, including a 73-yarder that put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
15.) Divisional round, Jan. 16, 2016: Patriots 27, Chiefs 20. Weird game. Neither team scored more than 7 points in any quarter, but it never felt as if the Patriots were in danger of losing. Rob Gronkowski scored a pair of touchdowns and Julian Edelman kept the chains moving with 10 catches for 100 yards.
14.) Divisional round, Jan. 14, 2017: Patriots 34, Texans 16. In somewhat of a surprise, the Texans were competitive in this one despite starting Brock Osweiler at quarterback. The Patriots led, 17-13, at halftime, but White — foreshadowing Super Bowl greatness to come — had a 19-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, and the Patriots pulled away.
13.) AFC Championship, Jan. 22, 2017: Patriots 36, Steelers 17. When it comes to facing the Patriots with something at stake, the Mike Tomlin-era Steelers are like the Texans with tradition. They show up, but they don’t stick around for long. Chris Hogan tormented the Steelers for 180 yards on nine catches, including two first-half touchdowns.
12.) AFC Championship, Jan. 18, 2015: Patriots 45, Colts 7. Blount ran for a mere three touchdowns in this one and the Patriots held Andrew Luck to 12 completions on 33 attempts. Of course, this one is forever known as the origin of Deflategate. In retrospect, I bet Brady wishes he’d dropped 145 points on the Colts instead of 45.
11.) Divisional round, Jan. 16, 2005: Patriots 20, Colts 3. Corey Dillon ran for 144 yards and Brady threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the second half in a surprisingly low-scoring game. Beating up on the Peyton Manning Colts was a lovely tradition for a while.
10.) Divisional round, Jan. 14, 2007: Patriots 24, Chargers 21. I’ll bet you to this day, in ancient jukeboxes in all the dive bars across San Diego, “Shoulda Taken A Knee, Marlon McCree” remains a selection more popular than any Jimmy Buffett ballad.
9.) Divisional round, Jan. 10, 2004: Patriots 17, Tennessee 14. Bethel Johnson, who had a surprising number of big plays for the Patriots for being a bust, caught a 41-yard touchdown pass, and Adam Vinatieri booted a block of ice for the winning 46-yard field goal with 4:06 left in a game in which the wind chill was minus-10. Tough win against the rare Jeff Fisher team that wasn’t 7-9 or 8-8.
8.) AFC Championship, Jan. 21, 2018: Patriots 24, Jaguars 20. The Patriots trailed, 20-10, early in the fourth quarter against the Bortlesmen, but Danny Amendola caught a pair of touchdown passes in the final nine minutes as the Patriots rallied against a Jaguars defense that was almost as good as it thought it was.
7.) AFC Championship, Jan. 23, 2005: Patriots 41, Steelers 27. Deion Branch had four catches for 116 yards — including a 60-yarder that left Pittsburgh defensive backs grasping for their dignity — as the Patriots thumped a 16-1 Steelers team on their own turf.
6.) AFC Championship, Jan. 22, 2012: Patriots 23, Ravens 20. The Ravens had first down on the Patriots’ 23 with 51 seconds left. The final sequence was something else, a definition of survival: A 9-yard catch by Anquan Boldin with Edelman in coverage, a potential tying touchdown to Lee Evans busted up by Sterling Moore at the last millisecond, another pass defended by Moore intended for Dennis Pitta, and then the worst hook you will ever see on a 32-yard field goal attempt by Billy Cundiff. Took a while to exhale after that one, huh?
5.) AFC Championship, Jan. 18, 2004: Patriots 24, Colts 14. Manning completed three passes to Marvin Harrison and three to Ty Law as the Patriots defense bullied and befuddled a Colts offense that had totaled 79 points in its two previous playoff games.
4.) Divisional round, Jan. 10, 2015: Patriots 35, Ravens 31. One of the hardest-fought victories in their run. The Patriots came back from 14-point deficits twice against a fierce Baltimore team. We tend to think of Edelman and Amendola as the stalwarts of this game, and they were: Edelman threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Amendola to tie it at 28 in the third quarter, and Amendola also had a 15-yard TD catch to knot it at 14 in the second quarter. But the winning touchdown actually was a 23-yarder to Brandon LaFell with 5:13 left.
3.) AFC Championship, Jan. 27, 2002: Patriots 24, Steelers 17. One last and deserved warm moment in the sun for Drew Bledsoe, who relieved an injured Brady and threw a touchdown pass to David Patten in the second quarter. This one is rated so high due to the opposite of recency bias, I think. Call it nostalgia bias.
2.) AFC Championship, Jan. 20, 2019: Patriots 37, Chiefs 31, OT. So if the rule was that every team did get at least one possession in overtime, how many possessions (and overtimes, plural) would there have been before either Brady or Patrick Mahomes was stopped? The way those two were going, I figure it might have ended in the wee hours of Monday morning. What a duel.
1.) Divisional round, Jan. 19, 2002: Patriots 16, Raiders 13, OT. The Snow Bowl. How it all began. If you want to smile for two-plus hours, this game is in full on YouTube. All right, so sometimes maybe we do love our firstborn most.