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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) heads off the field at the end of the AFC Divisional playoff game.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) heads off the field at the end of the AFC Divisional playoff game.
Image: UPI/PA Images

Death, taxes, and the New England Patriots

Brady and Belichick proved yet again that you can never count them out, writes Steve O’Rourke.
Jan 14th 2019, 12:15 PM 5,682 8

THE FIRST PERSON to reach 150 years old is probably alive right now.

That’s almost double the average life expectancy (81) of a person in Ireland today.

However, no matter how advanced science becomes, or how much activated charcoal water you drink, death will come for us all eventually.

Like taxes, and the New England Patriots reaching the AFC championship game, it’s one of life’s few inevitabilities.

This was, by any metric, a down year for the Pats having finished with fewer than 12 wins for the first time since 2008 and they were below .500 on the road. Three of their losses came to the Jags, Lions, and Titans by a combined 51 points.

That they lost to the Dolphins in Miami isn’t that much of a surprise given their record there, but the manner of it — which combined horrible coaching with terrible play to produce the most exciting ending to a regular season game in living memory — caused many casual observers to sit up and take notice.

As I’ve written about before this season, this wasn’t — up until Sunday night — the type of Patriots team we’ve come to know. All of a sudden their marquee players, the likes of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, looked old and slow.

So much so the word retirement kept popping up throughout the course of the season and even before this weekend’s games.

But they still won the AFC East for the 16th time in 18 years and avoided wild card weekend for the 10th straight season thanks, largely, to the Texans’ winning just two of their final four games.

And yet, despite all the evidence that this wasn’t to be the Patriots’ year, they’ll play in their eighth consecutive AFC championship game next weekend, a feat that may never be matched and shouldn’t even be possible in a league designed specifically to stop this sort of persistent dominance.

Just think about how good they are for a second; since 2001 the Patriots have played in eight Super Bowls. Only three other teams — the Steelers, Cowboys, and Broncos — have appeared in eight Super Bowls since the merger in 1970.

On Sunday night, they systematically destroyed the LA Chargers and their first five drives of the game went:

Touchdown

Touchdown

Touchdown

Touchdown

Punt that was fumbled by the Chargers resulting in a Patriots touchdown

By comparison, after scoring on their opening drive, LA finished the half punting four times and the game, as a contest, was over.

And while I praised the Chargers coaching staff last week for playing small against Baltimore’s brilliant rushing attack, the same tactic backfired spectacularly on Sunday as the Patriots made them bleed to death with a thousand paper cuts.

Brady completed 34 of his 44 pass attempts for 343 yards and a touchdown as the Chargers stayed in zone coverage despite nearly two decades of evidence that man coverage is significantly more effective against the five-time Super Bowl winner.

Of course, it wasn’t just Brady. On Sunday night, they had brilliant performances from James White, Sony Michel, and the defence suffocated Phillip Rivers all game. It was the most complete performance we’ve seen by any team this postseason.

UPI 20190113 New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick looks down the field in the third quarter. Source: UPI/PA Images

This is not the best Patriots squad we’ve ever seen. Far from it. But it is their ability to squeeze brilliant performances out of league average players — with the help of the greatest quarterback and coach we’ve ever seen, of course — that makes them so special.

As an NFL writer, you’re damned if you pick the Patriots (‘boring’, ‘predictable’), and you’re damned if you don’t (‘idiot’, ‘hater’). But that’s okay. We’ve never seen anything like their dominance and it’s very unlikely we’ll see it again.

And while you don’t have to like it, just like death and taxes, the Patriots playing well when it matters most — they’re 28-10 in the playoffs under Belichick — has become so inevitable you just have to sit back and accept it.

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Steve O'Rourke

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