Cam Cole: Patriots' post-mortem mainly a matter of road kill

 

Squandered regular season opportunities resulted in New England having to leave friendly, winning confines of Foxborough

 
 
 
 
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (left) walks off the field next to head coach Bill Belichick after a failed two-point conversion attempt during the second half of their AFC Championship game loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 to advance to the Super Bowl.
 
 

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (left) walks off the field next to head coach Bill Belichick after a failed two-point conversion attempt during the second half of their AFC Championship game loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 to advance to the Super Bowl.

Photograph by: Joe Mahoney, Associated Press

More on This Story

 

VANCOUVER — Before the two-week inundation commences of all things Super Bowl, let us pause to remember the fallen.

Not the Arizona Cardinals. They were like a skeleton drill for the Carolina Panthers in the NFC title game: never, at any point, competitive with the conference's super-team and its five-tool quarterback, Cam Newton.

No, we're here to attend the wake for the New England Patriots, whose season of fiery payback for the frame job the NFL tried to pull with its DeflateGate pseudo-scandal was unceremoniously terminated by the Denver Broncos in the highest-rated AFC Championship game in 29 years.

There is no shortage of suspects in the Patriots' demise, but let's just throw a couple out there:

1. They were outcoached, a thing rarely said of a Bill Belichick team, but in this case, the Patriots' hoodie-wearing Yoda started overthinking several weeks ago, his decisions costing his team home-field advantage, and Sunday's 20-18 loss at high altitude in the unfriendly confines of Denver's Sports Authority Field was an entirely fitting consequence.

2. The Pats were humiliated on the line of scrimmage, to the point where quarterback Tom Brady was so besieged from start to finish, he developed a pronounced case of "happy feet," twitching and shying and throwing wholly uncharacteristic alligator-arm passes into the ground even when the protection held up.

Rare was the play when Brady got to drop back, survey and step into a throw, because his two offensive tackles, Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer, were getting comprehensively schooled on the outside by Denver's Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, who brushed aside their blocks or simply sprinted around them en route to Brady's kitchen.

New England's offensive architect, Josh McDaniels, couldn't devise a remedy that Broncos defensive co-ordinator Wade Phillips hadn't already sniffed out. Phillips may have been the real MVP of the game.

The loss was another in a series of frustrating endings for a dynastic Patriots team that has won four Super Bowls in the Belichick-Brady era but could have won at least a couple more, if not for their mysterious inability to win playoff games on the road or beat anyone named Manning.

They lost two Super Bowls to Eli and the Giants — one of which spoiled a perfect 2007 season — and now rickety old Peyton has come out on top for the third time in a row in AFC Championship games against Brady and the Pats.

But when all is said and done, the Patriots, who tend to be the sport's lightning rod for controversy — with Belichick's undeniable genius and Brady's flirtation with perfection as a classic drop-back quarterback — left the door open for this setback weeks ago.

Yes, the ultra-reliable Stephen Gostkowski missed the convert on the first New England touchdown Sunday, which is why the Patriots had to go for two on the score that would have tied the game at the end.

But the Pats had the ball inside the Broncos' 20 three times in the fourth quarter and got just six points out of those possessions. They gambled on fourth down rather than kick a field goal with six minutes left, and lost by two.

Really, though, Belichick set the table for this loss late in the regular season with two mystifying executive decisions.

He elected to kick rather than receive after winning the overtime coin toss against the New York Jets, and Brady never did see the football again because Ryan Fitzpatrick drove the Jets to a touchdown on the first possession.

And then, in the season's final week, when a win against a Miami team that was just playing out the string would have given the Patriots home field all the way to Super Bowl 50, Belichick mailed it in, opting for health and gift-wrapping a win for the Dolphins that will haunt New England fans all winter long.

Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

In the Belichick-Brady era, they have now gone 0-3 at Denver in the playoffs. Brady is now 2-7 overall in the Mile High City and (as the Boston Globe pointed out) one of those wins was over Tim Tebow. They haven't won a playoff game on the road in nine years.

Meanwhile, they are 15-3 in playoffs at home in Foxborough since since Belichick and Brady teamed up.

You'd have thought the coach might look at those numbers and say: "Hmm. Maybe we should try to play this one at home, and take our chances with injuries."

Belichick's analysis?

"I think we all feel as coaches, players, all of us there is such a fine line between winning and losing," he said. "If we had all done just a little bit more then it might have been a different result."

Hindsight, and history, say the Patriots would have done that little bit more, and the Broncos just a little bit less, in Foxborough.

ccole@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (left) walks off the field next to head coach Bill Belichick after a failed two-point conversion attempt during the second half of their AFC Championship game loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 to advance to the Super Bowl.
 

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (left) walks off the field next to head coach Bill Belichick after a failed two-point conversion attempt during the second half of their AFC Championship game loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 to advance to the Super Bowl.

Photograph by: Joe Mahoney, Associated Press

 
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (left) walks off the field next to head coach Bill Belichick after a failed two-point conversion attempt during the second half of their AFC Championship game loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 to advance to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is tackled by Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) during the first half the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski leaps over Denver Broncos defensive back Shiloh Keo (33) during the second half of the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. At right is Denver Broncos defensive back Josh Bush (20).
Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots makes a catch on fourth down against Chris Harris #25 and  Josh Bush #20 of the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
Denver Broncos tight end Owen Daniels (81) catches a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peyton Manning during the first half the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, left, is congratulated by quarterback Brock Osweiler following the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 to advance to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots running back Steven Jackson (39) reaches out to score a touchdown on a one-yard run during the first half the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts after executing a play during the first half of the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning speak to one another following the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 to advance to the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots falls while passing in the second half against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) is tackled by Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris during the first half the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Cody Latimer catches a pass ahead of New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan during the second half of the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) passes over Patriots’ defenders during the first half the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
Denver Broncos tight end Owen Daniels (81) catches a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peyton Manning during the first half the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) is upended by Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib during the second half of the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots catches a 4-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter against  Chris Harris #25 of the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
New England Patriots running back Steven Jackson (39) reaches out to score a touchdown on a one-yard run during the first half the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passes the ball as he is taken down by Denver Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware during the second half of the AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 to advance to the Super Bowl.
The Denver Broncos run onto the field for the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) sacks New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the first half the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver.
 
 
 
 
 
 
We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice