The Tom Brady revenge tour came to an end on Sunday, two wins short of its projected run.
For the second time in the last three January’s, the Patriots season was terminated in Sports Authority Field at Mile High as the Denver Broncos squeaked by 20-18. Quarterback rival Peyton Manning is headed to Super Bowl 50 while Brady is on the road to recovery after taking hit-after-hit from a relentless Broncos defense. The loss is disappointing as many (this writer included, see below) expected the Patriots to easily weather the sea of orange towards Santa Clara, CA. Losing is personal, and Patriots fans are upset, focusing the majority of their anger in the direction of placekicker Stephen Gostkowski for pushing a first quarter extra-point wide right. It’s obvious to look at that measly point as the difference, as the Patriots were forced to attempt a game-tying two-point play with 12 seconds remaining in the game. We yearn to vilify an individual for a failure. But to pin the blame for the loss on Gostkowski is simply unfair. His consistency and accuracy are unrivaled in his profession.
Playing the blame game is wrong any way you slice it, particularly as the Broncos deserve accolades for playing superbly in their home stadium. However, as irreverent as this may sound, like others before it, the loss came in a game where head coach Bill Belichick simply was not at his strategic best. If I continuously heap praise upon the man, am I not justified in occasionally pointing out some less than stellar play-calling by the hoodie? With 6:03 remaining in the fourth quarter, and confronted with a fourth-and-one from the 16-yard line, Belichick decided against a 32-yard field goal attempt. Facing the devastating Bronco pass-rush, Brady was forced to hastily loft the ball to wide receiver Julian Edelman who was tackled for a loss. Turnover on downs. Three points there would have cut the Broncos lead to five, and along with that final touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski, would have equaled a Patriots win. Passing up that field goal was particularly curious as the Broncos offense had been stymied by the Patriots defense in the second half. Was Belichick concerned that Manning would morph into his 2006 self, and lead the Broncos on a time consuming drive? Aside from their first series of the game, an 11-play, 83-yard drive capped by a touchdown, the Broncos failed to put together a sustained push into Patriot territory. That initial possession featured Patriots pass coverage giving Bronco receivers too much cushion for my liking. Manning was literally throwing against air.
This loss hurts, they always do, but come next season, the Patriots will once again be an elite team and among the favorites to win Super Bowl LI. However, make no mistake, an opportunity evaporated in the Mile High air. An opportunity lost forever.
I’m not quite sure what came over me last week. A victory in Denver seemed a mere formality. My only real concern was how to get through the week, the anticipation of Sunday’s game continually on my mind.
A realist, heck, a glass half empty kind of guy, I convinced myself that the Broncos and their quarterback Peyton Manning were ripe for the picking. In my defense, any sane individually would have felt the same given Manning’s body of work in 2015 as prime evidence.
Following the Patriots failed expedition into the Colorado mountains, a 20-18 loss which secured the Broncos a place in Super Bowl 50, I feel as though my last column arrogantly guaranteeing a win that never came, may have jinxed the Patriots.
I feel like Eddie Mush. Yes, that loveable loser from the Bronx Tale film, a guy that couldn’t pick a winner even at the finish line. Although I didn’t suit up at Sports Authority Field, I dropped the ball.
Sorry Patriots fans, you got mushed.
Put ME in the bathroom…
Christian A. Guarino, a Boston North End resident, writes about football and soccer for the Boston Post Gazette.