Usually, when I post an article on the Tuesday following a Patriots game, it's because New England just dropped one and it's time for another installment of my "Coping With Loss" series. To those of you who are unfamiliar with it, following every Patriots loss I try to find five positive takeaways from the game that we can all use to get ourselves over the hump and realize that the sky is not in fact falling. Luckily for me, I haven't had to write too many of these this year, and if all goes well I won't be writing another one until sometime in the fall of 2014.
Why do I bring all this up? Well I'm sorry to say that I was so pouty, angry, and despondent after the first 30 minutes of Sunday night's game that, for the first time ever, I actually started writing my "Coping With Loss" article at halftime before the game was even over. It seems incredibly foolish in retrospect, but the fact of the matter is that I had a whole other half to watch, nothing was going right for the Patriots at the time, and I couldn't just sit there stewing as all the media analysts fawned over the debacle that was occurring up in Foxboro. So, to pass the time and try and talk myself off the ledge, I sat down and tried to come up with five reasons why getting blown out at home on national television to a Peyton Manning-led team in a game that may possibly cost the Patriots a playoff bye wasn't as bad as it seemed. It took me most of the break, but I finally came up with five things that made me feel a little bit better about the whole thing.
I've never been so happy to have wasted my time.
Luckily for me, I had such a hard time finding anything positive to take away from the first half (even though there were a few bright spots), I didn't actually write any of the accompanying analysis; all I had was five talking points as to why things are still looking just peachy in Patriots Nation. So as punishment for my pessimism and doubt (you figured I would have learned my lesson during the Saints game), I'm going to do something different today - post what was initially slated to be a "Coping With Loss" article and spin it into five reasons in particular that we should all be feeling extra creamy this week. These are the exact same points I was going to try to put a positive spin on following what I erroneously thought would be a loss, only altered just a bit to reflect just how fricking awesome this win truly was.
I made a mistake in doubting the Pats, and I'm owning up to it. See, NFL refs? It isn't that hard.
Worst first half you'll ever see. That was just an awful way to start a game. Straight up awful. The way the Patriots played for the first 30 minutes on Sunday, they would have lost to almost any team in the NFL. Against the Broncos, it should have been over before it even began. Three fumbles on three consecutive possessions, all of which ended in touchdowns, and New England was in a seemingly insurmountable hole. It was like that scene in Rounders where Mike McDermott wins a huge pot against KGB in the first game and all he has to do from there was simply lean on him. Denver got up big in a game in which it was going to be hard to move the ball through the air and had the running game rolling against a defense that simply can't stop anyone on the ground, and all they had to do was keep rushing. However, the Patriots came out of the tunnel a completely different team in the 2nd half, and we all know how the game ended. To be able to make those kind of adjustments and show that kind of resiliency against one of the best teams in the NFL says a lot about how this team is built, and to come back after such a brutal first half is a great sign moving forward. New England isn't likely to play that poorly to start a game again, and that they can still start so slowly and pull off a win gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the year.
Still in line for a bye. While Denver still has a better overall record, New England is very well positioned for securing at least the two seed in the AFC and remains completely in control of its own destiny moving forward. Not only that, but the Pats now have the tiebreaker over the Broncos should they drop a game down the stretch (very possible, with KC, Baltimore, and San Diego on the docket), and every game the Patriots have left (Texans, Browns, Dolphins, Ravens, Bills) is very winnable. Furthermore, the Colts are in a serious downward spiral and the Bengals have some tough games coming up, so New England really created a nice cushion with this victory. There is still a lot of football to play, and the AFC Playoff Picture is far more muddled this year than most, but the Patriots did right by themselves in getting the edge over Denver.
Rough day for the AFC East. With Sunday's win, the Patriots now have a three game lead over the rest of the AFC East. Both the Dolphins and Jets managed to lose last week, which means that New England still has a stranglehold over the division and a pretty clear path to another AFC East title. To make things even better, the Jets and Fins play each other twice over the next five weeks and could very well cancel each other out by splitting the series. At the end of the day, before we start worrying about byes, all that matters is making the playoffs, and the Patriots are now almost certain to make that happen. Depending on how things go short-term, New England could potentially clinch the East in as little as two weeks - as long as they continue to take care of business.
It ain't getting any warmer, Manning. Peyton Manning did not play well yesterday. Granted, the way the running game was working, he didn't really need to, but Manning's cold weather woes were on full display Sunday night. And despite getting three scores gift wrapped for him in the first quarter, he still couldn't do enough to secure a win. Manning definitely isn't getting spotted 17 points early every week, and so and at some point between now and February he's going to have the win a game in the cold with his arm. Unfortunately, odds are if we see Manning again, it will be in Denver. But guess what? It's pretty damn cold in January there, too. And let's not forget where the Super Bowl is this year: New York. Outdoors. In February. It's 32 degrees and sleeting here right now and it isn't even December yet.
There is only one team in the AFC that can beat the New England Patriots. That team is the New England Patriots. You can't take anything away from the Broncos, who played well and created opportunities to go up big early, but if Denver had gone on to win that game, one of the narratives of this week would be how the Patriots created too big of a hole for themselves early and just couldn't get out of it, and despite a valiant effort, they just couldn't overcome a sloppy start. As they proved on Sunday, the Pats can hang with every single team in this conference, even when they don't play their best football for 60 straight minutes, and this is a unit you can never count out. If they don't make it to where we want them to make it this year, I'd be surprised if they were flat-out outplayed as opposed to they didn't play they way they are capable of playing. This is the time of the year when everyone's mental toughness is tested, especially rookies who aren't used to playing this long a season, and so getting this win should be a massive confidence booster and proof positive that all the Patriots need to do to accomplish their ultimate goal is do their job.