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Coping With Loss: AFC Championship Edition

10 positives we can all take away from this recent loss as we turn our attention towards next year.

Justin Edmonds

It's a cold, snowy day in the New England area right now - just the way it's supposed to be. I was kind of hoping for 60 degrees and sunny, but what can you do? This isn't Colorado, after all.

It's the last "Coping With Loss" article of the season, and just like last year, it comes in the wake of an AFC Championship Loss. And oddly enough, like last year, as I write this I'm already pretty much over the game and incredibly excited for the upcoming offseason and next year. So the sooner I get this one out of the way, the sooner we can start talking about how bright the future is.

I know that I usually offer five positives that we can all take away from a loss, but this isn't just any loss. This is the loss that sends the Pats packing for another year, and it came at the hands of a Peyton Manning led team. And while I'm not nearly as upset as I have been in years past, I'm sure there are still plenty of you out there who are incredibly depressed over knowing that New England's season is over for another year. So instead of five positive takeaways from the game, here are a whopping 10 things that should make this loss weigh a little less heavy on our collective minds.

The better team won. Losing is never fun. Losing to Peyton Manning makes it all a whole lot worse. But losing on the road to the best team in the AFC when you didn't play your best game and your roster is comprised of nobodies is something I'll easily be able to live with. There were no bogus calls. No crazy bounces. No helmet catches and no heartbreaking drops. Just a very good home team who handily beat an overachieving away team. That's a loss I can accept every day of the week. Denver didn't play their best game, and neither did the Patriots, and a mediocre Denver is flat out better than a mediocre New England. I'm not happy about this game, of course, but I'd much rather deal with a legitimate loss to a better team than a questionable one to a team the Pats should have beat. This one won't take too long to get over, I promise.

The haters are still out. What would the world be without Patriots haters? How could life go on if nobody cared whether or not New England lost? How many less pageviews would this site get if the anti-Pats jihadists didn't come by to blow up our message boards, bathe in our tears, and remind us that it has been 10 years since the Patriots have brought home a Lombardi Trophy? On behalf of myself and everyone else in Patriots Nation - thanks! Thanks for reminding us our team is still the class of the NFL and the franchise that everyone else models theirs after (including the team that just beat us)! Leave a few more comments, if you don't mind, maybe something about how Pats fans are arrogant or how New England can't have it both ways or something like that. Just something to give us all concrete proof that you think about the Pats and that they are important enough to you that you had to take time out of your life to make a comment on them. The day you stop caring is the day the Patriots fall back to Earth. And based on what I have been seeing and hearing as of late, we're still a long ways off from that.

We've had worse. I have said it before and I'll say it again: we as Patriots fans have already experienced the most heartbreaking loss we will ever experience. It will never, ever get any worse than what we had to go through in 2007, and because of that, playoff exits like this one will always be easy to get over. No amount of trash talk, media hype, or Manning love will ever compare to knowing how close the Patriots came to perfection in 2007. We are likely never going to have the opportunity to achieve a perfect season again, and even when Tommy B does win another Super Bowl, we'll always know what could have been if Asante Samuel hadn't dropped that damn interception. After dealing with that, everything else from this point forward is cake.

It was one helluva run. How can you not absolutely love what the 2013 Patriots accomplished? How can you not be proud as hell of this unit? To say that it ended with a fizzle is an insult to fizzles everywhere, but that the Pats even made is as far as they did is a tremendous testament to their toughness and resiliency throughout what should have been a lost season. I know it's Super Bowl or bust every year for the Pats regardless of the roster or how realistic those expectations are, and this roster was not immune to that, but the 2013 team is definitely going to go down as one of my all-time favorite units. I'm probably going to forget a lot of their names in a few years - that's just the way these guys are built - but as a whole, there haven't been many teams more likable than this one. It was indeed one helluva run, and one that I'm still extremely happy with.

No more injuries! Unless the football gods decide to continue this unprecedented streak of abuse and Patriots spend this offseason getting into car accidents and falling down the stairs, I think it's safe to say that we've seen our last of Rich Hill's "Bad News of the Day" posts. It's tough to get IR'ed in the offseason, so we can all breathe a little easier knowing that we don't have to spend each and every week wondering which crucial piece of this roster is going to go down this time. With each passing day, guys are getting healthy, and nobody will be blowing ACLs or tearing their pectorals. I'll take it.

Tommy B isn't going to be happy. I may not have too much trouble moving on from this game, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that this loss isn't going to sit very well with Tom Brady. Tommy B is going to be thinking about this loss, and what the media is going to say about it, for a large chunk of the offseason. There aren't many players more competitive than Tom Brady, who doesn't need any extra motivation as it is, and I don't think it's a stretch to say that Brady is going to use this loss to fuel him all the way until next September. And hell hath no fury like a Brady scorned.

This just wasn't our year. It wasn't, everyone. We can all stop kidding ourselves now. I think that deep down, we all knew that our season got carted off the field along with Rob Gronkowski against the Browns and we have known that for some time now. I was able to convince myself otherwise for a very long time, and a lot of you were able to do the same, but this simply wasn't our year and that's all there is to it. You just can't have the string of injuries this team has had and expect to keep outshooting your coverage. Losing Aqib Talib in the first quarter of Sunday's game was just the final straw, and the duct tape, glue, and rubber cement that has been holding this team together all season finally fell apart. It's frustrating to think about how far the Patriots came with so little, but when it wasn't meant to be it wasn't meant to be. I give everyone here a tremendous amount of credit for staying positive, not giving up, riding whoever was healthy as far as they will take us, and ignoring the hype; however, the sad truth is that you can only bet the house for so long before you eventually roll snake eyes. The ride finally came to a halt, and we can now all look back on the year and smile at it all. We all looked ahead when Vereen broke his arm. We didn't blink when Wilfork went down. We all forged on when Mayo was lost. We put faith in our rookies when Kelly went on IR. We turned to the horizon as Vollmer screamed in agony. We learned the names of the practice squad promotees as Talib, Gregory, Solder, Hoo-man, Dobson, Ammendola, and Thompkins missed multiple games. We were able to just cheer for this team, not individual players, because the team was all we really had. But ultimately, all that had to end. When it isn't your year, it isn't your year.

Youth and experience. Usually you have a young team, or you have an experienced team; it's very rare that you have both. And this Patriots team had a whole lot of youth and very little experience. However, all of the young guys and UDFAs that made up the bulk of the roster this past year just got themselves a whole lot of experience and will be able to bring that with them into the offseason and on to 2014. I'd argue that the 2014 Patriots will have the best overall balance of youth and experience in the entire league next year, and that's going to bode well. Because of that...

New England is going to be nasty next year. And when I say nasty, I mean NASTY. If I could write the word "nasty" any bigger, I would. Not only does everyone who was actually able to finish this season now have much more experience under their belts, but the Patriots are going to get all of their Pro Bowlers back next year. Can you imagine what could have been if all of our injured players were healthy this year? Hell, can you imagine what could have been in half of our injured players were healthy this year? Those guys will all be back next year in addition to the players we already have; couple that with a few key re-signings and bring in some outside talent, and we already have ourselves another legit Super Bowl contender. The last time the Pats lost an away game in the AFC Championship Game in which their lack of offensive weapons was exposed, they went out and got Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, and set the NFL on fire. I can't wait to see what the coaching staff does to bolster what is already going to be a championship caliber roster.

Contrary to popular belief, this isn't the last year of the NFL. There seems to be a prevalent opinion that the 2013 NFL season is the last one we'll ever see. That the team who wins this year's Super Bowl will be remembered forever throughout history as the greatest of all time, and 2013 is the last year that anyone has to cement his legacy. Well unless Roger Goodell decides to just up and shut the league down next year (which I wouldn't put by him if he got offered enough money), the NFL is going to continue on as scheduled. And because of that, Tom Brady will be suiting up for the New England Patriots next year. Continuing this train of thought, that leads me to believe that Brady will still be playing for a few more years in this league and will have a few more opportunities to come back and play for another Super Bowl. If my assumption is true, then maybe we should all wait just a bit before we start talking about legacies and all that good stuff. What if Brady wins three more rings? What if Sunday's game is the last playoff game Manning ever wins? What if a whole bunch of crazy stuff happens over the next few years or so that makes us all realize how ridiculous we sounded acting like 2013 was the end of the line? I think I'll just keep watching football - which will still be around for the foreseeable future - and let the game decide how everything shakes out.