One week ago, the New England Patriots season was up in the air. It wasn't over by any means, but it certainly felt like opportunity was slipping through the franchise's collective hands.
Any time an offense loses its top four skill players in consecutive weeks, bad luck is obviously in play. When an undrafted rookie fumbles a ball in Denver and the most talented tight end the league has ever seen goes down with a seemingly soul-crushing injury, well, that shifts the focus from the game and onto the people aspect of the sport.
We (at least I) wanted Chris Harper to succeed and it hurt to seem his dreams slip through his fingers. He worked extremely hard to make the roster, he did everything that he was asked to do, and he finally made it to the field. And then, poof, it was all gone in the Mile High air.
And then there's Rob Gronkowski, the most universally adored player in the entire league. The season didn't matter when he was writhing on the field. We witnessed what looked like a career-altering injury. No one deserves that, especially not a player that has overcome so much adversity throughout his six seasons in the NFL.
These Patriots are about more than just victories, next-man-ups, and divisional titles. These are players, men, with hopes, dreams, and aspirations of their own. To see the light snuffed out leaves a hole where enjoyment lives.
When the Eagles came to town, there was a feeling that the Patriots would, should, win, but a specter of all of the injuries cast a long shadow over the game. A laughter of three increasingly improbable returns for touchdowns by Philadelphia sank New England.
Two weeks after being the toast of the league, the Patriots were on a two game losing streak and sitting in third place in the conference.
Edelman would be out for the rest of the regular season. Amendola would be playing on a damaged knee. Who knew when Gronkowski could return to the field? Brandon LaFell was outgained through the air by his quarterback and Scott Chandler was battling an injury of his own. Tom Brady had never been hit as often as he had been over the prior three weeks.
We watch sports because we want to feel hope, not desperation, and we share it with the team. It felt like New England's Sisyphic season wouldn't be able to overcome all of the Pyrrhic victories. It's difficult to watch the climb when the hill feels greased.
But then Gronkowski returned, albeit in a limited capacity, to face the Texans. Tom Brady and the offensive line were masterful in their limiting of human Wonderbread J.J. Watt. The Patriots won a major victory on the road against a division leader.
The Patriots odds improved around the league as well, as the Bengals lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton to a hand injury, possibly for the season, and the Broncos anemic offense limped to a divisional loss at the hands of the Oakland Raiders. New England was back atop the AFC and back as the heavy favorites.
This edition of the New England Patriots reminds me of the 2013 squad that just wouldn't give up. Injury after injury, the 2013 Patriots clawed their way into the AFC Championship that they had no business playing. I'll always love that 2013 team because they showed an indomitable spirit and drive to give their all, no matter the odds.
The Patriots could have given up after they fell behind against the Broncos and Eagles. They could have surrendered after falling behind to the Giants and the Jets. But this team doesn't know how to quit and they provided an emphatic victory against the Texans to assert their position in the conference.
New England didn't come back from the dead, by any means, but the three week spin of emotions just reinforces why I love this game. It's a week-to-week struggle and a season-long story. There are still more chapters to write.