The 2018 NFL wild card playoffs are well underway and already saw two games being played yesterday. Two more contests will follow today, with one of which determining who will travel to Foxboro next week to take on the New England Patriots in the divisional round. As the AFC’s number two seed, the defending conference champions will enter the contest next Sunday — the ninth straight year that the Patriots hold a first-round bye.
While it seems as if New England, to quote colleague Matthew Rewinski, simply looks at the first playoff round these days and says “Nah, we’re good”, this has not always been the case. In fact, the Patriots played in a total of eight wild card games over the course of the first 59 years of franchise history. To be fair, though, the wild card round has not been around from the team’s inception in 1960 until the 1977 season.
That all being said, let’s quickly recap how New England performed when having to play in the wild card round.
1982: Loss against the Miami Dolphins
New England’s first-ever wildcard matchup took place after the strike-shortened 1982 season, when the 5-4 Patriots traveled to Miami to take on the 7-2 Dolphins. Head coach Ron Meyer’s team had the better start and went up 3-0, but the home team fought back and entered halftime up 14-3. The second half was more of the same and New England found itself down 28-6 in the fourth quarter. A late touchdown pass from Steve Grogan to Don Hasselbeck did not change the game’s outcome and the team’s season was over.
1985: Win over the New York Jets
Three years later and now led by head coach Raymond Berry, New England again found itself in the wild card round — and this time, the result was a different one. While the Patriots were down 7-3 on the road against the Jets by the second quarter, the team, which registered four takeaways on the day, was able to score the game’s next 20 points. New England ultimately won 26-14 and marched all the way to Super Bowl XX.
1994: Loss against the Cleveland Browns
Bill Parcells’ 10-6 team would start its first postseason run since 1986 against a familiar opponent: the 11-5 Cleveland Browns, coached by ex-Parcells assistant Bill Belichick. Belichick’s team had the better start to the game but a touchdown pass from Drew Bledsoe put New England ahead in the second quarter. After the teams headed into the locker rooms tied at 10, the Browns pulled away and took a 20-10 fourth quarter lead. New England failed to come back and was buried due to a multitude of offensive mistakes.
1997: Win over the Miami Dolphins
One year after the Patriots’ loss in Super Bowl XXXI and with Pete Carroll serving as the team’s new head coach, New England reached the wild card round yet again. And just like 15 years earlier, the Patriots’ opponent was the Dolphins. This time, however, the game was played in Foxboro and the result was a different one: the home team dominated the contest and advanced to the next round thanks to a 17-3 victory that saw New England’s defense register three takeaways, among them an interception return for a touchdown by Todd Collins.
1998: Loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars
Pete Carroll’s second year in New England saw the franchise reach the playoffs once again. However, it was a short postseason appearance for the 9-7 squad as it exited the tournament in the wild card round against the Jaguars. While Jacksonville started the game well and held a 12-0 lead at halftime, the Patriots struggled to move the ball offensively. The team did score 10 points coming out of the locker rooms but had to watch the home team pull away late en route to a 25-10 Jaguars victory.
2005: Win over the Jacksonville Jaguars
Seven years after the team’s last postseason meeting, New England and Jacksonville met again. The Patriots, at this point two-time defending world champions, played an effective game in all three phases: Tom Brady threw three touchdowns, Asante Samuel returned an interception to the end zone, and Willie McGinest registered 4.5 sacks. The Patriots defeated the visiting Jaguars 28-3 and advanced to the next round, where their quest for a “threepeat” would find an early end.
2006: Win over the New York Jets
Despite a 12-4 record, the 2006 Patriots also had to play in the wildcard round – and just like one year earlier, New England easily advanced to the next round. The game was a back-and-fourth contest in the first half, which ended with Bill Belichick’s team up 17-10. In the second half, however, the team started to pull away behind two Stephen Gostkowski field goals, a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Kevin Faulk and an interception-return-score by Asante Samuel. New England ultimately won 37-16.
2009: Loss against the Baltimore Ravens
The Patriots finished the 2009 season, Tom Brady’s first back from an ACL injury, with a 10-6 record and hosted the Ravens in the wild card round. It was a disaster for the home team, which gave up an 83-yard rushing touchdown on the game’s first play. The score was a sign of things to come as the Patriots could not get into any rhythm on offense or defense and found themselves down 24-0 by the end of the first quarter. The team started to show some life late but ultimately lost 33-14; the biggest postseason loss in the Brady-Belichick era.
As can be seen, the Patriots have been uneven during their eight wild card appearances: the team won four games, while losing four others. It appears as if simply skipping the round to enter the postseason one week later is the best course of action for the team — at least it has been in the past.