Last night, the New England Patriots received their Super Bowl rings. This is now the sixth such ceremony that we’ve been able to witness, and they’ve all been memorable events for great teams, players, and staff. This year feels a little different for me, though: there was just something special about this team, and I think that you saw that from all of the people who moved on coming back to be a part of the event.
They may not have been the most talented Patriots team — in fact, not since 2001 has a Patriots team faced so many doubts, and so much adversity — but they were still able to win the championship.
When the Patriots walked off Heinz Field two months before the Super Bowl, they had lost two games in a row. They had gotten the football back with 2:30 left, down seven points, against a bad defense, and they weren’t able to tie the game. The offense was terrible in that game, with a blown coverage by Pittsburgh leading to their only touchdowns, and Tom Brady throwing a horrid fourth quarter red zone interception.
Combine that with the fact that they had blown the ‘Miami Miracle’ game just one week earlier — in a place they never win, on the final play of the game — and the Patriots were in rough shape. Worse than that, beating the Chiefs early in the season to get the number one playoff seed in the AFC didn’t matter anymore, and they would even need some help getting the number two seed, and a first-round bye.
If you had told me that night that the Patriots would win their next five games, including beating the statistically three best teams in the NFL, with one of those games being played in Kansas City, I think I — and a lot of other people — would not have believed it. Hell, I even picked against them in the AFC title game. I hadn’t seen enough from them all year to believe that they had the mental toughness to go into a hostile environment and win that game.
That’s what makes this season all the more impressive.
People doubted the Patriots at every turn. Pundits said that their offense didn’t have enough good skill players, and that their defense was too old. They reinvented themselves, becoming a power running team that ran for 889 yards and 11 touchdowns over its final five games. The defense finally gelled together as a unit, with guys like Stephon Gilmore, Trey Flowers, and Dont’a Hightower proving they were elite players — all while younger guys like J.C. Jackson morphed into players that could be relied upon to make plays in the biggest moments of the season.
They put that all together to win the sixth Super Bowl in team history.
Sure, this season was about Tom Brady and Bill Belichick getting their sixth rings, and being the unquestionable GOATs, but it was also about Jason McCourty and Danny Shelton, who both made big plays in the Super Bowl, going from 0-16 to Super Bowl champs in just one season. It was about guys like David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Joe Thuney finally getting recognized as some of the best at their position after holding a stellar Rams defensive line at bay all Super Bowl long.
It was about a guy like Kyle Van Noy, whose talent was always questioned by the “experts,” finally being able to shut those people up. It was about a guy like Sony Michel, playing in his first postseason, scoring the only touchdown of the Super Bowl, and already being tied for 20th all-time in playoff rushing scores. It was about Rob Gronkowski, who was a shell of himself all season, but turned it on in the playoffs, and was able to put the perfect bow on a first-ballot Hall of Fame career with a signature catch to get the Patriots in position to score that TD.
It was about Julian Edelman, who lost last season to a torn ACL, started this year with a four-game suspension, and questions of whether or not he would ever be the same. All he did was catch 74 balls for 850 yards in the regular season, win Super Bowl MVP, and catch two huge third-and-longs from Brady in the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs. It was about Matthew Slater, who seems to have an impact on every game, without ever playing a snap on offense or defense, and who — maybe more than anyone — has more people trying to be like him each and every year.
You see, this team was about so much more than the big name players. Tom Brady is the leader, but there are so many beloved players on the team. Some of them have moved on, to retirement or to another team, and some of them are still here. Either way, what they did last year will continue to live on in Patriots, and NFL, history. Every season is different, but, for one more night at least, we were able to celebrate last year’s incredible team for one more time.
Now, it’s onto #7.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats