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Coping With Loss: Playoffs Edition

Related: Patriots vs. Bills: Fan Notes from the wild card playoffs

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

It didn’t end the way any of us had hoped for, but it ended the way many of us expected it to.

With the New England Patriots’ season coming to an ignominious end at the hands of the Buffalo Bills this wild card weekend, it’s time to close the books on their 2021 season. But before we do that, for the last time, here are five final positives we can take away from not only this loss, but the year as a whole.

Ceiling met. The Patriots finished at the top end of where most people were hoping they’d finish, at 10-7 with a playoff berth. It certainly would have been nice to exit the playoffs in a slightly less historic fashion, but at the end of the day I don’t think that anyone is overly surprised by the loss.

Surprised by the manner of the loss? Sure. But if the defense had shown up and the Pats had lost 24-10 or something along those lines, the complexion of the emotions surrounding this team would be different for a lot of folks. The bottom line is that New England did as well as we could have possibly and reasonably hoped this season, and that’s an amazing thing.

Core players returning. As with every team, there are a number of Patriots players who are scheduled to hit the Free Agent market this offseason. And a few old stalwarts may be retiring. But that’s the way it is year after year, and the good news is that the bulk of the players who represent the core of this team moving forward are locked into multi-year deals. New England will have the cap space, once they do some rearranging and cutting, to sign the players they want to sign and keep the core in tact. Which means...

Ahead of schedule. For most teams in a rebuild, the process takes upwards of five years. It’s hard to land a quarterback. Finding players who fit well together is a lot of trial and error. Dead cap space and older contracts can hamper development.

But after a 2020 season that is looking more and more like a placeholder as time goes on, New England started their rebuild strong and are already leaps and bounds ahead of other teams who have been rebuilding forever. If all goes well, players continue to develop, and a few more pieces fall into place, New England will once again be a serious contender in a year or two.

The future is bright. A lot of fans say “my team is only a year or two away from being a contender” even though said team hasn’t been even remotely relevant this century. However, it’s difficult not to be excited for 2022 and beyond in regards to the Patriots. Hopefully we’ll all get to enjoy an amazing divisional rivalry with the Buffalo Bills, one of the best teams in the AFC, and if we’re lucky we’ll be proud witnesses of two of the great QB rivalries in NFL history.

I doubt that Jones/Allen will ever be quite on par with Brady/Manning, but signs are pointing to a lot of potential there. I’m confident that this latest iteration of the Patriots has multiple deep playoff runs in them, and I’m here for all of it. Good things on the horizon.

Now I get my weekends back. A small part of me is always a little relieved when New England’s season ends, be it in early January or early February. As much as I love watching the Patriots play, and as enjoyable as it is to be a fan of this team, it represents a pretty big commitment of both time and emotional energy.

Between watching the games, taking notes, writing articles, doing podcasts, fielding calls and texts from folks who want to know my take as soon as a play is over, and committing myself to rooting hard for wins, each and every season takes it out of me. And while I’ll be pumped and ready to go in a few months when free agency starts and we all turn our attention to the draft and mini camp and all that good stuff, for now I’m looking forward to relaxing and taking a break from it all.

I’ll be watching next week’s playoff games with just a beer in hand, not a beer and a pen and pad, and that’s going to be a nice break. Having banked two decades of championship runs means I have zero problem sitting a few postseasons out going forward.