I'm not going to bore you with the nitty gritty details of Sunday night's loss to the Denver Broncos. I have already talked about that, and if you want to read up on the game, then you can click here.
After any loss, a team and their fans are going to be upset. This loss was magnified because of some poor officiating, injuries, and the team's current standing in the NFL. However, I felt differently after this game.
Sure, I was upset, but take a step back and look at what this team has done in the past two years.
After a terrible start to the 2014 season, the Patriots were able to get to 12-4, led by Tom Brady and a stellar secondary, and win a Super Bowl. In fact, aside from a meaningless loss in Week 17 against the Bills, where most of the starters only played the 1st half, if at all, the last Patriots loss came on November 30, 2014. The Patriots essentially haven't loss in a year, and, looking at their schedule for the rest of the season, could be poised to hammer out another long winning streak.
But lets get back to the matter at hand: the team as it is currently constituted.
These guys are tough. They have balls. They don't quit.
The Patriots were down 3 out of their 4 top targets to start the game (4, once Gronk went down), and were still able to push the best defense in the NFL to their breaking point. No Edelman, no Amendola, no Lewis, no problem.
But the injury bug seems to like the water in New England. Late in the 4th quarter, Gronk was hit around the knees and was noticeably shaken up. After the Gronkowski injury, 99 out of 100 teams would have packed it in. They would have taken a step back and evaluated the situation: its snowing, you're playing in one of the toughest stadiums in the NFL against arguably the best defense in the NFL, and not one bounce or call has gone your way the entire game.
Thankfully, the Patriots aren't that type of team. Brady isn't that type of quarterback. The Patriots don't sulk and say that the world is out to get them once they have been knocked down. (They leave that for the fans.) Instead, they get up and its up to the next guy to fill that vacant role.
Furthermore, the defense suffered just as, if not more, crucial injuries. Jamie Collins, arguably the best Patriots linebacker, has been out for a month now and completely changed the way that this team played defense. Collins' athleticism allows him to cover much faster receivers, like a running back on a check down pass, but also larger tight ends because of his size. Simply put, he is a freak of nature.
Sticking with the next man up philosophy, Jonathan Freeny has stepped up and played out of his mind since Collins went down. On most teams, he would be a bench player, but not on the Patriots.
Similarly, Dont'a Hightower went down with an MCL sprain late in the first half of Sunday's game, so former Pro-Bowler Jerod Mayo, who has barely played this season, was asked to step up. Mayo clearly isn't the same player he was before a torn patellar cut his season short in 2014.
Whether he is simply showing natural digression or isn't fully healthy, Mayo has embraced his new role. Not many Defensive Rookie of the Years and Pro Bowlers would accept a diminished role, but not many players are lucky enough to be a part of the New England Patriots.
I don't believe in moral victories, but I do think that you can take positives out of a lost, especially when you are 10-1 and the #1 seed in the AFC. To put it simply (or not), the Patriots lost 5 All-Pros (Gronkowski, Edelman, Lewis, Hightower, and Collins), went up against one of the best defenses in perhaps the toughest stadium in the NFL, did not get one call or bounce, and were still able to almost pull it off.
I don't remember the last time I have had more confidence in a football team.
By Pete Packowski