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Don't Listen To The Naysayers: The Patriots Are Still Capable Of Greatness

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates a touchdown run by running back Sony Michel during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates a touchdown run by running back Sony Michel during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday. (Charles Krupa/AP)

How did Tom Brady celebrate his eighth straight trip to the AFC Championship Game? He looked ahead to Sunday’s matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs and said, “I know everyone thinks we suck and, you know, can’t win any games. So, we’ll see. It’ll be fun.”

Yes, moments after the Patriots destroyed the LA Chargers, 41-28, at Gillette Stadium, that’s exactly what Brady told CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson. And he did it with the slightest of smirks lighting up his face.

Some important context: No one has said the Patriots suck. But throughout the regular season, NFL pundits eagerly predicted the end of the Patriots dynasty. There was talk of the 41-year-old Brady finally showing his age, of tight end Rob Gronkowski looking like a shell of his former self, of coach Bill Belichick experiencing slippage, of New England not having enough of this or that to make another serious run to the Super Bowl.

 

In his post-game press conference, Brady was asked if it was satisfying proving all the doubters wrong. Or, as the questioner put it, “Once again, a lot of the talking heads in the media are talking about how this is the end of the dynasty, you’re going to fall off a cliff and become a bum and all this stuff, so I’m sure winning’s sweet, but is it that little bit sweeter when you’re constantly proving people wrong all the time?”

Brady paused before he answered, resisted the urge mere mortals would have had to take issue with the bum remark (seriously?) and calmly, simply answered, “I just like winning. I just like winning.”

He also likes proving the doubters wrong. After all, that’s the defining narrative of his career, the sixth-round pick who became the best NFL quarterback of all time. The start of Sunday’s game against the Chargers, the Patriots' four touchdowns on their first four drives, was a statement to all those people ready to push Brady off a cliff and into bum-hood. It was also a testament to the benefits of a bye week.

"I just like winning. I just like winning."

Tom Brady, after defeating the Chargers

Outside New England, the Patriots' dismantling of the Chargers got mixed reviews. There’s little, if any, argument that the Patriots put together their best game of the season on Sunday and looked like a team fully capable taking another AFC title. But with that comes Patriots fatigue.

The sports world has a strange relationship with dynasties and dominance. While a certain excitement greets every new Patriots record, there’s also an eagerness to see the new, new thing move onto the biggest stage. At least, once you get beyond the Patriots’ fan base.

In the NFL, that new, new thing is 23-year-old Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He’s known for his no-look passes, his MVP-caliber 2018 season complete with 5,000-plus yards and 50 touchdowns. Only Peyton Manning has hit both those milestones in a single season. He's also known for his Muppet-like voice — the internet’s had plenty of fun comparing it to Kermit the Frog.

Mahomes is the reason why Kansas City is the No. 1 seed in the AFC and why New England’s path to the Super Bowl goes through Arrowhead Stadium.

Brady is the GOAT. Mahomes is the future. Maybe even the future GOAT. (Too much, too soon for a second-year NFL quarterback? Probably. But go watch a replay of his no-look pass against the Baltimore Ravens.)

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Heading into the AFC title game, that’s the storyline that will get the most attention. And it should. Mahomes versus Brady is compelling stuff — because of the age difference, because one quarterback appears at the start of a dynasty-building Hall of Fame career while the other appears somewhat close to the end of his.

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman runs after catching a pass against the Chargers during the second half Sunday in Foxborough. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman runs after catching a pass against the Chargers during the second half Sunday in Foxborough. (Charles Krupa/AP)

If the Patriots win on the road, where they’re 3-5 this season and 0-3 in AFC championship games since 2007, and advance to the Super Bowl for the third straight year, it will be further affirmation of the greatness of Brady, Belichick and the Patriots franchise, though they don’t need any more affirmation. They haven’t for years. If the Chiefs win, it will be viewed as a passing-of-the-torch kind of victory.

But anyone who follows the NFL should know it’s dangerous to doubt the ability of Brady and company to pull it together when it counts the most. Let the talking heads talk. It’s just more motivation for a New England team happily embracing its underdog role. As wide receiver Chris Hogan said postgame, “Any motivation that you can use when it’s playoff time [is good]. It’s fine, people can count us out. The guys in this locker room, we believe in each other, we believe in ourselves and our abilities.”

Those abilities were on full display against Chargers. From Brady’s unbelievably hot start to rookie Sony Michel’s three rushing touchdowns in the first half to Julian Edelman's 151 receiving yards on nine catches (which moved him into second on the all-time list for most postseason receptions behind only Jerry Rice), the Patriots look like they’re doing what they always do at this time of year: peak for the most important games.

Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) runs from Chargers outside linebacker Kyle Emanuel (51) during the second half. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) runs from Chargers outside linebacker Kyle Emanuel (51) during the second half. (Elise Amendola/AP)

One more big takeaway from the Patriots blowout of the Chargers: the importance of Gronkowski as a big-time blocker. He helped clear the way for Michel. And his one catch turned into a 25-yard gain.

“Blocking, receiving, no matter what is, whatever play is called, just got to go out there and do your job,” said Gronkowski in his postgame press conference. “We had a lot of run action, running plays and just got to do your best job at it.”

With rumors of retirement swirling around Gronkowski, he was asked about the possibility that Sunday’s game was his last at Gillette Stadium and said he wasn’t thinking about that. “I’m all in right now,” he added.

That’s good to know since it seems like the Patriots are, once again, gathering formidable playoff momentum.

Headshot of Shira Springer

Shira Springer Sports and Society Reporter
Shira Springer covers stories at the intersection of sports and society.

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