New England lost more than a game Sunday. It lost the season.
By blowing a first-round bye with a 27-24 loss to Miami … yes, Miami … the Patriots all but guaranteed they’re not going to another Super Bowl. In fact, they may have done more than that. They may have dropped the curtain on a dynasty that spanned two decades.
OK, so they’re mathematically alive for a fifth Super Bowl in six years. But get real, people. In reality, they’re toast, and here’s why: Over the past six years only the top two seeds in both the AFC and NFC reached the league championship game. The No. 3 seeds did not.
New England is a third seed.
Furthermore, in the 19 years that Brady has been the Patriots’ starter, New England failed to gain a first-round bye only three times (2005, 2006 and 2009). And all three times they failed to reach the Super Bowl.
Still not buying? Try this: The Pats aren’t accelerating to the playoffs. They’re winding down, losing three of their last five games (including two at home) and four of their last eight. Where they were 8-0 the first half of the season they’re 4-4 the second half, including losses at home to Kansas City and Miami, and that’s anything but typical for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
In the meantime, the Ravens won their last 12 and the Chiefs their last six.
And speaking of Kansas City ... if the Patriots were to beat Tennessee next week (and no guarantees there) they’d have to beat the Chiefs and, in all likelihood, Baltimore on the road to reach the NFL championship game. Hard but not impossible, right? Except ... except they lost to both this season.
Now there’s Sunday’s debacle, and that’s the clincher. A week ago, Belichick told his players that it should be treated as a playoff game; that all they had to do was beat the worst team in the division, and they had the week off.
Not really. They failed. Miserably. If you can’t beat Miami … at home … in a game with so much at stake … how do you win three straight vs. playoff opponents, with potentially two on the road? Answer: You don’t.
And if the league’s top-ranked defense can’t stop Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 37-year-old journeyman who shredded the Pats for 320 yards, how does it stop Patrick Mahomes and/or Lamar Jackson? Answer: Good luck.
I know the Patriots have overcome the odds before. But never like this.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1.Carson Wentz is Mr. December. If they passed out an MVP for the last month of the season, he'd be your winner. Over the past four games he led the league in fourth-quarter completion percentage, yards passing and TDs. What’s more he won all four starts with few … if any … front-line playmakers in the huddle, clinching the NFC East Sunday with Zach Ertz sidelined and Miles Sanders hurt. Few this season did more with less, with Wentz throwing for 4,000 yards without one wide receiver having 500 yards in catches. Seldom has the guy looked better than he does now, and, injuries be damned; it’s Wentz who gives the Eagles a chance next week vs. Seattle at home.
2.The more things change in Cleveland the more they stay the same. Since rejoining the NFL in 1999, the Browns have been through 11 head coaches in 21 years, including interims – or one every two years. Well, now they’re looking for their 12th in 22 seasons. Freddie Kitchens was cashiered following Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati, the sixth Browns’ coach since 1999 (not counting the two interims) not to make it past two seasons. Contrast that with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have had three head coaches since 1969 (Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin), and you know why you’ll never find the word “continuity” in a Browns’ press release.
3.Kansas City is a legit threat to Baltimore. The Ravens are the best team out there, but don’t undersell the Chiefs. They have Patrick Mahomes. They have Travis Kelce. They have Tyreek Hill. They have a defense. They have a six-game winning streak. And they can travel, winning seven of eight road games. Sign me up for a Baltimore-Kansas City conference championship game.
4.Scratch Stephon Gilmore from the Defensive Player-of-the-Year conversation. Reason: He got schooled big-time by Miami’s DeVante Parker, who torched Gilmore and the Pats for eight catches and 137 yards, and he failed to make one key play in the biggest game of New England’s season. Afterward, Gilmore apologized to his teammates, saying he let them down. He’s right. He did. But he wasn’t alone.
5.Passing is overrated. Yeah, I know, it’s never been easier to play quarterback. But if it’s a passing league, riddle me this: Why are four of the NFL’s top five rushing teams in the playoffs and only one of the top five in passing (Kansas City) there? Not sure. OK, then try this: You know many of the five quarterbacks with the most passing yards this season reached the playoffs? None.
THIRD AND 20
1. Yes, Virginia, there is FitzMagic.
2. Brian Flores should get Coach-of-the Year consideration. Exiling star players and dropping their first seven starts, the Dolphins were supposed to be Tanking for Tua. But Flores didn’t get the memo, insisting he was in this to win. Then he proved, it going 5-4 down the stretch -- including defeats of Indianapolis, Philadelphia and New England -- and making it the happiest of New Years for Kansas City.
3. Next subject for ESPN’s “30-for-30” series: Jameis Winston, first player in league history to throw 30 TDs and 30 interceptions in the same season.
4. I swear, given the circumstances, I’ve rarely seen New England play with lessa urgency and passion. Don’t ask me why, but the Pats seemed disinterested on both sides of the ball. Normally, when they can’t separate from an opponent, you see Tom Brady hollering at teammates, imploring them to “Let’s go!” Not Sunday.
5. If you’re going to credit Belichick when the Patriots win, then question him when they kick a game to the curb. So here’s the question: You’re tied at 10 with 1:45 left in the first half. You have three timeouts, and you’re getting the ball. So there’s plenty of time to score. But you don’t use the timeouts, and you don’t try to score. Why? Makes no sense to go into the fetal position … unless, as NBC analysts suggested, Brady is hurt. Now let’s get something straight: That didn’t keep New England from winning. A porous defense did. But it raised all sorts of questions, including Brady’s health. Kind of reminds me of the 2009 playoffs when they went into the playoffs at home vs. Baltimore with Brady suffering from injured ribs. Result: They were one and done.
6. Adios, Jason Garrett. He just finished his fourth … and last 8-8 … season with Dallas, and I mention that because in the Super Bowl era only one head coach had more 8-8 records – Jeff Fisher with five.
7. Philip Rivers has said he wants to play next season, but listening to him choke up after Sunday’s loss it sounds as if it won’t be with the Chargers.
8. I’ll be honest: I feel a lot better about Buffalo’s chances in Houston next week than I do the Patriots’ chances at home vs. Tennessee. It’s not just Derrick Henry that’s a problem for New England. Or Ryan Tannehill. It’s former New England linebacker Mike Vrabel. Now the Titans’ head coach, he drilled the Patriots a year ago, 34-10. So the intimidation factor is zilch.
9. The biggest loser Sunday night wasn't Seattle. It was New Orleans. The Saints could've had a first-round bye. Now they almost surely play outdoors if and when they reach the conference championship game because the first two seeds are San Francisco (1) and Green Bay (2). And what do we know about dome teams in outdoor conference championship games? Uh-huh, they don't win. You can look it up.
10. Also taking a hit with that goal-line stop in Seattle: Green Bay. If the seeds hold up, the Packers would go to San Francisco for the conference championship game, and that's no big deal, right? Wrong. They played two games this year in California -- one in San Francisco and the other in L.A. vs. the Chargers -- and bombed in both. Lost by a combined score of 63-19.
11. True story: Green Bay went 2-0 vs. Detroit without holding a lead in regulation in either game. They won both on game-ending field goals.
12. There's something about Pete Carroll, Marshawn Lynch and last-minute goal-line calls that don't mix. I mean, how do you take a delay-of-game penalty when the game's on the line at the 49ers' 1? Seattle ran Lynch on to the field for what I imagine was a Beast Mode game-winning leap, but guess what: It never happened. In fact, the Seahawks weren't even out of the huddle when they were flagged. Inexcusable. Blame the refs all you want for missing that last-minute PI, but this one was on Seattle.
13. You don’t hear Tennessee’s A.J. Brown mentioned all that often in Offensive Rookie-of-the-Year circles, but you should. The guy had four TD catches this season of 50 or more yards, the most by a rookie since Hall-of-Famer Randy Moss with five in 1998.
14. Say this about former Giants' coach Pat Shurmur: At least the guy's consistent. He was 9-23 in Cleveland and 9-23 in New York.
15. Under Pete Carroll, Seattle is 2-5 on the road in the playoffs. But you have to like their chances vs. Philadelphia because A) they're 7-1 on the road this year; B) they beat the Eagles there earlier this year and C) they're 10-2 in one-score (eight or fewer points) games.
16. That makes Jon Gruden 11-21 since returning to Oakland and 56-72 since winning Super Bowl XXXVII. He hasn’t won a playoff game since 2002. Just sayin.'
17. Glad to see Washington extend the contract of its punter. He’s the Redskins’ most valuable player.
18. Here’s why I’m surprised Atlanta's Arthur Blank stuck with Dan Quinn: Since losing Super Bowl XLI, the Falcons are 24-24, including 7-9 the past two years.
19. Since sacking Ron Rivera, Carolina dropped four straight … and, OK, it happens. The Panthers lost four straight with Riverboat Ron. But without him they lost four by a combined score of 150-60, including 80-16 the last two weeks. Pardon me if I don’t trust new owner David Tepper with the next hire.
20. Tell me again why Mohamed Sanu was worth a second-round draft pick. In his last six games with New England, he had no more than three catches, did not score and produced a total of 103 yards -- never more than 35 in any game and fewer than 25 in all but one.
TEN THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE IN 2020
With New Year's approaching this week, I thought I'd draw up a list of resolutions for those who most need them. So here's what I wish for the following:
1.The NFL take back the game from officials. Roger Goodell isn’t the most powerful man in the NFL. Not during the season he’s not. Al Riveron is. And that’s not working. So sit him down and put someone reasonable in charge … Mike Pereira, Terry McAauley, Gene Steratore, Gronk, I don’t care. Just someone who returns the game to the field and out of the replay booth.
2.Aaron Rodgers retire. From State Farm commercials, that is. They’re not funny, and they’re annoying. So retire them, send them to Manningville and pull the plug on both.
3.Drew Lock stick. The Broncos haven’t had a legitimate quarterback since Peyton Manning retired, so they’re overdue.
4.Get the Grinch out of Cleveland. There are more sightings of Sam Darnold’s ghosts than winning seasons in Cleveland, and you can look it up. The Browns haven’t been above .500 since 2007 when Derek Anderson was the QB. It’s about time someone throws the Dawg Pound a bone.
5.Dean Spanos sell the Chargers … with one caveat. The new owner must return the Bolts to a place they can call home. A place like San Diego.
6.Someone explain pass interference … to officials. This one speaks for itself. There is no unanimity among refs or within Park Ave. on the call or on the review (see last-minute PI on Seatte's Jacob Hollister Sunday night). Maybe the new guy in charge can change that.
7.No more talk of 17-game seasons. The NFL says it’s all about player safety. Great. It should be. But then why does it play Thursday Night games and continue to push the 17-contest agenda?
8.Tom Brady retire. The guy has nothing left to accomplish. Super Bowls. League MVPs. All-Pro Bowl nominations. G.O.A.T. nominations. There is nothing left. So walk away, Tom, and go where you’re wanted most: Home.
9.NYC put a football team on the map. The Giants stink. The Jets aren’t much better. Both have young quarterbacks, but neither is relevant. Not yet anyway. In the city that never sleeps, let’s have someone other than the Yankees keep opponents up at night.
10.Todd Rundgren into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Don’t tell me this has nothing to do with the NFL. Anyone who attends a game at Lambeau Field knows better.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Since 2015, Andy Reid is 27-3 vs. the AFC West.
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
Le’Veon Bell had only 11 rushes for 10 or more yards this season, or on .0448 percent of his carries. That’s the lowest percentage among rushers with over 200 carries in the last 25 seasons, according to ESPNStatsinfo.
ONE FOR BOTH OF US
Jameis Winston threw a league-high 40 touchdown passes this season – 33 to the Bucs and seven to opponents.
AND ONE FOR THE NEW YEAR
Tom Brady has 30 career playoff wins. The other five quarterbacks in the AFC playoffs have combined for one (Patrick Mahomes).
MY TOP FIVE
1. Baltimore … Sure beats watching the Orioles.
2. New Orleans … No need to kick the tires on AB.
3. Green Bay … Just win ugly.
4. San Francisco … John Lynch makes Canton as GM.
5. Kansas City … Happy New Year! Yours truly, Ryan FitzPatrick
MY BOTTOM FIVE
32. Cincinnati … Hello, Joe Burrow.
31. Washington … First in war, first in peace and last in the NFC.
30. Detroit … Proof that change not always good: Lions 9-22-1 under Matt Patricia.
29. N.Y. Giants … Pat Shurmur gets wish; can now play Flip Cup 24/7/365.
28. Carolina … New owner, same problem: No Cam, no hope.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET WINNERS
Miami QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. He did everything in a game he was never supposed to win: He ran for a touchdown. He threw for a touchdown. He had over 300 yards passing. And he beat the defending Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots … at home, no less, where Tom Brady was 15-1 vs. Miami … with a 13-play, 75-yard drive in the last four minutes. “I’m just proud of the way we played; proud of the way we coached today,” said FitzMagic. “Sometimes you don’t get rewarded, but this was a big reward for the guys who stuck with it all year.”
Carolina RB Christian McCaffrey. He joins Roger Craig and Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk as the only players in league history to run for 1,000 yards and catch 1,000 yards in passes in the same season. Better yet, he did it for a team that, other than McCaffrey, didn’t have a pulse. “It’s cool to accomplish one of the goals you write down,” said McCaffrey. “But once again … and I can’t reiterate this enough … the most important statistic is winning.” Well, there’s where he and the Panthers came up short. They lost their last eight games, and don’t look at Run CMC. He was the only reason to watch these guys.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTES
"I'm thankful. I've believed in our team, our team believes in each other and that's what makes it special." -- San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman on winning the NFC West.
“We the hottest team. We got the most swag in the AFC. I know the Ravens got Lamar. The Patriots got Tom. But we got Patrick Mahomes, baby.” – Kansas City WR Tyreek Hill.
"That's what we want -- a chance to play defense to end the game. And we didn't get it done. " -- New England safety/captain Devin McCourty.
On behalf of Marshawn Lynch: Merry New Year, everyone.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF