Journey to Super Bowl 49: The New England Patriots

Fans everywhere, Super Bowl 49 is almost here! In just over an hour, the big game will finally kick off! As is always the case for big gridiron titles, I will create articles on it. However, since there is so much to cover for this behemoth event, I will say away from the norm here. Instead of one, gigantic article, I will construct a lot of articles about the game. I just did a preview for the journey for the Seattle Seahawks. Now, it’s the Patriots’ turn.

The first four games: The downfall of a legendary team.

Patriots, the season has been quite a crazy one. But it was never crazier than the opening four games. The team lost its opener at Miami by a score of 33-20, despite leading 20-10 at halftime. Tom Brady was sacked four times, fumbled twice, and the team was outscored 23-0 in the second half. It was a rough way to start off the 2014 regular season.

The following week, the Patriots destroyed the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 30-6 on the road. However, after barely edging out the Oakland Raiders in Foxboro, the Patriots hit rock bottom.

On Monday, September 29, 2014, the Patriots visited the Kansas City Chiefs for a Monday night game. In the first quarter, they allowed Jammal Charles to score a touchdown, and things only got worse from there. Long story short, the Chiefs scored the game’s first 27 points, the Patriots failed to score until 3:26 was remaining in the third quarter, and after Brady’s third turnover, which was a 39-yard interception return that gave the Chiefs a 41-7 lead with 10:39 remaining, the quarterback was benched. The Patriots lost 41-14, and everyone proclaimed the dynasty over. There was no way they could turn things around, and they would never return to greatness ever again. Or, would they?

The final 12 regular season games: Dominance recaptured.

Through Week 4, the Patriots looked toast. However, just six days later, the tune completely changed. In a Sunday night game where the Patriots were hosting the NFL’s lone beaten team, they straight up demolished the Cincinnati Bengals. The Patriots led 14-0 after the first quarter, 20-3 at halftime, 34-10 in the third, and won the game 43-17. The team racked up over 500 yards of offense, and did not commit a single turnover. Brady threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns, the team ran for 220 yards, and the tight end combination of Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wight combined for 16 catches, 185 yards and two touchdowns. It was a complete and thorough beatdown, and the Patriots looked to be back on track.

In Weeks 6 and 7, the Patriots faced a pair of divisional opponents. First they beat the Bills 37-22 in Buffalo, before barely edging out the struggling Jets at home. Then the Patriots really took off.

In Week 8, the Patriots cleansed out the Chicago Bears. They led 38-7 at halftime, winning 51-23 in the end. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Tim Wright and Brandon Lafell each had their best games of the season. Brady completed 30 of 35 passes for 354 yards, and five touchdowns, while Gronkowski caught nine passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Lafell garnered 11 receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown, while Wright caught seven passes for 61 yards and a touchdown.

The following week, the Patriots hosted Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in a highly anticipated matchup. After Stephen Gostkowski gave the Patriots a 3-0 lead, Ronnie Hiilman’s one-yard run gave the Broncos a 7-3 lead heading into the second quarter. From there on, the game was all New England.

They began the second quarter scoring with a field goal just 41 seconds in, and followed up with a five-yard Brady touchdown pass to Julian Edelman, an 84-yard punt return touchdown by Edelman, and a five-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Shane Vereen.  At halftime, the Patriots led 27-7.

With 11:06 remaining in the third quarter, Manning threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas, cutting the Patriots lead to 27-14. They never got any closer, as the Patriots kicked another field goal. On the first play of the next Denver drive, Manning’s pass was intercepted by Brandon Browner and returned to the Broncos 10-yard line. On the ensuing play, Brady threw a touchdown pass to Lafell, and the New England lead swelled to 37-14. In the end, the Patriots won 43-21, with Brady throwing for 333 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. Gronkowski and Edelman each had stellar games, while Lafell and Vereen also played well. And things kept on rolling thereafter.

In Week 11, following their bye, the Patriots visited the Indianapolis Colts. They led 14-10 at the half, but a dominant second half resulted in a 42-20 victory. Jonas Gray had his breakout game, running for a team record 201 yards and four touchdowns. Various other players  made contributions, but in a game where Brady had ups and downs, it was Gray who led the charge.

The following week, the Pats hosted the Detroit Lions. Despite leading just 7-6 in the second quarter, the Patriots turned it into a laugher. They made the score 24-6 by halftime, and ultimately won 34-9. Brady threw for 349 yards and two scores, as well as a pick. Despite the fact that Joan Gray got benched for oversleeping after the Colts’ game, the team still managed to run for 90 yards on 20 rushing attempts. Brandon Lafell, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen and Tim Wright each had good offensive showings, and the team was at its peak.

After that Week 12 win over the Lions, the Patriots closed out the regular season walking on eggshells. They lost a close 26-21 game in Week 13 at Green Bay, after Gronkowski dropped a tough pass in the endzone late in the fourth quarter, and sluggishly defeated the San Diego Chargers 23-14 the following week.

In Week 15, they had their final dominant performance of the season. Looking for revenge against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots opened up the scoring with Kyle Arrington’s 62-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown just minutes into the game. Despite that, amongst other things, the Pats only led 14-13 at halftime.

In the second half, however, New England took over. The Patriots scored on their opening drive of the second half, when LeGarrette Blount ran in for a touchdown from three yards out. After a Dolphins three-and-out, a Stephen Gostkowski field goal made it 24-13 Patriots. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was picked off by Patrick Chung on the very next play, and on the opening play of the following Patriots drive, Brady hit up Gronkowski for a 27-yard touchdown. Each team punted, and then, Brady threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman to make the lead swell up to 38-13. The Pats added a field goal in the fourth, giving them a 41-13 win in dominating fashion.

After clinching their sixth-straight AFC East title after that Week 15 win over the Dolphins, the Patriots closed out the regular season not playing well. They struggled to a 17-16 win at the Jets, and in the final game of the season, the  starting offense barely did anything in the first half, in a 17-9 home loss to the bills. Both games can be forgiven, because the Jets always play the Patriots hard, and the Pats had nothing to gain in Week 17. All in all, it’s was quite a great regular season for them. They clinched toe top spot in the AFC, and set up a shot towards the Super Bowl.

The Divisional Round: Overcoming a classic foe.

If there’s one game that truly defines the Patriots’ season, it would be their game against the Baltimore Ravens. THey got off to a 14-point deficit, but tied the game up in the second quarter. However, the Ravens scored a touchdown on their final drive of the first half, and took a 21-14 lead into halftime. They followed up with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Justin Forcett to kick off the second half, and the Patriots were down by 14 yet again.

After that, it was all Patriots. They answered the Ravens’ score with a five-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski, and followed up with a crazy 51-yard touchdown pass from former quarterback-turned-receiver Julian Edelman to Danny Amendola, and tied the game up at 28, heading into the fourth quarter.

The Ravens put up a field goal with a little over 10 minutes remaining in the game, and the Patriots needed to score a touchdown to win. Well, on the following drive, the Patriots did just that. They went 74 yards on ten plays, capping off the drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Brady to upstart Brandon Lafell, taking a 35-31 lead with 5:13 left.

The ravens came close to retaking the lead on their next possession, but a deep pass from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith was intercepted by Duron Harmon at the one-yard line with 1:39 remaining. The Ravens got the Ball with 14 seconds left at their own 48, but Flacco’s heave to the end zone was tipped, and ultimately fell incomplete. The Patriots would advance, and unleash hell upon the Indianapolis Colts just eight days later.

 

The Conference Championship beatdown

In the game where a win would get them to the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots soared.

Like the previous three matchups between Andrew Luck and Tom Brady, the game was somewhat close in the first half. However, after a dumb mistake from Tom Brady (he makes one every time he plays Luck), the Patriots trampled past the Colts the rest of the way.

New England got rolling early, taking a 14-0 lead into the second quarter. Both scores came from a yard out, starting with LeGarrette Blount’s touchdown run less than five minutes into the game. Then, with just 1:20 remaining in the opening quarter, Tom Brady threw the first of his three touchdown passes to James Develin.

In the second quarter, the Patriots seemed ready to pull away. They were in field goal range, but on first down from the Colts’ 26-yard line, Brady threw his only interception of the game. The pass was picked off at the one, and returned to the seven yard line. The Colts followed up with a 93-yard drive that took up 5:33, and capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run by rookie Zurlon Tipton. THe drive was keyed by an illegal contact penalty on Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, on third-and-seven from the New England 28, which gave Andrew Luck a fresh set of downs. With 4:11 remaining in the first half, the Colts had cut their deficit in half.

The Patriots took the ball to the Colts four-yard line on their next possession, and on fourth-and-one, Brady barely got the first down on a second effort. James Devlin pushed him forward, which allowed Brady to get the first down. The Patriots kicked a field goal, and took a 17-7 lead into halftime. They had not erupted yet, but were on the verge.

In the third quarter, all hell broke loose for the Colts. The Patriots began the second half by going 87 yards in under five minutes. On thrid-and-one from the Colts 16-yard-line, Brady threw a touchdown pass to, of all people, offensive tackle Nate Solder. It was his first career touchdown.

The Colts answered with a three-and-out, and the Patriots responded with yet another touchdown drive. Brady capped off the drive by completing a five-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski, making him the third player in NFL history to have at least seven three-touchdown games passing, two short of Joe Montana’s record.

Just over a minute later, Luck’s pass was intercepted by Darrelle Revis who returned the pick 30 yards to the Colts 13. The Patriots responded with yet another touchdown drive, as LeGarrette Blount scored his second touchdown of the game with 2:14 remaining in the third quarter. The score gave him six postseason rushing scores, a new Patriots record. He did so on the first play of the drive, as the Patriots lead swelled to 38-7, entering the fourth quarter.

In the final quarter, the Patriots went 40 yards and took over six minutes of clock, capping off the drive with Blount’s third rushing touchdown of the game. With 10:10 remaining in the game, the score was now 45-7. Luck threw his interception on the next drive, and the Patriots won the game 45-7.

Statistically, the Patriots dominated. They outgained the Colts 397 to 209. Brady completed 23 of 35 passes for 226 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Julian Edelman caught nine passes for 98 yards, as well as running once for 12 yards. Solder and Devlin each caught a touchdown pass, while Gronkowski and Brandon Lafell caught three and four passes for 28 yards apiece. Shane Vereen caught three passes for 41 yards.

However, the best offensive performance of the night was put forth by Legarrette Blount. After running for 166 yards on 24 carries and scoring four touchdowns last postseason against the Patriots, he ran for 148 yards on 30 carries tonight, scoring three times.

For the Colts, it was an evening to forget. Andrew Luck completed just 12 of his 33 attempts for 126 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. It was by far his lowest output against the Patriots, a team he has never been successful against. His passer rating was a miserable 23.0, while his total quarterback rating was 17.7. No receiver had more than four catches, and the most receiving yards went to TY Hilton, who only caught one pass for 36 yards. Longtime Colts receiver Reggie Wayne went without a catch for his second straight game, and might retire.

The win resulted in many records for the Patriots. The win sends them to their eighth Super Bowl tying the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers for most all-time. The win was Tom Brady’s sixth career Conference Championship win, breaking John Elway’s record of five. It was also his 20th career postseason win, which extends his own NFL record. Bill Belichick broke the legendary Tom Landry’s record with his 21st career postseason win, It was also Robert Kraft’s 23rd career postseason win, the fourth most all-time by an owner.

Statistics: 

For the New England Patriots, there is no notable weakness. Offensively, they have the ninth-ranked pass offense, and 18th-ranked rush offense. However, they have proven that whatever the opposing defense gives them, they will take advantage of the given scenario. Tom Brady has been great, throwing for 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and just nine interceptions in the regular season. In the running game, LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray have each proven their ability to dominate a game given the opportunity, while Shane Vereen (391 rushing yards, 447 receiving yards, five total touchdowns) has had his moments.

As far as the receivers go, there’s so much to defend. Rob Gronkowski (82 catches, 1,124 yards, 12 touchdowns) has reemerged as the NFL’s top tight end, while Julian Edelman (92 catches, 972 yards, four touchdowns, ten rushes, 94 yards, one touchdown) is one of the league’s top slot receivers, and Brandon Lafell (74 catches, 953 yards, seven touchdowns) finally had his breakout campaign. Each player has excelled in the postseason, as well. Tight end Tim Wright (six touchdowns) has added on occasion and this pass offense is quite a ferocious one.

Defensively, the Patriots have the ninth-ranked rush defense in the NFL, and the 17th-best rush defense. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich leads the team with eight sacks, while Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones each have six. For Jones, the total is just about half of what he had last year, but he only played in ten games this season, and is finally healthy. The squad’s tackling lead is Jamie Collins with 116, and he’s also garnered four sacks and two picks.

But the most formidable section the Patriots defense is it’s secondary. Cornerback Darrelle Revis has reminded the league that he is perhaps the best corner in the game, while Brandon Browner, despite all the penalties, has made a lot of plays. Against the Seattle Seahawks, they will get a chance to excel.

 

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