The Patriots are in the playoffs. Stop the presses — and smell the coffee. Or the roses, whichever you prefer.
We are — in all probability — nearing the end of one of the most extraordinarily successful runs in the history of the National Football League. So instead of being remotely concerned with Arian Foster, Peyton Manning, the altitude in Denver or the distractions of New Orleans, take time, Patriots fans, to sit back and enjoy something that few others get to do.
They are cleaning out lockers in Cincinnati, where they haven’t won a playoff game in 22 years. They are drying crocodile tears in Dallas and Pittsburgh, two behemoths with a wide and boisterous fan base that makes New England supporters look like members of the Algonquin Club.
The defending Super Bowl champs? History. Their annoying, stadium-sharing neighbors? History. Neither the Giants nor the Jets, nor the Steelers nor the Cowboys, even made it to the playoffs.
But the Patriots did. They always do, or so it seems.
This is the Patriots’ 10th playoff appearance in the last 12 years and their 14th in the 19 years since Robert Kraft purchased the team. No other contemporary franchise comes remotely close to that level of continuous, sustained excellence.
The Steelers? Yes, they’ve won two Super Bowls in the last decade and lost to the Packers in another. But they also missed the playoffs in 2006, 2009 and again this year. And let’s not forget that two of the Patriots’ three Super Bowl championships came after they beat the Steelers — in Pittsburgh — in the AFC Championship game.
Anyone else? There’s virtually no serious competition for the Patriots in their division, Jets’ howls to the contrary. The Patriots won their fourth straight AFC title this season — and none of the other three teams in the division played .500 football. The Patriots have won the AFC East every season but one since 2003. And that season, 2008, they still went 11-5 — the same record as division champ Miami — with Tom Brady missing the year with a knee injury. They almost never have to resort to being a cheesy wild card team; that hasn’t happened since 1998.
How about those Rams, the Greatest Show on Turf, who were favored to hammer the Patriots in the 2002 Super Bowl? We all know what happened in that game, but the Rams? They haven’t sniffed the post-season since 2004. Their genius-at-the-time head coach, Mike Martz, is long gone. Five men have coached the team since then.
The Patriots’ other two Super Bowl victims, the Panthers and the Eagles, also have hit rock bottom. Philadelphia missed the playoffs for the second straight year, lost its 11 of is last 12 games, fired its coach, and hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2008 season. The Panthers are rebuilding around Cam Newton and haven’t won a playoff game since the 2005 season.
The Patriots’ constants throughout the years have been Brady and coach Bill Belichick. There is no modern parallel in coach-quarterback success; their five conference championships together are an NFL record.
In New England, it’s the B & B show. Who should be the headliner?
You can say it’s Belichick because the team went 11-5 the year Brady was out and virtually every one of his assistants has bombed after leaving New England to become a head coach elsewhere. You can say it’s Brady because, after all, Belichick can’t make the plays. Brady can — and does.
Regardless of who gets the credit, it works. That is irrefutable. The Patriots will be home on Sunday, hosting the Texans. For Brady and Belichick, it will be their 23rd playoff game. Enjoy it while we still have them here. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but there will be a time when neither is around, which should make it all the more obvious to savor the “precious present” while you can.