January 23rd, 2011, in the good ol’ U.S.A.
Bruno Mars and “Grenade” had just taken the top spot on the Billboard charts away from Katy Perry. President Barack Obama was days away from giving a State of the Union address, and the White Stripes were days away from calling it quits. Instagram was in its third month for download on the App Store, while Snap Chat was preparing for its own release later in the year.
And in the city of Pittsburgh on that chilly January Sunday, the Steelers defeated the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game. Why was this game notable? Well, aside from Mark Sanchez getting bizarrely close to playing in a Super Bowl, it’s the last time an AFC Championship game was played that did not feature the New England Patriots.
More History to be Made
This Sunday, January 20th, 2019, will mark New England’s 8th consecutive appearance in the Conference Finals, having made it that far every year since. But you probably already knew that. Well, as insufferable as this coverage can be for non-Pats supporters, it’s hard to argue that it’s not warranted. This 20-year run has been insane. Something the likes of which we may never see again in the NFL. What Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been able to accomplish- 13 AFC Championship appearances, 8 Super Bowl appearances (as of now), and 5 Super Bowl titles (also as of now)- is simply remarkable.
And they have the chance to make even more entries into the history books this weekend. With a win against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots would become the first time in 25 years to return to the Super Bowl after losing it the previous season. Another Super Bowl appearance would give them a total of 11 in team history, which would extend the NFL record they already own. They would also be just the third team ever to make it to three consecutive Super Bowls.
Considering the Pats teams that have come before them, the fact that this year’s team can cement their own place in history is kind of crazy on its own. Because this is far from the best Patriots team of the current era. But somehow, some way, here they are again. A well-oiled machine- and a stark contrast from how most of the season went.
An Un-Patriots-Like Season
The Pats let Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola go, and brought in nobody to replace them (including via the draft). Word got out that Bill tried to trade Gronk in the offseason, which Gronk put a stop to. Tom Brady bailed on the passing camp over the summer. The team’s first pick in the draft, offensive lineman Isiah Wynn, blew out his Achilles in the preseason. The Patriots signed Josh Gordon. Gronk’s production dropped off a cliff. The Patriots lost Josh Gordon. They got shellacked at Detroit, at Tennessee, and lost on an unforgivable collective brain fart at Miami.
All the while, analysts and pundits discussed the team’s shortcomings and the un-Patriots-like dysfunction. To the point where Tom Brady and some of the other players took notice, and made it known (to be fair, nobody really said they sucked.)
Then they get the bye week, and absolutely manhandle the San Diego Chargers last week at home in the Divisional Round. And just like that, order is restored. Turning a seemingly okay team and getting the most out of them when it counts. It’s the oldest trick in their book.
And it has earned them one more game to add to their legacy. A legacy I urge fellow Patriots fans to truly appreciate while we are still able to watch it unfold. Because a new historic powerhouse team may be right around the corner to take the reigns.
Who knows. The Patriots may even be playing that team on Sunday.
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