End of the Patriots’ season, end of an era?

End of the Patriots’ season, end of an era?

[lead dropcap="yes"]Well, that wasn’t a fun game yesterday. I watched the AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos (or to hear the media tell it, Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning) and it wasn’t pretty, at least for the Patriots fan.[/lead]

I’m disappointed, of course, but with some time for reflection, I have to admit that the Patriots played beyond expectations this year. They have suffered losses of so many of their top performing players this year and still came within a hair’s breadth of the Super Bowl. Aaron Hernandez was lost due to his legal troubles and alleged evil deeds. Rob Gronkowski came back from a season-ending injury in 2012 and then went back out with a season-ending injury in 2013. The anchor of the defensive line, Vince Wilfork, went down early, as did Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly, and Sebastian Vollmer. That doesn’t count all the players who were injured for just part of a season, missing one more games. All of that culminated with star cornerback Aquib Talib getting eliminated from the AFC championship game with an injury for the second year in a row.

The fact is that the Pats played well above their level for about half the season, pretty much on the strength of Brady’s arm, Edelman’s acrobatic catches, and Blount’s punishing runs. That’s not to take away from anything accomplished by the Denver Broncos or the Indianapolis Colts, who played very well, but I’m just happy to have seen the Patriots play in the post-season.

I might even go so far as to say that I’m glad to see the Patriots eliminated in the league championship game rather than go to the Super Bowl and lose. That would be even more disappointing and heartbreaking. I don’t think I could bear to see another loss like that to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII at the end of the 2007 season.

Which brings another unhappy thought: The last Super Bowl win for the Patriots was in 2004. Since then they missed the playoffs all together once, lost once in the wild card round of the playoffs, twice in the divisional round, three times in the conference championship, and once in the Super Bowl.

Okay, keeping it in perspective, that’s a record that would be the envy of many teams in the league, but the Patriots had raised such high expectations in the first half of the decade and even in the second half, there’s so much potential. In that same time period, including post-season games, their record is 119–42. That’s 3 out of 4 games!

Is the magic gone? Is the amazing Brady-Belichick era that began in 2001 fading to a close? Maybe we can’t expect to see another Super Bowl win until the inevitable next incarnation of this team.

Oh, it will be a sad time to return to the re-building era, when the team slogs through fruitless seasons as they forge young players and acquired free agents into another championship team.

On the other hand, there may be a few seasons left of great football. We can hope. And only 6 more months until the start of training camp!