Even When the Patriots Racked Up Losses This Year It Was Beneficial
It is rare that you look back on a season and can honestly say, “you know what? There were some really good losses this year. It was genuinely beneficial that we racked up those particular losses during the season.” The 2018 Patriots season was akin to a skydiver needing to use his emergency chute; at first, it looked like it was just going to be another normal outing and then things appeared to deteriorate rapidly, but it was not until the very last moment they figured out what was wrong and somehow landed right on target. With such a magical campaign now wrapped up, it is more fun to look at the losses and wonder, “did some of those losses actually help the Patriots?” Unlike most seasons, the answer is unequivocal; yes, there were three losses that actually paved the way for the Patriots sixth Super Bowl victory.
The Most Significant Losses of 2018, No. 3: The Miami Dolphins Fluke
It is silly and gobsmackingly stupid to look back on it now, but the prevailing thought after the Week 14 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Miami was; has Bill Belichick lost his fastball? Seriously. Let that sink in one more time. After losing on a one-in-10,000 play, the entire football world was wondering if Bill Belichick, The Hooded One, was losing a step. The same head coach who bent wunderkind Sean McVay over his knee and brought a switch to his bare bottom in the Super Bowl. The same general manager who traded the Cleveland Browns for Jason McCourty (game-saving PBU in the Super Bowl) and Danny Shelton (best game of the year in the Super Bowl). People were starting to have serious doubts about THAT GUY’S abilities because the Miami Dolphins pulled off one of the most insane fluke plays in the history of football.
Bill Belichick, the man who is the combined fevered coaching dream of Red Auerbach, Knute Rockne, and Scotty Bowman. People started to doubt him because he had Rob Gronkowski on the field for the final play of the game against the Dolphins. A play so ludicrous it has its own name, “The Miami Miracle.” It was the Patriots’ fourth loss of the season and seemed (at the time) to snuff out any idea of the Patriots grabbing the one-seed and home-field advantage for the Playoffs. The benefits of the loss now are simple; the idea that Bill Belichick is maybe losing his grip on things and this might be a different type of Patriots team (in a bad way) started to gain traction around the NFL. But those grumblings would all pale in comparison and reach a crescendo after the next week’s game.
The Most Significant Losses of 2018, No. 2: The Pittsburgh Plummet
10 points. T-E-N P-O-I-N-T-S! That is all the Patriots could muster against the Pittsburgh Steelers in their Week 15 game. A team Tom Brady historically murder-death-kills while barely breaking a sweat. You could shake off the Week 14 loss to the Dolphins because Miami will always be a house of horrors for the Patriots, but a Week 15 loss… to the Steelers… in Pittsburgh… in December? Most people could not comprehend such a thing happening to the New England Patriots. These are the New England Patriots, after all, they do not lose games in December, especially like that!
Josh McDaniels’ gameplan was screwy. Somethings seemed amiss with Josh Gordon. Rob Gronkowski looked old. Tom Brady was flinching and shying away from contact. Even Julian Edelman was dropping passes. The worst part? It appeared Bill Belichick got outcoached by Mike Tomlin. Surely, this must spell the end of the Patriots’ dynasty. This has to be the start of great things for the Pittsburgh Steelers (yes, many were actually picking the Steelers to take on the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game after Week 15). The Patriots were done. Caput. Sent to the great garbage heap of past NFL dynasties like the 70 Dolphins, the 80-90 49ers and the 90 Cowboys. It was a great run while it lasted.
Obviously, it was not over. The Steelers would go hardcore Steelers to end the season; losing a heart-breaker to the Saints the next week and then sealing the end of Antonio Brown’s Steelers’ career in Week 17 (more than likely). The loss for the Patriots ensured that they would have to go on the road for at least one game in the playoffs, but thanks to a Week 16 loss by the Houston Texans to the Philadelphia Eagles (h/t Nick Foles), the Patriots stayed in the two-seed. That two-seed made it possible for the Patriots, they of the FIVE LOMBARDI TROPHIES, to legitimately claim underdog status against the Chiefs in the AFCCG.
The loss, their fifth of the season, made it possible to doubt them. To let sports pundits claim that Tom Brady was too old. It provided them with that extra bit of motivation needed to tell everyone to bet against them and doubt the Patriots were still THE PATRIOTS. There is no way the Patriots, one of the worst road teams in the NFL thanks to their 3-5 mark away from Foxboro, could ever win at Arrowhead Stadium. Arrowhead Stadium, the loudest home crowd in the history of professional sports and a place that elicited the first grumblings that maybe Tom Brady’s career is starting to wind down… all the way back in 2014. There is no way the Patriots could go into that environment and take down the MVP… right? The Week 15 loss to the Steelers ironically put the Patriots in the perfect position to not just have the underdog mindset, but to also pull off the upset.
The Most Significant Losses of 2018, No. 1: The Detroit Debacle
But not all losses are created equal. While the loss to the Dolphins was beneficial because it let everybody start doubting Bill Belichick, and the Steelers loss ironically gave the Patriots the extra motivation to go on the road and punchout MVP Patrick Mahomes, the Patriots’ Week Three loss to the Detroit Lions actually helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl.
Not often can you look at a Week Three loss and say, “yes, this loss directly helped us win the Super Bowl.” Strange, but true. Remember back to the beginning of the season. The Detroit media was penning articles quoting anonymous players about how much they did not like to run. About how there were too many rules in place. There were even articles AFTER WEEK ONE saying Patricia was “in over his head.” The Lions got bulldozed in the first week of the season against the Jets. They then lost in Week Two, setting up a Week Three showdown between the Lions and the Patriots.
That game was memorable for how well the Lions played and how poorly the Patriots performed. It was also the game where Ju’Whaun Bentley got hurt (this is only mentioned for those that forgot the Patriots are getting a speedy and hard-hitting linebacker next year for the price of zero added dollars). The consensus prior to the game was Patricia is toast, the Lions cannot start 0-3. However, he beat the Patriots and got to keep his job.
While the Lions staggered on to finish 4th in the NFC North thanks to a 6-10 record, it was Patricia’s team all season long. For his various warts as a first-year head coach, Patricia still had the ability to devise a crafty gameplan against some of the best offenses in the NFL. This was none truer than when the Lions took on the Los Angeles Rams in Week 13. The Rams prevailed 30-16 in that game, but it was 16-13 heading into the fourth and still a one-possession game prior to the two-minute warning.
Patricia devised a gameplan against the McVay led rams that took away the outside zone runs for Todd Gurley and utilized mostly Quarters Coverage. This was the same gameplan (for the most part) Belichick and Patricia used in the Patriots’ 27-10 victory over the Washington Redskins back in Week 9 of 2015. Patricia, after dominating his former head coach in Week Three and more than likely saving his coaching career, turned around and gave his former mentor the best gift of all in Week 13; physical proof that the gameplan the two concocted together in the 2015 season was still a viable option for Super Bowl LIII.
Losses suck. There is no such thing as a good loss. There are only losses that you can turn into positives by pulling away some sort of lesson. For the 2018 season, there were more lessons than Patriots fans were used to learning; 3-5 on the road is a tough assignment to swallow. But because this was the magical roller coaster ride from hell to heaven, even the losses were beneficial. Two losses in December gave the Patriots just the right combination of ammunition and weaponry. However, despite having everything calibrated correctly, the Patriots did not know where to point their weapon or really how to use it. It was not until they knew their enemy in the Super Bowl did they realize a former friend was there to help with missile guidance. Bill Belichick took every visual cue Matt Patricia laid out in Week 13 and simply pulled the trigger. By the time the dust settled and all the bodies were identified, the destruction was clear; Patriots 13–Rams 3.