When Sunday dawned, the New England Patriots were sporting a 10-2 record and one of the two AFC first-round playoff berths.
In essence, it was shaping up to be what has become a typical season for the Patriots in the last decade-plus.
But on Sunday, just before 6 p.m. ET, as New England’s players and coaches jogged off the Gillette Stadium field at halftime of their game with the Kansas City Chiefs trailing 20-7, the 68,000 supposedly diehard Patriots fans in attendance showered them with boos.
Let’s repeat that: As the 10-2 New England Patriots, coached by the greatest coach the NFL has ever seen and quarterbacked by the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever seen, fueled this year by a defense that had allowed only 145 points in 12 games was booed off the field.
Are we serious?
No one is more aware than Belichick and Patriots players that something is off right now. They have lost two of their past four games, but their first loss of the season was to the Baltimore Ravens, on the road. Last week on the road against the Houston Texans? Not their best game.
But the best team in the NFL this millennium? Not the last five years, not even the last decade. The last time the Patriots weren’t great we were all still laughing at ourselves because the trumped-up apocalypse known as Y2K never came to pass.
The Patriots are the reigning Super Bowl champions.
They’ve been to three consecutive Super Bowls and four of the past five, winning three of them.
They’ve been to eight —eight! — straight AFC championship games.
With their win against Dallas last month, they sewed up their 17th consecutive season with 10 wins. Do you know what the next longest active streak is? Four seasons, by Kansas City. Four.
There are kids in New England who are juniors or seniors in high school who have never experienced a .500 season or even experienced a three-game losing streak.
Some of us are old enough to remember when the Patriots were called the “Patsies,” the perennial also-rans that listed a snowplow driven by a man on work-release from the local prison and “Squish the Fish” as franchise highlights for decades. Some of us are old enough to have vivid memories of Super Bowl XX when New England was laughed off the field by the Chicago Bears.
This might not be New England’s year. Tom Brady might finally be showing signs of age, but he’s 42. He’s still put up the best season the NFL has ever seen from a 42-year-old quarterback.
Speaking of Brady, did the fans at Gillette (no, not all 68,000 fans were booing) also forget that no one in league history has more game-winning drives than Brady? He has 44. Maybe Sunday night he’ll get 45.
Even CBS’ broadcast team, Tony Romo and Jim Nantz, were incredulous when they heard booing. Other fanbases should rightfully roll their eyes — what they would give to have a team half as successful as New England has been since 2001!
One day, at this point likely sooner than anyone wants to admit, it’s going to be over. Brady won’t be in a Patriots uniform, the 10-win seasons won’t be a foregone conclusion and conference championship games won’t feel like an annual rite.
Be frustrated, of course, but booing? You can’t be serious.
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