As we all know, the Patriots are headed to their eighth Super Bowl since 2001 this next weekend. The Patriots run of dominance, 14 playoff appearances in 16 seasons, eight Super Bowl appearances, seven consecutive trips to the AFC championship game, and overall five championships.
Its been an incredible run, filled with unforgettable plays that helped fuel New England’s continuing onslaught on the NFL. However, certain plays have occurred in the last 16 seasons that almost cost the Patriots a crucial game.
5. John Kasay Out of Bounds kick in Super Bowl 38: One of the most memorable games in Super Bowl history featured the 14-2 Patriots and the upstart Carolina Panthers.
The Pats had won their first Lombardi Trophy two years before, and were the obvious favorites. However, what started out as a defensive struggle, turned into an offensive shootout. The Panthers tied the game with a Ricky Proehl touchdown with just over a minute left, and it seemed that the game could possibly go into overtime.
Painfully for Panthers fan however, kicker John Kasay on the ensuing kickoff booted it out of bounds, giving New England the ball on their own 40-yard line. If Kasay gives a regular kickoff, the Patriots have the ball at the 20, possibly the 25-yard line. With the great possession from Kasay’s kick, Brady drove them quickly down the field, setting up for a 38-yard field goal to win.
If that Patriots don’t have that possession, its possible that Belichick plays conservatively and runs the ball and gets to overtime. The Panthers had won a playoff game three weeks before in the divisional round.
4. Reggie Wayne’s near fumble in 2006 AFC Championship: Twice before in playoff matchups, Tom Brady and the Pats got the best of the Colts and Peyton Manning.
Then in 2006, New England visited Indianapolis, and looked like they were on their way to another Super Bowl appearance, up 21-3 at one point. The Colts stormed back in the second half, and down 34-31 with just over two minutes to go, Manning was leading his high powered offense down to win the game. The final play before the two-minute warning, Manning hit receiver Reggie Wayne down the middle. Spinning his way towards the 20-yard line, Wayne lost control of the ball for a split second as it lofted into the air. However, none of the five Patriot defenders near Wayne and the ball could snag it before Reggie caught it back.
A minute later, the Colts scored the go-ahead touchdown, ultimately winning 38-34, dethroning the Patriots, on their way to a Super Bowl victory. If any of those Patriots are able to knock out that ball and recover, there is obviously a high chance that New England wins that game. If the Patriots win that game, the Super Bowl against the Rex Grossman led Bears seem like a cakewalk, and New England easily captures another championship.
3. Malcolm Butler interception in Super Bowl 49: We all know this game, and how it played out. Two very evenly matched teams meet in the Super Bowl, as the Pats lined up to play the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Down to 26 seconds to go, Patriots up 28-24, Seattle has the ball on the New England 1-yard line.
Instead of running the ball, Pete Carroll decides to throw it, and Malcolm Butler picks off Russell Wilson at the goal line, and New England wins it fourth championship. However, its only second and goal, and Seattle still has a timeout left, so the Seahawks very well could’ve scored with running Marshawn Lynch. Lynch, 22 out of 24 times in that game gained at least one yard or more, and New England had the 5th worst run defense in the league. If Seattle does run it, most likely Lynch scores with just over 20 seconds left, and the Seahawks win the Super Bowl for the second straight year, and the Patriots are still at three championships.
2. Belichick sticking with Brady over Drew Bledsoe: In week two of the 2001 season, Drew Bledsoe, then the starter for the Patriots, took a hit on the sideline against the Jets that ultimately thrusted second-year quarterback Tom Brady into the starting job.
Brady played well, winning five of his first 10 starts, and the Patriots sat at 5-5 passed the mid-way point of the season. At that time, Bledsoe was cleared to play. Though it may have been the popular vote to go back to Bledsoe, Bill Belichick stuck with the young Brady. The result? The Patriots didn’t lose again that 2001 season, eventually capturing their first ever championship, and the Patriots haven’t looked back since.
However, would that same success have followed if Bledsoe had been named the starter again? Drew had led the Patriots to four playoff appearances in his time there, including a Super Bowl appearance in 1996. Though, its hard to say that he would’ve attained the same success that Brady has had since 2001.
1. The Tuck Rule: That very same year, 2001, the Patriots hosted the Jon Gruden led Raiders in a divisional round playoff game. The Raiders are up 13-10 in the fourth quarter, and Brady is leading to a potential game-tying field goal. Pats are 1st and 10, on the Oakland 42, with 1:50 to go. Brady is hit on a corner blitz from Charles Woodson, ball comes out, and Oakland recovers. Though the Raiders think they have won the game, the officials overturn the call, and rule it as an incomplete. Several plays later, the Patriots tie the game with a field goal, and go on to win in overtime. If the Patriots lose that game, obviously they don’t win the Super Bowl that season, but what about future Super Bowls? Do the Patriots have that same swagger for their 2003 and 2004 runs? Are we even talking about New England as a dynasty?