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How the Patriots Beat Peyton Manning’s Broncos, and Where They Go From Here

Win Probability (Courtesy: Advanced NFL Stats)

Wow. Sunday night was certainly a game that lends itself to hyperbole, guttural wailing, screaming and crying. At times I found myself elated, followed shortly by rage, followed by desperation in sorrow. The win probably chart above sums up the game pretty perfectly, if you ask me. It was, in short, a typical Tom Brady-Peyton Manning matchup. Except that it wasn’t really. Neither QB looked like a world-beater, as one of them typically tends to in these matchups. Neither QB came out shouldering the blame for his team’s loss either, as frequently seems to happen. It was a game decided not by 18 or 12, but by 27 (Knowshon Moreno), 3 (Fumbles in the first quarter), 20 (Miles per hour wind) and ultimately, 32 and 83 (Tony Carter and Wes Welker).

The ending of that game was so anti-climactic, so undeserving of being attached to such an incredible game, that I think we can forego our discussion of it. I am reminded of Patrick Bateman’s epilogue from American Psycho: “…there is no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself, no new understanding can be extracted…” This ending was almost worse than a tie, at least a tie could’ve added some levity. At least a tie would’ve been something new. Peyton does not deserve to lose like that and Tommy does not deserve to win like that.

What is important to focus on is not what a letdown that ending was, but on why we were at a situation where a muffed punt can decide a Patriots-Broncos game. Last week, when many Pats fans were griping about the non-call against Carolina, I felt compelled to remind those who were wont to do so: It’s not about not getting the call there, it’s about not being in a situation where you need a PI call to give you a chance to win. The Patriots put the Broncos in that position Sunday night, where a mental mistake could decide their fate and, unfortunately for them, the mistake went the Pats’ way.

There is a lot to be gleaned from the first 71 minutes and 39 seconds of the game. First, can we all agree that rumors of the Patriots’ demise have been greatly exaggerated? I’m not saying this year’s incarnation of the Patriots is equal in any way to teams of years past, but they are not nearly as bad as hyperbolic journalists would like us to think. The young receivers that seemed unable to catch even the most catchable of balls? They seemed to do an okay job Sunday night. Gronkowski? Seems healthy, and it does not look like he misses a certain homicidal ex-teammate. The defense? They kept Peyton Manning in check. They did a better job against this season’s presumptive MVP than the league’s number one defense (Kansas City) did last week.

However; one win, no mater how big it may feel in the moment, is still just one win, and this is the reality the Patriots face:Playoff Picture (Courtesy: ESPN)

There are still five football games left this season. The Pats go to Houston next week, followed by Cleveland at home, consecutive trips to Miami and Baltimore and finishing at home against Buffalo. Outside of Houston and Cleveland, none of those games look easy. Even Buffalo at home could present some problems.

Sunday night’s victory was undoubtedly a huge one for a team that needed a big victory to both prove their worth to skeptical fans and football cognoscenti as well as to reassure themselves of their own self-worth and ability. The big takeaway from Sunday night can be summed up in two words: Cautious optimism. There is reason to have hope for this Patriots team. Sunday night proved that the Patriots are still the Patriots. Sunday night does not, unfortunately, erase the doubts that have plagued this team. Those doubts are real and the questions that have been asked of this team still need to be asked. The difference is, there may be an answer now.

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