A couple really good and long pieces reflecting upon the 2007 Patriots popped up yesterday — one from The Ringer’s Kevin Clark, the other from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell. I suggest you check both out, assuming you’ve gotten over 18-1 in the last 10 years. I know I have, two Super Bowl wins certainly helped.
I thought it was a good chance to do some reflecting myself, without getting into the nitty gritty that Clark and Barnwell do, instead focusing more on what it was like to be a Patriots fan that season, and how that season gave birth to the very blog you’re reading right now.
I can’t talk about 2007 without first talking about 2006. 2006 was the year I truly became Pats obsessed. I think it was because they lost their first playoff game in Denver that year and suddenly it dawned on me that Brady-Belichick had a long road ahead of them, but a finite number chances to win more Super Bowls.
So in 2006, I made my first trip back home to see them live, hitting up the opener against the Bills. My sister Mary and I were so excited to get down to Foxboro we ended up in an empty parking lot just as the gates opened with nothing more than a case of beer and a tennis ball. Still, it was a glorious day that saw the Bills score a touchdown before we even made it to our nosebleed seats.
2006 only fueled my fire, and it culminated for me when I got a single ticket to the AFCDG in San Diego just a few rows behind the Patriots’ bench. We all know how that game unfolded and to this day it was one of the most fun days of my life.
A week later the 2006 season came to a screeching halt in Indy. Peyton Manning finally beat the Patriots and again I was reminded that getting title number four was going to be difficult.
By the spring of 2007 I was completely immersed in all things Patriots. When they started adding exciting players like Adalius Thomas (really really exciting at the time), Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and finally Randy Moss, well… you can imagine how fired up I was for that season. It was suddenly an all star team when we’d gotten used to winning with spare parts and castoffs.
I remember watching the opener at Sonny McLean’s, a Boston bar in Los Angeles, that would be packed wall-to-wall with Patriots’ fans. Seeing that Brady-to-Moss bomb touchdown left me shaking my head. This season was going to be fun.
And then I got home and learned of the birth of Spygate. At the time I wasn’t so much a blogger but a passionate poster at PatsFans.com and I was leading the charge to defend the Patriots’ honor online. We had a crack team of internet posters, looking for evidence the Jets were videotaping from the sideline too. Every frame of sideline footage was screenshot, analyzed and sent off to real members of the media (John Tomase was the only person who every responded favorably to me, the rest rightly told me to never email them again).
Admittedly I went a bit off the deep end during that whole episode and it was one of my darkest internet times.
The wins keep coming and in dominating fashion. I was swept up with the whole “us against the world” angle and cheered every fifty burger we hung on every sorry ass team.
Finally, in early December, it occurred to me that this team was shaping up to be legendary, I had to see them in person. I booked a last-minute trip back to Boston for Steelers week and stayed up late into the night hitting “refresh” on the Patriots ticket exchange. Finally, close to midnight, we got a trio of tickets for me and my sisters… in the second-to-last row of the stadium.
It was at that tailgate that the fire to start blogging about the Patriots was born. A Steelers fan decided it would be a good idea to fly a banner with Belichick Super Bowl asterisks printed on it around the stadium. That, coupled with a Steelers safety guaranteeing a win, had me so incredibly fired up, it was pure joy watching the Patriots roll to victory, even if I was watching it from the moon.
Let’s just say those might’ve been the best seats in the house for the Brady-Moss-Brady-Gaffney touchdown, which we saw coming a mile away (literally).
Back in LA, my real job in television production had been affected by the WGA writer’s strike. My hours were cut in half and there was basically nothing to do. I responded to a Craigslist ad looking for people who wanted to make money blogging about their favorite sports team. And there I was, blogging about the Patriots for the now defunct NewEnglandPatriotsNews.com with my first ever post (now gone from the internets) writing about the Steelers’ pregame banner.
One of my co-workers was a big Giants fan so I had a little party for the final game of the season. That was a great time, but the best news came the morning after when my wife and I were surprised to discover that we were pregnant with our first kid. What a 24 hours that was, and one of the first (of many) times my real life intersected magically with something Patriots-related.
By the playoffs if was clear the Pats were out of gas. These stats from Barnwell really summed up the Pats’ in-season decline well.
New England finished 6-0, of course, but its plus-61 point differential over those final six games is the 138th-best of all time and is topped by nine other editions of Belichick-era Patriots.
What changed? For one, the pass defense collapsed. Dean Pees’ defense allowed a league-low 31.9 Total QBR through New England’s first 10 games of the season, with QBR specifically helpful here because it is adjusted for game situation. Over the final six games of the season, the Pats’ defense was up to a QBR of 70.8, which was the fourth-worst in the league.
The offensive decline wasn’t quite as severe, but it was noticeable and realistically inevitable. Teams developed a philosophy of targeting the Patriots with blitzes, knowing that their defense couldn’t hold up in coverage and hoping to confuse Brady long enough to blow up a play. Defenses blitzed the Patriots on 29.7 percent of their dropbacks through Week 11, which was just about league-average. Afterward, though, the Pats were blitzed 42.7 percent over the time, the third-highest rate in football. Brady was also worse against the blitz; after posting an unreal 149.6 passer rating against the blitz through Week 11, he fell to the merely excellent mark of 105.8 afterward.
Likewise, the Pats were less effective on deeper passes than they had been during the hot start. The NFL defines deep passes as those traveling 16 or more yards downfield, and through Week 11, Brady was completing an unreal 61.1 percent of those bombs. For reference, the league rate that year was 43.7 percent, and nobody since ESPN started tracking this data in 2007 has topped 60 percent all season on such passes. From Week 12 on, though, Brady hit on only 31.1 percent of those throws, with his passer rating dropping from 113.8 to 75.1 on bombs in the process. Brady was also throwing deeper passes, with his average air yards per target jumping from 7.7 to 9.3 yards per attempt. The result was a less efficient offense, with Brady’s completion percentage dropping from an unreal 73.1 percent to a merely impressive 64.2 percent.
For whatever reason, the day of the Super Bowl I watched the terrible Alpha Dog movie. Don’t ask why this is burned into my memory, but it was an uncomfortable tale of a innocent kid getting murdered and it unfortunately set the tone for the rest of the day. Later I would discover that our real life accountant’s daughter was actually really involved in the events depicted in the movie, but that’s another story.
The thing about Super Bowl 42 (and 46) was that you never really thought the Pats were going to lose until they lost. That’s what made 49 and 51 so incredible. I was positive we were losing both those games at certain points. But not 42, it just didn’t compute how the Patriots weren’t scoring, like at all.
We just kept waiting for the floodgates to open, and they eventually did, albeit not until their last meaningful drive when they took the lead on a Randy Moss touchdown. It felt like that was it. No way would Eli Manning put together a touchdown drive against this veteran defense that had been in this spot so many times before.
To this day I always joke that I just shut it off after that Moss TD and assumed it all went to plan. But it didn’t. We all know what happened, and yes Brady threw the ball very far in a last ditch attempt but it fell incomplete and the Patriots fell to 18-1.
I’m not sure that disappointment can ever be topped. By definition it’s the most disappointing season one can experience. But plenty of good came from 2007.
My blogging career, something that would eventually help me move back to Boston 10 years later, was born. My son Tyson was born nine months later. And my fanship and attachment to the New England Patriots football team was forged in steel. There was no turning back after 2007. I was a Patriots fan. A Patriots blogger. A Patriot myself, til death do we part.
I learned that losses can be a good thing. If the Pats had dropped one to the Ravens or Eagles (as they probably should’ve) I think they would’ve been more likely to finish off the Giants in 42. They would’ve reevaluated, been humbled a bit and then had some new motivation for the stretch run. You can only run on hate for so long.
But what I think I learned most about football that season is to appreciate the regular season. To enjoy those four months of football and not judge an entire season by how it ends. Those four months of the 2007 Patriot were magical and no one can take away how much fun it was to be a fan of a team that was nearly unstoppable.
Now, two Super Bowl titles later, some of the sting of 18-1 is certainly gone. That ending will always hurt. The Tyree catch will always make me squirm, but I can appreciate 2007 for everything that happened on and off the field, and I know there will never quite be another ride like that one.