There was no trip to The Big Easy. There were no celebratory Mardi Gras beads around the neck of Tom Brady. There was no third-quarter blackout delay for the New England Patriots. Instead, Brady, coach Bill Belichick, and the rest of the Patriots organization watched Super Bowl XLVII from their couches, as they agonizingly observed the Baltimore Ravens squeak by the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 for their second Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
Like last year, when the Patriots lost in Super Bowl XLVI to the Giants, the Pats season again ended in an utter disappointment as the Ravens pulled off a 28-13 upset at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship game. In each of the last two seasons, the Pats and the Ravens met in the conference championship game, but unlike last year it was Ray Lewis and the Ravens stymying New England’s ambitions.
While the Pats were undoubtedly one of the better teams going into the playoffs, many have labeled their season as an abject failure due to their inability to win the Super Bowl. A day after the Ravens upended the Patriots, Belichick reflected on the loss.
“The last game, you play a game this time of year, you’re either in euphoria or it’s a crash landing,” he said. “So for us yesterday it was a crash landing. A year ago at this time, it was the other feeling. It’s one or the other, there’s no in between. And there’s certainly no soft landing. The season is suddenly a season that’s very much alive and with great hopes and expectations and energy, suddenly crashes and it’s over.”
“And that’s the way it’s going to be for every team but one this year,” Belichick continued. “Unfortunately, that’s where we were at last night, that’s where we’re at today. It stopped, it’s over, we’re on to next year.”
Looking back at the 2012 season, the Pats boasted an impressive 12-4 record and secured a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Pats would eventually defeat the Houston Texans 41-28 in the Divisional Playoffs, in which Brady earned his 17th postseason victory, becoming the most victorious quarterback in postseason play. In doing so, Brady passed Joe Montana, his childhood hero.
Now that the Patriots season is over, the focus immediately shifts to preparing for the 2013 campaign. With both free agency and the draft approaching swiftly, the Pats have many decisions to make this off-season. New England’s biggest free-agent priority is wide receiver Wes Welker. As the first player in NFL history to record five 100-catch seasons, it would behoove the Patriots to give Welker the franchise tag for the expensive cost of $11.4 million, or risk losing him in free agency.
In addition to potentially losing Wes Welker, the Patriots are down to their last scraps at the receiver position. Brandon Lloyd, who had a tolerable season, is the only real veteran receiver under contract for 2013. Bringing back Welker and/or Julian Edelman is a must if they want to bolster their receivers. Either way, the Pats will need to add pass-catchers this spring.
Losing tight end Rob Gronkowski to a broken forearm was a huge blow for the Patriots as the prolific tight end was sidelined for the AFC Championship game and most of the Divisional game. Grownkowski received surgery after the Texans game and should be healed and ready to return before training camp this summer.
“We have 25 weeks or something before the start of camp,” Gronk said. “Just taking my time, rehab, get it stronger, do everything I need to do. Work my muscles, start lifting again when I can do everything. Basically, just taking my time, get 100 percent and I’ll be ready for next year for sure.”
Pats fans hold their team to high expectations, and they will feel disgruntled with anything short of a Super Bowl victory. In the next 25 weeks, one thing is certain: Belichick and co. will need to find a way to improve so that they can once again hoist the Lombardi trophy.