Well, so much for that.
So much for the invincible New England Patriots. So much for Tom Brady's and Bill Belichick's undeniable quest for a fourth ring. So much for a romp through the AFC and into New Orleans, with a berth in the Super Bowl a preordained fact of the matter.
New England's disappointing 28-13 loss to Baltimore in the AFC championship is nearly a week and a half old, but there should still be lingering feelings of shock among Patriots fans. After all, in December, this was the Super Bowl favorite. Just earlier this month, this team put 41 points on Houston in a playoff game.
And then, following four quarters of what-in-the-world-is-happening chaos, it was over.
The talk of New England being infallible was fake and phony, but the team wasn't. The Patriots were indeed an excellent football team, albeit one that ran into too much bad luck with injuries and shot itself in the foot a few times too many in big moments. When you do that, you lose championship games by 15 points.
And when you do that, you find yourself in this position—watching two other teams play in the Super Bowl, wondering how you can get there.
Now's the time when temptation is the strongest, but one shouldn't assume the sky-is-falling stance concerning these Patriots. New England wasn't exposed. It wasn't embarrassed. It wasn't revealed to be a house of cards, a team that didn't belong in the rarefied air it had reached.
The Patriots had a bad game. It happens.
That being said, New England has work to do. The loss to Baltimore showed there are some things the Pats still can't do, and some things they still can't do well enough. Improvements will be made, and the team will continue to adjust into a more rounded squad that can win games an increasing amount of ways.
To get to that point, Belichick and Co. will need to address a few questions concerning the roster. Here are some that need to be explored between now and the first kickoff of late summer.