Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Sure, everything worked out for the Patriots on Sunday night. But up until the point when it actually worked, it was enough to make Patriots fans sick. At the root of that sickness was Bill Belichick.
Truth be told, his team didn't look prepared to play this unbelievably important game. The Patriots came out looking flat, dispirited and sloppy. They turned the ball over on their first three drives, all of which led to Denver touchdowns.
This is a reflection on the head coach.
Whatever Belichick's doing to prepare these guys for combat isn't working. Sure, their collective football IQs are out of this stratosphere, but they aren't physically ready to compete at a championship level for 60 minutes.
Worst of all, this has become a trend for them.
Both Super Bowl XLII and XLVI were extremely hyped games on a national level, just as this Manning vs. Brady contest was. In all three games, the two Super Bowls and Sunday night's game, the Patriots came out looking like nervous players who didn't believe in themselves. Other recent playoff losses have followed a similar suit.
Fact is, when teams start games badly, they put themselves in the horrendous position of having to play almost perfectly in the second half to win. Fortunately for the Patriots, they did that on Sunday night, notching a win that'll go down in franchise lore.
But still, this isn't a lifestyle to embrace; it's one to avoid. It's good to win ugly. It builds character. But it's another thing to get bludgeoned for half a game.
Winning teams storm out of the tunnel looking like they want to win. They don't make you guess, "Do they want this thing? Do they not?"
Of course, storming out strong doesn't mean the team will always be up—hardships happen, competition is tough, winning is hard. But it's important to stay competitive and let the world know you want it.
It's the coach's responsibility to get his players ready to compete at a bloodthirsty rate. But more often than not, the Patriots look like psychological chess players, not tough and violent football players.
Belichick was masterful on Sunday night, but that game easily could've slid the other way. In fact, it can be argued it should've slid the other way, which is why the victory was so improbable and amazing. And while that's something to celebrate, it isn't something to Xerox over and over again.
Winning teams have winning spirits. For half of Sunday's game, the Patriots didn't have one.