It’s fun to be the villain sometimes. It was an incredible story when the Cinderella New England Patriots won Superbowl 36 just 5 months after 9/11 but it was a lot more fun when the Patriots beat the Seahawks two weeks after Deflategate broke. Actually, with the whole country wanting the Atlanta Falcons to win Superbowl 51, going as far as Shaun King tweeting that the Falcons needed a victory for “black America” over “Trump’s Patriots”, the big comeback against Atlanta was the ultimate middle finger to the face of the entire country.
The Patriots have been the villains for about 10 years now so let’s go back to when it all began. The 2006 Patriots had one of the worst offenses in the Brady/Belichick era. Superbowl 39 MVP Deion Branch was traded in training camp over a contract dispute and playoff hero David Givens left for a hefty contract with the Tennessee Titans. 2nd round pick Chad Jackson was a complete disaster at receiver and Belichick had no choice but turn to castoffs Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell along with old pro Troy Brown. Running back Corey Dillon had an MVP type season in 2004 but seemed to age 10 years overnight, having a mediocre 2005 season. Belichick rolled the dice by drafting running back Laurence Maroney in the first round of the 2006 draft. Tight ends Ben Watson and Daniel Graham were good but they sure as hell weren’t Antonio Gates or the future Rob Gronkowski. As it was, Tom Brady had arguably his best season given what he had. He threw 24 touchdowns and was picked off 12 times with a mediocre run game and a horrible group of receivers.
The Patriots behind their aging defense and mediocre offense still managed a 12-4 record and the AFC East division title. After dispatching Eric Mangini and the New York Jets in the wild card round, the team traveled to San Diego to take on the 14-2 Chargers.
The Chargers had the NFL MVP Ladanian Tomlinson along with Phil Rivers, Michael “Burner” Turner, Antonio Gates and a defense led by Shawne “Lights Out” Merriman. Head Coach Marty Schotenheimer was considered one of the best and the Patriots were missing Rodney Harrison, who was injured in the Week 17 battle with the Titans. No one gave the Patriots much a chance on the road. The Chargers did bolt out to a 21-10 lead but the Patriots held on. The play of the game came with the Patriots down 21-13 with 6 minutes left. Brady was picked off by Marlon McCree who foolishly tried to run with the ball. Troy Brown knocked it out and the Patriots recovered. 5 players later Brady found Caldwell in the end-zone for the touchdown. The Pats tried the ol “direct snap to Kevin Faulk” and it worked for the 2 pointer to tie the game. Schottenheimer’s past playoff failures reared their head as Marty went conservative, running the ball in their ensuing drive. After a 3 and out, the Chargers punted and the Pats were one drive away from taking the lead in a game they never should have been in. Sure enough, a 49 yard catch by Caldwell set up a 34 yard field goal by rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski to give NE a 24-21 lead. Rivers did manage to get the Chargers in range for a final kick at the buzzer by Nate Kaeding. Nate’s kick sailed wide and Belichick’s children jumped into his arms as some unidentified Patriots ran over to the Chargers logo and did Shawne Merriman’s dance to mock the defeated team. Ladainian Tomlinson and Merriman himself were angry beyond belief. Some of the Patriots tried to shake LT’s hand after the game but he blew them all off and had to be restrained from attacking one of the celebrating Pats by his old teammate Reche Caldwell. In the post-game press conference, LT blasted the Patriots He called them classless and it starts with the head coach. He later regretted it as it was a heat of the moment situation but the tone was set for Week 2 in 2007.
The Patriots 2006 season ended the following week as they were finally upended by Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots led 21-3 in the second quarter and 34-31 with a few minutes remaining when last week’s hero Caldwell dropped an easy pass, leading to a punt. Indy scored the game winning TD to eliminate the Patriots from the AFC Championship game and set the stage for a dramatic off-season. Realizing the Patriots were complete buffalo diarrhea on offense, Belichick pulled off a killer trade to land arguably the best receiver in the game, Randy Moss on draft night. He also signed slot receiver Wes Welker and speedster Dante Stallworth. All of a sudden the league’s worst offense became the best overnight. If that wasn’t enough, Belichick signed former Ravens pro-bowl linebacker Adalius Thomas and running back Sammy Morris. After his embarrassing loss to the Patriots, Schottenheimer retired and was replaced by Norv Turner. The Chargers had Week 2 in 2007 circled but they would have to wait, it was time for the Patriots to turn heel. Following the 2006 season, new NFL commissioner Roger Goodel put out a press release stating taping opponents signals from the sideline was no longer prohibited, it would only be allowed in the booths. All but one coach obeyed the new rule, the one who didn’t happened to be Bill Belichick. In Week 1, the new-look Patriots demolished Eric Mangini’s Jets 38-14 behind Tom Brady’s 3 touchdown passes, 1 of each went to Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Maroney and Morris ran for 126 yards in the blowout. Mangini had a problem though, he noticed the Patriots still taping from the sideline and filed a grievance with the league. Once the league got involved, what should have been a minor matter exploded into one of the biggest scandals in NFL history. Goodell was the new sheriff in town and had to make a statement against Belichick for blowing off his memo. In what was an unprecedented power play, Goodell fined Belichick FIVE HUNDRED thousand dollars, Kraft 250 grand and took away their upcoming first round draft pick. Did the punishment fit the crime? Absolutely not, but Goodell had a reputation at stake after replacing his respected predecessor Paul Tagliabue. This led to a media circus claiming the Patriots have been dirty rotten cheaters from day 1 and all their Superbowls were now tainted. Any sane NFL fan that understood the situation knows that “Spygate” as they called it, had absolutely nothing to do with Superbowl’s 36, 38 and 39. It would be like a pitcher on the Chicago White Sox getting busted for a spitball after they were abolished in 1920 and hysterical Cleveland Indians fans crying that the 1906 White Sox were “tainted” because their ace “Big” Ed Walsh was a spitballer. Mangini himself didn’t think or want this to blow up as well because the Patriots success was his legacy too. He was a top defensive coach from 2001-04 before replacing Romeo Crennel as defensive coordinator in 2005.
Now the Patriots were suffering a massive headache from the Spygate nonsense, old foes and rival media opponents were demanding Superbowls be vacated and they were facing the angry Chargers in Week 2. Shawn Merriman publicly declared it was payback time in the wake of “dancing on our field” and misinformed pundits were predicting a Chargers blow-out win in the face of the scandal. The Patriots had a plan though, during Belichick’s weekend team meeting before the game, the Patriots players and coaches turned it into an impromptu roast of their head coach. They all yukked it up with joke after joke as the mood shifted completely. As for the Chargers, all the smack talk about payback and all the classless talk by Tomlinson was shattered in near record time in Week 2, the Patriots home opener in Foxborro. On the opening drive, Brady easily picked apart the Chargers vaunted defense to set up a 7 yard touch-down to Ben Watson. Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin picked off a Rivers pass but kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 41 yard field goal. The Chargers did nothing on their next drive and Brady found new best friend Moss in the end-zone for another touch-down and 14-0 lead. As the second quarter began, Gostkowski hit a field goal to make it 17-0. With the second half winding down and the Chargers driving, Adalius Thomas picked off a Rivers pass and sprinted untouched for a pick 6 to effectively put the game away 24-0. Rivers and the Chargers did get in the end-zone in the third quarter to make it 24-7, but Brady needed just 7 plays to find Moss again in the end-zone to make it 31-7. The rout looked to be on when safety James Sanders picked off a Rivers pass but it was nullified by a pass interference penalty on Ellis Hobbs. Given new life, Rivers threw a touchdown pass to Antonio Gates to make it 31-14 as the fourth quarter began. The momentum shifted to San Diego when Hobbs fumbled the kickoff return, the Chargers recovering. The Pats defense held fast with back to back sacks, the second of which was another strip sack by Colvin although it was recovered by the Chargers. Down 17 points to Tom Brady, Chargers coach Norv Turner learned nothing of his predecessor’s conservative ways and decided to punt on 4th and 30. The Patriots marched down the field on a NINE minute drive to ice the game with a Morris touchdown to make it 38-14. That was it for the so called “revenge game” and the Patriots had won in a blowout. All the pundits and trash talkers were silent and the Patriots march to perfection had begun.
In the end the Patriots managed to go undefeated during the regular season, a perfect 16-0 amidst cries of running up the score along the way. Belichick told the criers to blow it out their holes and wiped out the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round. In the AFC Championship game, the Patriots once again played the Chargers. This time, however, the trash talk was minimal after the Week 2 beat-down and the Chargers played a lot better. The Patriots defense took advantage of a hobbled Rivers to hold San Diego to just 4 field goals. The Patriots rode running back Laurence Maroney for a 21-12 win and a berth in Superbowl 42. The Chargers have never really recovered from the 2006 choke job while the Patriots have been to four Superbowls, winning 2 of them since 2006. This year the Pittsburgh Steelers, fresh off losing the AFC Championship Game in 2016, are talking a lot of smack about how this is their year by circling their upcoming Week 15 date in Pittsburgh against the Patriots. If they play conservative, the Steelers are going to find out what the 2006-07 Chargers did, you don’t beat Tom Brady or Bill Belichick playing conservative. Maybe the two teams will meet again in the AFC Championship Game.