The Patriots proved yesterday that their initial regular season beat-down of the Houston Texans was no fluke, outlasting a gritty effort by the Texans en-route to a 41-28 victory. With countless storylines swirling in the NFL at the moment, what Tom Brady is doing has been under-hyped – a direct result of Tom Brady’s consistent success. Yesterday Brady became the most winning playoff quarterback in NFL history, the day after his only true peer over the last decade, Peyton Manning, became tied for the most losing playoff quarterback of all-time. Brady will suit up next Sunday in his 7th AFC Championship game.
Next week’s AFC Championship should be a douzy – Ray Lewis, motivator extraordinaire, is retiring after this season (if you didn’t get the memo). You know that entire team, and much of the NFL, wants Lewis’ last game to be the Super Bowl. Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, both of whom have long found an ally in this site, finally performed when it counted most. If Flacco is able to complete a few bombs against the Patriots secondary, we’re in trouble. This should be a rematch of epic proportions.
If the Pats are able to get past the Ravens, we’ll either have to deal with Atlanta or the 49ers. Matt Ryan’s accuracy and weapons should allow him to pick the Patriots secondary apart – the 49ers have looked perhaps more impressive than any team, and are a pretty good mock-up of the blueprint that the Giants have shown to be the recipe for beating the Pats. In other words, it’s going to be a battle from here on out if Tom Brady is going to win his 4th ring.
There were three other storylines in yesterday’s game that also stood out to me, the first of which is Shane Vereen. This guy was the hero yesterday, scoring 3 touchdowns for the Pats. It’s so Belichick to rely on a player in your biggest game of the season who didn’t even play in 5 games this year and is a back-up running back. Vereen had only 8 receptions in his career going into yesterday’s game, where he caught 5 balls including two touchdowns. Kudos to Bill for identifying a mismatch, and kudos to Brady for recognizing and continuing to feed the hot hand.
Secondarily (pun intended), I wanted to give a shout out to Aqib Talib. This guy has come in and truly changed the Patriots on the defensive side of the ball – that’s a lot to say for any one player. This guy is the real deal.
Last but not least, we have to talk about Gronk. It seems ridiculous to me that Gronk played yesterday, seeing as he was so easily injured by landing on his arm a single time. I don’t know who cleared him to play, but shame on them. If we learned anything from last year’s Super Bowl it should have been that we can’t win without Gronk. We don’t need him out there as a decoy, we need him out there flying around and Gronk-spiking all over. That won’t happen now. In all honestly, if Gronk was 100% I’d be calling the Patriots my flat out favorites to win it all. Without Gronk, that’s simply not the case. It’s going to take some seriously elevated play from the Patriots’ defense if they are going win next week, let alone in a Super Bowl.