Most football fans have experienced memorable moments, championships, games, and even bitter losses in the postseason over the last 87 years. But, many people only remember the champion or the runner-up in the last game of the NFL season, the NFL championship or Super Bowl.
The December 18, 1932 playoff game featuring the Portsmouth Spartans (now known as the Detroit Lions) and the Chicago Bears was a memorable event as the NFL’s first postseason game with the Bears winning 9-0.
In this special 32 part series, I will analyze each NFL team’s best championship season and the one season where they finished just short of claiming the NFL’s ultimate prize. The fourth team to be analyzed is… the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS!
The 2007 Patriots: The NFL’s Only 16-0 Season
After winning three Super Bowl championships from 2001-2004 and narrowly missing another Super Bowl berth with their loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the 2006 AFC Championship, the Patriots entered the 2007 off-season as heavy favorites to reach their fourth Super Bowl in seven years. During the off-season, Bill Belichick and the Patriots front office signed several key free agents including running back Sammy Morris from Miami, wide receivers Randy Moss (draft pick trade with Oakland) as well as Donté Stallworth from Philadelphia and Wes Welker (draft pick trade with Miami), tight end Kyle Brady from Jacksonville, and linebacker Adalius Thomas from Baltimore to strengthen their talented roster.
With these new additions, the 2007 Patriots became the first team in NFL history to finish with a 16-0 regular season record and had the league’s No. 1 ranked offense. Led by league MVP quarterback Tom Brady, New England’s offense scored more points than any previous team in NFL history (589 points) and All-Pro wide receiver Randy Moss set a new league record with 23 receiving TD’s. The 2007 Patriots also had the NFL’s 4th ranked defense and led the league with the fewest offensive plays run against (933 plays) with All-Pro linebacker Mike Vrabel as well as All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel leading the way.
As New England entered the 2007 postseason, the Patriots chances of a 19-0 perfect season looked promising after an impressive 31-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round before hosting the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship. After meeting in the 2006 AFC Divisional playoff, the Chargers held the Patriots to only 14 points through three quarters, but New England pulled away in the 4th quarter to advance to Super Bowl XLII with a 21-12 win despite Tom Brady’s three interceptions during the game.
With an opportunity to become the first 19-0 team in NFL history, the Patriots entered Super Bowl XLII as 12-point favorites over the Giants and at the start of the 2nd quarter, New England took a 7-3 lead and held it for over two quarters. However, as the 4th quarter began, the Patriots defense allowed their first touchdown in nine quarters as the Giants took a 10-7 lead with 11 minutes left in the game. But, after a solid defensive stand on New York’s next possession, Tom Brady led New England’s offense on a 12-play drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Randy Moss with 2:45 remaining.
However, as the Patriots defense stepped onto the field with a 14-10 lead, the Giants offense began to drive down the field with their own 12-play drive. After a critical 4th down conversion and a dropped interception from Asante Samuel, New York converted a miraculous 3rd down before retaking the lead with another touchdown with 39 seconds left. With New England’s perfect season at stake, Tom Brady threw two Hail Mary passes in the final seconds, but could not convert as the Patriots fell short of the NFL’s only 19-0 season by the score of 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII.
2007 PATRIOTS OFFENSE
Strengths: Passing offense and lack of turnovers. From 2001-2006, the Patriots did not have a dynamic receiving corps and only had one wide receiver earn a Pro Bowl selection (Troy Brown in 2001). But, in 2007, Tom Brady had one of the NFL’s best receiving units as Randy Moss as well as Wes Welker transformed New England’s offense with 210 combined receptions for 2,668 yards and 31 TD’s (Welker led the league with 112 catches and Moss set a new NFL record with 23 TD’s).
The 2007 Patriots also committed only 15 turnovers during the regular season (fewest in the NFL; 9 interceptions, 6 fumbles lost) and had a disciplined offense with 78 penalties (7th fewest in the league). With Tom Brady setting a new NFL record with 50 passing TD’s, New England’s Pro Bowl offensive line played a big role in Brady’s MVP season by allowing only 21 sacks (fewest in the league) and a passer rating of 116.0 (best in the NFL).
Weaknesses: Rushing offense. Despite having the NFL’s No.1 ranked offense in points scored and yards gained, the 2007 Patriots had the league’s 13th ranked rushing attack, but had 17 rushing touchdowns during the regular season (5th most in the NFL). After releasing Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon in the off-season, New England used a three back rotation with Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris as well as Kevin Faulk in 2007, but struggled to find consistency throughout the year with only five 100+ yard games between Maroney and Morris.
In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants defense exploited this weakness by allowing only 45 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, which allowed New York to put pressure on Tom Brady throughout the game and finished with five sacks.
2007 PATRIOTS DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS
Pro Bowl Selections: NT Vince Wilfork, OLB Mike Vrabel (All-Pro), CB Asante Samuel (All-Pro)
Strengths: Overall defense and turnovers. After experiencing a difficult 2005 season with the 17th ranked overall defense in the NFL, Dean Pees, the Patriots linebackers coach, was promoted to the defensive coordinator position after Eric Mangini left to become the Jets new head coach in 2006. In 2007, Pees led the league’s 4th ranked overall defense (6th passing, 10th rushing) and New England led the AFC with 47 sacks with All-Pro linebacker Mike Vrabel leading the team with 12.5 sacks (career-high). The 2007 Patriots also allowed the fewest carries in the NFL (360 attempts) and only seven rushing touchdowns (2nd fewest in the AFC) with Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork leading the charge.
The 2007 Patriots also forced the 9th most turnovers in the NFL (31; 12 fumble recoveries, 19 interceptions (6th most in the league)) and All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel led New England with six interceptions. With New England’s offense scoring a league record 589 points during the regular season, the Patriots defense allowed 274 points (17.1 points per game) to set another NFL record with a +315 point differential.
Weaknesses: Defensive discipline and overall special teams. Despite having the league’s No.1 ranked offense and 4th ranked defense, the 2007 Patriots did struggle with a few key components on defense and special teams. Dean Pees’ defense committed 96 penalties during the regular season (24th in the NFL) and allowed opposing running backs to average 4.4 yards per carry (26th in the NFL). In Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots defense did not commit a single penalty, but allowed the Giants to average 3.5 yards per carry and finish with 91 rushing yards.
The 2007 Patriots also had some struggles with their special teams, but kicker Stephen Gostkowski scored the 3rd most points in the NFL (137) and cornerback Ellis Hobbs as well as Willie Andrews had a kick return touchdown during the regular season. But, the Patriots punter, Chris Hanson, had the fewest punts in the league (48) as well as a yards per punt average of 41.4 (26th in the NFL) and Wes Welker had some struggles with punt return duties while playing a key role in New England’s offense.
However, in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots special teams was left off the field in a critical situation. Midway through the third quarter, the Patriots faced a 4th and 13 from the Giants’ 31 yard line, but decided to leave the offense on the field instead of attempting a 49 yard field goal. Stephen Gostkowski’s longest field goal of the 2007 season was 45 yards and he had missed a field goal from 35 yards in the AFC Divisional against Jacksonville. If Gostkowski had made the field goal, the 2007 Patriots might have been able to complete the NFL’s only 19-0 season.
COMING UP NEXT… THE AFC NORTH!