There were time yesterday, where I felt like I had stumbled into some alternate universe. The Patriots were trailing 21-7 in the second half to the Bills and inching dangerously close to a 1-3 record, which would have essentially put them three games behind the Bills with tie-breakers in the race for the AFC crown. At that point, we had already witnessed a fumble by Gronkowski, a fumble by Welker, two dropped touchdowns by Gronkowski, two missed field goals by Gostkowski, and some horrible tackling that allowed a 68-yard touchdown reception. This Patriots team, which had all the potential in the world on opening day, was unraveling before our very eyes. You could chalk up the Arizona loss to the unexpected Hernandez injury and some bad luck. You could chalk up the Baltimore loss to incompetent officials. But what we saw in the first 35 minutes of yesterday's game defied excuses. It was an inexplicable barrage of failed execution. As I sat there pondering whether the curse of the Super Bowl loser existed, and if the Patriots were about to experience a Red Sox-esque collapse from within, Tom Brady juked a defender and found a streaking Danny Woodhead to put the Patriots back within seven.
And just like that, the order of the universe was restored.
The "cursed" New England Patriots started making their own luck. Gronkowski finally caught his touchdown pass, which he emphatically implanted into the Buffalo turf. Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden began bowling through the defense en route to twin 100-yard rushing efforts. Not to be outdone, Tom Brady himself got in on the rushing action, scrambling for a touchdown of his own. Brady also hit Brandon Lloyd for their first end-zone connection of the year on a masterpiece of a pass that would've brought a tear to the late Steve Sabol's eye. After six trips for six in the second half for the Patriots, even Gostkowski got his shot at redemption as he put a late field goal through the uprights.
Those final twenty five minutes yesterday showed exactly what this New England Patriots team can be like when they're clicking on all cylinders. The defense was swarming, the ground game was pounding, and Tom Brady was near-perfect in the passing game. Granted, New England was certainly helped out by Fitzpatrick's four INT's and one fumble, but give credit to Devin McCourty for making the grabs he was unable to make last week, and to Brandon Spikes and Vince Wilfork for their vicious hits to jar balls loose.
The season is a quarter of the way done. The Patriots sit at 2-2 and there's quite a bit of a mountain to climb with the Ravens and Texans still looming large in the AFC. It will not be an easy road ahead, but I believe that this New England team has what it takes to overtake those two and claim the AFC crown. If it takes a 12-0 finish to the year, so be it. That's what it took for a similar Patriots team nine years ago who started 2-2 and had everyone wondering if the season was lost during a tumultuous game in Buffalo. Those Patriots won some remarkable games on an intentional safety, a goal line stand, a blocked field goal, timely turnovers, and game-winning kicks. Some people called them lucky. But everyone who watched that team for those 19 games knew that the 2003 World Champion Patriots were creating their own luck. Here's hoping that the 2012 version of this team considers that a lesson learned. If they do, then this season which appeared to be on the brink, will end up being very special.