Sunday's AFC Championship game was one that many Patriots' fans would love to forget.
Brady-Manning Bowl XIV did not live up to its hype in the media, and the Patriots, let's face it, they fell flat of many fans' expectations.
With that being said, did anyone really expect New England to make it as far as it did? I, for one, can honestly say I did not. New England not only had to overcome losing its top tight-end in Aaron Hernandez to murder charges, it also had to deal with Rob Gronkowski forever getting injured. Someone get that young man a protective bubble.
All joking aside, this Patriots team had to overcome a lot of adversity. No, I am not just talking about the Hernandez indictment, but injuries galore to key players.
Run-stopping veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork fell victim to a season-ending torn Achilles' tendon in his left foot in September. Wilfork's injury coupled with that of fellow defensive lineman Tommy Kelly, forced a pair of rookies to fill in.
A big round of applause is warranted for this Patriots team. Not only did they band together following Hernandez's arrest, they continued to face anything that came their way head-on.
Injuries are a part of the game of football ... I get that. But what I do not understand is how a team that did not return a top receiver from last year's AFC finalist team win 12 games and make the AFC Championship again?
The best possible answer would be its heart and never-quit attitude.
Julian Edelman pretty much came out of nowhere this season at the slot-receiver position. Sure, he had always shown flashes, but what he lacked was consistency and touches. Much of that can be accredited to being the understudy of now Super Bowl-bound former Patriot, Wes Welker. Anyone remember that pass that Welker should've had in the Super Bowl against the Giants a few years back? I do.
Edelman is by no means an equal replacement to Welker, but he is pretty close. Edelman hauled in well over 1,000 receiving yards this season, and the Patriots front office brass would be pretty dense if they did not at least try and keep him around.
And then there is my personal favorite player, LeGerrette Blount. He gives big guys everywhere hope to play a skill position like running back. Blount is a physical pound-it-down-your-throat runner that the NFL has not seen since the likes of retired Steelers running back Jerome Bettis.
Blount already said post-game that "he would love to return as a Patriot next season," but will the Patriots bring him back? In my opinion, of course they will.
But let's get back to Sunday's 26-16 AFC title loss. New England was outplayed, it's pretty cut and dry. The Patriots played disciplined well-balanced football, committing just two penalties for 25 yards.
Tom Brady, well he threw zero interceptions and rushed for a touchdown, not a terrible performance. So, where do we place the blame?
Do we place it on the officials? No, I think the game was pretty right down the middle.
Do we blame Bill Belichick? Sure, why not? The coach is always a great scapegoat source.
How about this, Patriots fans -- don't blame anyone. The Patriots, collectively, were outplayed. Brady threw for 225 yards and one touchdown, but Peyton Manning was just that much better.
We New England sports fans have been spoiled with the recent success of our local teams. Who would've thought the Red Sox would win three World Series in the same decade? Answer: no one.
The Patriots have advanced to the last three AFC Title games, where they have a recent record of 2-1. And, while I am upset they lost, in a way I am kind of grateful. Patriots fans, enjoy this heaping slice of humble pie because when they win their next Super Bowl, whenever that is, it will be that much sweeter.
Instead of looking for someone to blame for Sunday's loss, reflect back on a season riddled with uncertainty, with much overcome, and be proud.