The New England Patriots are AFC Champions once again — stop me if you have heard this before.
For the seventh-time under head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots are AFC champions.
No matter who is surrounding quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots find a way to win. Tight end Rob Gronkowsi was sitting comfortably up in a Gillette Stadium box suite, while New England was experiencing cold wind-driven rain and the Patriots were putting a hurting on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Some might argue that the victory started at 3:45 a.m., when a self-proclaimed drunken 25-year-old Patriots fan pulled the fire alarm at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team hotel. Then, a fire alarm sounded at Gillette Stadium just a few hours after the one at the Steelers’ hotel went off.
Mind games and conspiracies — what would a Patriots championship be without them? When you have been successful for as long as the Patriots have, it sort of comes with the territory.
But how do the Patriots, year-after-year, continue to succeed? It starts under center with Brady, who is 39-years-old.
This past weekend, I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit some college friends, which I normally do in the fall.
It was evident to me while we watched the NFC Championship game at a bar called, Steamers, that the Patriots were not well liked in those parts.
I settled into my seat in front of one of the 108 televisions that the hole in the wall bar had on display. Following a quick hello from the waitress, she gestured to my hat and made a point to tell me she hates the New England Patriots.
Steelers signs lined the bar’s walls and I was wondering why I kept getting dirty looks — I had not said a word since walking in there, so I knew it wasn’t my accent.
She wasn’t the first, nor the last person to tell me that. My friend even told me that even though he hated the Patriots, he would be rooting for them because he cannot stand the Steelers or the Falcons, who New England will face in Super Bowl LI.
Carolina fans cannot bring themselves to cheer for Atlanta, who is the Panthers’ NFC South rival.
On my first flight to New York City, I sat next to a man who graduated from West Point and originally grew up in the Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods of Boston.
We got to talking about the AFC Championship game and I found out that he wasn’t a Patriots fan, nor was he a fan of any team — he liked individual players and was well-informed about the game. He did not once mention any of the violations against the Patriots that non-fans of the team spew out at a moment’s notice.
We continued to talk about how the Patriots routinely rebuild their roster with players that other teams passed on.
Take slot receiver Chris Hogan as a prime example. Hogan was an undrafted free agent out of Monmouth, where he transferred from Penn State.
Hogan played lacrosse at Penn State for three years on a scholarship. After bouncing around with the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins practice squads, he eventually started gaining regular playing time with the Buffalo Bills from 2013-2015.
In the off season, New England picked up the restricted free agent and the rest is history.
Hogan has impressed me with his dependability during the season with 38 catches for 680 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season.
Hogan has kept the Patriots rolling in the playoffs as well and now forever has his name etched in the scroll of team history with his nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 36-17 AFC Championship victory. Hogan’s career day is the best receiving performance in New England Patriots postseason history.
Football fans have two weeks of media saturation to endure before the big game. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s involvement with “Deflategate” will be gone over to the point of making you sick to your stomach.
There comes a time when Patriots fans need to let it go and forget about the injustice commissioner Goodell inflicted on Brady and the team.
Yes, he made the Patriots look bad.
Yes, the punishment was harsh. But more importantly, it is in the past. I am not saying to forgive Goodell for his witch hunt, but just forget about it. Brady was out four games and the team went 3-1. Now the defense is firing on all cylinders and the Patriots are 16-2 heading into the Super Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Goodell didn’t attend Sunday’s AFC Championship and went to Atlanta for the NFC Championship game instead. Again, who cares? Goodell doesn’t.
The witch hunt is over Patriots fans, just enjoy the ride and forget about what Goodell thinks.
If the Patriots do in fact beat Atlanta, it will be their fifth Vince Lombardi trophy in 15 years. My gut feeling is this one will be a high scoring affair.
But, it won’t be if Belichick and his staff can figure out a way to shutdown Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones.
They silenced the Pittsburgh Steelers’ deep-threat, Antonio Brown, so it is not a stretch of the imagination to think that they will employ the same tactic with Jones.
Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout:@EdNiser