Tom Brady was on the sideline by the time the New England Patriots ended his 31 points in the destruction of the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 last season, the eighth straight victory in a streak that had them firmly entrenched as the NFL’s team to beat heading into the playoffs.
Little did they know they wouldn’t win again.
A second straight early exit from the postseason prompted the Patriots to add some high-profile veterans, moves they hope can help speed their ascent back to the NFL dominance begins Monday night in the game of the season in Miami.
For much of 2010, the 14-2 Patriots seemed to be doing his best impression of the 2007 club that won his first 18 games before ultimately coming up short in Super Bowl XLII.
The 38-7 victory over the Dolphins in the regular season last week capped an 8-0 second half in which New England averaged 37.4 points, and only once in five post-November games did it allow more than a touchdown.
That gave the Patriots home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, and made them the overwhelming favorite for the fifth Super Bowl Bill of the Bill Belichick era, but instead, they fizzled out early. Brady and the Patriots unusual sloppy in loss, Jets 28-21 divisions, the same team were beaten 45-3 six weeks earlier.
After winning 11 straight home playoff games since the previous defeat in 1978, New England has lost the postseason Opener in Foxborough in the back-to-Back Seasons.
“You realize how tough it is to win games over the years,” Brady told the Patriots’ official website. “And I think that when you’re out there as a veteran player and you provide the leadership for the team because you’ve been experienced – I’ve been experienced in this program – we’re hoping to go out there every year and put together a winning season. It’s frustrating when we don’t do that.”
“It’s a dangerous group,” Brady said. “They’re experienced in the secondary. They’ve been playing together now for a little while and they’re very good, especially when the pass rush gets going.”
Despite these names, the Dolphins produced a franchise-low 19 turnovers in 2010. New England, meanwhile, gave the ball an incredible 10 times – at least a 16-game season in NFL history.
“Teams playing deep into January are teams whose turnover ratio is pretty good,” Miami coach Tony Sparano said.
There is little room to go but up. The Dolphins averaged 3.7 yards per carry and 17.1 points last season, both 30th in the league. They also lost three times by three points or fewer – all at home, where they were a dreadful 1-7.
“If you win some of the close games, we’re not having this conversation,” receiver Brian Hartline said. “But we didn’t. There are things we need to fix. We’re fixing them. And we’re going to be a better team.”