The New England Patriots had nowhere to go but down when it came to expectations for the 2014 season. Sometimes teams can wilt under that type of pressure, but the Patriots never did.
That made this one of coach Bill Belichick’s favorite Patriots teams in his 15-year tenure.
“This is a great team," Belichick said. "A great group of competitors who never gave in, never lost their will, mentally and physically as tough of a group as I've been around, and I've been around some. These guys are really special."
Team MVP: At the midpoint of the season, the choice was tight end Rob Gronkowski, and there is strong belief that he is worthy based on the attention he draws from opposing defenses, which creates opportunities for others. Gronkowski changes everything for the offense. A case could also be made for receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Darrelle Revis. But let’s not overthink it and overlook that quarterback Tom Brady was once again on his game, especially in crunch time. Brady’s ability to extend plays with his feet was the best we’ve seen from him in his 15-year career, which is a testament to his work ethic and drive. So the choice is Brady.
Best moment: We just saw it Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX. To win their first championship in 10 years, especially in dramatic, heart-pounding fashion, was the ultimate high point. The Patriots are the first team in Super Bowl history to trail by 10-plus points during the second half and win the game. Teams trailing by 10 or more points entering the fourth quarter had been 0-29 in Super Bowl play. If this category was just for the regular season, the Oct. 5 home game against the Cincinnati Bengals would be at the top of the list. The Patriots exploded that night in resounding fashion, capping off a six-day stretch after a loss at Kansas City that had many questioning whether the Patriots were a legitimate contender, while also wondering if there was tension between Brady and management.
Worst moment: The blowout loss on “Monday Night Football” to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sept. 29. Owner Robert Kraft summed up the 41-14 defeat this way on SiriusXM's "Mad Dog Sports Radio": “It might be the worst beating I've had as an owner, and definitely in the [Bill] Belichick era. It was the worst in the last 15 years. I was definitely worried, because you don't know. This isn't a game of robots. I know all the sages in the media were calling for us to trade Tommy [Brady] or sit him, and Belichick had lost it. You know, maybe in a way, it was a good thing. It shook us up. And in moments of crisis, you either do great things or you crumble. Our guys came together."
2015 outlook: The Patriots’ average age of 25.2 made them the youngest Super Bowl-winning team in history. So from that perspective, the outlook still looks promising. The key players to watch this offseason will be Revis and safety Devin McCourty -- can contract extensions be reached? Per recent tradition, the Patriots will be part of the NFL’s kickoff game on Thursday, Sept. 10. They will also pick 32nd in the first round and have these picks, with the possibility of an additional midround pick via the compensatory draft pick formula. At this point, there is no reason to think the Patriots won’t be right back in the mix as a Super Bowl contender in 2015.