After recently capturing their fifth Super Bowl victory, the New England Patriots further cemented their standing as one of the NFL’s most successful franchises in the history of the league. Their impressive run over the last two decades began in 2001 when they upset the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
After their amazing year that ended with them winning the franchise’s first championship, the Patriots looked to continue their newfound success in the upcoming 2002 season.
2002 in New England began with the team playing their first regular season game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the brand new Gillette Stadium. The Patriots and their 25-year-old quarterback in Tom Brady had no trouble with the Steelers and easily won the game 30-14.
New England went on to win their next two games of the year over the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs and stood at 3-0 after their first three weeks of the regular season. The Patriots’ year could not have got off to a better start and they seemed well on their way to making another championship run.
But over the following four games, New England did not find themselves on the winning side of the scoreboard once. The Patriots lost four straight games including an 18-point defeat courtesy of the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Brett Favre.
Much of New England’s struggles during this stretch of games had a lot to do with the play of Brady.
In the first three weeks of their season, the quarterback threw nine touchdown passes and just two interceptions. But during the Patriots’ four-game losing streak, Brady completed less than 60% of his passes, threw just six touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
New England and their quarterback were able to pull it together over their next six games and win all but one matchup during the stretch to improve their record to 8-5 on the season. The Patriots sat tied for first place in the AFC East with the Miami Dolphins and basically needed to win at least two of their final three regular season games to get into the playoffs.
The first of their final three matchups came against the Tennessee Titans and it really could not have gone any worse.
The Titans jumped out to a 14 point lead in the first half and never looked back as they easily defeated New England by a final score of 24-7. Brady did not do much to help the Patriots chances against Tennessee as the quarterback ended the game with just 134 passing yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception.
As if their loss to the Titans was not bad enough, New England fell a game behind in the division after the Dolphins won their game that week over the Oakland Raiders.
The Patriots really could not afford anymore losses during the season if they wanted to end up back in the postseason. But their final two games of the season were at home so what could possibly go wrong?
New England’s matchup in Week 16 pitted them against the New York Jets, who were now tied with the Patriots for second place in the AFC East.
After Brady’s second touchdown pass tied the game at 17 apiece in the third quarter, the Jets’ offense came back onto the field to try and regain the lead. But the Patriots’ defense forced New York to punt after just three plays and things were looking good for New England.
After the Jets would punt the ball, the Patriots were going to have a shot at taking the lead for the first time in the game. That was until a fumble on the punt return by New England wide receiver Troy Brown was recovered by New York on the Patriots own 19 yard line.
The Jets only ended up getting a field goal out of the drive but it was the beginning of their run of 13 unanswered points that eventually lead to New England losing the game by a final score of 30-17.
Luckily for the Patriots, Miami also lost that week in their matchup with the Minnesota Vikings and New England’s playoff hopes were still very much alive.
So heading into the final week of the season, the Patriots were tied with both the Dolphins and Jets for first place in the AFC East. But because of their loss to New York in Week 16, New England needed both a win over Miami in their final game and a Jets loss to clinch a spot in the postseason.
The Patriots took care of business on their end when they edged the Dolphins 27-24 in an overtime thriller. Now New England just had to wait for the results of New York’s afternoon matchup with the Packers to see if they would be heading to the playoffs.
Thanks to outscoring Green Bay 28-7 in the second half, the Jets easily beat the Packers that day 42-17 and clinched the AFC East division title.
The Patriots’ season was over and the team was left wondering what went wrong just a year after celebrating a Super Bowl victory. Was their magical run in 2001 really just a fluke?
Well considering New England has gone on to win four Super Bowls, 13 division titles, and six AFC Championships since their forgettable 2002 season, saying that the Patriots Super Bowl win in 2001 was not a fluke is safer than a pillow covered in bubble wrap.
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