Just over a year ago, the Patriots put their season on the line against the Baltimore Ravens in the wild card round of the 2009 playoffs. The results? A 33-14 beatdown that was over before the second quarter even started.
This is not the same Patriots team that showed up in Foxboro that day. Its young defenders have one more year of experience under their belts, and have backup in rookies like Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham, and Brandon Spikes. Its offense has returned to the old days where Tom Brady would spread the ball over the field, as he’s found new targets in rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez while welcoming back an old favorite in Deion Branch. Even the running game is much improved thanks to a pair of undrafted free agents who ousted first round disappointment Laurence Maroney.
Where last year’s team wilted under pressure, failing to match up to strong opponents time and again, this year’s squad triumphed in statement game after statement game, holding a 6-1 record against playoff teams.
That one loss? To the Jets in Week 2, and repaid by a 45-3 beatdown on national television in Week 13.
It’s been a week filled with heated talk, mainly coming from New York. The Jets have given Bill Belichick plenty of bulletin board material, while his Patriots have been much more quiet, with Wes Welker’s subtle press conference the sole break in form. Now they have to back up their quiet confidence on the field.
It’s New York vs. New England, with the season on the line.