The New England Patriots Were Three Plays From Three More Super Bowl Wins

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It has been a blissful two decades for the New England Patriots and their fans. The team has won the Super Bowl six times and played in nine of them. Imagining that they could have been any more successful is difficult; but they easily could have. The Patriots were three plays from three more Super Bowls rings. They were that close to being an unprecedented 9-0 in Super Bowls. Nobody will feel sorry for them, though. Expecting perfection in nine Super Bowls sounds gluttonous, but they were that good. Here is how close they came:

The First of Three Plays; The Drop

The first of three plays came at the end of the 2007 season, in Super Bowl XLII (42). The Patriots were one defensive play away from a perfect season. That opportunity came on second and five with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter, and it was gift-wrapped.

Eli Manning dropped back to pass, looking for David Tyree down the right sideline, and Tyree broke the wrong way. Asante Samuel, a pro bowl cornerback, was the only one there. When the ball was in the air, images of glory and triumph had to flash through the minds of Patriots fans and players. Instead, Samuel jumped, and the ball clanged off his hands and sailed out of bounds.

The next play would be one of the most memorable plays in sports history, the “helmet catch.” That play set up the go-ahead touchdown to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left. Ellis Hobbs, who is 5’9, had no chance at covering Burress, who is 6’5.

Samuel’s drop was not why the Patriots lost; they could have made a defensive stand. However, he had the opportunity of a lifetime, one moment, one play for a perfect season, and it went through his hands.

The Second Play; The Misconnection

In Super Bowl XLVI (46), the Patriots were up 17-15 and driving with 4:06 left in the game. The down was second-and-11 from the New York Giants 44-yard line. The Patriots, who were the better team arguably, had a chance to put the game away.

Wes Welker sprinted down the left seam, and the Giants blew the coverage; he was wide open. Instead of sticking the throw on his chest, Tom Brady wanted to lead him away from the safety, and he threw it towards his left shoulder. Welker spun around and jumped, making it a tough catch, but one he routinely makes. This time he did not; it clanged off his hands in agonizing fashion.

That drop was not the end of the drive, though; they still had a chance to make a play on third down, but Brady’s pass to Dion Branch fell incomplete. The Patriots decided to punt and just needed a defensive stand.

Unfortunately, Eli Manning led another Super Bowl-winning drive, and the Giants scored the go-ahead TD without even trying. With 1:06 left, Ahmad Bradshaw tried to stop on the 1-yard line and accidentally fell into the endzone for the eventual game-winner.

If Brady puts it on the numbers to Welker, he most likely scores because he was even with the safety who was five yards to his right. If Welker makes that catch and gets tackled, the clock continues to run, and the Giants only have one timeout left. Another first down or a touchdown would have won the game.

The Third Play; One Forced Punt

In Super Bowl LII (52), against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Patriots were one play away from winning another Super Bowl. However, they would fall to the Eagles, 41-33. They played well enough on offense to win the game, with 613 total yards, but it was not enough.

Tom Brady passed for the most yards in Super Bowl history, 505 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He boasted a legendary performance that was worthy of another Super Bowl MVP. However, that award would go to a backup quarterback, Nick Foles.

Foles burned the Pats defense for 373 yards, three passing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown, and one interception. Philadelphia also rushed for 164 yards and one touchdown giving them 538 total yards. They would only punt once, and therein lies the problem.

New England’s defense could not get off the field. Philly won the time of possession battle by over eight minutes. Their drives were long and demoralizing, especially the fourth quarter’s seven-minute drive that ended with a touchdown to Zach Ertz.

If the Patriots force Philly to punt more than once, they win another Super Bowl. 33-points should have been enough to win against Foles. Unfortunately, the Patriots legendary cornerback, Malcolm Butler, was inexplicably benched. Butler would have made a difference, and that difference was all they needed.

Extraordinary Success

Believe it or not, there was a fourth play that could have given the Patriots another Super Bowl chance. That play was a drop by Reche Caldwell in the 2006 AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis colts. He was uncovered standing on the 15-yard line. If he catches it and scores, the Patriots are up by a touchdown with just over eight minutes left. It did not make the list because it did not happen in a Super Bowl. However, the chances of them winning and then steam rolling Rex Grossman and the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl that year were very good.

What the Patriots accomplished over two decades is extraordinary. We may never see anything like it again in sports. Playing in nine Super Bowls and wining six of them is extraordinary success. Patriots fans should not grieve over the three plays but appreciate how good they were to be that close and celebrate the success of getting there. The run has been incredible; and fortunately it may not be over just yet.

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