The New England Patriots are prisoners to their own ridiculousness.

Only the Patriots could cover a silly spread of more than two touchdowns, against the team purported to have the No. 1 defense in the National Football League, in a game two steps away from the Super Bowl, and have it perceived as a sign that their days of domination are numbered.

We could sit here more than a day later and dwell on two tip-drill interceptions. We could analyze a second-effort kick return fumble by the hero of the game, whose knee was about three millimeters off the Gillette Stadium turf when the ball popped loose.

Sure, there were too many penalties. Short yardage situations were a nightmare at times. Tom Brady was hit so hard, so often that I hit the pause button a half-dozen times to make sure “Everlast” wasn’t emblazoned across his chest. Points were left on the table in every phase of the game.

Final scores are how success is measured, however. Not style points. Not time of possession. Not the turnover ratio. And the barometer that separates champions from teams in a perpetual state of trying to get there tells me that the Pats put the Houston Texans out of everyone’s misery, 34-16.

New England advanced to the AFC championship for an unprecedented sixth consecutive year. Any idea how crazy that is? Just go ahead and try to remember all the coaching changes the Dolphins, Jets and Bills have made on that same timeline. Harder still, name all the quarterbacks who have started a game for the Texans in that span.


Everything about the league, from the salary cap to the technology-dependent, part-time referees to the meddlesome commissioner is configured to stop such a stranglehold from happening.

Yet the Patriots persist. Or for the modern audience, Patriots gonna Patriot.

Allowing other teams to overpay for the likes of Brock Osweiler. Letting them cherry-pick New England’s own free-agent roster, even as the fan base decries each player’s departure as if it’s the straw that shall break the dynasty’s back.

Signing a 5-foot-8 running back who didn’t stick with at least three other teams, letting him thrive in the system, waiting out his complete knee reconstruction and then watching him score three touchdowns in a divisional playoff.

We see you, Dion Lewis.

Nothing about the Patriots’ place atop the mountain makes sense. We spoiled-rotten followers of the model franchise, myself included, spent Saturday night complaining that Tom Brady looked a step slow in the pocket, even a bit noodle-armed like that Manning fella one year ago.


We lamented the reality that he matched his interception total for the entire season in the biggest game of the year, without even weighing the absurdity of the original statistic. Never mind that he’s 39, an age by which almost every Hall of Fame signal caller in history said his tearful goodbyes.

This whole party is on borrowed time, 16 seasons after it began with two long field goals and a fat guy making snow angels. And still we fail to fully, appropriately, enjoy it. We presume that every shortcoming is the Patriots’ fault, never giving credit to the opposition for forcing those mistakes.

Did it occur to any of us that no team, not one, dropped 34 points on the Texans all year? Yes, I know one touchdown was the result of Lewis’ 98-yard kick return. The fact remains that the Patriots nickeled and dimed their way to a convincing bottom line against a division champion with a defense that isn’t a joke. Sometimes — usually, in fact — that’s what you have to do in January and February.

Patriots’ apologists get caught up in the trolls’ talk that the competition isn’t great. But great teams in any sport have a knack for making good teams look bad, both in the long term and in a single-elimination spot.

That’s what happened Saturday night. Period. The Patriots gutted out a team victory on a night when they didn’t have their best stuff.

Sixty minutes separate them from another trip to the Super Bowl. Sixty minutes against a flawed but terrific opponent. Most of those minutes are sure to be ugly. They will fray your nerves, test your ticker and make you wonder why any of us subject ourselves to this foolishness when we could just go watch a Meryl Streep movie.


To expect anything more, anything easier, would be utterly ridiculous.

Maybe that’s the problem. We’re used to it. The Patriots do ridiculous better than any organization in the past half-century of professional sports.

Enjoy it while ye may.

Kalle Oakes is a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. You can reach him by email at

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