By Michael Parente
The Patriots won for just the fourth time on the road last weekend when they crushed Baltimore, 41-7, and, believe it or not, it might've been one of the most important road wins of the Bill Belichick era.
We still don’t know just how big this one was yet, because the final chapter of this season has yet to be written, but, rest assured, it was big. John Candy big. And the best part is it has the chance to be even bigger depending on how the postseason plays out.
Until this past Sunday, the New England Patriots had yet to win a vital road game all year. Their only road wins were in Tampa, Atlanta and Houston, none of whom will be in the playoffs this season or post a winning record, for that matter, and even that last one against the Texans was a bit dicey with the Patriots needing two 53-yard field goals in the fourth quarter from Stephen Gostkowski to narrowly dodge the upset.
Following yet another disaster away from home, this time in Miami, the Patriots boarded the team charter last weekend and took their 3-4 road record to Baltimore, where the Ravens were not only 6-1 at home, but had won their last four games, putting together the kind of late-season win streak reminiscent of last year’s playoff run that resulted in a Super Bowl title.
Not only did the Patriots win, they won big, thumping the Ravens, 41-7, maintaining their spot as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, silencing the critics and momentarily putting Baltimore’s playoff hopes on ice. It was the kind of win reminiscent of the halcyon days of the pre-dynasty era when people didn’t just assume the Patriots would win by simply showing up, the kind of win that left you shaking your head thinking, “Not these guys again.”
They faced a similar tall task in San Diego in 2006, traveling west to face a 14-2 team also ranked No. 1 in the AFC with 11 Pro Bowlers on its roster. The Patriots trailed by eight in the closing minutes and appeared all but finished when Brady threw his third interception of the game to Marlon McCree, but as McCree tried to make a play on the return instead of just falling to the ground and letting his offense run out the clock, wide receiver Troy Brown – the intended target on Brady’s pass – reached in from behind and poked the ball loose. The Patriots recovered, scored to tie the game and then won it on Gostkowski’s game-winning field goal with 1:01 to go. It might’ve been the most improbably playoff win by any team in NFL history and quite possibly the most impressive road win in franchise history depending on how you stack it up against the ’01 AFC title game.
It all comes down to preference. When making a list like this, it’s imperative to rank games based on importance, not style points. For example, where does a game like the Patriots’ 12-9 overtime win at Buffalo in December of 2001 rank on this list? The Patriots won that one courtesy of an obscure rule in which unconscious receiver David Patten was deemed out of bounds with possession of the ball he had fumbled because the ball was resting under his leg while his head straddled the white line. This was the kind of improbable win that made people believe this Patriots’ team had that special something that might wind up with a fairytale ending. They were right.
That’s 10 big road wins, not including last weekend’s game in Baltimore, and there’s not much else to choose from on the Belichick highlight reel unless you’re partial to the lopsided blowouts in 2007. Believe it or not – and it’s a hard one to believe given how schizophrenic this year’s team has been – last weekend’s win at Baltimore might be talked about for quite some time as one of Belichick and Brady’s finest hours, another notch in the belt for a coach-quarterback duo that has consistently defied the odds through the years. If the Patriots pull off the not-so-unthinkable and win a fourth Super Bowl this year, we may look back on last Sunday as the turning point. It all depends on how this final scene unfolds.
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