by Rick Winterson


   It bears repeating that the Patriots’ defense was the target of much criticism during the 2016 regular season.  But it bears repeating only to demonstrate how senseless the boo-birds have been all season long.  This writer guesses that they got tired of criticizing the Presidential campaign, or simply got crowded out of that particular issue by all the partisan tweets.

   There was a school of thought that the “Points Against” statistic, where the Pats led the entire NFL – yes, both Conferences – was somehow meaningless, because the Pats played a lot of weak teams.  Well, whether that’s true or not, the Pats’ Points Against figures demonstrate the value of their defense in both playoff games – 17 Points Against versus Pittsburgh and 16 Points Against versus Houston, after a stellar, NFL leading 15.8 Points Against, all through the regular season.  Now that’s “consistency”, perhaps the most important defensive team virtue.

   Were there decisive key plays in the Sunday’s AFC Championship win against Pittsburgh?  There were many outstanding efforts of course, but this writer would nominate the goal line stand by the Patriots defense after the first half two-minute warning – especially the second down loss-making tackle by defensive tackle Vincent Valentine.  The teams left the field at halftime with the Pats up 17 to 9.  All through the second half, they never looked back, while the Steelers were intercepted once and failed to recover one of their two fumbles.

   This is not to take a single bit of credit away from the Patriots’ offensive efforts.  The Brady Bunch scored four touchdowns, which by itself would have been enough to win Sunday’s tilt with the Steelers.

LeGarrette Blount ran successfully with as many as six Steelers perched on his shoulders; Chris Hogan got free for a team playoff record 180 yards, nine catches, and two touchdowns.

   And there’s yet another interesting “total team” angle to Sunday’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.  You might recall that Pittsburgh won its previous playoff game versus the Kansas City Chiefs by scoring 18 points – six field goals, no touchdowns.  Well, the Pats kicked three field goals on Sunday, as well as scoring three Points After.  That means the special teams scored one-third of the Patriots’ 36 points:  3 field goals plus 3 PATs equals 12 out of 36 total points scored.

   The Patriots incurred just two penalties – a couple of unimportant five-yard infractions – which is another indication of very skillful play.  This statistic also reflects extremely well on the coaching – Head Coach Bill Belichick, of course, along with his Coordinators Matt Patricia (defense), Josh McDaniels (offense), and his dozen or so coaches.

   The current, day-after point spread has the Patriots over the Falcons by just three points, but don’t bet on it (or if you must, take the Patriots).  No, this Super Bowl contest will be settled by the defense – if the Falcons are held to 17 points or less by the Pats’ defense, the Pats will win big.  Second in importance will be mistakes.  At this level of play, the team that makes more mistakes – even if it’s just one more interception or unrecovered fumble – will lose the 2017 Super Bowl.

   Offense wins headlines; defense and mistake-free play wins games.

   See you on Sunday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. somewhere.