Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that one of the first things the coaching staff does at the end of a season is evaluate everything the team did during the season, from any tendencies they inadvertently developed in play calling, to personnel moves, good and bad. While being one of the 28 teams that isn't working on a game plan today isn't an envious position, it affords Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli extra time to prepare for the free agent signing period that begins after the Super Bowl. "I think that next year they will be starting from a much higher point in terms of experience and background in our system, knowing what it takes to play in the league and all of that," Belichick said. ''I think they came in at a very mature level. To avoid the second year not being as good as the first, they have to maintain their same work ethic and attitude, desire, aggressiveness, all of those kind of things that gave them a chance to be successful this year. I think they need to maintain that and then combine it with a good offseason and that same type of energy and preparation for the game and experience, then they have a chance to improve."
Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe writes that New England Patriots curiously, inexplicably, and terminally imploded. They turned the ball over four times (five total) directly leading to the Broncos' first 24 points in a 27-13 victory, sending the Broncos into the AFC Championship game a week from today.
Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that wide receiver David Givens had a touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, as the Patriots tried to come back from an 18-point deficit. The grab extended Givens's streak to seven playoff games with a touchdown catch, second all time to the Steelers' John Stallworth, who had a streak of eight from 1978-83. ''All good things must come to an end," Givens said. ''It's kind of sad it had to end like this, this year." Those words may also apply to Givens's career as a Patriot as much as to the team's run of championships. The fourth-year player out of Notre Dame becomes an unrestricted free agent after the Super Bowl, and likely will field offers from other teams. Givens set a career high with 59 receptions for 738 yards this season.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that as of late last night, there was no word whether Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini was going to become the New York Jets' head coach. He interviewed with Jets general manager Terry Bradway and assistant GM Mike Tannenbaum in Providence yesterday, which a spokesman for the Jets referred to as ''a good meeting."
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald writes that the last time the Patriots finished the season without holding up Vince Lombardi's trophy, it took them one season to regain that championship touch. Will it be as quick this time around? Will they reload for a trip to the Super Bowl in Miami next year? Or is this the beginning of a downward trend? Already, first-year defensive coordinator Eric Mangini may be headed to enemy territory as the head coach of the New York Jets. And player-wise, unrestricted free agent wide receiver David Givens could top the departure list. There will be other losses to deal with, but as long as the "Big Three" remain in place — coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli — the Pats will keep the Lombardi Trophy in their sights.
Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that New England (11-7), which entered the playoffs having lost two more games this season than they had in the past two years combined, made costly mistakes that were out of character. Brady throwing interceptions. Vinatieri missing a field goal. Troy Brown muffing a punt. ''We made it easy for them," said Brady, who threw two interceptions as the Patriots committed five turnovers. The most stunning was Brady's first pick, just his fourth in 11 career postseason games. With New England driving to take the lead with a minute to play in the third quarter, his error on third and goal from the 5 was a 14-point mistake. Champ Bailey intercepted a Brady pass in the endzone and returned it 100-yards to the Patriots 1-yard line where tight end Benjamin Watson knocked him out of bounds.
Ron Borges of the Boston Globe writes that like the Packers and Dolphins and Steelers (twice) and 49ers and Cowboys and Broncos before them, the Patriots are not going to win a third straight Super Bowl, a feat that has yet to be accomplished. They are not moving on to another game next weekend either, which will make things feel odd in New England, a place that has grown used to playoff football this time of year. The reason for all those "nots" is the same reason for all the victories that preceded last night's defeat. The reason was the Patriots didn't take care of the football.
Jim McCabe of the Boston Globe writes that though he had statistics that would normally indicate a victory -- 20 of 36 for 341 yards and 1 touchdown, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady tasted playoff defeat Saturday for the first time in his NFL career. He didn't like it. ''It will be a long flight home, a long offseason," said Brady, whose numbers proved to be superficial, unlike the pain in his voice, which told the real story of the 27-13 AFC divisional round loss to the Denver Broncos. ''It's very disappointing. The coaches are disappointed. I'm disappointed. Mr. [Robert] Kraft is disappointed."
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that the reign of the two-time defending Super Bowl champs crumbled last night against the Denver Broncos, though the defeat had a lot more to do with the visitors than the hosts. The Broncos capitalized on a quintet of Patriots turnovers - none bigger than Champ Bailey's 100-yard interception return to set up the back-breaking score - to claim a 27-13 divisional playoff victory and keep the Pats from becoming the first team to win three straight Super Bowls. "It's a tough way to go out," defensive end Richard Seymour said. "It's a tough one to swallow, but we have to accept the bad with the good. Errors and penalties and turnovers were the thorn in our side. We had a good run, but unfortunately it had to come to an end tonight." Though the Patriots generally controlled play, they could not overcome their mistakes. A questionable pass interference call on Asante Samuel in the end zone set up Denver's first score. A Kevin Faulk fumble set up that play. Bailey's interception led to Denver's third score. And Troy Brown's muffed punt accounted for the clincher. Tom Curran of the Providence Journal also offers a similar report on Saturday's loss.
Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that various reports have said that Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini will accept the New York Jets head coach job if it is offered to him. Mangini, who celebrates his 35th birthday Thursday, has worked as a defensive assistant under Patriots coach Bill Belichick for the past nine years. He has been a coordinator for just one year, taking over for Romeo Crennel after he left to become the head coach for the Cleveland Browns. One of Mangini's strengths is organization and he is a stickler for detail, often grilling his players about positions they do not play so they understand the entire defense. "Everybody has a chance to get it right," Mangini said before the season began. "Either you don't know or you don't care -- both of them are problems. We're here whenever somebody needs us and we can spend as much time as possible to get it right. Fortunately we have guys who work hard to get it right."
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his analyis of the Patriots 27-13 loss to the Denver Broncos. This was one of those games where one team -- the Patriots -- seemed to make all the plays but get none of the breaks. They outperformed Denver on both sides of the ball yet lost by 14 points.
Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe writes that the Patriots ended the season with 64 players under contract -- 53 on the roster, 11 on injured reserve. Of those 64, 18 will become unrestricted free agents when the free agency period begins March 3, meaning they would be free to sign with any team. But of those 18, only four are regular starters -- Vinatieri, Givens, guard Stephen Neal, and offensive tackle Tom Ashworth. Safety Artrell Hawkins, a midseason acquisition who started six games, also is an unrestricted free agent. Others entering unrestricted free agency are receivers Brown, Andre' Davis, and Tim Dwight; quarterback Doug Flutie; tight end Christian Fauria; running back Heath Evans; offensive linemen Gene Mruczkowski and Ross Tucker; cornerbacks Hank Poteat and Chad Scott; and core special teams players Michael Stone, Matt Chatham, and Don Davis. John Tomase of the Boston Herald also offers a similar report.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers his Patriots report card. The Patriots' 27-13 defeat to the Broncos in the divisional playoffs did not signal the end of a championship era. If Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli can regain their personnel touch and add the right pieces this offseason, it will merely represent a blip. Even if Belichick and Pioli have a mediocre offseason, the Pats will remain the favorite in the AFC East.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that head coach Bill Belichick commented on the questionable pass interference call on Asante Samuel in the second quarter that directly led to the Broncos first score. There were some real questionable decisions," Belichick said of the officiating. "There's no doubt about that. But the bottom line is we didn't play well enough to win. There were some things that went against us, but I don't think that was the difference in the game. I think Denver deserved to win because they played better. "There were certainly some very questionable decisions in that game that I'm surprised that was a playoff crew, but that didn't decide the outcome of the game. I think it would've been a lot worse if it had come down to one play and that play had been a questionable call or something like that. That really wasn't the case."
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.