Jim Lazar of the Boston Herald and Jim McCabe of the *Boston Globe * take a look at this weekends AFC and NFC championship games and offers his picks.
Bill Simmons of ESPN.com writes that Over the past three seasons, the beautiful thing about the Patriots wasn't how they kept winning, but how their fans remained absolutely convinced they would win. No matter what the circumstances, no matter how many injuries piled up, we believed Belichick would unearth the perfect plan, Brady would come through, and so would Willie, Brown, Vinatieri and everyone else. The reason we believed this was because it kept happening. In other words, they gave us no reason not to believe it. More important, they believed it, and carried themselves like they did ... right up until the Broncos game, when their swaggerability disappeared into thin air.
Susan Bickelhaupt of the Boston Globe writes that Patriots fans were upset when the two-time defending Super Bowl champions lost to the Denver Broncos last weekend, ending the team's quest for a third straight championship and fourth in five years. Imagine how the local television sports producers and anchors felt. Gone is Channel 5's ''Patriots All Access" weekly show. Gone is the ''5th Quarter" on Channels 4 and 38. And gone is the topic guaranteed to fill up ''Sports Xtra" on Channel 7 and ''Sports Final" on Channel 4 on Sunday nights. Basically, the hot topic that had driven local sports programming since August has been pulled out from under the TV producers. First, the Patriots' talk was about injuries, then the talk was about Tedy Bruschi's comeback, then it centered on victories in four out of the last five regular-season games and a berth in the playoffs. Then the talk was about the march to the Super Bowl. Now there's silence.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers his final Patriots report card and grades the Patriots 2005 season with a B grade. The 2005 season was a disappointment to fans, but the vast majority of NFL teams would take it just about every year. And if it winds up constituting a "down" year within the Bill Belichick era, then the Pats are truly in excellent shape.
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant writes that the Patriots have won four of the last five AFC East titles and as long as Tom Brady can raise his right arm, they will be favored to win another next season. The question is, how fast can Mangini's Jets and Saban's Dolphins catch up?
USA Today's "Inside Slant" offers a 2005 season in review. Before kicking off the defense of their back-to-back Super Bowl titles, the Patriots (or more accurately coach Bill Belichick) decided that for team-motto purposes, 2005 would be the "season of truth." By the time the clock ran out on them in Denver, the Patriots' slogan seemed to have morphed into "rarely on the same page." They were nearly ruined by bad defense at the start of the season. They finally corrected that problem, only to be undone by a malfunctioning offense and mistake-prone special teams in the playoffs.
The Boston Herald staff has put together an article chronicling the five high points of the 2005 Patriots season as well as a seperate article which chronicles the five low points of the Patriots season.
Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes. Reiss also offers his latest mailbag where he answers your questions.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.