The Greatest Teams in NFL History - 2007 New England Patriots
With the NFL Draft in the books, and on the field action still months away, let’s take a look back at the stars of yesteryear and the teams that shaped the NFL. This list isn’t in any particular order but we will simply highlight 10 teams that left their imprint on the league and whose blueprints are still being studied today. Over the coming offseason I will take a look at each of these teams in depth and talk about what made them great in their own way and whether or not they lived up to their potential. So far we have looked at the 1968 Baltimore Colts, the 1985 Chicago Bears and most recently the 1962 Green Bay Packers. Next up in our greatest teams in NFL history series are the 2007 New England Patriots.
The New England Patriots had racked up three Super Bowl wins prior to the start of the 2007 season. The Patriots and their dominant quarterback Tom Brady won the Super Bowl in 2001, 2003 and 2004 and looked set to dominate the 2000’s. After winning two in a row, the Patriots didn’t make it to another Super Bowl until 2007. Not long in every other teams life but by Bill Belicheck’s and the Patriots’ standards two years without the big game, let alone being world champions, simply would not do. 2007 came along and the Patriots were ready to dominate.
Going into his eighth season as head coach, Bill Belichick had an offseason that no coach ever wants to have to deal with. In 2004 the Patriots drafted Marquise Hill with the 63rd pick: A defensive lineman who plied his trade as an LSU tiger. After being named All-Pro and hailed by many as the best defensive lineman coming out of high school, Hill played for three seasons in the NFL. Prior to the season beginning, Marquise Hill and his friend Ashley Blazio were on a jet-ski on Lake Pontchartrain when tragically they both fell off. Ashley Blazio was found holding onto a buoy but unfortunately Marquise Hill’s body was recovered the day later by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
His funeral was paid for in full by the Patriots and attended by the majority of the team along with his college coach Nick Saban. The Patriots would go on to wear Hill’s number 91 on the back of their helmet for the 2007 season and former college teammate Jarvis Green wore Hills shoulder pads for the season. Needless to say a tragedy and not the way a team looking to get back to the Super Bowl wants to start the season.
After struggling in the 2006 season championship against the Colts, the Patriots decided to add talent to their wide receiver core. They traded their second and seventh round picks in the 2007 draft to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for Wes Welker, who agreed to a five-year deal with them. Then, on the second day of the draft, the Patriots traded their fourth round pick to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Randy Moss. Further additions at wide receiver came in the form of unrestricted free agents Dante Stallworth and Kelley Washington. Needless to say the offense was loaded exactly how Brady wanted it.
In Week 1, the Patriots lined up against their divisional rivals the New York Jets for the fourth time in 20 games. The Patriots would start the season in dominating fashion with a comfortable 38-14 win, scoring five touchdowns in the process. There is however a question of whether or not the Patriots were this good or had Bill Belichick summoned his evil powers and cheat his way to victory. On September 10th 2007, the Jets accused Belichick of allowing his staff to film the Jets defensive signals from an on field location. A breach of the rules by the Patriots and the Jets seized the video camera used. Three days later, Belichick and the Patriots organisation were fined $500,000 and $250,000 respectively. The Patriots would also lose their first round draft pick in the following draft. Belichick later apologised that he had misinterpreted the rules but denied doing it for an advantage on the field.
In Weeks 2 and 3 the Patriots piled on the points and beat the San Diego Chargers 38-14, a repeat of their Week 1 victory, and then beat the Buffalo Bills 38-7. Through the first three weeks of the season, the Patriots had competed in 12 quarters of football and in seven of them they gave up no points at all. In fact the most amount of points they gave up in a quarter in the first three weeks was 7. A strong start on both sides of the ball with a total of 114 points scored and only 35 given up.
Weeks 4 to 7
Through Weeks 4 to 7 the Patriots continued on their hot offensive start with Tom Brady pummelling other teams into submission. Over these four games Brady threw 17 touchdown passes, breaking the franchise record for most touchdowns in a game, twice. First up was a trip to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. Brady threw three touchdown passes in this one, and once again the defense of the Patriots held the opposing team to no more than seven points in a quarter. This ended with another dominant 34 – 13 win. In Week 5, the Patriots had a home game against the Cleveland Browns and the return of former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Even a former Patriot couldn’t slow this juggernaut down and Brady completed another three touchdown passes and the defense held the Browns to zero points in the first half before giving up 17 between the third and fourth quarter. The Patriots would win 34 – 17, taking their season record to 5-0 and meaning that in every game so far they had scored over 30 points.
In Week 6 came the Patriots biggest test of the season against the Tony Romo led undefeated Dallas Cowboys. In what was the most watched NFL regular season game since 1996, Brady and his Patriots travelled to Texas and put on a show with the Cowboys. After racing out to 14-point lead in the first quarter it looked like it was going to be another run of the mill win for the Patriots, but Romo held his own and put up a fight before succumbing later on to the inevitable.
The Cowboys piled on 17 points in the second quarter, cutting the score to 21-17 at the half. However, this was yet another game where the Patriots defense were able to hold an opposing offense to zero points in at least one quarter. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the second half was more of the normality for the Patriots with them adding another 27 points and only giving up 10. Brady threw five touchdown passes, setting a franchise record at the time, sending his team to a 48-27 win and their sixth win of the season.
After playing their toughest opponent of the season to this date, next up the Patriots had on paper their easiest game so far against the winless Miami Dolphins. The Patriots again got off to a hot start by putting up 14 points in the first quarter to Miami’s none, before adding a further 28 in the second quarter and only allowing seven. A 42-7 lead at the half and the Patriots decided to take it easy on the Dolphins, not adding to their score in the third quarter.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they could not add any points either and heading into the fourth quarter the Patriots still led by 35 points. With Brady already having five touchdown passes, he was benched and Matt Cassell took the helm. He threw an interception which was returned for a Dolphins touchdown and Belichick realised the error of his ways, returning Brady to the fight. Brady would then go on and throw his sixth touchdown pass of the game, breaking the Patriots record for the second week in a row and seeing out a comfortable 49-28 win. Despite the defense giving up 14 points in the fourth quarter (seven also came from Cassell’s interception) the Dolphins never looked in this contest and the Patriots marched on to a 7-0 record. In this game Brady had his first perfect passer rating of his career.
Weeks 8 to 10
In Week 8, the Patriots ran riot over the Washington Redskins, putting up 45 points before the Redskins managed any. The Redskins were held scoreless until the fourth quarter and even then they could only manage seven points. The Patriots put up 52 points in total and even had their third string quarterback on the field at one point. It’s no surprise that the Patriots were giving the back up QB’s a shot as Brady had already scored more touchdown passes this season than in any other full season to date. With a win against the Redskins, Brady became only the second player to beat all other 31 teams in the NFL. The first being long term rival and friend Peyton Manning, who completed that feat earlier the same day.
Then, as if by fate, the following week Tom Brady would face off against Peyton Manning and his undefeated Indianapolis Colts. In the Week 9 matchup against the Colts, the Patriots offense were held to zero points in the first quarter for the first time in the 2007 season and only the second quarter of football throughout the season where the Patriots did not score any points. In fact the Patriots couldn’t really get going at all until the fourth quarter and by this point they were trailing 13-10. The Colts scored early in the fourth quarter giving them a 20-10 lead and, with 9 minutes remaining, the Patriots finally clicked into gear. Brady found Welker for a three-yard touchdown cutting the deficit to three points. That touchdown pass also set a new record for most touchdown passes in a Patriots season ever, breaking Babe Parillis record of 31. The Patriots then forced the Colts to punt, before Kevin Faulk caught a 13-yard touchdown pass, giving the Patriots the lead for the first time in the game.
That touchdown pass from Brady meant that he had gone nine straight games with at least three touchdown passes. The Patriots defense strip sacked Manning on the next series and allowed Brady to see out the 24-20 win by kneeling. The win in Week 9, despite being the first time this season the Patriots failed to score 30 points, meant that the Patriots were now the only undefeated team left in the NFL and would go into their bye week with a record of 9-0.
Weeks 11 to 14
In Week 11 the Patriots would take on the Bills for the second time in the season. Since the first meeting the Bills had won five of seven and were feeling confident about playing New England on their own patch. This feeling would not last long as the Patriots ran out 56-10 victors, holding the Bills to two scoreless quarters. The 56 points scored by the Patriots tied a franchise record and was the most points scored by a road team since 1973. The 46 point margin was also the second largest in team history. The win took the Patriots to 10 -0 and the Bills would be glad that they wouldn’t have to play the Patriots again that season.
In Week 12, the Patriots played out a tightly contested game with the Philadelphia Eagles where for only the fourth time this season an opposition team held the Patriots to one scoreless quarter. The game started in typical fashion with replacement Eagles Quarterback A.J Feeley throwing a pick six on the opening drive, handing the Patriots an easy lead. The Patriots ended the first half with a three point lead after a late touchdown. In the second half both teams exchanged points until the Patriots took a 31-28 lead with seven minutes remaining. Feeley had the chance to lead his team on a game winning drive but when they hit the Patriots 29 yard line he threw an interception, pretty much ending the game. He did get the ball again, with 18 seconds remaining, after a punt from New England, but again couldn’t muster anything and threw the ball to the Patriots James Sanders for a game clinching interception.
In Week 13 the Patriots had the first of a two week battle against rivals from the AFC North. A trip to Baltimore first and the chance to become only the sixth NFL team to ever start a season 12-0. In what was the most watched program in cable television history the viewers were not disappointed. A game that went all the way down to the last eight seconds ended with a hail mary attempt by Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller. The pass was caught on the Patriots three-yard line but Mark Clayton could not quite get the ball over the goal line as time expired and the Patriots held on to win 27-24.
The Patriots would go on to 12-0 and up next a home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. After an even first half, the Steelers simply couldn’t stop the Patriots juggernaut and gave up 21 unanswered points in the second half of the game and lost out 34-13 giving the Patriots their 13th win and the first-round playoff bye.
Weeks 15 to 17
The Patriots were now just three games away from an undefeated regular season. Two divisional matchups, and the second of three games against the New York Giants (including preseason) is all that was stopping Belichick’s men from that undefeated regular season. Firstly, a home win against the New York Jets and with the Patriots holding the Jets to two scoreless quarters, and one quarter where they only gave up three points, this game was not a stumbling block. Tom Brady led his team to a 20-10 victory and a season record of 14-0, tying the 72 Dolphins as the best start to a season.
Another home game in Week 16 would not prove too difficult as the Patriots ran out 28-7 victors against the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots defense were continuing their devastating performances and held the Dolphins to three scoreless quarters, even the Patriots offense took a break and didn’t feel the need to score any points in the second half.
In the final game of the regular season Belichick would lead his men out against future Super Bowl rivals the New York Giants. In what was a high scoring game, Eli Manning and Tom Brady traded touchdowns as the 10-5 Giants tried to be the team to stop the Patriots having the perfect season. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for the G-Men and Brady led his team to a record of 16-0 with a close 38-35 win in the Meadowlands. Brady and Moss set numerous records in this game. Firstly, Brady tied Peyton Manning’s record of touchdown passes in a season by throwing his 49th touchdown pass to Moss for his 22nd touchdown catch, tying Jerry Rice’ record from 1987. Brady then went on to beat Peyton’s record and threw his 50th touchdown pass of the season to Moss again and both players owned the record for touchdown passes and catches in a season, with 50 and 23 respectively. The Patriots as a team set the record for most points in a season beating the previous record of 556 held by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.
The Patriots finished the regular season with 12 games scoring more than 30 points, four games scoring more than 40 and two games scoring more than 50. Nobody was able to stop them offensively and their defense managed to have a total of 27 quarters where they did not give up any points out of 64. That is almost half the season the Patriots managed to hold teams to zero points. An incredible feat and one that had them marching towards another Super Bowl victory or so we were led to believe.
The regular season had proved to be a cake walk for the Patriots and the first couple of games of the playoffs were no different. A home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was first up and The Patriots ran out 31 – 20 victors, taking them to their second straight AFC Championship game. This win also tied the record of the 1972 Miami Dolphins record breaking season at 17-0. In the Championship game, Foxborough welcomed the San Diego Chargers. Despite Tom Brady throwing three interceptions, the Patriots defense and a big game from running back Laurence Maroney, would see the Patriots go marching in to the Super Bowl with a 21-12 win. In the AFC Championship they did not allow any touchdowns and only gave up four field goals. The Patriots became the AFC Champions with a record of 18-0 and familiar opponents the New York Giants awaited in Arizona for Super Bowl XLII.
After scoring a combined 73 points in the regular season finale, fans were expecting another high scoring end-to-end slugfest in the Super Bowl. However, after three quarters only ten points had been scored, with the Patriots leading 7-3. A big fourth quarter, including that unbelievable catch from David Tyree, gave the Giants a 17-14 lead with only 35 seconds remaining. The Patriots got the ball back but couldn’t muster a single yard on offensw. The Patriots defense took the field for the final second while Belichick disappeared into the locker room not waiting for the final play to be over. Manning took a knee, winning Super Bowl XLII and preventing another undefeated season being recorded in the books.
Tom Brady had a record setting season and was named the MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Male Athlete of the Year and Sporting News Sportsman of the Year. Belichick was named coach of the year by the associated press and in total the Patriots had 8 selections to the Pro Bowl. Despite all that success this will go down as one of the most disappointing seasons for the Patriots as they couldn’t complete an astonishing achievement.
Despite the loss, this team is by far one of the greatest to ever play. With a dominating defense, that stopped teams scoring at will, and an offense that battered you into submission, only a freak helmet catch in the final game of the season prevented this team from being the greatest ever.
Image Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports, John Dunn for The New York Times & Associated Press