A Trip Down Super Bowl Lane

The first week of February has been an exciting time in New England over the last two decades. Nine Super Bowl Sundays since 2001 – all played in February. Of course, the Patriots have two other Super Bowl appearances that both fell on Jan. 26 – the first came 35 years ago last week when the 1985 Patriots lost to the Bears in Super Bowl XX. The 1996 Patriots dropped Super Bowl XXXI to the Packers.

So this time of year is always exciting from a historical perspective in New England, regardless of what has happened in a given season, we can always look back and cherish the great memories of championships past … or even the journeys to Super Sunday.

The six Vince Lombardi Trophies that live in the Patriots Hall of Fame presented by Raytheon Technologies sparkle as a reminder that the Pats have reached the top of the mountain as much as any team in NFL history.

So let’s peek at the Patriots 11 Super Bowl trips:

1985 – The Patriots forced 16 turnovers on route to becoming the first team to win three road playoff games to reach the Super Bowl. They snapped an 18-game losing streak at Miami’s Orange Bowl to win their first AFC Championship. While the excitement dimmed after a 46-10 loss to the Bears in Super Bowl XX, it was an amazing ride that forever holds a cherished spot in history despite the Super Bowl wins that eventually followed. The 35th Anniversary of that Super Bowl was Jan. 26, 2021.

1997 – The Patriots won their first AFC East title since 1986 and hosted the Steelers in a Divisional Playoff game. A lightning fast offensive start staked the Patriots to a 14-0 lead and the defense dominated in a 28-3 win. New England then hosted its first AFC Championship Game after the Jaguars stunned the top-seeded Broncos in Denver. The Patriots defense harassed the Jags on the way to a tight 20-6 win and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI. The Packers ended the Pats championship aspirations with a 35-21 victory.

2001 – The Patriots magical ride in 2001 started with The Snow Bowl Divisional Playoff Game against the Oakland Raiders. Tom Brady’s first playoff start. Adam Vinatieri’s 45-yard field goal through the snow regarded as the greatest kick in NFL history. A 16-13 win that closed out old Foxboro Stadium. Storybook. Then it was two special teams touchdowns, Drew Bledsoe coming off the bench and a huge upset in Pittsburgh to win the AFC Championship. An upset you say? The 14-point underdog Patriots then knocked off the Greatest-Show-on-Turf St. Louis Rams to win Super Bowl XXXVI. As Ricky Proehl so eloquently stated that wonderful evening, “Tonight, the dynasty is born, baby!” He should have also played the lottery that week because his prediction game was on.

2003 – After missing the playoffs in 2002, the Patriots got off to a sluggish 2-2 start before running the table with 15-straight wins and a Super Bowl XXXVIII championship. It took a couple of days to thaw out after a 17-14 Divisional Playoff win over the Titans in the coldest game in team history (4 degrees). Then Ty Law intercepted Peyton Manning three times in a 24-14 AFC Championship win over the Colts at Gillette. The Super Bowl was a hard-fought battle that Rodney Harrison calls “the most physical game I ever played in.” The Patriots prevailed, 32-29, on another Vinatieri field goal in the final seconds.

2004 – Back-to-back baby! The Patriots extended their winning streak to an NFL record 21 games before losing on Halloween in Pittsburgh. There would only be one more loss – a fluky one in Miami – the rest of the way. The Pats defense again dominated Manning and the Colts in a postseason game in January at Gillette Stadium, winning 20-3. New England then returned to Pittsburgh to avenge the earlier loss to the 16-1 Steelers with a 41-27 AFC Championship victory and a berth in Super Bowl XXXIX. The Pats won another close one, beating the Eagles, 24-21 for a second straight title and third in four years. An interesting sidebar: the last QB to win back-to-back titles (Brady) stopped another QB (Patrick Mahomes) from going back-to-back in the Bucs Super Bowl LV win over the Chiefs.

2007 – Meh. Can’t do it. We wanted a 19-0 exhibit in The Hall and we’re not typing David Tyr…. Never mind. The Patriots made it to another Super Bowl after a 16-0 regular season. Lost the last game to the Giants. Moving on.

2011 – Unfortunately, the Patriots didn’t complete the climb in 2011 in honor of Patriots matriarch Myra Kraft, who passed that year after heroically battling cancer. The team wore her initials on their jerseys and reached the Super Bowl before falling just shy of glory. The Patriots opened the playoffs with a blowout win over Tim Tebow’s Broncos, 45-10. Then, in another playoff dogfight with the Ravens, New England prevailed when Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff badly missed a 32-yard, game-tying field goal in the final seconds. The “wide left” missed kick sent the Patriots to Super Bowl XLVI where they led the Giants 17-9 in the second half only to fall, 21-17.

2014 – The official start of the dynasty’s second half began with a Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seahawks. The Patriots won an epic Divisional Playoff game over the Ravens, coming from 14 points down twice in a 35-31 win that featured too many storylines to highlight in this Super Bowl summary. The Colts came back to town, one again with Super Bowl aspirations, only to leave Foxborough disappointed after a humiliating 45-7 loss to the Patriots. New England found itself down 10 points in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX, but that’s when Brady did what he does late in games. He completed 13-of-15 fourth quarter passes with two touchdowns for a 28-24 Patriots lead that was secured when Malcolm Butler made what we call the greatest play in Super Bowl history (we’ll debate anyone), intercepting Russell Wilson on the goal line with 20 seconds left in the game. The 10-point fourth quarter comeback was the largest in Super Bowl history – we had to point that out. A measly 10 points. Hold our drink.

2016 – The 2016 Patriots struggled a bit in a Divisional Playoff win over the Texans at Gillette, but eventually pulled away with a 34-16 win. It then led Pittsburgh start to finish in another AFC Championship win over the Steelers, 36-17. Super Bowl LI? Guess we start with trailing the Atlanta Falcons 21-3 at halftime and 28-3 following Tevin Coleman’s early third quarter touchdown. It remained 28-3 with 2:12 left in the third quarter before James White finally found the end zone for the Patriots. A missed extra point left them trailing 28-9. Fast-forward… a fourth down conversion, a strip sack, a clutch third-and-nine conversion from the goal line, a miraculous catch, a pair of two-point conversions, and overtime – the first in a Super Bowl. When the Patriots won the overtime coin toss, Brady surgically carved up the tired Falcons defense before pitching the ball to White, who scored his third touchdown of the night to complete the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in a 34-28 win.

2017 – The Patriots bid to go back-to-back for the second time during their dynasty was dashed when Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham strip-sacked Brady with 2:16 left in Super Bowl LII. The Patriots rolled past Tennessee in the Divisional round, 35-14, before overcoming a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to beat upset-mind Jacksonville, 24-20, in the AFC Championship Game. Offenses dominated Super Bowl LII as neither team’s defense could muster many stops. So when New England took over, down 38-33 with 2:21 to go, Patriots fans had to be optimistic that Brady Magic would once again lead them to TrophyTown. Graham had other plans. The Patriots lost 41-33.

2018 – The 2018 Patriots lost two games in December, which sowed doubt heading into the playoffs. When they hosted the Chargers in the Divisional round, many predicted the Patriots demise. Wrong. Brady picked apart the LA defense on route to a 41-28 win that wasn’t as close as the score. Then came the memorable overtime, 37-31 win in Kansas City. The Chiefs high-powered offense was held scoreless in the first half, but exploded for 31 second-half points. KC scored to take a 28-24 lead with 2:03 left in the game. Rex Burkhead’s 4-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds left ended it, right? Nope. Patrick Mahomes completed two passes for 48 yards and set up a game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime. After three third-and-10 conversions, Burkhead scored again, and the Patriots were bound for Super Bowl LIII – their third straight big game appearance. Their foe this time? The highest scoring offense in the league – the Rams (have we heard that one before?). Sony Michel scored the game’s only touchdown, which was set up by a Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski dime to the 2-yard line. The Patriots won their record-tying sixth Super Bowl, 13-3.

One final note – Tom Brady played in his 10th Super Bowl on Feb. 7. He has now played in Super Bowls on February 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th. The Super Bowl won’t be played on February 2nd until 2025 (2024 season). Can a 47-year-old Brady reach that one to have played a championship on every date in the first week of February? Probably.