Patriots back in playoffs for 28th time

Belichick becomes second NFL head coach with twenty 10-win seasons

The New England Patriots, under the guidance of head coach Bill Belichick, missed the playoffs just four times between 2000 and 2020 – 2000, 2002, 2008 and 2020. After the team’s Week 17, 50-10, win over the Jacksonville Jaguars combined with the Tennessee Titans 34-3 win over the Miami Dolphins, the 2021 Patriots clinched a playoff berth.

Historically speaking, it marks the Patriots 28th postseason appearance and 18th in the 22 seasons since Belichick took over.  New England’s first playoff appearance came back in 1963 when they lost in the AFL Championship Game. Their first post-AFL-NFL merger playoff appearance came in 1976.

New England became the first Wild Card team to reach a Super Bowl when it won three straight road playoff games in 1985 to reach Super Bowl XX. The Patriots have played in 10 Super Bowls since and all 10 have come with the benefit of a first-round playoff bye, which New England will not have in the expanded playoffs that affords only the No. 1 seed a bye.

Of the Patriots previous 25 NFL playoff berths (not counting 1963 and 1982 strike season), four have come as a Wild Card team while 22 have come has division champions.

The Patriots enter the Week 18 season finale tied with the Buffalo Bills atop the AFC East with 10-6 records. Buffalo will win any tiebreaker; so, the only way the Patriots can win the AFC East is with a win in Miami coupled with a Buffalo home loss to the New York Jets.

Regardless, the Patriots will play a postseason game for the 12th time in the last 13 seasons.

Safety Kyle Duggar had trouble putting the feeling into words as he will make his first postseason appearance. “That’s a great feeling. I’m looking forward to it,” he said with a smile.

Belichick also became the second coach in NFL history, alongside Hall of Famer Don Shula, to post twenty 10-win seasons – 19 of those have come in New England with the 20th coming back in 1994 when he was the Cleveland Browns head coach. He essentially dismissed the accomplishment after the game while giving credit to the players for that success.

The last rookie starting quarterback to reach the postseason was 2016 fourth round pick Dak Prescott, who led the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs that season. In the four Drafts between 2017-2020, there were 15 quarterbacks drafted in just the first round and none played in the postseason as a rookie. To be fair, not all of them played as rookies and Patrick Mahomes has since won a Super Bowl. There also were four quarterbacks picked ahead of Jones in 2021 and none will play in the upcoming playoffs unless the 49ers qualify, and Jimmy Garoppolo’s hand injury keeps him out in favor of rookie Trey Lance.  No rookie starting quarterback has ever reached the Super Bowl.

As the Patriots limped to a 7-9 finish last year with many unknowns entering the offseason, it may have been hard to imagine being back in the playoffs so soon.