By many measures, the New England Patriots have had a fine season. They again won the AFC East title (yawn) and they’re the top-ranked team in the AFC playoffs.

But the only way this season can truly be considered a success is if the Patriots win the Super Bowl.

Anything less and it’s another failed, lost season for the owner, Robert Kraft, Coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and everyone else.

Certainly the Patriots strive to win the Super Bowl every year, but it’s not always a realistic goal. There are seasons, like last year, when the Patriots exceed expectations; a loss in the AFC championship game still left fans – or should have – with a good feeling.

But this year?

Every move the Patriots have made since that 26-16 loss in Denver last Jan. 19 has been made with one goal in mind: to be unbeatable in January and February this year.


That’s why Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner were brought in, to shut down the best passing games in the NFL. That’s what they did in the regular season, that’s what they’ll be expected to do in the playoffs.

The defense, though statistically ranked 13th in the NFL (allowing 344.1 yards per game), is perhaps the best Belichick has put together since that Feb. 6, 2005, evening in Jacksonville when the Patriots won their last Super Bowl, beating Philadelphia, 24-21.

That lineup featured studs such as Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Roman Phifer, Willie McGinest, Asante Samuel, Rodney Harrison and a rookie nose tackle named Vince Wilfork. Guys like Ted Johnson and Richard Seymour came off the bench.

Wilfork is the only defender still around from that team, but this defense is loaded with Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Revis, Browner and Devin McCourty.

And while the Patriots gave up yards this year, here’s the only stat I think matters: Over the final six games of the regular season, the Patriots didn’t allow a second-half touchdown. They outscored opponents 67-12 in the second half during that stretch, though they lost at Green Bay and to Buffalo in a meant-nothing finale.

With Browner and Patrick Chung in the secondary, Hightower and Collins at linebacker, and Wilfork, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Ninkovich and Chandler Jones up front, it’s one of the most physical defenses the Patriots have had in years – exactly the style needed for the playoffs.


Yes, there are still concerns on offense, especially on the line and at running back, where injuries have affected depth and production. But with Rob Gronkowski healthy, the emergence of Brandon LaFell as a third receiving option and Brady having one of his finest seasons, this version of the Patriots is better equipped than any in recent memory.

They know this. That’s why, the other day, running back LeGarrette Blount, asked if the offense could regain its stride after struggling for two weeks, said, “Nobody can stop us but us. The focus is on us this (bye) week to correct all the stuff that hasn’t been going too well.”

The Patriots needed the bye week to get healthy. Offensive left guard Dan Connolly missed the last two games, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer missed the finale, wide receiver Julian Edelman missed the last two games. All should be back for the divisional game Saturday.

But let’s go back to defense. Belichick has done a great job rebuilding, especially when you look at the Pats’ recent past.

Wilfork is the only starter back from the 2007 team that took an undefeated record into the Super Bowl, only to lose to the New York Giants. The Patriots returned to the Super Bowl four years later, only to lose to the Giants again. Five defensive starters are back from that team – Wilfork, Ninkovich, Chung, McCourty (who was at cornerback then, safety now) and Kyle Arrington (who is the nickel cornerback now).

Then look at last year’s defense that couldn’t sniff Peyton Manning, who picked them apart for 400 yards in the AFC championship game. While eight starters return, the secondary has been revamped, McCourty being the only starter back.


Revis, who got the most All-Pro votes at cornerback this year, was brought in to shut down the opposition’s top receiver. And while he gave up some yards and a couple of touchdowns this year, Revis showed he’s back to the form he had when he was the best cornerback in the game before blowing out his knee.

Browner was brought in as a free agent from Seattle to provide the physical edge in the secondary that has been missed since Harrison retired. And while he led the team in penalties, he does make receivers think twice about catching the ball around him. He also has great incentive – he missed Seattle’s Super Bowl title last year, sitting out a suspension.

Those two were signed within two days of each other in March. A week later the Patriots restructured Wilfork’s contract, bringing him back after he missed most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon. His return was vital to locker-room leadership and the middle of the line.

In April the Patriots signed Chung, who was in Philadelphia a year ago, for another big hitter in the secondary.

Then when injuries hit the team during the season, the Patriots traded for Akeem Ayers from Tennessee and Jonathan Casillas from Tampa Bay. Both have contributed in many ways, with Ayers – who couldn’t get on the field with the woeful Titans – getting four sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Anything can happen over the next four weeks – injuries, bad bounces, dropped passed. The Patriots know this.

But this team is equipped to handle just about anything thrown its way. With home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs, there’s no reason the Patriots shouldn’t get to the Super Bowl again.

And once there? The clock is ticking on all of them.

They need to win it all.

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