Bill Belichick has coached the New England Patriots for eighteen seasons. Incredibly, he will be coaching in his twelfth AFC championship game, including an unprecedented seventh straight. Let’s take a look back at Belichick’s first eleven appearances in the AFC title bout.
2001-02 Patriots 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 17
New England was the prohibitive underdog against Bill Cowher’s Steelers at Pittsburgh. Tom Brady injured his ankle midway through the second quarter so former starter Drew Bledsoe led the Patriots the rest of the way. The Pats notched two touchdowns on special teams and held off Pittsburgh 24-17. This great win is often forgotten as it came between the “Tuck Rule” game and the amazing upset win in the 2002 Super Bowl over the St. Louis Rams.
2003-04 Patriots 24 Indianapolis Colts 14
This game was hyped as Bill Belichick and his excellent defense versus Manning and the Colts’ high-powered offense. Patriots’ defenders harassed Manning and his receivers all day en route to a 24-14 victory. Manning threw four interceptions in the loss. Ty Law was so aggressive with his coverage that the Colts lobbied for stricter enforcement of defensive holding and illegal contact penalties over the offseason.
2004-05 Patriots 41 Steelers 17
The Patriots avenged a Halloween Day loss by exploding out of the blocks on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Deion Branch was the star of the game, posting 158 total yards and two touchdowns. Rodney Harrison nailed the coffin shut on the Steelers’ season with an 87-yard interception return off rookie sensation Ben Roethlisberger. The 14-2 Patriots dominated the 15-1 Steelers on their way to their third Super Bowl championship in four seasons.
2006-07 Colts 38 Patriots 34
The Patriots lost a classic in Indianapolis. They jumped in front 21-3 in the second quarter, but could not contain Manning in perhaps his finest hour. The loss exposed a lack of talent and depth on the Patriots’ offense opening the door to the offseason acquisitions of Wes Welker and Randy Moss.
2007-08 Patriots 21 San Diego Chargers 12
Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots struggled through the air against the undermanned, underrated Chargers. Thus, they relied on Lawrence Maroney and the running attack in a grind-it-out 21-12 victory over San Diego.
2011-12 Patriots 23 Baltimore Ravens 20
This game will always be remembered for the Ravens’ failures rather than the Patriots’ successes. Trailing 23-20 with under a minute to go, Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco found Lee Evans open in the corner of the end zone. At the last possible moment, Sterling Moore slapped the ball away. Two plays later, Billy Cundiff missed the field goal that would have tied things up. Patriots’ nose tackle Vince Wilfork had the game of his life in the win.
2012-13 Ravens 28 Patriots 13
Baltimore got their revenge on their way to their second Super Bowl title. The Ravens outscored New England 21-0 in the second half and scored four touchdowns in their four red zone appearances overall. Meanwhile, the Patriots were only able to come away with one touchdown in five red zone opportunities. The Ravens were also +3 in turnover differential. Belichick does not like stats, but these numbers point to an obvious Ravens’ victory.
2013-14 Denver Broncos 26 Patriots 16
The Patriots were no match for the historically good offense of the 2013 Broncos. Peyton Manning passed for over 400 yards as this contest was much closer on the scoreboard than it was on the field. The Broncos won 26-16 ahead of getting plastered in the Super Bowl by the Seattle Seahawks.
2014-15 Patriots 45 Colts 7
In the infamous “deflategate” game, LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots crushed the Colts 45-7. In a driving rainstorm, Andrew Luck and the Colts never could get things going in an embarrassing performance.
2015-16 Broncos 20 Patriots 18
This was probably the most intense championship game of the Belichick era. Denver’s incredible defense hit Brady incessantly. Manning threw two first half touchdown passes to give the Broncos a 14-6 lead. The Patriots dominated the second half with Rob Gronkowski scoring a touchdown with just twelve seconds remaining. However, the Broncos intercepted the ensuing two-point conversion attempt. Denver survived 20-18 and went on to win the Super Bowl over Carolina where they stuck with their 2015 formula: ugly on offense but tremendous defensively.
2016-17 Patriots 36 Steelers 17
The Patriots unleashed Chris Hogan on the unsuspecting Steelers in this one-sided affair. Le’Veon Bell was injured early in the game, putting a damper on the competitive aspect of the contest. The game was never really in doubt as the Patriots rolled 36-17.
The Patriots face the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday for the right to play in their eighth Super Bowl in the Belichick era. Win or lose, it is unlikely that we will ever witness a dynasty quite like the Patriots of the past twenty years.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills