Winning is much too boring for the New England Patriots. Anyone can win a game, they say, and with virtually half of all NFL contests ending with someone winning, who are we to argue with them. Perhaps winning does not bring with the same kind of satisfaction as it once did with the franchise; the Patriots had gotten too used to blowing out their inferior opponents on a regular basis. The thrill provoked by winning had faded to a distant memory and even though the Patriots might be continuing to win, they were really just going through the motions.
So the Patriots have engaged on a mission to bring the passion and excitement back to their wins. Sometimes the relationship between the Patriots and their victories have their days when it feels like the good old times, and they can really enjoy dismantling an opponent by double figures as they have done on two separate occasions this season. More often than not, though, blowing out an opponent is not as much fun as it used to be so they are forced to inject some artificial excitement into their games to try to recapture the emotions of the start of their current dynasty as one of the best teams in the NFL.
Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns was the latest example of the New England Patriots trying to make winning as exciting as possible again. On paper, the game should have been a blowout as the Patriots held decided advantages over the Browns on offense, defense, and special teams. However, the Patriots were not interested in anything as boring as establishing their superiority over the Browns from the opening kickoff. Been there and done that so many, many tiring times.
Instead, the Patriots decided to push themselves to the brink and challenge themselves to see just how far away they could let the prospect of winning slip away before they brought it safely back to their bosom. The Patriots allowed the Browns to build a 12-point lead before choosing to score three points of their own, but since scoring those three points brought so little satisfaction and made winning too much of an inevitability, Patriots defensive back Aqib Talib gave only a ceremonial effort in stopping Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon from catching a short pass and turning it into an 80-yard touchdown.
Gordon's touchdown put the Browns up by 16 points and gave them a win probability of 0.96 and forced the Patriots to do all they could to climb back into the game. The Patriots answered the Browns with a three-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that they capped off with a two-point conversion to bring the score within eight points. Then the Patriots offense marched down the field on a 12-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a Stephen Gostkowski 50-yard field goal to decrease the Browns' lead to five points with 5:43 left in the game.
With the score so close, the Patriots were in an unenviable position. On the one hand, they knew that they could not let the Browns score any more points without putting the game completely out of reach, but only being down by five points in the fourth quarter did not create nearly as much drama as they had hoped it would. After all, there is not much to overcoming a five-point deficit in the last period of a contest; just score a touchdown and keep your opponent from scoring and the game is yours.
No, the Patriots needed just that extra hint of danger to make it appear as if losing the game, instead of winning, was the inevitable conclusion. Therefore, the Patriots put up little resistance as the Browns used an eight-play, 90-yard drive to score another touchdown and take a 26-14 lead and a commanding win probability of 0.99. Oh, and at the time the Browns scored that touchdown, there were only 2:39 left in the game for the Patriots to score at least 13 points.
It was definitely a scramble for the Patriots to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and complete the ultimate comeback, but they managed to do so as they mixed in execution, a favorable call from the referees, and some luck to score the final 13 points of the contest.
First, the Patriots only took 1:38 off the clock during their 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that heavily featured both Shane Vereen (32 yards) and Julian Edelman (50 yards) and brought the Patriots to within five points again, but this time with only 1:01 remaining. Then the Patriots recovered an expected onside kick to give them the ball on the Browns' 40-yard line.
On the ensuing possession, the Patriots were the beneficiaries of a dubious 29-yard pass interference call that set the offense up for a one-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Danny Amendola to take a 27-26 lead, thus maximizing the jolt of excitement the Patriots received from the contest and making the victory as enjoyable as possible. Just like in previous weeks, when the Patriots had no other options and absolutely needed to score to make sure the game did not end in defeat for them, they scored. Their last five offensive possessions all ended in scores.
The Patriots also had to secure their improbable comeback without the services of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL during the game and will miss the remainder of the season. Losing such an integral player should make winning enough of a challenge for the rest of the season that the Patriots should no longer feel the need to dig themselves such deep holes, which they just have to dig themselves out of in the latter stages of the games, in order to keep themselves from taking winning for granted.