Any Given Sunday, a famous phrase coined by Bert Bell, is the idea that any team can beat another team in the National Football League, despite what experts and odds makers believe.
This phrase applies just as much now as it did during the last 15 years for the New England Patriots. The Patriots transitioned from heavy underdogs to perennial Super Bowl favorites, and most successful professional sports team in the world during the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. The Patriots’15-year run of success includes four Super Bowls in six appearances, 21 playoff victories, 13 AFC East division Championships, with nine Conference Championship appearances since 2001. No team or coach-quarterback combo in NFL history has come close.
After former quarterback Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of a regular season game by former New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis in 2001, Brady took over as the Patriots’ starting quarterback and never looked back. After a 0-2 start, Brady led the Patriots to an 11-3 record to end the season as the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
In just his 17th NFL start, Brady led the Patriots to a dramatic 20-17 comeback victory against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl 36 with just 1:30 remaining, capping of the Patriots’ Cinderella season. Today, that same quarterback, in his 16th season, will attempt to win while playing the underdog role once again.
There are many similarities between the 2004 Patriots and the 2015 Patriots, who both entered their respective seasons with hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions. Just like the 2004 season, piling injuries has created exploitable weaknesses on the Patriots this season and the loss of key starters has left a sizable impact. Coincidence?
The Pittsburgh Steelers handed the Patriots their first loss of the 2004 season and ended their 21-game winning streak at Heinz Field in week 8. The Patriots entered week 14 with a 12-1 record and a chance to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, the Dolphins who entered the game with a 2-11 record upset the Patriots as heavy underdogs and ruined their chances. After the game, former Dolphins linebacker Jason Taylor said, “nobody gave us a chance,” Jason Taylor said. “I hope they lost a lot of money with their 10-point spread.” The Patriots clinched the No. 2 seed and avenged their loss by beating the No. 1 seeded Steelers in the 2004 AFC Championship game rematch at Heinz Field.
The Denver Broncos handed the Patriots their first loss of the 2015 season and ended their 13-game win streak at Mile High Stadium in week 11. The Patriots entered week 17 with a 12-3 record and a chance to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, the Dolphins who entered the game with a 5-10 record, once again upset the Patriots as heavy underdogs and tarnished their playoff position. Coincidence?
“Any given Sunday,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “It’s the National Football League…. If you’re not ready to go, you’re going to get beat.” As was the case during the 2004 and 2015 season, the Dolphins showed if you don’t play your best and underestimate another team, you will get beat.
The Patriots won four Super Bowl championships by earning the No. 1 seed (2003, 2014) and the No. 2 seed (2001, 2004) respectively. The Patriots potentially have the same concerns with playing in Denver for a potential AFC Championship rematch as they did in the 2004 AFC title game against the Steelers.
If history is any indication, the Patriots will look to build momentum and reprise the same underdog role that led them to success during their 2004 Super Bowl run. Embracing the underdog role and playing with a heightened sense of urgency will help the Patriots moving forward.