Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.
It’s one of the oldest sports clichés in the Harry Hardo handbook.
But guess what, even if the underdog Patriots come up short Saturday night in Buffalo they will quite literally be a good loser.
And this is not to say that Bill Belichick won’t be his usual curt, dismally dismissive post-loss self. Leopards don’t change their stripes after all.
Or that Mac Jones won’t be his regular rookie post-loss puddle of emotional goo. Nope, probably better off taking away his NOBULL shoelaces for the short flight back from his potential one-and-done postseason debut.
Clearly the immediacy of a would-be loss to the two-time defending AFC East Champion Bills will sting in the feels-like-minus-10 world of Highmark Stadium.
The treadmill of the season coming to an abrupt halt will have competitive Patriots players and coaches alike feeling like they hit the postseason wall. Reactionary fans might even feel it too.
But, this too shall pass.
And so too shall Jones. Many, many times in his bright future in Foxborough.
Because regardless of what happens on Saturday night, the 2021 season has already been a success for the Patriots. For Belichick. For Jones. For all of us!
Remember, a year ago at this time the hapless, playoff-free Patriots faced the biggest question any team in all of sports can encounter: Who was the team’s quarterback?
People were trying to talk themselves into Jarrett Stidham, Marcus Mariota or even – sorry, just threw up in my mouth a bit -- Mitchell Trubisky. Apologies for bringing up those nightmare-worthy names again.
Not now, though. Not next week. Not next month. Not next year.
Jones has answered owner Robert Kraft’s call last spring to “solidify” the quarterback position in New England. The No. 15 pick out of Alabama may not hold the job for the next 18 years as proposed by Hall of Fame quarterback and FOX football analyst Troy Aikman predicted, but for the foreseeable future Jones is da man at da most important spot on the depth chart at Gillette Stadium.
Now, the biggest questions Belichick and his squad will face heading into the offseason – whether that comes Saturday night, a week from now or even after some unexpected dream playoff run – are the normal ones about minor coaching changes (losing coaches is a sign of a team’s success!), roster tweaking and year-to-year development.
As the best rookie QB this year by far, as a strong candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, as the rare first-year passer to lead his team to the postseason, the only questions for Jones is how big of a famed Year 2 jump can he make, what’s his developmental ceiling and how does the team get him the kind of go-to playmaker that any passer of any age needs with him in the huddle if he’s to truly succeed.
While Jones’ arrival and settlement in New England is by far the biggest and most important accomplishment of 2021, it’s not the only one. The Patriots had a good season no matter how you measure it.
Won 10 games, a three-game improvement from the prior year.
Locked down a spot in the postseason after a one-year post-Tom Brady hiatus.
Rebuilt and retooled both the offense and the defense through offseason free agency and the draft to the point that both units finished in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring, offense at No. 6 and defense at No. 2 for a squad with the second-best point differential over the historic 17-game season.
That’s a marked competitive, productive and entertaining improvement in just one season, a far cry from the lackluster team led by limited veteran Cam Newton through a COVID-controlled 2020 that, if we’re being honest here, was tough to watch.
The Patriots were good, fun and successful in 2021. What else do you want?
Sure a playoff win would be nice. Icing on the cake.
Gravy. A cherry on sundae of successful Sundays. What of all those clichés have in common? They go on top of something significant.
Sure this is still Boston, where Belichick and the Patriots themselves established a modern level of winning and achievement that’s set the bar silly high. It’s about winning in the postseason, winning titles and nothing else, right?
Winning isn’t just everything, after all, it’s the only thing. That’s another page from the Harry Hardo handbook.
The Patriots have already won. They won the race to rebuild, find a franchise quarterback and return to the postseason.
Whatever happens in the frigid cold of Orchard Park on Saturday night, nothing will diminish that.
Whether the Patriots pull off the upset or limp off into the postseason with their fourth loss in the last five games, they are good. Good enough for now.
And most importantly, good for the future.
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