Angry? Yes. Bitter? Yes. In denial? Sadly, yes. The Miami Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts made the playoffs and the New England Patriots didn't. After watching this set of AFC playoff games, one has to wonder what could have been.
Now, do I think the Patriots would have beaten the Baltimore Ravens or the San Diego Chargers? I can't say for certain. Would they have provided the NFL a better playoff game than the Phins and Colts, which was aided by a San Diego team that continually shot itself in the foot only to limp off with a victory? I think so. Miami has gotten by all season with smoke and mirrors on the offensive side of the ball. From a gimmick offense, to the weak-armed Chad Pennington (look at his turnovers, faster defenders managed to catch up to his change-up), the Dolphins scraped by week after week. The Colts made it this far because of one guy (gulp) a much-deserved MVP performance of Peyton Manning (you could argue that Sage Rosenfels helped them too).
Look at the Dolphins. They beat the Pats early and that made their season, no question about it. They worked harder then they did last season and should be applauded for it, but to throw that stinker, in the playoffs, suggests that they really weren't ready to take the next step. Look at how the Pats and the Fins ended the season and say which team looked playoff ready to you.
As for the Colts, well, Manning just ran out of gas. He had willed that team this far, but in the end, they couldn't muster enough for a back up running back and an 8 - 8 team. Did you really think we were heading toward another Super Bowl season for Manning and company? They held tough, but no where near tough enough to beat an 8 - 8 team that was on onside kick away from being eliminated three weeks ago at Arrowhead Stadium.
Now I'm not calling for an overhaul of the playoff structure, I'm not calling for the NFL to add a team to the playoffs, to adopt the BCS, or anything like that. The Dolphins just didn't look like a playoff team down the stretch. Does just barely getting by the Raiders, 49ers, Seahawks and KC make you playoff worthy? Hmm, well, no! Indy was the beneficiary of some bone-headed opponent plays through out the season (looking at you David Thomas and Jabar Gaffney) The best part is the Dolphins got in on a tie-breaker based on conference record, and the difference was a 17-10 win over San Diego in week 2, while the Pats got blown out in San Diego on a Sunday night. Every game matters folks, in case you had forgotten.
The Patriots had control of their own destiny and blew it, make no mistake. A Pats win at Indy, against the Steelers, the Jets, game one against the Dolphins, or Chargers and this is a VERY different playoff story. When the ability to take control was there, the Patriots failed, end of story.
What could have been...what could have been...