The unbeaten Patriots are all too familiar with fast starts

Photo courtesy of USA Today
Rick Gosselin

Fast starts do not necessarily translate into glorious finishes.

Ask the New England Patriots.

The Patriots are the 25th team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to start a season 8-0. It’s the third time in the Bill Belichick era that New England has opened a season 8-0. The Patriots authored the greatest regular-season in NFL history in 2007, winning all 16 games, and the 2015 Patriots raced off to a 10-0 start.

New England has won six Lombardi Trophies in the Belichick era – but neither the 2007 nor 2015 Patriots hoisted that trophy. The 2007 Pats lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl and the 2015 team fell in the AFC title game to the Denver Broncos.

There have been 25 teams start a season 8-0 since 1970 but only eight of them went on to win a Super Bowl. The last was the 2009 New Orleans Saints, who started 13-0 on the way to the only Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. The others were the 2006 Colts, 1998 Broncos, 1991 Redskins, 1990 Giants, 1985 Bears, 1977 Cowboys and 1972 Dolphins – the only team ever to both start and finish a season perfect with a 17-0 record and an NFL championship.

Fourteen of the teams that started 8-0 did reach the Super Bowl. Three others lost in conference title games, five ended their seasons in the divisional round and two fell in the wild-card round of the playoffs. The 2018 Los Angeles Rams started 8-0 on the way to a 13-3 season and a Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. The 2015 Panthers and 2009 Colts started seasons 14-0 on the way to Super Bowl losses.

In its six Super Bowls seasons, the best start by New England was 6-0 by the 2004 champion. The 2016 Patriots started 3-1, the 2003 and 2014 champs both started 2-2 and the first New England team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in 2001 opened that season 1-3.

The San Francisco 49ers are a stride behind the Patriots this season with their 7-0 start. San Francisco’s best start of the Super Bowl era was 10-0 in 1990 – but the 49ers lost the NFC title game at home to the New York Giants that season.

Belichick will tell you it’s not how you start a season. It’s how you finish it. And his Patriots have proven to be far better finishers than starters.

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