“If you told people at the beginning of the year, ‘You won’t have Welker, you won’t have Hernandez, you won’t have Gronk, you won’t have Wilfork and you won’t have Mayo,’ they say we won’t even make the playoffs. So, when we lost Gronk, I thought that was the icing on the cake,” the retired Haverhill High School English teacher said in an interview last week.
Fitzpatrick, like many New England fans, was wrong about the Pats — a team that could have easily gone 7-9 or worse after the injuries piled up.
Instead, rookies and other ‘no name’ players stepped up to keep the team winning every time another starter went down. In several games they should have lost, the Pats — led by their future Hall of Fame quarterback — kept fighting to pull off miraculous, last-minute comebacks to clinch their 11th AFC East Division title in 13 years under Coach Bill Belichick. Despite all the adversity, they accomplished something the Pats’ three Super Bowl teams didn’t — they were in every game until the end. They were outscored by a combined total of 18 points in their four losses, with the worst beating by a touchdown. Just 22 more points in the right spots in those games, and they could have gone undefeated.
After a gritty roller coaster ride to overcome obstacle after obstacle, the Pats are just a win away from going back to their sixth Super Bowl in the Brady-Belichick era and eighth in the team’s history. Propelled by mental toughness, determination and grit, they have somehow made it to the NFL’s final four. They are underdogs as they battle the Broncos for the AFC Championship in Denver today (3 p.m.)
“Amazing,” said Fitzpatrick, a Pats season ticket holder for 41 years
“I have never seen any team have this many injuries in any sport and be this successful. It’s amazing that they’ve gotten this far, given all that’s happened to them,” he said.