Patriots perfectly poised to banish 2007 memories with 19-0 season
The 2007 New England Patriots will forever hold a unique place in NFL folklore.
On one side, they stand as the gold standard for excellence, a modern-day measuring stick for every team in the league after putting together the greatest regular season of all time, New England going 16-0 and becoming the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to finish it unbeaten.
However, they are a team known for one of the biggest choke-jobs in sporting history, failing to be the first finish a campaign 19-0 as the New York Giants pulled off the biggest Super Bowl upset of all time with an incredible 17-14 success.
Highlights of David Tyree's "helmet catch" and Plaxico Burress' winning score will still stir up plenty of pain for the Patriots and their fans, but, despite another Super Bowl loss to the Giants four years later, they have had plenty to console themselves with.
A fourth Lombardi Trophy came courtesy of Malcolm Butler's goal-line interception that will forever leave Seattle Seahawks fans wondering why Marshawn Lynch did not receive the ball, before Tom Brady orchestrated the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in February to make it five titles for the Patriots by stunningly reversing a 28-3 deficit to record a 34-28 overtime triumph, cementing his status as the best quarterback of all time in the process.
And New England is now perfectly set up to banish the memories of the Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants for good by finally achieving the dream of 19-0.
It is an extremely bold claim to make, the 2007 Patriots were a juggernaut, specifically on offense, with Brady exploding for 4,806 passing yards - a mark he has only topped twice - and a career-best 50 touchdowns as he demonstrated a remarkable rapport with Randy Moss, who broke the great Jerry Rice's record for receiving touchdowns in a season with 23.
The defense was led by All-Pros Mike Vrabel, Asante Samuel and Vince Wilfork, but 10 years later the Patriots are stacked with the talent needed to match that vaunted group's accomplishments.
Though he hit 40 last month, Brady has never looked better. His completion percentage in 2016 was his best since that 2007 season and he also threw just two interceptions, with his performance in the fightback against Atlanta most striking for the extraordinary calm he displayed while rescuing a dire situation in sport's most intense pressure cooker.
Tomorrow: regular season No. begins for No. pic.twitter.com/f5Hd4Ch7kQ-- New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 6, 2017
Heading into his 18th year, Brady is a player from whom the biggest moment appears to be akin to a Sunday stroll in the park, and he approaches the 2017 season with the title-winning team having received substantial reinforcements.
New England have lost Julian Edelman, the receiver with whom Brady shares the greatest rapport, to a torn ACL, while tight end Martellus Bennett and running back LeGarrette Blount - key components of last campaign's success - have left for pastures new.
But the Patriots have done a magnificent job of acquiring talent in the offseason, sealing trades for a deep threat receiver in Brandin Cooks, who racked up 2,311 yards and 17 touchdowns in the last two seasons with the New Orleans Saints, another speedster in Phillip Dorsett and tight end Dwayne Allen, who is coming off a six-touchdown season and should be able to formidable partnership with perennial mismatch Rob Gronkowski.
Those arrivals will likely ensure the Patriots' passing attack remains one of the most fearsome in the NFL and the ground game is also in safe hands after Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead were brought in from the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals to form a backfield quartet with James White and Dion Lewis that should have no problem filling the void of a back in Blount who boasts a limited skill set and has rarely thrived outside of New England.
The Patriots were able to keep linebacker Dont'a Hightower, whose sack of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan forced the fumble that turned the tide in the Super Bowl, and Butler after their respective flirtations with the New York Jets and the Saints, and the Patriots further weakened the division-rival Bills by adding Stephon Gilmore - a cornerback with five interceptions in 2016 - to the secondary.
New England's pass rush is a cause for some concern, the Patriots having posted a mediocre 34 sacks last year and done little to improve in that area aside from drafting defensive end Derek Rivers, who has already been lost to injury.
However, the key components of a top-10 defense have been kept intact and Brady enters his fourth decade with absolutely no signs of decline and with a litany of weapons with which to pick apart opponents.
Going undefeated for 19 games is a Herculean challenge, yet, as they displayed in Houston seven months ago, the Patriots are a team for whom no task is impossible and, ahead of Thursday's opener, they appear primed for a run at an achievement that would make the events of the 2007 season a minor footnote in the history of the league's greatest dynasty.