ATLANTA — Yes, it’s time for another story about the Patriots trying to accomplish something nobody has done since the 1972 Dolphins.
But not THAT story.
Eleven years after falling one win short of matching Miami’s undefeated season, New England is attempting to become the first team since those famed Dolphins to follow a loss in the Super Bowl with a championship the very next year.
Not quite as glamorous. But in some respects, every bit as difficult.
“When we got back to camp, Don Shula made us watch that game every day for like a week,” said Mercury Morris, the outspoken running back who mostly sat the bench during Miami’s humbling 24-3 loss to Dallas in Super Bowl VI. “He told us, ‘See how sick you feel now? Just think of how sick and sorry you’ll be if you don’t go redeem yourself.’”
With their win over the Dolphins, the Cowboys became the first team to come away with the title a year after a Super Bowl loss. (They had fallen 16-13 to Baltimore in Super Bowl V). Then, sparked by their own humbling defeat, the Dolphins did the same thing — and went 17-0 along the way.
Neither feat has been repeated in 46 years since, although the Patriots came oh-so-close to perfection in the 2007 season, losing the Super Bowl to the Giants to finish 18-1.
“It made us very aware of what we had to do better than the year before,” Dolphins punter Larry Seiple said of the loss at Tulane Stadium, where Miami managed only 185 yards. “It kind of inspired us to stay together as a team and get back there.”
As it turns out, easier said than done.
Over the years, other teams have had their chances.
The 1980s Denver Broncos went to three Super Bowls over four seasons and lost all of them badly — to the point that John Elway conceded to wondering whether it was worth all the fuss fighting to get back, year after year.
In the 1990s, the Buffalo Bills made four straight Super Bowls and lost every one.
But they are the exceptions.
Most teams that lose the Super Bowl don’t come close the next season, and that trend has increased since the advent of free agency, when turning over a third of the roster — even for the most successful teams — is becoming the norm.
Over the past 20 seasons, nine Super Bowl losers have failed to even make the playoffs the next year. Another four made the playoffs but lost their first game. Not a single one has returned to the Super Bowl. Until this season.
“The biggest issue to me was feeling like we were going to right a wrong from that last season,” said Kurt Warner, whose Rams fell off the map after their 20-17 Super Bowl loss to New England in 2002 that marked the start of the Patriots dynasty. “Anytime you allow one season to carry over into another, I think you’re going to have problems.”
New England has rebounded from last year’s Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Making their ninth Super Bowl appearance since the start of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, the Patriots seem to come up with new ways every year to reimagine what’s possible.
“I think, honestly, after what happened last year in the Super Bowl, guys are hungry,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “And I feel like we got humbled. We’re not taking things for granted.”
Neither did the Dolphins.
And though they ended up undefeated, that wasn’t the main mission when they started that season. They were motivated by a lopsided loss in the biggest game the season before.
“It was an embarrassing performance,” Morris said. “It was a specific source of redemption. Because pride is one thing. But to redeem yourself from something is another. There’s more value in the concept of redemption than there is in being great.”