Ranking 9 most painful playoff losses of Belichick era


The Broncos' upset win Sunday over the Patriots was hugely popular in Denver, Indianapolis, and just about anywhere football is watched outside New England. Belichickenfreude is real -- or I just completely made it up.

Every game, all season

The flip side of the Patriots' insanely consistent success since 2001 is that the Patriots are in position to suffer painful big playoff defeats nearly every season. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have lost nine playoff games overall, including six in the AFC Championship or Super Bowl. And it just so happens that the Manning brothers are responsible for the most painful losses.

After starting his career on the short end of a pair of two painful playoff defeats to the Patriots, Peyton Manning has now been a part of three different teams to end Belichick's season. Two of those games -- the 2006 AFC Championship and Sunday's game -- were instant classics.

It got me thinking: Where does Sunday's loss in Denver fit among the worst Patriots losses of the Belichick era? The Belichick Patriots have experienced more lasting success over a 15-year span than any team in NFL history, yet it's uncanny how many of those seasons have come down to one play or one drive. That's true of three of titles and many of the losses below.

In a nod to Dan Hanzus' epic team pain rankings, let's rank the nine losses, in order of maximum pain.

1. Super Bowl XLVI: Giants 21, Patriots 17: The majority of Patriots fans probably disagree and believe nothing could top losing the undefeated season. But this New England squad was more likable and losing to the Giants a second time felt crueler. The kicker: I was convinced they would never get so close again after seeing Tom Brady, then 34, in a catatonic state in the locker room after the game. It was probably Brady's worst individual performance in a big game and felt like a sign of things to come. Chad Ochocinco's inability to win one-on-one matchups and Rob Gronkowski's injury were killers. Yet they had still so many chances to win and couldn't finish it out on either side of the ball.

2. Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14: David Tyree. The lost chance for immortality. The forgotten incredible drive by Brady capped by a Randy Moss touchdown that should have been Brady's finest moment as a pro.

The strange part of this game was that the Giants truly felt like the better team. The 2007 playoff Patriots were not the 16-0 Patriots. Let's move on.

3. 2006 AFC Championship: Colts 38, Patriots 34: This one has hurt more with time. The team's huge upset over San Diego the week before (the Troy Brown forced fumble game!) remains my favorite Patriots win in a non-Super Bowl season. The Patriots had a 21-3 lead against the Colts and Rex Grossman was waiting in the Super Bowl. Blowing this game led to Peyton Manning's only title.

With all that said, Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney were the Patriots' top wideouts. The secondary was a mess. The better team won.

4. 2010 AFC Divisional Round: Jets 28, Patriots 21: This was a stunning and decisive ambush, just a month after the Patriots had beaten the Jets 45-3 on Monday night.

Knowing this was the first year of a surprising, thrillingly different Gronk-Aaron Hernandez era (yep) provided hope for the future, but losing to a division rival at home stings. Ultimately, losses hurt more the closer teams are to a title. That's why it was tough to rank this above the AFC Championship game losses that were closer to the title.

5. 2015 AFC Championship: Broncos 20, Patriots 18: The only thing that diminishes the impact of this loss is the era-defining title Brady picked up last season against the Seahawks. Anything after a fourth title is gravy on top of the cherry on top of the sundae. Everything else about this loss was difficult to swallow: Losing to a vastly diminished Manning and losing in Denver, yet again. They wasted the best overall Patriots defense since 2004 and they wasted two all-time fourth down plays by Brady and Rob Gronkowski. It would have been a lot of fun to see them try to beat the Panthers. Alas.

6. 2009 Wild Card Weekend: Ravens 33, Patriots 14: The image of Brady getting booed off the field in a half-empty stadium was haunting. It inspired a lot of silly "The Patriots' dynasty is over" think pieces, not to mention a lot of predictions entering 2010 that they were no longer a playoff team.

7. 2012 AFC Championship: Ravens 28, Patriots 13: Like the loss to the Jets, this was a decisive home loss in a game where the Patriots were heavy favorites.

8. 2013 AFC Championship: Broncos 26, Patriots: 16 This Patriots team mostly overachieved and were clearly the inferior team, softening the blow.

9. 2005 Divisional Round: Broncos 27, Patriots 13 The most memorable play from this game was strangely made by Patriots tight end Ben Watson. It was Brady and Belichick's first playoff loss, but it was a team that was taking on water and didn't feel close to championship level. Plus, who doesn't like to see Jake Plummer win a playoff game?