Petraglia: Just How Mentally Tough Are These 2018 Patriots? We’re About To Find Out

In immediate aftermath of Miami Miracle, shell-shocked Patriots look for silver lining, with huge game against Steelers looming

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Kenyan Drake leaves Patriots in his wake after Sunday’s miraculous finish in Miami. (Miami Dolphins)

The Red Sox faced their biggest challenge of the postseason when they lost to the Dodgers in the 18-inning epic in Los Angeles in Game 3 of the World Series. They won the next two games in LA to win their ninth World Series championship.

The Patriots are hoping for the same karma after what transpired on the final play Sunday in Miami Gardens.

The Patriots defense watched and chased helplessly as Kenyan Drake raced through the Patriots secondary for the final 51 yards, the last 10 past Rob Gronkowski for a stunning 34-33 win over the Patriots.

“Every time we practice it, it’s for the Hail Mary. Gotta be ready for anything,” Gronkowski said. “The way it ended, it sucked. Just feel like it’s going to test our character big time, how we bounce back from something like that. Just got to make that tackle.”

“We figure out a way to not finish it the right way.” said a stunned Tom Brady, who lost for a fifth time in six tries in Miami.

That’s one understated way of putting it. Instead of exorcising their Miami demons and clinching a 10th straight AFC East, the Patriots spent the postgame trying to clear the cobwebs and look ahead to immediately making amends next week in Pittsburgh.

Most of the Patriots, including Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Josh Gordon all said they had never been a part of a purely devastating ending like that, though Brady made it clear that he’s “been apart of some tough losses” before, referring to his three Super Bowl defeats and every playoff loss that has ended his season without holding up the Vince Lombardi trophy.

Usually, win or lose after every game, the message from Bill Belichick to his players is readily apparent in the comments from his players to the media. Sunday, the message of mental toughness was more than apparent in every one who spoke.

“This is as tough as it gets. I’ve never seen anything like that in my career,” Josh Gordon said. “Crazy game… Being here, I think we’ve got a tough group of guys. We can handle it. Tough way to leave Miami.”

The Patriots of the Brady-Belichick dynasty era have always prided them on mental toughness. There have been countless times the Patriots have had their meddle tested, only to wind up in the Super Bowl. This is a team that was down 28-3 in the biggest game of the year two seasons ago. We know how that wound up. They trailed the Ravens by two touchdowns twice in the 2014 postseason, only to find a way to win. They trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter against Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. They were dead with the Seahawks at the 2. Then Malcolm Butler made the play of his life.

So, being able to come back from Sunday is hardly inconceivable. Still, Sunday was a 6.0 on the Richter Scale of heartbreak, horrible but hardly season-ending.

“That’s the stuff dreams are made of,” Drake exclaimed in his postgame TV hit with Evan Washburn of CBS.

And nightmares for the Patriots.

It was Gronkowski, instead of Josh Gordon, on the field as a safety to prevent a “Hail Mary”. What they got was the “Hook and Lateral” play that last worked in Miami in the 1981 AFC Divisional Round (“Epic in Miami”) when Miami’s Duriel Harris hit Tony Nathan in stride on the final play of the first half.

But the most philosophical and poised comments came from Josh Gordon, perhaps not as shocked as other Patriots, who almost never have a game get away from them like this. Gordon offered up some fascinating perspective.

“I thought it was a momentum shifter for us in a positive way, more than a negative way. For it to end that way, it just doesn’t seem like that’s the end result for us, it’s not the end of the story. We’ve got more to prove, more to offer,” Gordon said.

Gronkowski also provided some interesting insight to the mental and physical hurdles he’s had to clear this year.

“I feel like I’ve been going through that all year,” Gronkowski said. “We just need to come together as a team more. Definitely going to test our mental toughness. Just keep on grinding, keep putting good practices together.”

For all the focus on the last play of the game, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were clearly filled with regret about how the last play of the first half transpired. With the Patriots at the Dolphins 2 and out of timeouts, Brady took an inexcusable sack that ran out the clock and left the Patriots with just a 27-21 lead at the half.

“Football is a crazy game. We left a lot of points on the board,” Brady said. “That’s a terrible play. That’s a play that should never happen.”

“Time ran out on us,” Bill Belichick added. “Obviously, not what we’re trying to do. Obviously, not a good play, not what we were trying to do.”

Those three points weren’t the only missed chances. Stephen Gostkowski had his worst game of the season and it mattered. He missed his first extra point of the game when it hit the right upright. He missed a 42-yard field goal wide right in the third quarter.

“We missed a lot of opportunities.” Belichick said, summing it all up Sunday.

Funny thing is, Sunday’s loss provides one huge opportunity next week in Pittsburgh, the chance to prove they have the mental toughness that it takes to get to win in the postseason.