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Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Super Bowl loss ... then what?

By Mike Reiss

In a piece now posted on ESPN.com, AFC East reporter James Walker speaks with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. and the headline asks the question: "Will Patriots suffer runners-up curse?"
"The Patriots were runners-up in Super Bowl XLVI -- and historically that is an awful position to be in.

"According to ESPN Stats & Information, it's been 39 years since a team bounced back from a Super Bowl loss to win a championship. The Miami Dolphins won Super Bowl VII in January 1973 after losing Super Bowl VI the previous year. In fact, it's only happened twice in the Super Bowl's 46-year history.

"New England is trying to become just the third team to accomplish the feat -- and the first in nearly four decades. Thirty-eight consecutive teams have tried and failed. That is a ton of history against the Patriots as they chase their fourth Super Bowl title in the Belichick-Brady era."

This topic is still fresh from just a few years back, following the Patriots' loss in Super Bowl XLII. At the time, this writer penned a similar piece in the Boston Globe, with insight from Mike Holmgren, among others. The headline of that piece was "The missing trophy."

At the time, six of the previous seven Super Bowl losers were sub-.500 the next season (Holmgren's 2006 Seahawks the exception), as well as seven of the last nine. As it turned out, the Tom Brady-less Patriots of 2008 didn't make the playoff either.

But things have changed in recent years.

The last three Super Bowl losers have all qualified for the playoffs -- the 2009 Cardinals (10-6), the 2010 Colts (10-6) and the 2011 Steelers (12-4). While those teams didn't win the Super Bowl the following year, they have quieted talk of a so-called "Super Bowl losers curse."

A few quick thoughts from here:

1. I'm buying 'hocus-pocus.' In the 2008 Globe piece, Holmgren said, "More than anything else, I believed it was hocus-pocus. It's just like being on the cover of Madden. Sure, there is a statistical argument for it, but I don't think that's what it is at all." Holmgren had his 2006 Seahawks staff do research on the previous Super Bowl losers and "what we learned is that those teams didn't slip because they had been playing in the Super Bowl and had lost. It was because they got hurt. Maybe there was a coaching change. It was the same type of stuff that every team deals with every year, whether they were in the Super Bowl or not."

2. It's hard to win a Super Bowl. It seems silly to write the previous sentence, but here in New England where the Patriots did it in three of four seasons (2001, 2003, 2004), it has altered the expectations of some. As we've seen in 2007, 2011 and other seasons, a lot of things have to fall into place, including a little luck. But more than anything, it's about performance, especially in critical moments. If the Patriots don't win it this year, it won't be because of a curse.

3. 'Extra games' can add up. As Matt Williamson pointed out in James Walker's piece, the toll of playing into February can be signficant and have a carry-over effect. Perhaps that's part of the reason Bill Belichick elected to be so aggressive in free agency this offseason, turning over the roster and adding depth. The extra games can add up; consider that over his 12-year career, Tom Brady has played in 22 playoff games -- more than a full season's worth. While that can't be overlooked, the 2012 Patriots played just one more game than teams like the Ravens and Texans, who are also considered top candidates to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year. Is it that big of a difference? Not from this perspective.