The New England Patriots and the New Zealand All Blacks have a lot in common
One mightily impressive run of sporting success came to an end in the final weekend of October and another went tumbling on the opening Sunday of November.
Given that the losses took place nearly 7,000 miles apart, in different sports and entirely different contexts, there might not seem to be a lot in common with the New England Patriots’ first defeat of the 2019 campaign and the New Zealand rugby team’s loss of its World Cup title.
The Patriots don’t perform the awe-inspiring Haka before NFL games, but in terms of aura there is something very similar between the teams. The standard an elite group has reached can be measured by the level of surprise when they’re eventually defeated, even if, in theory, it shouldn’t have been that much of shock.
When the All Blacks lost a World Cup for the first time in 4,403 days, going down to England, Planet Rugby went into a spin.
And while New England going down to a surging Baltimore Ravens team in a regular season game at M&T Bank Stadium was hardly the greatest stunner, these day any time the Patriots are brought down to size is noteworthy. Tom Brady and company hadn’t lost over their last 12 games, and he didn’t much like this one. New Zealand’s World Cup streak was 19 games without a loss — covering the past 12 years.
“Losses always find a way to recalibrate how you see yourself,” Brady told reporters afterwards. “We obviously have a lot of work to do. When you get beat by 17 points, that's not what we're all about.”
The knockout nature of rugby’s biggest tournament meant that the All Blacks were done after their 19-7 loss, whereas the Patriots’ only immediate punishment is seeing their perfect record disappear. After a bye week, they get to do it all again against the Eagles in Philadelphia on Nov. 17.
As a result, there was no great fire sale on the Patriots’ chances following the result; more a simple appreciation that Baltimore had a fine day, is a buoyant team and has an outstanding young quarterback in Lamar Jackson.
With FOX Bet, the Patriots remain strong favorites to win the Super Bowl at odds of +275, ahead of the New Orleans Saints at +475 and now the only remaining undefeated team, the San Francisco 49ers, at +700. Baltimore, meanwhile, is now the fifth-favored team to take home the Lombardi Trophy this season, but they have long odds at +1000.
FiveThirtyEight’s predictor model still has New England at 94 percent probability to win its division, 82 percent to get a first-round bye, and a league-leading 21 percent likelihood to win it all.
Over the course of their dynastic run, the Patriots have become a blueprint even more for teams outside of football than within it. It can be hard for an NFL franchise to commit fully to following the Patriots mold, especially if they’re looking directly at the personnel. How do you just “find” a Tom Brady? Or a Bill Belichick?
“When you’re looking at great teams to compare the All Blacks to, the Patriots is a very obvious one,” USA Rugby CEO Ross Young told me in a telephone conversation. “You look at the parts of it. With the All Blacks, there is an expectation of success and a sustained commitment to excellence. If things go wrong you don’t see a lot panic, but you commit fully to building it back up again.
“New Zealand has an entire country behind them, but there are a lot of similarities in the way that Belichick gets everyone to buy into what they are trying to achieve as a group. Finding the right parts and the right players to fill a role — and seeing their value in a way other teams haven’t.”
There is even an actual link between New England and the sport of rugby. Safety Nate Ebner took some time away from the Patriots in order to pursue his dream of playing for the United States sevens team in the Rio Olympics in 2016. Ebner and Brady sent a good-luck video to the USA squad before this year’s tournament, and Brady is known to be a fan.
Rugby’s World Cup closed on Saturday. The All Blacks, having lost to England in the semifinal, beat France to claim third place. In the final, South Africa was too strong, outplaying England 35-12 to clinch its third-ever title, spearheaded by its first black captain — the inspirational Siya Kolisi.
There’s a four-year break before the World Cup. In New Zealand there isn’t any real sense of panic, though an impending shakeup is likely to ensure they’re back, stronger than ever, in 2023.
“For the All Blacks, only one result is considered good enough at a World Cup,” Young added. “Great teams have the ability to find the small things that are missing, put them right and come back even stronger.”
The Patriots don’t have four years to wait, and they don’t need it. Say what you like about their schedule, but even with the struggle at Baltimore, everything points towards another domineering regular season, and a tilt at yet another crack at the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
FS1’s Jason Whitlock was a rare commentator to predict the Patriots going down, doing so on Speak For Yourself last week.
“This running game, the plus-one offense with Lamar Jackson, I think they are going to run roughshod over the New England Patriots,” Whitlock said. “I feel very good about this. I expect Lavar Jackson to outplay the G.O.A.T. this weekend. I really do believe they are going to get the Patriots.”
It’s not often anyone “gets” the Patriots, or the All Blacks. It’s not often that great teams must face adversity. But when they do, it is the strength of the response — whether it takes place over years or days — that shows their true mettle.