FOXBORO — In the study of numerology, every number means something greater than just its sum value.
The number seven, for example, is described by Numerology.com as “the seeker, the thinker, the searcher of Truth.” It goes on to say seven “doesn’t take anything at face value.”
But the truth in the New England Patriots reaching their record seventh-straight AFC Championship Game is the truth that’s hard for any opposing team to face: the Patriots have your number. And their own number isn’t running out just yet.
The Patriots defeated the Titans 35-14 on Saturday night, but it wasn’t even that close over the final three quarters. If seven is a number of magical meaning, that 14 put up by Tennessee could not have been more hollow.
The Patriots didn’t come out as strong as they would have liked. After winning the coin toss and electing to — gasp — receive the ball, they ended up punting on each of their first two possessions.
When the Titans scored the game’s first touchdown with 1:20 left in the first quarter, it was like something had finally awoken in the Patriots. They scored on their next three possessions, and built up a 21-7 halftime lead.
Yes, the Titans overcame a larger deficit in the Wild Card round against the Chiefs, but the Patriots are not the Chiefs. In fact, the Patriots are like no other team, ever.
There are very few things that maintain that high level of excellence for seven straight seasons. Can you think of a time when you had seven straight years of perfect summers? Has any car topped the “Car and Driver 10 Best List” for seven consecutive campaigns? Even “The Sopranos” had lost its fastball by the end of Season 6, after convoluted dream sequences and unsatisfying conclusions.
The Patriots have never had weird cameos by Annette Bening. They’ve never even had the same cast of characters -- besides one recognizable star -- each season. Yet they’ve maintained a level of excellence that other teams, as the Titans can attest, fall far short from even approaching.
Seven seasons at the top is an amazing run, and although nobody in New England expects this to be the pinnacle of the season, it’s a milestone worth observing, at least for a day or so.
“It’s pretty incredible to be a part of that. I think the thing is, we don’t really take it for granted around here. I know how hard it is to get to this game, and we’re very blessed to do it,” Tom Brady said. “The reality of the NFL is, what we did this week will have nothing to do with what we do next week, and we’re going to have to repeat it.”
Brady is one step closer to being able to win a third Super Bowl in four years, something that hasn’t been done since … well, since he did it from 2001-04. While that may be getting ahead of things, because Jacksonville or Pittsburgh still will be coming into Gillette next Sunday at 3 p.m., it’s also hard to stand on the cusp of something so special and not acknowledge it.
And it’s worth discussing, after the performance the Pats turned in Saturday night. It’s hard to say a team that went 3-1 in December “stumbled” on its way to the postseason, but it wasn’t the crisp, effective execution you’d expect to see from a New England team as they prepare for the playoffs. There were defensive lapses, offensive miscues, and less-than-Brady-like throws over those final four games.
But, as usual, the flip was switched in January. Numbers trending downward suddenly reverse course and turn into franchise records. It’s what the Patriots do.
James White and Chris Hogan both returned in this game, and both made a huge impact. The two make the offense more dynamic, and give Brady two more reliable options when the defense is closing in. Their presence kicked things into a higher gear, one that the Titans — and dare we say anyone else remaining in the AFC — can match.
One number almost as good as that seven was eight. The Patriots sacked Marcus Mariota eight times, a new franchise record in the postseason. For a team that had a lot of defensive issues earlier in the season, and was even hitting some lapses over the last couple of regular season games, having such a standout performance is a good way to prepare for either Blake Bortles (insert laughing-so-hard-we’re-crying emoji here) or Ben Roethlisberger (concerned-look emoji).
An even better number? Ten. It’s a huge accomplishment to go to seven straight AFC title games, but it would be even bigger to win a 10th AFC crown, and play in a 10th Super Bowl as a franchise.
But the best number of all? Six.
That one needs no explanation.
Tim Weisberg covers the New England Patriots for The Standard-Times. Follow him @TimWeisberg and contact him at email@example.com.