Road to Super Bowl XLIX: Pats consistency trumped by controversy

( - The talk surrounding the New England Patriots ahead of their eighth -- yes, eighth -- Super Bowl appearance should be about how the club has been a model of consistency under owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

Instead, some missing PSI's have deflated (see what I did there) the Patriots' ability to solely focus on their upcoming matchup with the Seattle Seahawks and dug up some old skeletons as well.

Hey, at least the big game has its clear-cut villain.

In case you missed it, and that is highly unlikely, the NFL reportedly found that 11 of the 12 balls used by the Patriots during a 45-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game were underinflated by two pounds of air pressure per square inch.

That has sparked some finger pointing and a joint investigation while also allowing detractors of the Patriots to jump up and down and remind everyone of "Spygate," the infamous 2007 incident in which New England was found guilty of videotaping defensive signals used by the New York Jets during a game in September.

So, instead of talking about key new additions the Patriots made this season or how the club didn't let a slow start derail their season, the faces of the franchise have been forced to deflect the controversy away from the team.

Belichick went on the offensive Saturday, defending his team of any wrong doing and then having once again to defend past mistakes when "Spygate" was brought up.

"The guy's in front of 80,000 people. ... Everybody (on the) sideline saw it. Everybody sees our guy in front of the 80,000 people. I mean, there he is," said Belichick of the past incident. "So, it was wrong, we were disciplined for it. That's it. We never did it again. We're never going to do it again and anything else that's close, we're not going to do either."

The Pats coach also felt the need to remind everyone that it was talent that got his group of players to this point.

"This team was the best team in the AFC in the regular season," he said. "We won two games in the playoffs against two good football teams. The best team in the postseason, that's what this team is. I know that because I've been with them every day and I'm proud of this team."

Belichick has since shut down responding to any new questions about deflated balls, though each new report about the incident will bring new lines of question.

Until then, New England has been able to talk a bit about how it got to an eighth Super Bowl, which ties Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl berths in league history.

The Pats are aiming to become the sixth team with at least four Super Bowl titles, a distinction that was denied to them by losses to the New York Giants in the title game in both 2008 and 2012.

New England has not won a Super Bowl since claiming back-to-back titles in 2004-05. No other team has won consecutive championships since and the Pats will be looking to deny the Seahawks from joining that company this season.

The Patriots didn't look like contenders early, with a bad 41-14 loss at Kansas City on Sept. 29 dropping the club to 2-2. Questions about Brady being in the latter stages of his career surfaced, especially after he was limited to 159 yards passing while getting picked off twice by the Chiefs.

Brady responded the next game in a win over Cincinnati, logging 292 passing yards and a pair of scores while allowing the run game to rack up 220 yards.

That victory kicked off a seven-game win streak of the Pats, a span that saw them become the first team in NFL history to win three consecutive games by 20 or more points, each against an opponent with a record of at least three games above .500.

"I mean, we rallied," said defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who appeared in only four games last season because of an Achilles injury. "One thing we always say is, 'No matter what we go through, just stick with one another.' That's exactly what we did. So it didn't surprise me. It was something we had to go through, we went through. I think we handled it pretty well as a team and benefited from it."

Offense played a big part in New England's surge, with the club averaging just 20 points per game during the 2-2 start. The Brady-led Pats, though, went 10-2 after that while averaging 29.5 points per game over that stretch.

Perhaps Brady just needed time to get back on the same page as talented tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was limited to just seven games in 2013 due to back injury that held him out of the first six contests and a knee ailment that ended his season on Dec. 9.

Gronkowski had just 13 receptions for 147 yards with three touchdowns over the first four games, but had six catches for 100 yards versus the Bengals and ended the campaign with 1,124 yards on 82 catches with 12 TDs in 15 games.

Then there is the defense, which brought back safety Patrick Chung and traded for linebacker Akeem Ayers while also bringing in former Pro Bowl cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

The physical Browner won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks last season and helped bring an edge to a defense that ended up yielding 20 points per game this season.

Revis is, well, still playing like Revis.

"I think we added two, you know, really good players," said 27-year-old defensive back Devin McCourty. "I think when you do that of course you get better, and I think those two guys have done a good job of being leaders and fitting into the group. So I think we definitely got better on the field, but I thought we got two really good guys, too. They've showed the younger guys, direction, how to become good players, and it's been joy to play with them, too."

Still, the focus will be on Belichick and Brady, both for their success of having won 20 postseason games together and for the past and current controversies surrounding the club.

"To have an opportunity to play in this game is really unbelievable," said Brady, the NFL's all-time leader with 49 postseason touchdowns. "I never thought I'd have the experience to play in one of these. To think that it's my sixth time, I can't imagine that I'd think I'd ever play anything professionally. Certainly to make the Super Bowl is a pretty amazing experience. To do it once and then six times is very, very special."

For Brady and Belichick, they better win it clean. Their legacy may depend on it.