It's all in the timing.
(Photo from Yahoo! Sports)
So now do we all understand why the Patriots have been "running up the score?" Now do we understand why they've been playing the full sixty minutes of football games? Now do we get why they've played hard on every down and not given anything away, despite frequently annihilating their opponents?
Good, so now it makes sense. So now maybe we can shut up about it.
I swear, after the smoke had cleared in the RCA Dome last night and Belichick stood at the podium giving his post game press conference, he said something about "playing for sixty minutes" and it was almost like you could hear the national media go, "...ooooohhhhhh." Like they'd just connected the dots and realized that maybe there was a method to Belichick's madness after all. Maybe he hasn't been humiliating teams by keeping his starters in late in games because he's mean and hates children and puppies. Maybe he hasn't been forcing his team to run up the score because he's evil incarnate and puts razor blades in apples. Maybe he was doing it to prove a point to his team. That point being that you are not going to win all games by at least 17 points. Sometimes, things are going to be close. And sometimes, god forbid, you might even be behind late. In those situations, it's going to be beneficial if you know how to play no holds barred football for sixty full minutes. Point taken, Bill.
Because, make no mistake about it, this was a game of inches and timing. The overwrought cliche of heavyweight fighters trading punches comes to mind. But that is really what it felt like. I, personally, feel like I've gone about fifteen rounds with a defending heavyweight champ. I can't imagine how the actual players feel.
Katherine made an excellent point when she called me after the game to congratulate me (she's a Steelers fan but she's also one of the nicest people on the planet and also she runs marathons to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society so really, Katherine rocks.) "It felt like," she said, "the Colts defense was playing really hard for the first three quarters and then they just got tired. And the Patriots took advantage of that."
"Yeah," I said, "I mean, this kind of feels like last year's playoff game against the Chargers. I still don't know how we won that game and I'm not sure how we won this one."
"You have a really good football team," she said.
They're kind of like a cobra in that way. In the sense that they waited for Indy's defense to show the slightest chinks in the armor or the smallest bit of fatigue and then they attacked. And they were relentless in their attack. And then, when New England's defense that had certainly been showing signs of tarnish up until that point, needed to come through, they did. Like I said, it was all about timing.
It was also, as it so often is, about Tom Brady. Or, as has been the case this season, about Tom Brady and Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Because that one-handed catch that Randy Moss hauled in - that gravity defying, laws of physics shattering catch - was among the most amazing feats of athletic ability I've ever seen on a football field. And that is not hyperbole. The catch was, to put it simply, otherworldly.
Because these are the New England Patriots, they surely won't be resting on their laurels. They won and they're happy about it - Belichick looked positively joyful in the seconds immediately following the final kneel down as he embraced his players - but within moments he was back to his monotone delivery and his "things and stuff and stuff and things" and talking without saying anything press conference style. Because, sure, next week is a bye, but after that they've got Buffalo and as far as the Patriots are concerned, there's more football to be played. Nothing was won yesterday in Indianapolis.
They will, I suspect, forgive their fans though if we take a little extra pleasure in the victory. Because I know what they say about regular season games and the lip service that is paid to "one game at a time" but there is no one I know who believed for a second that this game wasn't bigger than the standings indicate. As he was leaving the party on Saturday night, Teddy said, "Enjoy your Super Bowl tomorrow." He's also a Steelers fan so I'm certain he was hoping for a different outcome, but he wasn't wrong about the level of hype this game received. By and large, I tried to avoid most of it because I usually don't have a problem working myself into a frenzy by the power of my own mind, let alone with suggestions from the national media outlets. But it was impossible to avoid it completely.
Said media should be happy, however, in that at least the game wasn't a blowout and they surely got some good ratings from the matchup.
And I'm happy because I now remember how good Tom Brady is. Six touchdowns are nice, but the true test of a quarterback's worth is, I think, the ability to rally his team to victory. This is nothing new for Brady - or don't we remember those Super Bowls - but he hasn't needed to do it this season. I'm glad to see he hasn't lost that touch. So, I suppose, the debate for the ages - Manning or Brady - will continue unabated. But the fact remains, when his team needed him to make a huge play, only one of them delivered. So in a game to save the world, I'm going Brady all the way. He is, as Manny Ramirez would say, "a bad man." Maybe if we're lucky, David Ortiz will spend his time recuperating from surgery Bedazzling things for Brady to wear. Dare to dream.