"Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned but heaven hath no sweetness like a sports fan vindicated." - Samcat

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Way to start the new year off right

(Photo from NFL.com)

First of all, happy new year! I do so hope you all enjoyed yourselves.

Secondly, thank goodness for internets. You don't realize how dependent you become on it until you don't have it for a week. Then it's like a phantom limb. You can still feel it, and you sit there, reaching for your laptop to Wikipedia something random like "depth charges" (What? I was watching a submarine movie), and then you realize you have no internet and therefore will have to remain in the dark until the nice Comcast man comes to fix things for you.

Of course, all that time I spent disconnected from the rest of the world did afford me the opportunity to think about this Patriots team and try to put into perspective exactly how good they are. Historically good. Monumentally good. Quite possibly the best ever. I say "quite possibly" because there are some people still arguing about the 2007 Patriots' place in history. Some of them are the 1972 Miami Dolphins who, honestly, need to get the hell over themselves. Yes, I realize that the Patriots need to win the Super Bowl to validate the undefeated regular season, but why none of the Dolphins seem to want to acknowledge the fact that completing an undefeated season in the salary cap era is damn near impossible is beyond me. The bottom line is that the season that the 1972 Dolphins completed was impressive, yes, it still is. But it was not as difficult to do as what the Patriots just did.

As for the game itself, it's not like this would be the first time this season when I said "Honestly, I thought they were going to lose." I said that against Baltimore and Philadelphia and sometime, during the second week of the season when the Bills were up 7-0 early in the game, I think I'd convinced myself that the Patriots were going to lose every game for the rest of the season. No one ever said I was a rational fan. But on Saturday, I really thought that was it. When Randy Moss dropped that first long bomb from Brady (and it
was a drop, despite what the ever-professional Brady contends), I figured that was it. "Well," I told myself, trying to rationalize, "if they're going to lose, it has to be this game." But then Brady went back to the air, Moss went off streaking down the sidelines and Brady hit him in stride, where Moss raced uncontested to the endzone, taking two NFL records with him. And that's when I thought, "Well..maybe." Of course, that was the record, so it would have been a big deal regardless of the score. The team mobbed Brady and Moss, finally acknowledging, at least a little bit, what they'd just accomplished. Tedy Bruschi was shown on the sidelines, head tilted to the sky, and yelling in excitement. Moss was all smiles. But like Beth, I noticed that Brady, despite the celebratory pounding he took from his offensive line, never lost focus. His entire body language spoke of a task not yet completed. "We're going for two."

When he was finally afforded a moment to breathe - and perhaps to send a text message to Peyton Manning "pwned!!" - he spent it putting his jersey back on, as his offensive line, in the grand Manny Ramirez tradition, had somehow managed to strip him of half his uniform.

And that's when, after I sat down and regained focus, I realized that the team that's going to knock off Goliath is probably not going to get burned on the same long pass play twice in a row. True, they were different plays. The initial long pass to Moss was called as such and the second play, according to Belichick, was a 9-Route designed for Wes Welker to gain some short yardage. And that's fine, but the Giants double covered Welker, leaving Moss wide open. And if Randy Moss going long is Tom Brady's
second option, well, he must have thought it was Christmas all over again. Fitting, I guess that both the NFL passing and receiving touchdown records were broken on the same play, a spectacular one at that. Because that encapsulates the Patriots' season, and further brings into focus how good Tom Brady is, not only now, but how good he's been in the previous six years when his go-to receivers were guys like Reche Caldwell and David Patten. No disrespect to those guys but, as Randy Moss said following the Miami game when he was asked about the double coverage he faced all game, "Well, I'm Randy Moss." Truer words, my friend.

Of course, if it were up to me, the record setting football would be split in thirds, with 1/3 going to Moss, 1/3 for Brady and the remaining 1/3 going to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Though I'm not sure how difficult it is to call "Tom, throw it to Randy," over and over again.

None of this is to say that the game was not without drama or concern. The 35 points the defense allowed were the most they'd allowed all season and the defense, once again, looked old and slow. The Giants certainly didn't rest anyone and gave the Pats all they could handle. And all credit goes to them for that. Of course, Belichick will spend the next two weeks kicking the team's asses from here to Seattle and back but there is still cause for concern. I tell myself that the offense cooled down a bit over the past six games or so because they were pressing for the record. That's why we saw Brady go to Moss so many times when probably, another play would have had a higher probability of resulting in points. We saw it in the Miami game and we saw it again in the Giants game. Because I don't believe for a second that Brady didn't want that record all to himself. He can give lip service all he wants to team accomplishments and wins and all that, and I don't think he's lying, but he's also human (all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) and he, like most of us, wants to be the best. And he wants to put the numbers and stats arguments to rest. So, you know, now he has. I guess all those long bombs were worth it.

So now we have a week of watching highlight films and wondering whether we're going to be facing Pittsburgh, Jacksonville or Tennessee in the Divisional Playoff game in two weeks. Until this weekend's games are over, I guess it doesn't really do any good to obsess over potential matchups or to stress about the game. That's Bill Belichick's job. My job, it appears, is to keep making things happen with my mind (like the Tom Brady Smart Water ad where he appears to be dressed as a spy disembarking from a helicopter), and to wonder why someone in my building would throw away a perfectly good Doug Flutie Patriots jersey. Have these people no respect?