Wednesday, February 06, 2008

18-1

Man. Super Bowl week came and went and I missed out on publishing snarky commentary denouncing all of the hype. I also missed an opportunity to impress everybody with my prediction. In all honesty I really believed that the Patriots were going to win by 20. I figured the Patriots would take away the run and force Eli Manning to make mistakes. As it turned out the Patriots did take away the run but Eli Manning stepped up in a big way. His lone interception was a tipped ball that should have been caught and any throw he missed was more than made up for when he willed himself out of coverage to connect on a clutch conversion. Even though he didn’t put up eye popping stats, Eli was the MVP. He might have been more deserving of that distinction than his brother was last year.

The interesting thing about that game is the way the Patriots played. They gave up three points on long time consuming Giants’ drive to start things off but they responded with a touchdown and held onto the lead for most of the game. Still, you could sense that the Giants were comfortable with a defensive struggle whereas the Patriots were nervous. That feeling manifested when Belichick opted to go for it on fourth and 13 even though he was within field goal range. After that play blew up I was pretty sure that the Patriots were doomed.

Tom Brady looked average. With no running game to soften the Giants front and his line struggling to give him the eons of time he had grown accustomed to, Brady looked a lot more like Jim Kelly than Joe Montana. It pretty much closed the book on the argument over who the better QB is. The Colts are successful because Peyton Manning is spectacular. Tom Brady is spectacular because the Patriots are successful. There’s a big difference and we saw it in the Super Bowl. Eli Manning showed us what maintaining one’s composure can do. It looks like Eli might be related to Peyton after all and Tom Brady, well after that performance I think we see a lot more of Jan than we do Marcia.

The difference in the Super Bowl was quarterback play. Everything else was just about even. Manning had Patriot defenders in his face all game long. The Giants couldn’t establish the run. The reason the Giants won is because Eli Manning stayed focused on the task at hand and came up with the plays when they mattered most. He threw two beautiful passes for touchdowns, one was a dagger that demonstrated his arm strength and the other was a nifty game winning fade that showed us Eli can read a defense as well as anybody. And while nobody will forget the amazing hand to helmet grab Tyree came down with, it was Eli’s amazing tackle-breaking scramble that made it possible.

The Patriots looked old and tired. They looked like a team that passed its prime somewhere in the first quarter. Belichick started that game a genius and ended it as the dour little troll who dismantled the Cleveland Browns back in the early 1990s. He couldn’t even stomach going back on the field to play out the last second of official time.

Of course, who cares? The clock ran down after Brady desperately heaved another pass out of reach on fourth and the end of a dynasty. Everybody was on the field because they thought the game was over. Why somebody opted to get persnickety over the final second is anybody’s guess but it wasn’t Belichick’s fault. Nobody likes to lose and expecting somebody to run all the way back to his sideline to relive a tough loss is just ridiculous.

There are plenty of downsides to this Super Bowl. First of all New Yorkers have something to be happy about which will keep them cheerful for about 15 minutes. Then they’ll go back to their routine of arrogance and self-pity. By the time spring rolls around the Super Bowl will be ancient history and the Yankees will be the center of attention. By August people will hate Eli Manning and a sense of entitlement will start to build in the heart of every spoiled fan. It’s too bad the football Giants didn’t pack up and leave with their baseball counterpart decades ago. They’d be easier to root for.

Then we have the handful of loudmouths from that 1972 Dolphins team. In case you were wondering what the sound was, they spent Monday and Tuesday patting themselves on the back. It’s OK to let them have their last little vestige of glory because they gave up any semblance of class and dignity 25 years ago. The best response to their demands for attention is the honest one: They played football back in 1972?

The upside to this Super Bowl is that we don’t have to listen to the Patriots extol their own virtues for the next 30 years. Of course some of the guys on HGH (Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison for example) probably won’t make it another 5 years but Matt Light sure seemed to enjoy the camera in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. Surely a win would have made him a major celebrity. Given the manner in which he got worked by the Giants he might want to consider a career as a door mat.

Another interesting dynamic to this outcome is how far the Patriots have fallen in public esteem. A few weeks ago every sports pundit was making a case for the Patriots as the greatest team of all time and the question was when the winning streak would end. With one loss in a tightly contested game these Patriots, who set records that might not be broken fell not into obscurity but infamy. Nobody remembers Super Bowl losers unless they do it in grand fashion. The Buffalo Bills lost four straight; Dan Marino lost in his only appearance; Fran Tarkenton and his Vikings were consistently turned away in the final game. Nothing comes close to this. This loss, coming off of one of the most remarkable regular season performances in history eclipses everything the Patriots have done. It’s a loss that will loom larger over the franchise than the three Super Bowl wins they acquired since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady became household names.

It almost seems unfair. Can we really take everything away from this team because they came up short in the championship game? This is a team that defeated the best the AFC had to offer and lost by three points to a team that they beat in the final game of the season. Should they be punished so severely for falling 3 points short of history?

You bet. That’s the way it’s done. There’s no best of seven series in football. One shot, winner takes all. That’s why almost a billion people watch the NFL’s championship game and nobody watches the World Series until game seven. The Patriots knew that going in. The schedule didn’t change. Right after they beat the Chargers they knew when, where and who they were going to play. They had two weeks to get ready.

The thing of it is, the Patriots didn’t look flat, or tired, or like they didn’t take the Giants seriously. They simply looked like the lesser of two teams. The game was close but the Giants seemed to have a better handle on things. The Giants got better as the game went on.

Sometimes you’ll witness a big upset and walk away believing that if you played that game over 100 times the favored team would win 99 of them. Appalachian State’s upset of Michigan last year had that sort of feel to it. Other times you’ll see a close game and figure it would be a coin too every time. But the Giants finished the Super Bowl looking like a much better team than they were when they started it. If the Patriots and Giants were to square off in a rematch there’s little doubt that the Giants would win.

What’s more is the fact that the Giants were banged up. They were without their All Pro tight end, their top receiver was playing a bad ankle and the New York secondary was held together with a little spit and tape. The Patriots, on the other hand, were healthy. So that makes the Giants upset even more convincing.

Of course, it’s a little premature to throw dirt on the Patriots grave just yet. They looked bad in the Super Bowl but they don’t need to tear the roster apart and start from scratch. It might be time to let Rodney Harrison go and sign some younger linebackers but overall the Patriots are a solid team and will remain competitive. Belichick might have been outcoached for the first time in nearly 10 years but he’s still a smart guy who can set up a game plan. The dynasty might have ended but there’s still some life left in New England. Whether or not it’s enough life to get back to the Super Bowl and win is another story.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It all depended upon what "Patriots" would show up. The second half of the season they were playing at the same skill level as mediocre teams. The mediocre version of the patriots showed up yet again.

claw71 said...

But they were consistently mediocre down the stretch. Does that mean they peaked early and faded or were they just playing beyond their means early on?