If we’re sitting here on the upcoming solstice having the same concerns as on the present equinox, it’ll be a moot point.
After two weeks of the 2009 NFL season, New England fans have seen their emotions go from entitlement to concern to elation back to entitlement and right back into a deep pool of concern. The Patriots could – and if it weren’t for Leodis McKelvin, they would be – 0-2 to start the season. Of the nine teams that started the 2008 season 0-2, only three made the playoffs (Minnesota, San Diego, and Miami).
On the flip side, the New York Jets are 2-0, and even the staunchest Patriots optimist has to admit Rex Ryan’s defense is six parts smothering and nine ways scary. New York’s defensive unit has yet to allow a touchdown through two games, a pretty impressive measure considering what the Texans showed they can do yesterday in a 34-31 win over Tennessee, generally regarded as one of the league’s best defenses, as well as what it managed to do against the Patriots, a team we assume to have some level of offensive firepower.
So, yes, things are good in the Meadowlands. Print playoff tickets now.
Still, here’s a funny little stat: Of the 10 teams that started last season 2-0, five failed to make the playoffs (New England, Green Bay, Buffalo, Dallas, and Denver).
This year, eight NFL teams have kicked things off with a 2-0 mark. If we follow the same path as 2008, that means 50 percent of a group that includes the Jets, Ravens, Broncos, Giants, Falcons, Saints, Vikings, and 49ers probably won’t make the big January dance.
It would also stand to reason that a third of the 0-2 group that includes the Rams, Lions, Bucs, Panthers, Chiefs, Browns, Titans, Jaguars, and possibly the Dolphins - pending tonight’s game against the Colts – will rebound to make the playoffs.
Somewhere in the middle stand the New England Patriots, a team not exactly lost amidst its own success quite yet, but not one taking the league by any measure of a storm either. The optimist says the Patriots defense rebounded nicely after showing some holes in the opening win over the Bills. The pessimist says, yeah, against a rookie quarterback, a guy Bill Belichick would have normally had running home to Mommy in the past. Instead, the Mark Sanchez Legend grows in New York.
Boomer Esiason actually said yesterday before the game that the Jets have the QB they’ve been looking for since Joe Namath. Namath. Heck, even though that’s a group that includes himself, the claim isn’t even that bombastic considering some of the names on that list. Mark Franchez indeed. Canton is reserving room as we speak.
The pessimist says they should be 0-2. The optimist simply knows what Wes Welker brings to the discussion.
There’s a reason why Tom Brady was lost much of the afternoon yesterday, his security blanket a late scratch from the game. The diminutive one is the playmaker, a fact made painfully clear repeatedly yesterday when Brady looked to his left, only to find Joey Galloway a few more yards downfield than the dependable guy that’s normally in that slot. As a result, Randy Moss was shut down, screen plays were a non-factor, and the deep game was tossed into a tizzy with sparkling plays turned in by the Jets’ secondary.
If Welker is in there, in that familiar position that Brady can probably mentally see before his vision takes over, is yesterday a different result? Maybe. Probably. After all, it says something that the Jets haven’t allowed a touchdown over two games. It says something else entirely that yesterday was the first time New England failed to score an offensive touchdown in three years. Then again, are the Patriots going to expect to win every week by having Brady throw the ball 50 times a game? It should be debated whether Laurence Maroney - who showed a little pop at times yesterday - should have 20 carries alone, never mind as part of a committe that ran only 19 times all day.
But let’s be honest here. Come December the only way we’re going to remember this game is if the Jets have a one-game advantage on the Patriots in the AFC East, and much like last season, it is the reason they stay home instead of chasing after Lombardi.
It was a bad day. Nothing more at this point. If things go south against the Falcons (only the 49ers have allowed fewer points per game than the Falcons in the NFC – 13.5) the Patriots will be 1-2 on the season, and of course all will be lost. Never mind that this team was only 1-3 prior to winning its first Super Bowl, these days Pats fans ask for and demand excellence Sunday in and Monday out. Another chase at 19-0, for instance, will have to wait. Remember the 31-0 loss to Buffalo to kick off the 2003 campaign? How about the ugly October loss to Pittsburgh a year later that snapped the consecutive win streak? How much did that mean come January when New England returned the favor?
If it’s Dec. 21, and we’re re-hashing a blow handed to them by the Bills one day earlier and wondering if this team can sneak into the playoffs, then things will have gone awry indeed. But for now, despite Belichick’s claim that he was, indeed, outcoached by the Jets’ telemarketing head coach, consider the loss as a crystal ball look at what life would be without Wes Welker.
Then hope, for everybody’s sake, that Life Without Wes Welker isn’t a pervading theme to the 2009 season.