In the end, it wasnít enough.
Itís never enough.
Itís now been eight years since the New England Patriots have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy as NFL supremes, yet we tend to treat this team, this franchise as if it parted the sea, walked on it, then purified it for good measure.
To err is human. To err in Foxborough is excommunication from the Church of the Patriots.
Where the blame lies in Sundayís 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game is sure to be a confusing debate. Was it Bill Belichickís confounding game plan coming out of halftime? Was it Tom Brady -- now 7-7 with 28 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his last 14 playoff games -- with another concerning and uneven postseason game? Was it Wes Welker, because, well, letís kick the man on his way out, right? Was it Stevan Ridleyís butter hands? The refs for ultimately blowing the call?
Give credit where due, the insufferable Ravens came to Gillette Stadium and laid an absolute beatdown on the Patriots, cuing a fortnight of Harbaughs and Ray Lewisí farewell tour. Sorry, America.
The Patriots let you down. They let New England down.
Brady will be 36 when the 2013 NFL season kicks off in September. At that age, Joe Montana was in his final season in San Francisco, and by age 38, he finished his Hall of Fame career. If unfair comparisons are to be made, letís figure the Patriots quarterback has three more years in him. Think about that. The dominance and consistency that has defined the franchise since 2001 may have a shelf life akin to condensed milk. And Belichick, as fine as a football mind as there ever was, isnít far behind, if not in advance of his lucky charm quarterback.
Sunday was a chance to try and cement legacies in the NFL. As ridiculously stupid and unfair as it may be (Hello, New York) the stain of Spygate hovers over Belichick and Brady, an idiotic storyline that refuses to go away despite brilliance from both since Manginiís snitch.
We want the trophy back. But do those two need it?
In the eyes of New Englanders, that controversy is passť, if only because weíre more logical than the demographic that watches ďFirst Take.Ē But this is a country obsessed with reality shows and fast food, unbeknownst to the finer points in life.
They see the Pats as arrogant also-rans. We remember and appreciate the dark days. Rod Rust. Hugh Millen. Aluminum bleacher seats. They donít see Route 1, the inflated parking prices, and the leaps and bounds it takes to be a true Patriot fan.
Spoiled? You bet. Deservedly so? Yup.
Growing up a Pats fan wasnít only a hardship, it was a nightmare. There wasnít the heartache that existed with the Red Sox, the consistent dominance of the Celtics, or the almost-but-not-quite pulse of the Bruins. It was apathy. They were, in effect, the Cannons.
No disrespect to the Cannons, of course.
And today, the New England Patriots are the class of the NFL. If only they showed some.
Belichick does himself no favors. Just do the interview and stop any sort of noise coming from the other side. After all, isnít that what he ultimately preaches? Ignore the noise? Why artificially put any more out there? Excuses aside, you can tell from a national perspective why the country hates the Patriots.
As much as we hold that team dear, there is an arrogance in Foxborough that gets difficult to deal with without a title to back up such curmudgeon. True fans can see the dents in the armor, even if the cultish media corps that covers the team on a daily basis will polish them with lollipops and gumdrops.
The end is near. Like it or not, itís coming.
So, no, Sunday wasnít enough. Blame Welker. Blame Brady. Blame Belichick. Blame Aqib Talib's misfortune. Blame whomever you want.
In the end, there really is none. The Ravens stole it from you.
They stole the game. They stole the season. They may have stolen how this franchise is perceived for evermore.
The dynasty is deceased, and the thought of reviving it is foolhardy. But...one more. Just one more, right?
It has been an historic run, but did Sunday mark the beginning of the end, or was it merely a speed bump toward one more chance at glory? Hate us all you want, America. We just have everything you want, and if we donít have it, weíll get it back.
That means you, Los Angeles. Weíll take that Cup, thank you.