Pigskin pleasure, no strings attached
Memo to Grid God: OK, what's the catch?
There's a give-back coming soon, right? The Patriots can't be this good, this classy, this downright fulfilling. We know you're up to something. These are the Patriots, after all. The Patriots clip coupons. The Patriots watch game films on a bedsheet taped to the wall at East Boston Stadium. The Patriots are told not to pull back the covers at their Jersey hotel (motel?) so the club won't be charged extra cash on their day trip. The Patriots have a coach from Pluto telling the bus driver to go the wrong way on a one-way street. The Patriots have a coach caught with his hand in the next-job cookie jar on the eve of a playoff game. The Patriots have four home fields in four years. The Patriots go 2-12, 2-14, and even 1-15. The Patriots know what it feels like to have the mixed blessing of being able to pick numero uno on Draft Day.
C'mon, those are our Patriots.
So when do we get the pie in the face? Or . . . is this really it? Is this really a New World Order down in Foxborough, with a state-of-the-art stadium, a management that wants to win and has the means to get it done, a coach who can COACH!!! and players who seem to think that the daily object is doing what's necessary to help the team, not to further personal agendas? Here? Can't be. Wow. Are we really that worthy?
Can all this be happening here, in a town where the pro football team was so long the laughable afterthought in our sports discussions, where you couldn't have a conversation without someone referring to them as the "Patsies," and where what few successes there were inevitably led to almost immediate sorrow?
A win is a win. Everybody wins occasionally. Two, three, four in a row is nice. It means you have some idea of what you're doing. Five, six, seven in a row means you're going up in the standings. It means you really can start thinking playoffs. But eight, nine, 10, and now 11 in a row means something far, far different.
It means something very special is going on. It means that while there may be trouble in Phoenix, San Diego, or River City, there is nothing but good news being spread right here in Boston and the rest of New England. You talk about an athletic Christmas present to the fans. That's what 11 straight victories in the National Football League represents.
Everyone everywhere else wants to know how. Just how is this team doing it? The Patriots have won their 13 games by margins of 21, 7, 8, 11, 6 (OT), 6, 4, 12, 3 (OT), 4, 12, 14 and 5. The closest thing to an official blowout since that 31-10 victory over a completely disoriented Philadelphia Eagles team back on Sept. 14 was last week's 27-13 triumph over Jacksonville, a game in which the Jaguars scored a garbage-time TD after being down by three scores. The other victories have not come easily, at least not in a numerical sense. None of them were ha-has. There were no gaudy offensive stats for anyone, starting with the quarterback.
But if you saw those games, you know that many of them were quite comfortable spectating experiences. The score may have been low, but you felt throughout your team was in charge. Cleveland was 9-3, but were you ever worried? Nope. Dallas: 12-0. You and I know the Cowboys simply were not going to score, at least not enough to win. Miami? Please. 12-0, 22-0, 112-0, they were all the same that day. Once the Patriots put those first points on the board, it was no worries, mate.
Don't you agree?
Sure, you do. The rest of the country may be confused, but when you've watched this team play on a weekly basis it starts to become understandable. The Patriots play versatile, intelligent, and relentless defense and they take advantage of just enough offensive opportunities to win. The running game, Antowain Smith's surprising 121 yards against the Jets notwithstanding, is -- and I'm being exceedingly polite here -- marginal. Tom Brady does not go around throwing for 350 or 400 yards. A Peyton Manning he ain't. (I haven't noticed any Marvin Harrisons running out for passes in a Patriots uniform, either).
But Brady makes just enough key plays in the game to help win it. It is not demeaning to call him a great game manager, because that's what he is. Throw in a good kicker, special teams units that have had their moments (we give you Bethel Johnson & Friends vs. the Colts), and the kind of fortitude an ambitious team needs to win on the road, and there you have it.
Oh, and sprinkle in the kind of mystical, inexplicable je ne sais quoi a team just plain exudes every once in a while, and a record that should have computed through 15 games to be 11-5, at best, becomes 13-2.
Or maybe there's something else going on. I just know that the New England Patriots are now regarded throughout the NFL as a model of sound management, exceptional coaching, and professionalism permeating the roster and it's all very hard to digest. It's like we've all gotten an inheritance we assume surely must have hidden strings attached.
So go ahead. Enjoy it. You don't have to put any of this good fortune in your emotional savings account. Spend it all and have a great pre-Buffalo week.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
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