THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

NFL breakdown lane avoided in team’s travels

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / January 4, 2011

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What a weird, wacky, tumultuous, unpredictable, and perversely entertaining NFL season this was.

We in these here parts were spared the turmoil. I mean, what passed for a crisis here? Does anyone recall Tom Brady’s accident? Dumping Randy Moss? Talk about a crisis that wasn’t.

Oh, sure there were injuries here and there, but everybody has injuries. It’s football, you know? Anyway, there’s only one injury that would derail this Patriots Super Bowl Express, and as far as we know He is quite functional, even if Coach Bill insists on amusing himself by listing his quarterback as being “questionable’’ with a shoulder disturbance a record-breaking 456,897 weeks in a row.

Now we did have this Logan Mankins business. He proved to be a man of his word, remaining home until forced to return in order to protect his future negotiating rights. Meanwhile, have you noticed that every time in the last eight games or so the Patriots have needed a yard or two they run left behind No. 70 and wind up gaining somewhere between 5 or 25? I’m sure Mankins’s agent has observed this fascinating phenomenon.

Things weren’t so placid in other locales. Dallas? Jerry Jones honestly believed he’d be the genial host for a Super Bowl featuring his own team.

Washington? Things got off to a bad start with the Mike Shanahan-Albert Haynesworth confrontation and ended with a Mike Shanahan-Donovan McNabb confrontation. It was just one more wasted season in the amazing reverse alchemy regime of Dan Snyder.

Denver? Guess Josh McDaniels wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. San Francicso? Yes, Mike Singletary had to go, but the problems go way beyond the coach. Somebody, please, get them a QB not named Smith.

Cleveland? That’s two called strikes on Eric Mangini and I would rather seriously doubt he’ll have another chance to take a third. Arizona? You’ll love this one. I had a dream the Cardinals were in the Super Bowl — are you ready for this? — two years ago. That’s what I get for chugging eggnog before I go to bed.

Carolina? At least we know where the problem lies. The Panthers were last in passing yardage, last in total yardage, and last in points per game (12.2). Is my vague recollection of them being the Patriots’ victim in Super Bowl XXXVIII really accurate? Or was that the eggnog kicking in again?

I think it’s safe to say that no team had a worse overall year than the Vikings. A year ago they lost an overtime coin flip and were beaten by a 40-yard Garrett Hartley field goal in the NFC Championship Game. They had 10 Pro Bowlers and rightfully figured they’d have a very good chance of getting to this year’s Super Bowl. Supplicants were dispatched to Mississippi to fetch Brett Favre for one more season. What could go wrong? Hah!

By season’s end Favre was, at long last, officially hors de combat, the celebrated consecutive game streak over at 297. This was not necessarily a bad thing, since he finished up with an interception rate of one for every 13 throws. In 2009 he had one for every 76. Yeah, I’d say it was time to hang ’em up.

Also by season’s end, Leslie Frazier, and not Brad Childress, was coaching ’em up. Moss had come and gone, but not before revealing himself to be a food critic. I must also admit it’s not too often someone takes the occasion of a postgame news conference to slobber all over the team he just left while blasting his current coach.

Finally, how often do we get to say that the roof has fallen on a team? The 2010 Vikings season will be hard to top for all-around madness.

Yet none of these situations, as bad as they all were, could match what happened to the New York Giants for sheer, shocking negativity. Almost everything bad that happened to the Cowboys, Redskins, Broncos, 49ers, Browns, Cardinals, Panthers, and Vikings happened pretty much from the get-go, or, at least, before November.

Consider the astonishing juxtaposition in the fortunes of the Giants, who were in control of their playoff destiny as recently as the fourth quarter of Game 14, leading the Eagles by a 31-10 score. There was no conceivable way to lose, except that there was. But dropping that game to the Eagles didn’t mean they automatically had to lose the following week to Green Bay, which, of course, is what they did.

Having a QB who throws atrocious interceptions, as Eli Manning does, is a problem. Having people who are afflicted with fumble-itis, which Ahmad Bradshaw is, complicates matters. Turnovers were a season-long malady for the Giants. This would be an appropriate time to mention that the Patriots established an NFL record by having 10 turnovers, total.

Now I’m just asking . . . is it possible that what has happened to the Giants the past three seasons (i.e. late-season collapses) is some sort of cosmic balancing of the books for the events of Super Bowl XLII? As much as the Giants pushed the Patriots around, and as often as they got in Brady’s face, and as much as their overt physicality means they deserved to win, they still were trailing after that Brady-to-Moss touchdown pass. The way that final Giants drive transpired smacked of the occult. The rings will be theirs forever, but the rest of the franchise’s existence may be hell.

I’ve been accentuating the negative because I think that was the larger reality of this season. Sure, there were positives. The Falcons were certainly a positive. The Steelers, Ravens, Bears, Colts, Saints, Chiefs, and Eagles — Michael Vick is a film bio waiting to happen — all wrote great stories for themselves. Nor should anyone forget the Buccaneers, who came close to making the playoffs, and who apparently have found a keeper QB in Josh Freeman. But when I think about this season a few years down the road, it will be more about teams and roofs collapsing than the good stuff.

Through it all, one team just kept building and improving. Even the one loss in the final 14 games was viewed as educational and beneficial. There was craziness and there were crises galore all around, but not in Foxborough. The Patriots have been here before, but as No. 12 says, the experience never gets old.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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