How's this for a four-game stretch of NFL greatness?
That quartet of one-sided scores comes to you courtesy of the 2004 Indianapolis Colts from a November-December period during which Peyton Manning and Company annihilated the Texans, Bears, Lions, and Titans, respectively. And, you know it's funny, I don't remember one person whining about them running up the score.
In fact, quite the opposite happened. The Colts were celebrated as the bright and shining star of the NFL. Following the 51-24 win over Tennessee, the Indy Star's Bob Kravitz wrote, "At this point, we're not just watching football anymore. We're watching history. Every week, the Indianapolis Colts' offense uses the football field as its canvas, and every week, it creates an art form that is distinct from everything else in the copycat NFL."
Flash forward almost three years, and the very same Kravitz wrote about the juggernaut New England Patriots, "In the last three weeks, New England has scored 48, 49, and 52 points, inspiring inquiring minds to wonder, 'Did the Patriots pile on?' And every week, the obvious answer is, 'Duh.'"
Whether the Patriots are needlessly running up the score on a weekly basis is open for debate of course, but not much. Tom Brady and Company are pounding teams to the brink of humiliation. At this level of the game, what's the problem with that? I get the feeling much of the national media would rather witness Bill Belichick coddle the opposition with concern for their feelings, stroking them with a false sense of concession compassion.
I can only imagine what Greg Easterbrook and the like might have written the morning after Wilt Chamberlain poured in 100 back in 1962, probably demanding an explanation as to why Wilt didn't sit out the fourth quarter against the poor, poor Knicks.
In any case, you might have noticed there's quite a clash on tap for Sunday in the new, touchy-feely National Football League, where bodies and spirits are demolished and demoralized on a weekly basis, but with the unwritten rule, apparently, that coaches shall exhibit empathy for the opponent, lest things get too embarrassing. It is the first time in league history that two undefeated teams have met this late into a season, and is likely a game of major importance in determining which team gets home field advantage in January's AFC Championship Game, a.k.a. the de facto Super Bowl.
Such a tired double standard exists when it comes to the Colts and Patriots. When it is the Patriots and Tom Brady that threaten the record-performances put up by Manning and the Colts in the past, folks start to get nervous. The love-fest that exists for Madison Avenue's favorite son extends to his coach Tony Dungy, a nice, congenial man who takes the time out every Sunday morning to bake for the team on the opposite sideline. Or so, we should think.
On the other side this weekend will be Bill Belichick, the gruff, maniacal genius who tends to videotape the opposition, gives curt answers at press conferences, and had his resume come into question when spy-gate broke earlier this season. The man hates cookies.
If you could predict any one statement to backfire this season, it would be when pundits began to question the past Super Bowl triumphs of these Patriots in the wake of spy-gate. You might as well have just handed them Mr. Lombardi's trophy right then and there, because it virtually guaranteed a perfect season. These are the same Patriots who take the slightest dig and turn it into a rallying call that William Wallace would envy. Question the validity of their crowning achievements? Like there wasn't going to be a price to pay for that.
But because the Patriots are the team – and coach – everybody loves to hate, there's something inherently wrong with winning big-time. After plain embarrassing the Redskins on Sunday at Gillette, 52-7, the hue began. "The Patriots are running up the score." "The Patriots show no class." "The Patriots are showing the game disrespect."
Please. As Gary Shelton wrote in the St. Petersburg Times, "Scoring 52 points doesn't disrespect the game; giving up 52 does."
You don't like it? Fine. Stop them. Do something to slow down the steaming, oncoming train that is New England. Can't do it? Tip your hat and call it a day. Or, whine about it into the ensuing days when you really should be preparing for your next opponent. Your call. But please do not try to make the argument that what the Pats are doing is bad for the game. It is certainly up for debate, but anyone who celebrated what the Colts did in 2004, then turns around and points the reproach finger at the Patriots isn't invited to the argument.
For the record, during that aforementioned four-game stretch for the Colts, backup quarterback Jim Sorgi threw exactly four passes. Patriots backup Matt Cassel, the man everyone argues should be in the game for junk time, lest the Pats further embarrass the opposition in the fourth – OK who are we kidding, second – quarter, has thrown five the last two games.
Remember that angry demand nationwide for Sorgi when Manning and Company were out there -- not embarrassing -- but showing good sportsmanship against their opponents with 30-plus point differentials?
Of course, everyone's complaints about this running up the score nonsense comes when the Patriots and Colts are set for another showdown, their first since last January's AFC title classic, the game that essentially prompted Belichick to award Brady with the toys he's never been privy to in the game. You got a problem with Caldwell, Tom. OK, here's Moss. Have fun, kid.
I fear what might happen if they run it up on the beloved Colts. There might be an investigation into whether Kraft legally bought the team 13 years ago. Maybe Indy will get another rule change instituted.
After beating the Texans, 41-9 on Nov. 14 three years ago, ESPN's Eric Allen addressed the issue as to whether or not Manning should have been pulled in the fourth quarter. "I don't think they should have for two reasons. One, right now Manning is extremely hot and has the opportunity to break a few very hard to reach records. It's nice to see a guy in the zone that much still on the field making it happen for his team."
That was then. That was Manning. When it comes to Brady and the Patriots, the story completely changes. For the Colts, it's history, and special. For the Patriots, it's smug and disrespectful. And for those waiting for Belichick's comeuppance, well, let's just hope you're comfortable.