Gag reflex

Whether this was the most heartbreaking loss in Boston history boils down to a matter of personal opinion of cowhide over pigskin, or vice versa.

Whether it was the worst loss is certainly up for debate. In time, the Manning Escape will go down in Boston sports infamy, like Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, and Aaron Boone before it.

But to ask whether it is the biggest choke in all of New England sports history is a no-brainer: It absolutely is.

With all that was at stake, the 18-0 Patriots coughed up a chance at perfection by failing to adjust to the Giants’ speed rush attack on Tom Brady, and found themselves making the curious mistakes that they usually force out of their opponents. Gone is Lombardi, 19-0, and NFL coronation, replaced with the ignominy of being the first 18-0 team in history to collapse at the most inopportune time.

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In their grandest moment, the game they told us was the most important of their lives, the Patriots choked like no other Boston team in history. What other team in NFL history has failed to close the deal on a historic season by losing the Super Bowl? None. Just your New England Patriots, forever to be linked with the worst loss in the game’s history.
The Patriots’ 17-14 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII was a far greater gag job than anything Bill Buckner can be blamed for. While Buckner’s gaffe was a singular moment in a penultimate contest, we can point to a bevy of reasons why the Patriots gave last night’s game away to New York.

  • The Manning Escape
  • Ellis Hobbs’ adventure near the end zone
  • Asante Samuel’s near-interception in the closing seconds
  • Belichick’s decision not to run the ball inside the 10 with just over three minutes remaining
  • Belichick’s refusal to kick a 50-yard field goal

All of a sudden, it became contagious. The Patriots, a team that normally takes advantage of the mistakes of others, couldn’t close out the Giants. They have become a punch line rather than the Greatest Team Ever.
This wasn’t a matter of one thing gone terribly wrong, like the floating knuckler Tim Wakefield delivered to Boone that October evening five years ago. This was a group effort, a maddening chain of events that despite all the records and eye-popping achievements, suddenly made you wonder how this team got to 18.
The offensive line was overmatched. Even when he could plant his feet for a moment, Brady was erratic. The coach, back in the hairs of controversy with the rejuvenation of Spygate, made questionable decisions, and even more questionable adjustments. Richard Seymour kept flapping his gums, allegedly telling the Giants to “Go home” just prior to New York’s game-winning drive.
Some call it poetic justice after everything that has been chronicled through Spygate and accusations of cheating. To label such a loss a “choke job” certainly doesn’t take away from the superior game plan brought forth by the Giants, who smashed their way to victory unexpectedly, the same way Belichick’s teams used to at the start of the decade. Punch ‘em in the mouth. Get after the QB.
The Patriots lost the way they used to win, by causing the opposition major headaches and taking advantage of each little mistake. For one night, Eli Manning was Tom Brady, registering the game-winning drive. Belichick was Mike Martz with boneheaded decisions. The Patriots on the field last night looked nothing like the ones that won 18 straight, appeared to be but a distant relative to the teams that have won three Super Bowls this millennium.
Worst loss in Boston sports history? The 2003 ALCS, 1978 playoff game, and 1986’s Game 6 still rank near the top, but they’ve been joined by this one, which far outranks either of the Patriots’ two other Super Bowl defeats. A perfect history wasn’t on the line in 1986 or ’97. Just a Super Bowl title. So much more was choked away last night in Arizona. And there isn’t one definitive moment to point toward as the reason.
Brady, the offensive line, and the defensive backfield all share some blame.
But perhaps surprising to the fans that have lauded and defended him to the end in this controversial season, it is Belichick that can shoulder the load of the defeat. Whether it be that maddening decision not to run the ball inside the 10, taking a major detour from the running game, or not putting double coverage on Plaxico Burress at the most pivotal time, the coach’s reputation has taken a hit. And all that was before he disgraced himself and the franchise by leaving the field early.
We blamed Grady Little, too. So, too, did John McNamara hear it for not putting Dave Stapleton on first as a defensive replacement as he had all season long. Now Belichick, winner of three Super Bowl titles, has joined them on the infamous list of Boston gags.
It was bigger than anything else in our city’s history. It was worse than the Houston Oilers vs. the Bills 15 years ago, much worse than what Randy Moss went through with the Vikings nine years ago, when his one-loss team lost to the Falcons in the NFC title game. Based on the particulars involved in the Super Bowl, it will be argued for years to come which was the bigger choke, the Patriots’ loss in Super Bowl XLII, or the Yankees’ ALCS to the Red Sox in 2004.
The biggest choke in baseball history belongs to New York. The biggest in NFL history belongs to New England.
And you just know New Yorkers are going soak up the opportunity to add yet another pair of “B’s” in Brady and Belichick to the pile of Boston killers.