It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Patriots’ Year Because It Couldn’t Be Duller

Bill Belichick likes to keep December as boring as possible. Dullness isn’t just handed out. It must be earned.
Bill Belichick likes to keep December as boring as possible. Dullness isn’t just handed out. It must be earned. –AP

The Patriots practiced for their game against the Jets throught the week in preparation for Sunday. In the other big NFL development in New England this week, there were several local news TV live shots of Pats players attending children’s charity Christmas parties.

Even the most devout/demented Patriots fans should focus on other matters until 1.p.m. Sunday when the broadcast of the Jets-Pats game begins. There is nothing new under their team’s sun and hasn’t been for weeks. I only hope those fans are as grateful as they ought to be for how uninteresting the Patriot experience has been since they played the Packers.

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If they’re not, those fans could get some vicarious midweek thrills by clicking on any random Chicago news media Website. Those Bears are making headlines, benching quarterback Jay Cutler and his untradeable mega-contract in favor of Jimmy Clausen. Granted that Cutler could not attend a children’s Christmas party in Chicagoland for fear of being battered by the tykes’ action figure gifts, his demotion is all one needs to know about the 2014 Bears season. The franchise is a wreck. Sensing his own doom, coach Marc Trestman evidently is seeking to take as many other Bears with him as he can, like Jimmy Cagney on top of the refinery in the final scenes of “White Heat.’’

Still bored, Pats fans? Try the Washington papers. Now there’s an NFL team that knows how to keep people’s interest – except when it tries to play football. Dan Snyder’s motto is: “if you can’t beat ‘em, beat ‘em to becoming a bad national joke.’’

We see more than a trend here, we see one of the most basic formulas of NFL physics. A team’s success is inversely proportional to the amount of public attention it earns between regular season games. The road to the Super Bowl is paved with routine Tuesdays through Saturdays. Ideally, nothing of note should take place except boilerplate press releases on the occasional Player of the Week or Month awards.

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It’s losing teams or teams with wild swings between victories and defeats that monopolize the excess of coverage created by the fact that our country’s most popular sport plays by far the fewest actual games. That’s because watching gifted, unhealthily competitive human beings cope with stress is much more interesting than watching them avoid stress in the first place. Nobody slows down to watch normal traffic on the other side of the Interstate.

Stress seen by the public is stress magnified. Stress magnified tends to reach someone’s breaking point. As the someones under the most stress, coaches tend to break first. Before you know it, one has, oh, benched the starting quarterback with two games to play or is leaking contract offers from the University of Michigan.

The Pats and their main conference rivals the Broncos have reached the Nirvana of Newsless Decembers. Even their games can’t really change their narratives. One will be the number one AFC playoff seed and the other number two. As to which is which, big whoop. Only an injury to a vital player could make their remaining four contests a national story, which is why Brady’s scramble against Miami and Peyton Manning’s “block’’ against the Chargers are the only video highlights anyone remembers from last Sunday.

By and large, dull Decembers and victory go hand in hand. Like Tolstoy’s happy families, winning teams are all alike. But if the Pats seem especially humdrum most Decembers, it’s not just because they effectively clinch playoff berths by Thanksgiving. Their tedium is the residue of design.

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No coach has ever hated midweek news more than Belichick, nor prevented it more effectively. When I covered the Pats in person, his mandatory reticence policy was aggravating to the max. Not that I don’t need any Belichick quotes, I have a better appreciation of why he strives to make his team a font of verbal vanilla. I also have learned that Belichick suppresses no one’s speech more than his own. Sometimes a team can’t help but make news, but the coach is damned if he’ll contribute.

Consider the low point of New England’s season, the thrashing it took out in Kansas City. In the aftermath of that humiliating debacle, Belichick took his notorious dour taciturnity to the heights of performance art, epitomized by the phrase “we’re moving on to Cincinnati.’’

And among millions of football fans, Belichick was that week’s national joke. Winning coaches are always much disliked outside their teams’ fan bases. Outsiders laughed at the coach’s apparent denial of reality. Media types so often stonewalled by Belichick would have been more than human if they hadn’t laughed as well.

But how much of the scrutiny, doubts and “controversies’’ which could have enveloped the team that week was diverted into jibes at Belichick? How did the Pats themselves react to his act?

Don’t know any of the Pats anymore, so I can’t say. But for myself, if someone was willing to make a damn fool of themselves in public to help me in a tight spot, I’d do a lot for them. Anything, really.

Dullness isn’t just handed out. It must be earned.

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