I know, I know. We’re supposed to look ahead now. There’s no time to linger in the NFL playoffs, no time to savor a beautiful victory and hard-won accomplishment until that moment the confetti begins to rain on the champion.
You know the NFL mindset: He who spends any time enjoying a playoff win beyond the immediate aftermath isn’t preparing to earn the next win. There’s no time for reflection when there’s film to be dissected. On to the Colts and all of that.
From a players and coaches perspective, I get it. It’s their job to be that way. They can’t afford to be living in the moment, let alone the immediate past. They must be preparing for what comes next if their grandest goals are to be achieved.
It’s one of the reasons — the many reasons, macro and micro — that Bill Belichick should be and generally is appreciated as a genius in his time. He never fails to be prepared. John Harbaugh is a fine if petulant coach, and damned if he isn’t still spinning about how Belichick thoroughly outfoxed him Saturday night. His deception is Belichick’s preparation.
He can keep on thinking about it, too, right on through the winter, spring and summer. After all, Harbaugh doesn’t have another game until the fall.
The Patriots? Of course they must be laser-focused on what comes next. They must get ready for Andrew Luck, a bright, gifted young quarterback who may or may not still be prone to the big mistake. They must prepare for T.Y. Hilton and Boom Herron and ol’ Reggie Wayne, and they must figure out ways to expose a Colts defense that Peyton Manning could not solve with his pea-shooter of a right arm. The Patriots should beat the Colts with relative ease, but the cannot — and will not — take them for granted.
It is their duty to spend every productive minute of their working day preparing for this. But us, we can afford to hold our horses, so to speak. I’m not ready to consider and analyze the Colts to a degree beyond the rudimentary acknowledgments in the previous paragraphs.
I’m still digging what we saw Saturday night. I’m thinking about the Patriots’ victory over the Ravens, one of their most fulfilling and thrilling in their recent postseason history. If we can’t spend some of the hours in the seven full days between games appreciating that victory — one that featured a perfectly timed and executed trick play, a formation that vexed the Ravens and then vexed them again and again, a truly brilliant Tom Brady performance, a hold-your-breath Hail Mary, and ultimately, a fulfilling victory over a tough, worthy, and wholly unlikable opponent — then what’s the point?
I’ll get to the Colts game, oh, let’s say maybe Friday. Until then, I can’t help but fire up the DVR and appreciate some of the small things that surrounded the big things in the Patriots’ win. I did just that last night, actually — I rewatched the game as an opening act for the college football national championship game. And you know what? I came away even more impressed with what the Patriots accomplished — and how they accomplished it.
One observation: Danny Amendola’s two receiving touchdowns were enough to vault this game to the top of a short list of his best performances as a Patriots. (I love the comparison, made by several folks on Twitter, that this was the football equivalent of the similarly maligned J.D. Drew’s grand slam in Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS.) But his contributions went beyond the dozen points he put on the scoreboard.
His catch on third-and-6 in which he wriggled through a potential tackle to get the first down with a little over seven minutes remaining was perhaps the pivotal play on the winning drive.
There’s no doubt that Amendola has been a disappointment here, in part because it turned out that the Patriots had a better player with similar strengths on the roster in Edelman. But he was absolutely sensational Saturday night. If you want to say he earned his contract with that game alone, I’m not sure I’d agree, but I’m not going to argue the notion either.
Another observation: Brady’s throw to Brandon LaFell for the go-ahead touchdown has to be one of the best of his career, especially considering the circumstances and what was at stake. He stuck that pass right into LaFell’s hands with defenders closing on each side, and he did it almost casually, lofting it in there with such touch that the receiver barely had to move his hands to catch it. Brady’s career highlight reel is already the length of “Boyhood,” but this throw belongs.
And one final observation, at least for today: Can we junk the foolish sports-radio nonsense about Brady’s body language having any sort of impact on anything? It’s just not relevant. There he was, with his head in his hands, looking practically distraught after throwing that brutal interception to Darryl Smith just before halftime.
So what happened? He called up Joey Galloway and yelled at him. No, no, this is what happened: He came out in the second half and hit 18 of 26 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns as the Patriots rallied from their second two-touchdown deficit of the game.
Brady might look pissed off or mopey when things aren’t going well. But never take it as a suggestion that he’s down on his team.
More often than not, it’s just an early stage in his eventual vengeance — and as the Ravens learned, in the Patriots’ vengeance, too.