Well, the Patriots' honor was officially called into question, summarily compromised and ultimately completely shattered tonight by none other than...the Cincinnati Bengals.
Do not attempt to adjust your sets: the Patriots, tonight, lost to the Cincinnati Bengals 31-3.
They fumbled, they dropped the ball, they missed tackles, and it wasn't till the third quarter that there were more white shirts around receivers than black. While Coach Belichik is smart enough to see things wrong in a feel-good win over the Eagles to kick off the season, it doesn't take a football master to see that the Patriots simply sucked this evening.
It's an odd thing. After a while, the Red Sox condition you to losing, but I haven't seen the Patriots play so poorly since last year's disastrous opening day against Buffalo--nearly a year ago.
Far be it from me to make excuses for the Patriots. Their performance tonight was simply dismal, and besides, we in Boston are as demanding as any hellfire-and-brimstone head coach when it comes to our sports teams. We don't always (in fact, seldom) get what we want, but we don't stop demanding it. That said, I remain philosophical about tonight's loss.
For one thing, the Bengals had pride on the line with Corey Dillon coming back to town. They also had pride on the line because, God bless them, they're actually trying to rise above mediocrity this year (a big step, because they only rose above the fifth level of football hell last year).
Also, though it's tough to remember when you've begun to take for granted that the Patriots will win at all times, the pre-season is not necessarily about winning. In the pre-season, things happen like Corey Dillon being given the ball for three straight downs in the Red Zone, failing on each attempt, because the point was not to score. The point was to put Dillon up against a defense.
It says nothing about the Patriots as a team that they lost tonight (nice though it would have been to maintain perfection), any more than it said anything about them that they won against Philadelphia last week. In fact, more may be gained from this loss than if they coasted through the pre-season as they have for the past two years.
Because, as sad as it is to say (especially with all the rhetoric that's been spewed forth so far about "It's a new year, blah blah"), I remain convinced that the biggest problem the Patriots had tonight was an arrogance problem. I mean, it's the Bengals, for Chrissakes--and so the team that rode a "one game at a time" attitude all the way through the Super Bowl and a 16-game win streak didn't bother to show up. Instead, the 2002 "Whatever," squad took the field.
But this could ultimately be a good thing: an important part of last year, after all, was getting their asses handed to them on opening day. After that, the Patriots either a) took an intergalactic ass-kicking from their coaches or b) the light bulbs clicked on, or c) all of the above, and they understood that they must actually try to win.
Ultimately, then, I'd rather we lost tonight--especially since the game doesn't count--if it brings on some extreme punishment and self-recrimination for the next two weeks. Hopefully, this loss will get starry-eyed rookies to take the "one game at a time", humble approach more seriously, and remind veterans that what they did last year and three years ago took blood, sweat, tears and boatloads of luck.
Besides. Winning all the time isn't the point. Overcoming challenges, going up against odds, giving maximum effort and, at times, failing with honor, are the point of sports. An incessantly perfect Patriots squad would quickly get boring; a humble, human team that nevertheless manages tremendous achievements is what gives us something to really cheer for.