...and out of that smoking wreckage of a game (the first I've been able to even sit down and watch in three weeks) comes a Patriots win. I think?
First there was the end of the baseball season. Then there was that whole part where the Red Sox ownership decided to do the one single thing they could possibly do to fuck up the whole World Series afterglow beyond all possible recognition. And right on the heels of that, my job grabbed me by the ankles and swung me to and fro like an enraged gorilla, and I had no choice but to try to keep from hitting my head on anything and wait till it calmed down.
So it's safe to say I haven't been terribly detailed in my assessment of the Patriots this season. Until yesterday.
"You are what your record says you are," is what Bill Belichik has been quoted as saying. And...well...yeah.
On the one hand, there was the first flash of Tedy Bruschi brilliance I've witnessed so far this year, a diving leap to bat a sure-thing touchdown pass out of the air. The field goal attempt that followed failed, and at that point New England fans' "Bruuuuuu..." could be heard drowning out Fish fans in their own house. Seymour was back, and Asante Samuel, for the most part, played his skinny little ass off yesterday. In particular, he laid a hit down on Ricky Williams that made me wince from the comfort of the living room couch.
On that same hand, there was excitement in the late quarters remeniscent of the late innings of a close baseball game, an ending remeniscent of a final swing-and-miss with the bases loaded and two out.
On the other hand, we've been exposed to the Patriots' dynasty-style greatness enough to learn without a shadow of a doubt what it looks like. And it don't look like this.
As a particular example, once again, we have Asante Samuel, who celebrated vociferously after the dropped touchdown attempt as the final seconds ticked off the clock in regulation. It was something that drove my father into an immediate and complete conniption.
"Shut up, you asshole!" he bellowed. "You had nothing to do with that! Asshole."
They replayed the whole play, in slow motion, showing even more clearly that it was the receiver's "hands like feet" as my father likes to say, and not prowess on Samuel's part, that had spared the Patriots a trip to overtime and / or a loss.
"Asshole," my father repeated. "God. This is dumb. What a dumb game. Dumb."
I'm not sure if it's the absence of Rodney Harrison and / or Ty Law in the backfield or an absence of Romeo Crennel as defensive coordinator or a one-time incident that will not repeat itself, but in that game yesterday I saw several defensive backs who played...okay...but who mugged and grandstanded and celebrated like Ray Lewis. It was not only obnoxious, but also shocking to a fan who had gotten used to the Patriots' mantra, adopted from Boxer in Animal Farm: "I will work harder."
This did not seem to be the case yesterday, as the defense both bent and broke and my father instructed Logan Mankins on several occasions to "buy a fucking ticket."
This season could well be looked upon as a disaster--so many injuries, so many people not playing to the inspired level they'd found before, personnel changes in the coaching staff--just like the game yesterday could have been a disaster. But in the end, the Patriots edged out the Dolphins and kept their heads above the proverbial water, and it's hard to know what's more disconcerting: their failure to perform in ways we're used to seeing, or the fact that all those failures seem to amount to, most often, is a miss by thaaaaat much?
How many of the four losses currently on our record did we lose by thaaaaat much?
How many potential touchdown passes by Brady yesterday missed by thaaaat much?
Football is a scary game. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts, and so we get a case like this where parts are malfunctioning left and right, and yet the difference between the product currently on the field and the well-oiled machine that took the league by storm last year seems not a yard--but an inch. If not less.
But what we're learning in a Patriots season looking more and more like 2002 with each passing week, is "thaaaat much" is a long way to fall.