There's still only one team that can beat the Patriots. And that's the Patriots.
We disparage fans of Oakland and their whining about the tuck rule...with that in mind I don't have it in me to pontificate about the pass interference call.
However, when I mentioned this to Kristen on the phone last night, she said, "But that's an actual rule being enforced. That ball was out of the end zone in this game. It was a completely uncatchable ball! Besides, those are Oakland fans, and we don't care about them."
But I still can't blame the referees. Was the pass interference call against Asante Samuel absolutely the worst officiating I've ever seen in my life? Definitely. Did I have difficulty not smashing my beer bottle against the opposite wall when it happened? You better believe it. Was it consequential in the end? Not really.
Because what gave Denver the ball in Patriots territory prior to that call was a Patriots turnover. What kept the Patriots from going ahead in the third quarter when they had the ball within the Denver 10 was another turnover, and it was this--Champ Bailey's interception and 100-yard run afterward--that was the turning point of this game for me.
Add to that the scuffle between Larry Izzo and Willie McGinest after the chip-shot touchdown a play later (Ben Watson, in an astonishing show of speed and determination, knocked Bailey out nearly out of his helmet from the other side of the field at the last possible second), and it was clear that the Patriots were falling apart.
So was I happy about the officiating? Was I okay with it? Fuck no. Am I going to say it's the reason we lost? No again. As horrific as the officiating was, it doesn't negate five turnovers. And the longer the game went on, as various people lost their shit, it also didn't negate the fact that the Patriots just didn't have their act together, period.
Meanwhile, if we'd won that game last night, where I'd chosen to watch it--the Allston Sports Depot--might've been the best place to be. Virtually every square inch of the place is covered with LCD screen; by the time I got there at quarter of six last night, the better to stake out a table, we turned out to be the last people admitted before they went over fire code and adopted a "one in, one out" policy, and we ended up scoring a table for five by the skin of our teeth. In other words, the place was jumpin', overstuffed, in the beginning, with absolutely psyched Patriots fans.
But since they lost--and lost in the way that they lost--it may have been among the worst places to have been when the Patriots posteason wagon lost a wheel.
How can I describe it? It was as if the crowded bar was the steerage hold of a ship, and people began to scream as if it were sinking. Yes. People screamed. Combined with the clattering roar of a commuter rail train thundering by just behind the restaurant, as Champ Bailey passed the 50...the 40...the 30...it truly felt like the end of the world in there.
People screamed in abject horror, in astonishment, in disbelief. People screamed in palpable pain.
Now I know that realistically, the Patriots this season were overachievers. No way would another team without their historical momentum, skilled coaching staff, and veteran leadership on the field have made it so far. And I also realize that to act as if our frustration and disappointment at the end of our season even approaches that of, say, Cincinnati, is disingenuous at best. But nobody wants to hear that right now. That kind of thing comes later--and for now all I can think of is everyone crammed into that bar screaming like the place was on fire.
Going out on interceptions and embarrassing fumbles, especially--that smarts. It stings. I'm not going to lie. Better for the Patriots to have lost a tough, valiant battle, fair and square. As it was, though, the fumbles, the stumbles, the Patriots seeming not to quietly fall from grace but to face-plant all at once while all around me people shrieked in horror...I'll never forget that scene.