When I argued that this is not a lost season for the Patriots shortly after Tom Brady went down, the relative ease of their schedule this year, especially early on, was something I took into account. Miami at home has been all but a lock over the last few years; while I knew it wouldn't be a cakewalk, I wasn't expecting this.
Neither, it seemed, were many of my fellow Patriots fans, who flooded talk radio yesterday afternoon with their views on exactly who lost the game. To my consternation, and that of the radio hosts I was listening to, there was a vocal faction wanting to ship out Matt Cassel and give Kevin O'Connell a shot under center.
Call me a quarterback apologist, but I didn't see this loss as Cassel's fault. At least, not totally.It's true he faltered in the red zone, as he had against the Jets (luckily 1,000 field goals were enough to beat them). The Tuna's defense kept him shuffling between the 20s all day, not something that would've happened to Brady.
However, Cassel also doesn't seem to be getting much protection. You could argue that Brady just made it look like he had more time because of his calm style, or hid a multitude of blocking sins with his mobility in the pocket, but there were times yesterday Cassel didn't even have a second to set his feet. Then there was Randy Moss, shutting it down in the third quarter and showing shades of his old self.
And to lay it all on the backup QB would amount to a grossly unfair overlooking of the defense yesterday, which played as if opposing runningbacks were invisible. There's plenty of blame to go around - one analysis I've seen attributes the effectiveness of the Dolphins' running game to deception from a spread formation, hardly the kind of thing it seems the Patriots should fall for - which suggests that this team has deeper problems than its Hall of Fame quarterback's left knee. That in itself is an unsettling thought.
Although, maybe I should have been expecting this. After all, the Dolphins were the last team to beat the Patriots in the regular season, and that time was even more of an upset - and even more of a crushing loss. That time was with Brady at the helm, the Patriots didn't even get on the board, and every member of the Dolphins was outfitted in traffic-cone-orange shoes. It was a game Kristen and I came to refer to with the statement, "What Miami game?" because the Patriots were headed for the playoffs anyway, and there were bigger fish to fry, and so it seemed the best course of action was to forget the game ever happened. In fact, this is probably the first time I've acknowledged its existence since.
Old-school Pats fans like my Dad have more animosity toward the Dolphins than I do, recalling the days when the Dolphins were dominant and the Pats were so bad not all of their games were even televised locally. So it was an especially bitter thing to some to have this latest regular-season winning streak bookended by losses to Miami. And wouldn't you know it'd be the Tuna cackling on the other side of the ball when it was time for another streak to end.
All of that said, it's pretty tough even for a Pats homer like myself to feel too terribly about this. I'm supposed to be grieving the first lost regular-season game in two years? The week after the team tied its own consecutive-regular-season-win record? Please. I'm spoiled, but I'm not that spoiled.
Even if I was, we've lost both a heartbreaking Super Bowl and our star quarterback in the last 8 months. This game was a sucker punch, but it pales in comparison.