Let me just get this out of my system.
Once again, angst has been building up within the Patriots-related synapses of my brain, until I feel the need to at least plant a verbal stake in the ground on behalf of the apparent minority of NFL fans who feel the way I do about this.
I know I shouldn't let things like this get to me the way they sometimes do. There's that expression -- haters gonna hate. I also can't say I have an exactly spotless record when it comes to irrational hatred of and criticisms for other teams (Peyton Manning and the Colts being the prime example).
And yeah, there are a lot of ways in which I really can't defend Bill Belichick, in particular. I understand why people find him gruff, persnickety, sarcastic, pedantic, condescending and generally a dick, sometimes all in the same sentence. The man has obviously not built his professional success on his stellar social skills.
But I've long since had enough of Belichick's team, its owners, and associated fans, being the subject of plainly idiotic double standards and / or collective amnesia because of the widespread personal distaste for the head coach. And there are times, like this time, that all the understanding in the world that sometimes these things are meant to get a rise out of me, to stir the pot, to get the phone lines lighting up and the eyeballs glued to the TV screen, or at the very least are an irrational defense mechanism akin to my own vis a vis the Colts, still can't make me abide the continued insistence on reverting to the oversimplified pigeonhole the league has collectively created for the New England Patriots.
But seriously. However people feel about Belichick or Spygate or any of the other water under the bridge, as for the right here and now, I am here to tell you -- when this particular season first dawned, even the cockiest, most smug, most entitled, drunken hooligan stereotype of a Patriots fan didn't see this result coming.
Nobody had any right to expect this painfully young defensive unit to come together the way they have, and to the extent that they have. Meanwhile, Brian Hoyer's first abortive attempts to lead the offense after Brady stepped out briefly in yesterday's second quarter laid bare the leadership and the presence Brady brings to the field, and how he just makes it look easy.
In fact, there's probably another whole post idea for me to throw into Ye Olde Sisyphean Draft Post Queue about the fact that this season has really been a two-year endeavor in the making, and all the ways last year has fed into and created the results we've seen this year.
But for now, the bottom line is: this team has earned this.
And so, it is with great earnestness and sincerity I beseech of thee, O Interwebs, especially you Patriots haters out there -- can we just retire the "running up the score" talk already? Could we for once acknowledge that this is not a big mean group of bullies beating up on helpless old ladies dressed up in Miami Dolphins uniforms, and that this team has been the furthest thing from a sure-thing, competition-stifling juggernaut for most of this particular season, past seasons notwithstanding? Must the collective amnesia and stereotyping about the Patriots really set in, again, now that they're back to being successful?
Here are five logical arguments in support of my requests, in the context of yesterday's game and some of the crap I saw flying around as a result. And yes, I realize that they (like this post) are an exercise in futility, but as I said above, I just have to get it out of my system.
1. There was still a game scheduled for yesterday, which was not cancelled due to the fact that it had no real bearing on the division standings or the AFC playoff picture. This game was still a professional football contest which was not going to play and win itself. (I realize that's such a basic statement of facts it probably comes off as condescending, but seriously, this seems to be the level of disregard for reality we're working with at this point when it comes to some Patriots haters.)
2. Despite how long Tom Brady stayed in the game, the Patriots weren't playing at full strength. From the beginning.
Before kickoff, the Patriots had already sat many of the first-string personnel, and continued to do so throughout the game. Inactives before the game included Brady's two best receivers, Wes Welker and Deion Branch, as well as one of his tight-end whiz kids, Aaron Hernandez. And while Brady stayed in quite a long time, for most of his playing time he was without his starting left tackle. Matt Light was substituted for early, and then returned to the game only briefly later to fill in for Logan Mankins at guard.
By the end of the game, full-on green rookies just drafted this year, like erstwhile Ohio State wide receiver Taylor Price, were making plays. Even with that game-long offensive line situation, New England QBs were not being sacked or pressured with any regularity.
At some point, isn't it time to also admit just how deeply the Dolphins sucked? How apparently without urgency they were from the very first moment? As long as we're being high and mighty about sportsmanship, how about the sportsmanship of that?
3. The real heart of the latest "running up the score" issue -- going for it on a 4th and 1 behind a backup QB getting approximately his dozenth snap of the season near midfield -- really wasn't the obnoxious jerk move, if by obnoxious jerk move you mean making an attempt to tack on as many cheap points as possible. The play the Patriots chose there actually meant the they were playing the lowest percentages, even though, YES!, they were still actually playing, unfeeling brutes that they are.
To me, the obnoxious jerk move would've been to go for a long field goal, and get the likelier points. Instead, the Patriots risked the pretty good odds they'd be handing the ball over on downs at the Miami 47, gift-wrapping field position for the Dolphins. And this was the point where the words "this is why they hate us" were actually used on Twitter. By a New England fan, no less. Stop the insanity!
4. If you believe the Patriots should have attempted a 20-to-30-yard punt at that point, within field goal range, solely out of deference to their opponents, I hope that you'd also insist on that if it was your team in that position, rather than the hated Patriots. Somehow, though, at least judging by some of the near-identical lopsided scores from around the league yesterday (which of course drew no such similar "running up the score" nonsense), I doubt that would be the case.
5. For a playoff-bound team with a bye coming up, i.e. the Patriots on Sunday, this type of "meaningless" final game is also known as "an opportunity to test your depth chart in as close to a realistic set of situations as possible."
I know, I know, it's really boring and nerdy, the way Belichick and his team insist on honing and perfecting what they see as the craft of coaching and playing football, and Lord knows I've gotten an earful already about how tiresome and pedantic it is that the Patriots endeavor to play a strong 60 minutes of football each week, without regard for whether there are playoff implications.
But let's just get a grip, already, shall we? The Patriots aren't in business to help the Dolphins feel good about themselves, or anyone else, for that matter. They are in business to win games and championships, they are terrifically good at doing so, and that's because there is no head coach in the league more constantly, obsessively cognizant of that first essential fact than their current head coach. Not because he is evil, but because he is extremely good at his job, including recognizing its scope and maintaining focus on his and the team's core objectives, which, again, do not include mindfulness of their opponents' potentially hurt feelings, or whether fans in other cities think they are big doody-heads.
Really, Patriots haters, we can (and probably do) have a difference of opinion here -- many, in fact. But I really don't think it's unreasonable to request that it be recognized that all the gnashing of teeth about the Patriots is pretty much an irrational, if normal, defense mechanism, akin to my own irrational hatred of Peyton Manning, and not some crusade for True Justice against the Forces of Evil on the part of the rest of the league. Or, at the rock-bottom least, for the love of GOD, people, come down from the high horse -- you know, the one where you act like your team, or ANY professional sports team in business to win games and championships for that matter, would do any differently in the same set of overall and in-game circumstances the Patriots faced on Sunday.
Seriously. I'm not saying people have to like the Patriots. But enough with this disingenuous, holier-than-thou bullshit. We know -- good God, we KNOW -- how sick everyone outside of New England is of our football team. We're also well aware of the general consternation that we refuse to at least apologize for them.
But trust me. On this side of the fence? Those sour grapes are getting just as old.