Monday, January 17, 2011

Surveying the wreckage

Nightmares can come true!

Exactly what I feared came to pass. The Patriots turned it over. They started slow. Things began to snowball. The crowd grew quiet and the Jets fed on it.

More sloppy play. Momentum clearly on Jets side. Dumb mistakes, curious calls, physical errors, lapses in judgment. New England did the veritable Dick Van Dyke routine, slipping over the Ottoman, clashing into the china cupboard, and accidentally falling into the same bed as his wife.

And then the Jets preened around Foxborough, just as I imagined they would. Bart Scott, a flea to Tom Brady's St. Bernard, mouthing off like The Rock on Monday Nights. Braylon Edwards doing a full back-flip at midfield. I don't even want to imagine LaDainian Tomlinson's smug smile.

A complete bomb.

Rehashing this game in my head as I drove back home from where I watched the game in Coral Gables through half-heartedly following the Golden Globes, one word keep repeating in my head: baffled.

I was, and remain, baffled at what I saw yesterday. Credit the Jets for playing well and avoiding mistakes, but this Patriots team did not slink by in the regular season at 9-7 and tip-toe into the playoffs. In that case, a performance like yesterday's would make sense. This team went 14-2, beat every playoff team it faced and scored the most points in the league by a wide margin.

In this case, being stuck with 11 points as the clock ran down in the fourth quarter was preposterous. Let's start with the Tom Brady interception. Awful pass of course, but the Jets did not score. Disaster averted, right? Then Alge Crumpler drops a touchdown. What could have been 14-0 was 3-0.

Then the Jets went to work against a defense that played well, but when the time came to absolutely make a play, they couldn't. A troubling pattern since 2006. Fast forward to the last quarter and it's 14-11. Pats finally have some momentum. Stop the Jets and they might just eke the game out. Instead, they allowed Cotchery to turn a simple crossing route into a 58-yard gain.

Shockingly easy and utterly deflating. And over course, they gave up the fade route in the end zone. Opposing teams have an Albert-Pujols-against-the-Sears-fastball average against the Patriots with that play.

On third down, they give up 6 to Edwards. Subsequently, the inexplicable Drive to Nowhere begins. I think the Pats were so used to running out the clock in the fourth they reverted to an old habit. I can't comprehend what they were possibly thinking. Let's move on.

It typified the whole game offensively. Something was off. They were out of sorts. Brady kept throwing passes to receivers who weren't even looking for the ball. He flinched in the pocket when there wasn't any pressure. And sometimes, he had enough time to watch the Shoah documentary and still could not complete a pass.

I still don't get it. This wasn't the team I watched this season.

If this loss does one thing, it wipes away that aura of certainty we as Pats fans have taken for granted. Bill Belichick will have a great game plan. The Pats won't shoot themselves in the foot. They'll play situational football. And, if need be, Brady will make the plays in the end to win the game.

The past three playoff games have kicked these assumptions straight in the balls.

I'm done waiting for that magic to reappear. Those players, McGinest, Bruschi, Harrison, Vrabel, Brown, et al are gone. Most of the current Patriots don't have any rings.

So enough with the invincibility train. Enough with the 10-point lines. This is just another team trying to make a name for itself in the postseason. That 'championship intangible' does not reside in Foxborough at the moment.

It's not all bad. They did go 14-2. They aren't the Bills. They have a young core on defense, plenty of draft picks, and the all-time coach-QB combo. Maybe -- and I've been praying for one for years -- they'll get a pass rusher. Maybe they will fortify their offensive line or find another threat on offense.

Then we could be here 12 months from now.

But I won't be counting on some Patriot mystique to take over in January 2012. No more "We have Brady and Belichick, so we win" proclamations.

Three straight postseason losses to Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez make that a stone-cold certainty.

No comments:

Post a Comment