Yesterday I woke up early and planned for a full day of playoff football.
I enjoy all aspects of watching, analyzing, and understanding what is happening on and off the field.
I play fantasy football in a few different capacities.
Prior to the weekend, I had two locks in my mind of the four games that were being played.
Saturday night, the Cowboys took care of business. I was more looking forward to watching the Arizona Cardinals play the Green Bay Packers than I was at watching the Patriots play the Baltimore Ravens.
There was no way in my mind that the Ravens could even have a shot in their game. That game was more of time filler then anything.
Boy, was I wrong. Not only did the Ravens beat the Patriots, they beat them like they stole something.
As I watched the Patriots game, I saw players walking around thinking "We got this," "Ain’t no thing, we are the Patriots." They had a swagger like all teams should bow to them; after all, they are the mighty Patriots.
Bill Belichick is the greatest football coach, ever. Just ask any Patriots fan.
I started thinking about the Patriots and their recent failings. I thought about how they have performed in big games since their Super Bowl victories. I thought about the argument of who is better quarterback, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. I thought about the ultimate game planner/defensive genius that is Bill Belichick. I thought about how well or poorly the Patriots have drafted.
The downfall of the Patriots began in the 2007 season.
In the offseason, the Patriots acquired Randy Moss from the Raiders for a fourth round pick. A less-remembered acquisition was Wes Welker, whom they got from the Miami Dolphins for a second and seventh round pick.
They also added Donte Stallworth, Sammy Morris, and Kyle Brady. It seemed as though they changed their philosophy from winning with defense to winning with offense. They had the kind of firepower to blow teams out.
That philosophy worked, as the Patriots went 16-0. They beat teams by an average margin of 19.7 points. Headed into the playoffs, they looked unstoppable.
As a football fan, I was interested in seeing them complete the perfect season. I was two years old when the Dolphins did it. I enjoy watching greatness, and it appeared the Patriots were headed for it.
The Patriots were favored by one of the larger margins in the history of the Super Bowl going in. The New York Giants' Cinderella bubble surely would burst on the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Well, as most people know, the Giants beat the Patriots in what many consider the greatest upset of all time. David and Goliath come to mind. The reality is that this was the first time I remember the Patriots succumbing to their own hype.
The first Super Bowl they won against the St. Louis Rams, the Rams were heavily favored. Bellichick put together one of the greatest defensive game plans of all time.
The Patriots went on to win two more bowls in which they were favored. Not heavily, but favored, and in both had to score late to win.
Against the Giants, the Patriots seemed to think they could dictate what went on and blow the Giants off the field. While watching that game, the one thing I noticed as a fan was the lack of adjustments the Patriots made.
Coaches create a plan of attack for games. They instill a philosophy while preparing for the game. They practice the game plan and focus on it until game time.
A game plan is a bit of a hypothesis for a coaching staff. It’s an educated guess based on film study, team understanding, and coaching knowledge. Good coaches are master game planners.
Belichick is one of the best.
In the Super Bowl against the Giants, it was clear early on the game plan was not working.
Uncharacteristically of Belichick, the Patriots seemed to make little to no adjustment. He stuck by his game plan and ultimately lost the game. When the final gun sounded, there was disbelief.
How did it happen?
Was it a dream?
They are the Patriots.
They have Tom Brady, arguably the greatest and most clutch QB ever, or at least since Mr. Montana.
The next season, the Patriots were forced to change how they did things. Brady was injured and out for the season in the first game of the year. His backup, Matt Cassel, is a very different style of quarterback than Brady is.
They adjusted and had a very successful year. They didn’t make the playoffs, but all things considered, were still really good.
That brings us to this year.
Cassel was traded to the Chiefs. Brady is back. All things are right in New England—or are they?
The Patriots went 10-6 and won the East. Overall, they won games but didn’t dismantle nor shut down opponents. They were good but not great.
A number of people talked about this being a veteran team that is built to win in the playoffs.
Yesterday proved that theory to be incorrect.
The Patriots were beaten by the Baltimore Ravens, in New England. The score was 33- 14, but really was not that close. The Patriots got the benefit of a blown call to set up a short field for their first touchdown.
After the game is when I really started thinking about it.
Is Belichick that great of a coach?
Is he a remarkable talent evaluator?
Recent drafts would say no. A large amount of the Patriots' talent has been acquired from other teams (see above example of Moss and Welker). Most of their recent draft picks haven’t worked out that well.
When he won early as the Patriots' head coach, he won with a lot of other players drafted by his mentor Parcells and Pete Carroll. Scott Pioli left to run the Chiefs last year, so one wonders how much he was a part of what was happening in New England.
Is he the greatest game planner the game has seen? It’s really hard to say.
The Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since Charlie Weis left for Notre Dame and Romeo Crennel left for the Cleveland Browns. Lots of other staff members have left to work for other organizations as well, like Josh McDaniels.
If Belichick is a great coach and the Patriots are a great team, they will rebound.
If Brady is the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time), then he will rise above and they will be back. If they won with smoke, mirrors, and hype like they might have, their run is done.
The jury is out on what is going to happen with the Patriots. If they never played another game, then they would leave a very sour taste in people’s mouths after yesterday.
If Peyton and the Colts make it to the Super Bowl and win this year, it would be hard to continue to consider Brady the clear victor in the "who’s better" argument.
Brady still would still have one more ring, but I would say that was still because of one blown call way back in the snow that spurned the debate about a tuck that was actually called an incomplete pass on the field.
Like I said at the top, I’m a Raider fan, and always will be. No, I will never let it go, and if there were instant replay, the immaculate trap would have been caught as well.
As a football fan, I have come to appreciate the Patriots and what they have done. They have proven you can win in the salary cap era. They don’t generally overpay for players and win as a group, which is what it takes in football.
What do I hope happens to them?
I am torn.
There’s a part of me that likes seeing Goliath fall.
There’s a part of me that likes seeing greatness.
I think I am going to have to go with seeing them turn it around and get back to the mountaintop.
One thing’s for sure: They, like Superman, are vulnerable.