It's been a couple of days since the Patriots' season ended in that surprise defeat to the Jets, and yet one thing has been playing on my mind more than the defeat itself.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick benched slot receiver Wes Welker for the first New England series of the game because he objected to comments Welker had made about Jets coach Rex Ryan.
Now, the recent animosity between the two sides is well known, and Ryan and his Jets hadn't actually been looking to defuse that during the run up to the game. Indeed, linebacker Bart Scott even singled Welker out for special attention when he took his own swing at New England.
This makes me wonder if, on this occasion, Belichick—the man-manager's man-manager—got it wrong on this occasion. He clearly expected his side to rise above the taunting and abuse, to act aloof from everything that the Jets were up to. But footballers are not like that.
Football is a team game, a team game like no other. What other ball game features players who willingly accept that they might not touch a ball during their entire career, let alone during one single game? Players all over the pitch willingly sacrifice personal glory for the sake of the team.
And the team that lives as a team tends to fight as a team. It is a sport played by high-testosterone and most of these men are not prepared to stand idly by and hear a teammate, or even the team itself, trash-talked by an opponent who they walked over just six weeks before.
Belichick may have thought that he was showing Welker that no one man was above the team, but was he? Somehow, watching from a distance, the message that he gave off was, "I am not supporting you in this."
Is there a chance that a feeling that their coach was not behind them—however subliminally received—is partly behind the Pats' lackluster showing on Sunday? Those few seconds that Welker was off the field could have been the most significant of the entire New England season.
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