That's the question Patriots's fan, players, and coaches are asking right now: Can we get a little help here?
Okay, to be fair, it's unlikely that any member of the Patriots' organization is asking for help. That's not the Patriot Way, after all. The Patriot Way states that you concern yourself with what you can control—increased film study, focusing on situations on the upcoming game (not the following games, mind you), your play on the field.
However, many of us fans, who are entirely helpless to influence the outcome of any game, are asking exactly that—can we get some help?
The question refers to the ever-increasing times out there when a team could beat a team the Patriots are trying to pass to get into the playoffs, but fall short. As anyone familiar at all with the AFC is aware, the Patriots could win out and still miss the playoffs, even while attaining a once-incomprehensible record of 11-5.
If the Patriots and Ravens win out, they'll both end up 11-5. If both the Jets and the Dolphins win this week, one of them will end up 11-5, winning the AFC East. The Ravens take the final playoff spot, leaving the Patriots home for January. All that the Patriots need was for these teams to help out, just a little.
First, let's finally acknowledge that this year could be Bill Belichick's finest year coaching. When Tom Brady went down early in the season opener against the Chiefs, nearly everyone figured the following: 1) The Patriots would quickly sign an experienced QB to take the reins. 2) Even with signing someone like Daunte Culpepper or Chris Simms (two of the more popular names mentioned), the Patriots would be lucky to win seven or eight games.
Rabid Patriot-hating fans of other teams came rushing out like cockroaches, shouting insults, quoting inane karma references, the whole gamut of idiocy. NFL fans were able to see rude, obnoxious commentary on every site that referenced the NFL or the Patriots or even sports in general.
Personally, I found it more amusing than insulting. After all, if that's how you represent yourself and your team, that speaks volumes for you, now doesn't it?
(I would be remiss were I to not mention those opposing fans who expressed concern for Brady's long-term health and condolences for his injury. Colts fans said this more than most other teams, to my recollection.)
Personally, I predicted the Patriots would win a minimum of eight games, deducing that the defense would step up. Count me in as one of those who thought Chris Simms would be signed—I never liked Culpepper as a Patriot—and that he would start by Week Four. There was no way that Matt Cassel would be the signal-caller for this team, not after the woeful performance he showed in the preseason.
The defense, however, has not really "stepped up," not sufficiently to take the team to a winning record. And the Patriots did not sign any free-agent QB's to take over the offense, or even as backup.
It was Matt Cassel or bust. Most people assumed it would be both. Myself, I looked for that .500 season, a good draft position next year, and the idea that the team would be better for it, though it would be painful for the fans.
The amazing happened, though. Cassel showed himself a quicker study than anyone gave him credit to be. Suddenly, the team was winning games. Cassel threw for 400 yards in consecutive games.
The playoffs weren't a distant dream, they were a possibility. Patriots fans began to dream. A few more deluded fans even started asking if the Patriots should trade Tom Brady for a couple of No. 1 draft picks (insanity!).
They've already clinched a winning record, extending the longest active streak of consecutive winning seasons in the NFL (2001-present). Could they also keep their streak of consecutive playoff seasons?
We're in the final weeks of the season, and the Patriots just need a little help—and to take care of business themselves—and they're in yet again. Just a little help, right?
But then ...
Week 11: Oakland can't manage to hold the Dolphins off in the final seconds. (Let's not talk about how the Patriots managed a great drive to put the game to OT and then fail to hold the Jets in the fifth quarter...)
Week 12: Patriots man-handled the Dolphins, but the Titans fell flat against the Jets.
Week 13: Patriots got spanked by the Steelers, but couldn't the Rams have stood up against the Dolphins? At least the Broncos came through against the Jets (bring to a quick end the commentary about the Jets being the consensus best team in the AFC).
Week 14: Patriots come through, the 49'ers help out, but Buffalo falls on its face against the Dolphins.
Week 15: Patriots dominate the Raiders (not the first to do that), but the Bills hand the Jets a win after having the game in hand.
(It's 2nd-and-5, the two-minute warning is coming up, and you run what is, in effect, a QB option? After your last four runs—known runs—go for 4, 5, 3, and 5 yards?) The 49'ers also let us down, scoring only nine points against the Dolphins.
Week 16: It's the final game in Texas stadium, and the 'Boys give up 17 points to the Ravens in the fourth quarter? Worse, twice they surrender one-play drives, with TD runs of 82 and 77 yards? This after all the praise about the Dallas defense in recent weeks, and your offense's ability to come through in the clutch?
Now we're relying on the Seahawks and the Chiefs to come through, to help the Patriots out by playing spoiler. Personally, I think both teams are underrated at this point. They have better than average chances to pull out the win, with the Seahawks having the best shot.
Still, they would both be upsets, no question on that. And if they both win, the Patriots chances rest entirely in the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars, because the AFC East would belong to someone else.
Regardless of how much we fans are clamoring for that help, though, the Patriots' players and staff aren't even asking for it. They've got things they can do to help their odds. If they don't win against the Cardinals and the Bills, it renders all of this inconsequential.
The rules have changed. Since Baltimore won, there is no longer any margin of error for the Patriots. They MUST win out to have any chance make the playoffs, plain and simple. 10-6 won't do it. And who would've even believed back midway through Week One that we'd be saying that now?
But regardless, the Patriots don't entirely control their playoff destiny. So once again we're asking: Could we please get a little help?
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