Four Strikes and You Are Out

Gary WolffContributor IIDecember 25, 2008

Either it defines the greatness of the sport, or the futility of it, I cannot decide.  What is 'it'?  'It' is the fact that an entire NFL season is defined by a few plays.  Is that fantastic, or is it pathetic?  I don't have bi-polar disorder, but the emotional swings I get when I ponder the Patriots season gives me some insight into what that affliction must be like.

I grew up in Sharon, Ma, a town bordering Foxboro.  So I had no option but to bleed red, white, and blue (and silver now-a-days).  I am very grateful for the current decade of Patriots history.  My memories of this time will bring joy to me for the rest of my life.

The 2008 season though is not as sweet as I had once anticipated.  Lord Brady went down in the first quarter of the first game.  That's a devastating event, especially since we had unfinished business from the prior season.  However, if Randy Moss and the rest of the team could handle that shock and disappointment, well, I had to man up as well.  After crying myself to sleep that night, I awoke with strength and faith that Belichick would make things right.  Although Cassel looked weak in preseason, I had faith in him because he appeared to be an accurate thrower, had all the physical skills, and BB believed in him..."In Bill We Trust in Patriot Nation."

So after the enormity of the season thus far:  the blood, broken bones, torn ligaments, concussions, thousands of miles traveled, medications and physical therapy, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent... after all of the emotional ups and downs, the season is defined thus far by four events:

1 - Brady went down and Matt Cassel emerged.

2 - Ben Watson knocking the ball out of his own hands during the Jets game.

3 - An errant snap that lead to a 30+ yard loss in the Jets game.

4 - A pathetic and foolish dead ball call against Dave Thomas in the Colts game.

If the Patriots take care of business, and the Jets lose, as they most surely will, especially now that the time slot for their game is moved so that they will know they have nothing to play for prior to kickoff (Baltimore cannot and will not lose to Jacksonville, as Jacksonville won't show up to contend them), then an epic and courageous season will be all for nothing.  And why?  Because of only four specific events, the latter three of which are such a tiny part of the whole, yet the defining parts.

If Watson doesn't strip himself of the ball or if the errant snap doesn't take place, the Patriots, who were unstoppable by the hands of the Jets in that game, win easily and control their own destiny.

If the refs don't make a ridiculous call where a tight end leading a run play pushes a would be tackler in front of the play one second or less after the whistle, then the Patriots have a realistic shot of tying or winning the Colts game.  Let me digress a bit, as this call is symbolic of a widespread problem in the NFL.  Dave Thomas was hustling his butt off, to win a game and more playing time.  He pushed, with his hands, to the shoulder pads of, a would be tackler.  He was doing his job.  The whistle blew and his momentum carried him into the tackler, who saw him coming and braced for the impact.  It was not a malicious play, it was not a blind shot, or a shot to the head, or a shot with the helmet.  It was simply football.  But the refs, who called but 1 or 2 penalties the entire game, took away a first down, and put the Patriots in a fourth and 16 position, taking them out of field goal range, with a dead ball foul call that technically was not a penalty, and certainly was not a wise call even if it were technically a penalty given the context of the game.

Why should some old man with a subjective whistle decide the fate of a game where millions of dollars, millions of people, lots of pain and sweat are invested.  It can't come down to that.  Fortunately for San Diego, they have a chance to redeem the horrible fate they suffered by the hands of a zebra.

So, I ask you, is it glorious, or simply maddening, that the enormity of an NFL season is filtered down to a few random plays?

J-E-T-S... Jets - Jets - Jets... This is the first and last time I will ever truly stand side by side of a Jets fan. 

For the good of the game (OK, at least for the good of me and my fellow Patriots fans), lets hope the Patriots make it in to the playoffs.  They deserve it based on their courage, their level of play, and their win/loss record.  Unfortunately, 'deserve' has nothing to do with it.