Holiday Gut Reactions Tell Us Nothing About the N.F.L.

Teddy MitrosilisAnalyst IDecember 21, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 19:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints reacts after missing on a potential touchdown pass in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Louisiana Superdome on December 19, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

What the N.F.L., and its fans, could use while Santa Claus is readying his sleigh is a little selective hearing.

It’s fun, I suppose, to justify heat-of-the-moment reactions with vigor and debates around the fireplace, but where does a sloppy Week 15 for the league’s elite leave us?

In the same place we have been for weeks.

Alright, alright, the gritty Jacksonville Jaguars took Manning and his boys to the wire on Thursday night before succumbing to the aura of Manning and allowing Indianapolis to escape Florida with perfection still intact.

The New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, couldn’t hold off a desperate Dallas team Saturday evening, and their pursuit of an undefeated season lost its way in the bayou.

What did the “crushing” loss do to the Saints? Well, they will still be the NFC’s top seed, they will still have home field throughout the play-offs, and they will still boast one of football’s most potent offenses when they begin a Super Bowl run in January. You’re right, poor Saints.

That’s four weeks in a row now that Tony Romo hasn’t thrown an interception as the 9-5 Cowboys are one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East and look primed to secure a wild card berth. Round of applause for Tony, everyone.

We can all agree on something, here. If there is ever a team that looks like it is counting the days until the play-offs begin, it is the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings couldn’t hang with the Carolina Panthers Sunday evening, and didn’t even appear to care. This has to count for something, right? Maybe, maybe not.

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But that’s the point of all of this. On a slow Monday in the sports world, there will be a slew of pundits drawing irrational conclusions from one weekend of football, conclusions that don’t necessarily foreshadow what we will see in January or February.

Since there’s no new Tiger Woods angle to explore, must we declare champions and losers when in the N.F.L. is largely divided at this point in the season? Is that the theme of the holiday season?

Lets breathe a little.

I’m not saying what we witnessed over the past four days is utterly irrelevant. But, honestly, did we learn anything?

I’m not going to take a machete to the Colts’ defense when Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were held out for exclusive downs only. The two best players on Indy’s D didn’t even need to wash their threads after the game. Take out two premier pass rushers and enter an opposing All-World running back like Maurice Jones-Drew and, yeah, there is going to be a few hiccups.

In other words, the lapse was to be expected. I’m not going to overly fault the Colts for not matching Jacksonville’s intensity when that Thursday night game on the N.F.L. Network was the Jaguars’ season. For the first time this season, the Jags sold out their stadium and they had the attention of the nation as they tried to knock off an undefeated beast. The Colts have bigger plans.

It was a great game and a valiant effort. But Manning did his MVP thing, the defense put just enough pressure on Garrard to force him to sail some critical fourth-quarter throws, and the Colts gave the finger to their critics saying, “Come talk to us after the AFC Championship.”

I wasn’t surprised by the Saints tumble, actually. The city of New Orleans was giddy over the thought of perfection, and it’s a story that would have been magnificent to watch unfold. But the Saints have been vulnerable for a while. The loss to Dallas came after struggling to beat Washington and Atlanta in the previous two weeks.

In fact, the only “easy” wins for the Saints since October came in Week 11, with a dismantling of Tampa Bay, and Week 12, with a route of New England. Other than that, the Big Easy has been nothing but easy.

And let's face it. The Cowboys had to win Saturday night’s game. Nobody doubts the talent of Dallas, so is it really a shocker that a talented team showed up with a ferocious pass rush and played a December game like they actually cared? Not really.

The Saints can now set their sights on winning a title for the city of New Orleans, something that would be much more satisfying than pulling a New England and choking away the final game of the year.

What’s a perfect regular season with no ring to show for it? Point is, the Saints are no different today than they were Friday. Brees will still take a blowtorch to your bare back in the play-offs if you let him.

Teams get better over time. People change over time. Life is gradual, and rarely does such metamorphism occur immediately.

Why do we typically order the same sandwich when we walk into Subway? Why do our mornings usually unfold the same way (coffee, newspaper, etc.)? Why do we do anything the same way repeatedly? Because there is a certain level of familiarity and comfort that accompanies the way our brains are wired.

Sure, I may have eaten meatball subs for the last three years and then decided to switch to the healthier turkey sub, but the conscious change takes time. If I’m a meatball guy on Monday, odds are I’m not going to be a strictly turkey guy when I wake on Tuesday. Ain’t happening. I’m going to slip a meatball sub into my month every once in a while.

That desire to levitate to an area of comfort isn’t much different with athletes and teams. Until we have weeks and weeks of evidence to prove the contrary, Romo is still a shaky quarterback when it comes to December and play-off time. Nothing against Romo. Just prove it.

My guess is that the Cowboys can’t come out with that same energy and tenacity every week for the rest of the year. It’s not in their blood. I hope I’m wrong because the Cowboys are a team that is talented enough to win the Super Bowl, but you are what you are after 15 Weeks. The only thing that can change is momentum, “hot” streaks, and the like.

On the other hand, the Saints, Vikings and Colts aren’t less dangerous today. I’m still convinced the Saints and Colts are the best teams in their respective conferences. The Vikings can still bully a team in their dome, and all three teams have quarterbacks that have played at a ridiculously high level the entire year.

Speculate if you wish while you wrap Christmas gifts, but pump the brakes a little on all the definitive reactions after this weekend.

Meatball guys are still meatball guys, and the N.F.L. is still the same league it was last week.

You can reach Teddy Mitrosilis at tm4000@yahoo.com.

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