Tuesday, January 06, 2004

When Thumbtacks Invade

Does anyone else feel like it's easy to forget how good the Patriots are? Every Monday morning you believe they're the best, you know they can't be beat, and you understand exactly what's going on here. But something happens. Days slide to the middle of the week and the immediate visions of Mike Vrabel sacks and Deion Branch grabs fog over, and you begin to doubt. "Yeah they keep winning, but come on, the players just aren't this good." You don't like thinking it, but you know that deep down you're probably right -- and thank goodness you're so much more realistic than your friends. And why don't they bathe more often? Friday rolls around and you're severely concerned -- maybe Jacksonville could be just the team to knock the Pats off. Sure they have no quarterback, defense, or head coach, but New England had some trouble running the ball last week, and really, the players just aren't this good. By the time Sunday morning pops up again you've put 50 bucks on the Jaguars and you're wearing teal green socks and boxers. It'll be tough to watch the ol' Patsies fold up, but this collection-of-mediocre-athletes-named-after-a-jungle-cat really has something going for it. But then, after all this self-doubt, flip-floppery, and downright treason, you get to watch them again. You see a confident and relaxed Tom Brady, moving coolly in and around the pocket. You see a group of receivers that more than makes up in depth for what they lack in star power. You see a pair of running backs who, well, skip that. But most of all, you see the defense. Oh look at that defense. Two corners who can play one and one with anyone in the league, an omnipresent safety that hits harder than Joe Jackson, a linebacking crew that the 3-4 should have been invented for, and two d-lineman who can be on my Pro Bowl team anytime (please note: I have no Pro Bowl team). You see what is, without doubt, the best team in football. And once again, you believe.

So right now, a lot of Patriot Nation is in the doubt phase. The Titans are certainly a tough team. They're well-coached, they can shut down the run, and they've got Steve McNair. When the two teams played earlier this year it was a real battle, and it took a late interception by a hobbled Ty Law to seal a victory. Saturday won't be easy, but when looked at objectively, it shouldn't be that hard either. In week 15 and 16 Tennessee beat Houston and Buffalo by a combined 5 points. Their pass defense is suspect (30th in the league in both completions and yards allowed), and if Anthony Wright can play well against them, imagine what Tom Brady can do. McNair is a concern, but he threw two ugly picks last week and looked more than a little unsteady. But this really isn't about Tennessee. This is about our Patriots. New England, whether or not our Red Sox-addled, snow storm-demented brains can accept it, is the best team in football. By far. Michael Felger said it best this week on Sports Final: "There's the Patriots, and then there's everyone else.". It's just a fact. Only because this squad couldn't compete with the capital G Great Dallas and SF teams of the 90's, people feel like they're not that special. Should this New England squad go down as one of the all-time classics? Probably not, but they're a heck of a lot better than everyone else. And no, that doesn't make them a lock for the Bowl that is Super. It's hard to go all the way, and as we all know, the best team doesn't always win (see "Florida Marlins, 2003"). But the point is, they should. They should take down Tennessee by something in the neighborhood of 20-13, and then they should put the hurt on whoever follows. It doesn't mean it's going to happen, but our job, as loyal fans and readers, is to believe.
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