January 03, 2005
Finally: It's Playoff Time
BY: Kevin Rousseau
And so it now begins.
You’ve trudged through the draft, mini-camp, meaningless pre-season games, and sixteen games while Jonesing for that feeling of goosebumps on your forearms.
You’ll have to wait no longer, Patriots Nation, because the playoffs are here.
Sure, the regular season is always a good time; and along the way you might actually believe that you are getting an adequate fix. But the playoffs - well, that’s when you’re really taken to your own little version of nirvana. How big are the playoffs? The playoffs are so huge that it made a cult hero out of Jim Mora, Sr. when he blurted out his infamous “Playoffs?” post-game press conference melt down some years ago.
The playoffs this year should make you sit up and take notice for a few reasons. One, unlike in the other three major sports, it only takes about three hours to decide which team is moving on to the next round. No week and a half, sleep-deprived dramas like we experienced around here in October. No sir. If you don’t show up on a particular Saturday or Sunday in January, you could easily find yourself cleaning out your locker the following day.
Then there is the story line of the Patriots potentially chasing down their date with destiny. Or should I say dynasty?
If they can win their third Super Bowl in four years, it will indeed be appropriate to give them that elusive, often-overused title. And it will also be okay then to also hand them the early track on “Team of the Decade” props.
If and when the Patriots do put on those $30 Reebok hats in Jacksonville on February 6th, their Super Bowl win will be markedly different than their two other titles for a few reasons.
Most obvious is that they were the hunted this time around; a marked team since the last Super Bowl. Everyone has been gunning for them and they have collectively withstood the challenge. Secondly, this year’s AFC playoff field is filled with three teams - the Patriots, Steelers and Colts - that have a legitimate shot at winning the whole enchilada. Mix in an interesting Chargers team (See the .mpg file “We don’t get no respect” version Pats.2.3.2001) and you have as deep of an AFC field as can be remembered. There will be no sneaking up on teams this year. If you win the AFC title, you will have earned it.
Their first title in 2002 was a pleasant surprise. It was lightning in a bottle with an unproven quarterback showing us that he had the pedigree to be one of the all-time greats, a surreal game in the snow to close out Foxboro Stadium and a Rocky-beats-the-Russian Super Bowl win against a Rams team that supposedly was going to crush them.
Then last year’s championship took an opposite track. Fifteen straight wins in the salary cap, parity era will forever stand on its own as one of the most dominating performances in the history of the NFL. Sure, they had their hands full with the Titans, Colts and Panthers in the playoffs, but did you really think that they weren’t the better team on any of those days?
And that brings us to this year.
This year the team has defended their title admirably and yet somehow improved. They have a more balanced attack on offense thanks to the addition of Corey Dillon. And don’t underestimate the job that the team has done plugging holes in the defensive secondary. After witnessing the second half of this season, you might half-believe that Eric Mangini could take my grandfather out of the rehab facility and plug him into the nickel slot. Don’t fall for it.
And yet despite the Patriots somehow improving over a year ago, a handful of teams around the AFC got a lot better. The Colts offense is off the charts and their defense is somewhat better than a year ago. Somewhat.
The Steelers came out of nowhere with a good, young quarterback not being asked to do too much and a ferocious defense that makes plays (Sound familiar?). Then you have a Chargers story that would get laughed out of any New York publishing house. Not only were the Chargers picked by many to finish last in their division; they were picked to finish dead last out of all 32 teams. And to think that a play made against Indy and the Patriots losing to the Jets last week would have propelled them to the number two AFC seed.
And if you get through all of that fun in the AFC tournament, Mr. Belichick, please allow me to introduce to you the Eagles whose year it just might finally be.
Maybe over the next month, the Patriots will round out their other two championship triumphs with the perfect bookend; a Vince Lombardi trophy earned over the best field of playoff competition that it has ever faced. So if we are going to have another “rolling rally” down Boylston and up Tremont, the Patriots will have to subscribe to that old adage “To be the best, you have to beat the best” this year.
As the playoffs begin, here’s hoping for a new “Three Games To Glory (Version 3.0)” DVD to put next to all the other recent Patriot and Red Sox ones that currently line my bookcase.
Idle Zinger thoughts while fighting off the urge to run up to a complete stranger in the supermarket and shout out “She blinded me with science!”:
Let me just say this: With Michael Holley and Michael Smith filling in on the morning drive on WEEI last week, I think they may be onto something. I want to hear more from this combo.
After 90 all-time games dating back to 1960, the Patriots now lead the Jets 1,973 to 1,965 in total points scored.
Lions head coach Steve Mariucci recently handed out ice scrapers to some new members of his team who are from down South. “We talked about how you use them,” Mariucci told The Detroit News. “There were some real good questions. ‘Does that thing scratch my window?’ That sort of thing.”
Speaking of guy’s from down South, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme is much, much smarter than perhaps he is given credit for. Need proof? According to the Charlotte Observer, Delhomme recently thwarted the old bucket-of-ice-water-over-the-toilet-stall-wall prank by propping up an umbrella while he was plopping down.
But before you think that all NFL players are Rhodes Scholars, consider the recent case of Redskins wide receiver Rod Gardner. Apparently, Gardner gave his keys of his SUV to who he thought was a valet outside a Washington-area nightclub recently. Trouble is, the valet happened to really be a thief who took off with his GMC Envoy Denali. (Thanks to profootballtalk.com for the lead on the last two zingers).
Anyone care to guess if the two senior candidates for selection to the Hall of Fame, Benny Friedman and Fritz Pollard, will even get a sniff when voting is cast during Super Bowl week. Howard Balzer of USA Today wonders “just how can anyone alive accurately judge what they did when Friedman’s last year was 1934 and Pollard last coached an African-American team that played exhibition games in 1932. The downside of this is yet another year when the AFL’s all-time leading scorer is not given his rightly place in the Hall of Fame.
And speaking of guessing (and in the interest of full disclosure, I suppose), I finished out the year 22nd out of 23rd in my office pool, a cool seventeen games out of first place. Do you know how embarrassing it is to write a column like this but yet have to hang your head down every time you walk past Doreen from Accounting’s desk?
You may have missed it; but after getting some stiff competition from ESPN NFL 2k5 this year in both price and quality, the EA Sports Madden video game franchise recently bought a monopoly for future NFL video games with its reported $300 million exclusive rights agreement with the NFL. Can the Sherman Anti-Trust Act be invoked to cover such oppressive monopolies? Call your Congressman! Exhume Samuel Gompers!
And even if you think that there is nothing wrong with screaming “Science!” over a supermarket PA system, I would still like to hear from you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t forget to check me out at 8:20 on Friday mornings on Bangor, Maine’s sports radio leader, WZON 620 “The Zone.” You can listen over the internet at www.zoneradio.com This column also appears in the The Reporter (Waterboro/Hollis, ME), the Twin City Times (Lewiston/Auburn, ME), the American Journal (Westbrook/Gorham, ME), the Current (Scarborough/Cape Elizabeth/South Portland, ME), the Village Soup Times (Camden/Rockland/Belfast, ME), and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly (Windham, ME).
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