September 08, 2008
Chill Out, Patriots Fans
BY: Kevin Rousseau
Sun shining. Nice tailgate. Cold drinks. Kebobs on the grill. Lots of laughs. Walking into the stadium. Smirking at the site of a 17-0 banner unceremoniously hung up by the organization. Finding our familiar seats. Warmups. F-16 fly over and "Danger Zone." Player intros and "Crazy Train." Kickoff. Nice breeze blowing keeping the heat down. Patriots moving the ball early on.
Then everything changed.
It was always in the back of our minds. It could happen. The invincible quarterback could get knocked out with a season-ending injury. It happens to virtually every Hall of Fame quarterback during their career. And indeed, it did horrify us when we saw the replay. And then we once again admired him as he courageously walked off the field on his own power and down into the Patriots locker room. And suddenly, Patriots Nation collectively began the chants of "Well, there goes the season." The rest of NFL Nation sensed a great opportunity handed to them. Some of them actually cheered the injury. "The Patriots are finally getting their due," said a fan from the Other Team.
Based upon the backdrop of the stunning injury, a so-so performance against the mediocre Chiefs, and the realization that it is not a God-given right to go to the Super Bowl every season, I'm here to deliver a simple message to you:
Just take a few deep breaths and get a hold of yourself.
Okay, there. Let me explain myself.
I don't know about you but I'm suddenly much more curious about this Patriots team than I have been in some time. Really, going into the game yesterday felt a little like a Day of Obligation, didn't it? We knew what was going to happen. The Patriots were going to throttle the Chiefs. Except for the Super Bowl, the Patriots high caliber of play has made watching them---well--- very predictable. Don't tell anybody, but last season I took the kids out to our place on Islesboro on a beautiful fall Sunday instead of sitting inside watching them throttle the Dolphins in Miami. It was a better use of time.
From a spectator standpoint, Sunday's game against the Chiefs demonstrated to us once again why we watch sports. For the most part, we just can't predict what will happen and we are curious as to see how it will all play out. The stirring on the Patriots sideline after Brady went down the stairs. The completion to Moss from the Patriots end zone on Cassel's first series. His touchdown pass to Moss a little while later. The defense looking shakey and then making a classic bend-but-don't-break stand at the end of the game to win a squeaker. You do remember that is exactly how the Patriots made their living before the 2007 season, don't you?
I know it sounds counter-intuitive to my last paragraph but the greatest offensive machine in NFL history was fun but predictable. Now, all bets are off. We don't know what is going to happen. We are like everyone else. It might end up a disaster or it might surprise you in a 11-5 sort of way. We just don't know. We don't know who is going to take on more of a leadership role now that there is a vacum. We will anxiously await to see how they are going to game plan around an inexperienced Matt Cassel like we did in 2002 when Drew Bledsoe went down. You've got questions and the next 15 weeks (and perhaps more) will provide the answers.
Before you book a room at the Tobin Bridge hotel, take a few steps back and look at the Patriots inventory before you start thinking about Matt Cassel. The team has arguably the deepest set of running backs and wide receivers in the League. An offensive line that is pretty darn good. A defense that might be a little suspect in the secondary but is generally believed to get better as the season progresses. And a coaching staff that makes adjustments and game plans virtually better than anyone else in recent memory.
The point is this. If you have to stick a big, fat question mark at quarterback into the equation, the surrounding cast is a stacked deck that at least gives the team a chance to win some games and gain respectabilty.
Oh, yes….our old friend "the respect card." How are you? It's been a while since we've seen you in these parts. How's the wife and kids? Nice to see you again.
It will be fashionable to dismiss the Patriots whether you are a Jets fan, a prominent member of the media, or just a crushed Pats fan. But such dismissal will surely be the 2008 bulletin board material for this team. Everyone has written them off. For the life of me, it baffles me annually when everyone has the answers to all of the season's NFL questions after week one. In short, these Patriots are playing with your house money. Can't you see that?
If they have a below average season, it will because of Brady's injury. An above average season with a playoff appearance or two would further cement Bill Belichick and the team's legacy as the Team of the Decade.
For sure, you will get frustrated when Cassel throws a painful interception or when they just miss out in a close game that would have been a cakewalk with Tom Brady quarterbacking the team. But at the end of it, I'm saying you are going to look back at the 11-5 Patriots who squeezed everything they could have out of the lemon and say "Once I got over the shock, it was a pretty entertaining way to spend a season."
Buckle in for a roller coaster ride.
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