November 11, 2010
That Old Feeling All Over Again
BY: Kevin Rousseau
It's been a while since I typed in this space. As you know, life has a funny way of getting in the way of doing things you would otherwise like to do. With two jobs going full tilt and the family busy but well, this column has necessarily taken a back seat.
Now mind you, that doesn't mean that I didn't think there was plenty to write about if time permitted. I've reached the conclusion that the most enjoyable seasons are the ones that unpeel slowly before your eyes as the weather gets colder. One like the undefeated regular season in 2007 was interesting to watch just to see if the Patriots could respond to the increasing pressure as the season unfolded. And there are some seasons where the air is out of the balloon before Halloween. Fortunately, we haven't seen this animal roam in our neighborhood in a long time. I submit the Rod Rust years for your inspection.
Then there are years like 1985, 1994, or 2001 when a story was slowly unfolding every week and the team was exceeding our realistic expectations. It's a little early but 2010 is shaping up to be one of those seasons. Last Sunday's stinker in Cleveland aside, through the first eight games of the season we've seen players and storylines developing.
Opening day against Cincinnati was a pleasant surprise. It's easy to look back now and say the Bengals were an awful team but going into the game I didn't have the Patriots keeping up with the Bengals offense. That win was Pleasant Surprise Number One.
Pleasant Surprise Number Two began in the fourth quarter of the Ravens game when I looked at the scoreboard in the north end zone and saw the Patriots down ten points to a very good defense. A classic fourth quarter and overtime comeback that felt like 2003 all over again brought back that old feeling walking out of the stadium. The defense began to make plays late in a game for the first time in recent memory and it was the most animated the Gillette patrons had been in a long time. I got my $117 worth that day.
Surprise Number Three came in Miami. Just like tightening fourth quarter defense against Baltimore, an impressive road win had been an endangered species in recent times. It turned out to be what I call a Separation Game. One team goes one way as a result and one team goes another. We saw anonymous players like Rob Ninkovich have the games of their lives. It reminded us of David Givens in 2003 or Deion Branch in 2004. Caution: Blocked punts, kickoff touchdown returns and interception touchdown returns can be exciting. I extend this caution because perhaps you haven't seen them in a while.
Surprise Number Four was the release of Randy Moss. We collectively held our breath, didn't buy the State Department-style press releases about how much everyone enjoyed each other and wondered just what was going on inside that young Patriots locker room. Rescuing Deion Branch from Seattle was cute but this is like trading to get Bernie Carbo back out of exile. It's nice but it's not a solution.
Surprise Number Five was going into a traditional House of Horrors in San Diego and yet again coming home with a win by playing just good enough to win. This was followed by another classic "just good enough" win against Favre, Moss and the Vikings.
At this time of year, all you can ask of your team is that the next few games matter. For the Patriots and it's fans, it's Pee-Your-Pants nervous time. Huge games over the next month against the Steelers, Colts and Jets will tell us just how excitable we should get. At a minimum, the team has to go 2-2 to be taken seriously during this stretch. A 3-1 stretch and I'll continue to paw through the NFLshop and Patriots Pro Shop websites hoping Santa brings me something slick. I won't even mind getting my annual Season's Greeting (read: playoff ticket invoice) from Bob Kraft in early December.
And if they can go 3-1, you can whisper under your breath "Do they really have a shot to win the whole darn thing?"
It's that old feeling all over again. I took it for granted. I'm not anymore.
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