Sunday, January 21, 2007


Wistful Thinking

Last Sunday was another heartracer right up to the end, a thing I've gotten used to in twenty-one years as a Patriots fan. I didn't expect to win, but anytime we can keep the game close, I like our chances with the ball in Brady's hands at the end. It was earlier this season in which we saw each of our fearless leaders make a rare tactical error as time was expiring in Foxboro against the Colts. As predicted, the outcome of that game holds major significance as the Patriots' Offense now prepares to call and execute plays amid the deafening crowd noise at the RCA Dome.

All week I've been watching reports in anticipation of this game, and it strikes me as amusing that the Patriots can still whip out that old and worn disrespect card- not that they are making it of public issue, of course. I can agree with public sentiment that man-for-man, the San Diego Chargers were a better team this year, and most likely the best team in the NFL, but sometimes it's the men in charge that make the difference. It was the leadership of Brady and Belichick that tipped the scales one week ago, just as it has so many times before.

The Indianapolis Colts are NOT man-for-man a better team, in fact I believe they've been playing horribly for the past two months. While one might say the same for the Pats in some ways, the Colts have eked through thus far in spite of themselves. It amazes me that so many sportscasters, paid to make a prediction, are making the emotional choice this week. Out of all the analysis I have watched (and there's been quite a bit) I've seen only four men pick the Patriots to win this game: Boomer Esiason, Chris Collinsworth, Skip Bayless, and "the Swami", Chris Berman. All four made their picks with apologies to Payton, but no doubt in themselves like the rest- mostly wistful and hopeful and sympathetic. I can understand their desire to pick Manning, just as I can understand my own desire to root for the Saints this afternoon. There's just one difference: I'm picking the Saints to win, not just because I want them to, but because I think they are the better team. As much as I respect Payton Manning as a player and National role model, the effect of this game on his place in history will not propel him to victory; if anything, it will prevent it.

This morning on Sportscenter:
"Is Adam Vinitieri a bigger gain for the Colts, or loss for the Patriots?"


Are you people kidding me? He's not some lucky charm, he's just a kicker, and tonight he'll be kicking where his skill and experience levels matter least: inside A DOME. In addition, Adam has had back problems on and off for the past several years... his days of automatic are over. Adam knows that, which is exactly why he harbors no ill will against the Pats organization as he takes Indy money and runs with it.

We all admire Payton Manning's athleticism and abilities... now can we just get over it and stop dredging up any possible excuse for him to win because we feel sorry for his team's seemingly futile playoff chances? These teams are fairly well matched, as they have been for years. I would feel a lot more confident heading into the game with some extra defensive advantage, namely Harrison and Seau, but the biggest edge is the one we haven't lost: preparation. The factor that has won every game we had to win over the last five years, the method which makes our New England Patriots peak at just the right time, the X-factor that no one is bothering to talk about this week because it's been said so many times (and mostly in hindsight) is this organization's ability to execute the details when they matter most. If this game comes down to a few plays, and I think it will, I like our chances. And frankly, so does anyone else who knows a thing or two about the pigskin, even if they don't want to admit it.

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