Friday, February 1, 2008

Patriots Will Not Stumble Now That They Are One Step From Glory

It has become almost chic to pick the New York Giants to upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. For instance, Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman--who normally handicaps games in a very analytical fashion--eschewed logic and picked the Giants based on little more than their road winning streak and what he frankly calls a "hunch." Last I checked, the Patriots have a bit of a winning streak going, too, including a win against these very Giants in the last game of the regular season. That was the game of the year and both coaching staffs deserve credit for the way that they handled a game that was "meaningless" in terms of postseason seeding. It is not a stretch to say that the Giants rode the momentum from their strong performance all the way to the Super Bowl. Nevertheless, despite the fact that they had a double digit lead and despite the fact that they played very well, it is worth remembering that the Giants lost to the Patriots.

That New England-New York game was contested outdoors in the winter elements. The Patriots scored 38 points anyway but late in the season their offense has been stymied a bit--at least compared to the numbers they posted previously--by playing in windy, cold and/or snowy conditions. New England's defense can be effective in any environment but the balmy conditions at the Super Bowl will help to unleash their offense, for which home field did not really provide an advantage in the first two playoff games. It is true that New England's three previous Super Bowl victories were all tightly contested but those Patriot teams did not have the kind of offensive attack that these Patriots do. On a big stage like the Super Bowl, the game can get out of hand quickly. In Super Bowl XXII, Denver took a 10-0 lead over Washington and then lost 42-10. I don't doubt that the Giants can keep things close initially and maybe even strike first blood but without weather as an ally it is hard to believe that they can keep New England's offense under wraps for four quarters. It is also hard to believe that an 18-0 team coached by Bill Belichick that has two weeks to prepare for a game will not perform at its best.

Although there have been a lot of stories written and broadcast about New England's amazing season, I still think that it is fair to say that the media spends so much time following Tony Romo around, looking for reasons to bash Terrell Owens and speculating about Tom Brady's boot that it has literally taken its eyes off of the ball. The game--the competition--is ultimately what the NFL season and the Super Bowl are all about. The NFL is structured to create parity and to prevent one team--or a small group of teams--from dominating year in and year out; the best teams one year get the toughest schedules and lowest draft picks the next year. It is not uncommon to see NFL teams go from worst to first or vice versa from one season to the next. In this environment, it is nothing short of remarkable that the Patriots have already won three Super Bowls in four years, that they are poised to win their fourth title in seven years and that they stormed through 18 straight games without a loss. This type of success is literally legislated against in the NFL--and yet Bill Belichick's Patriots have actually been down a similar road before: in the process of winning back to back championships in 2003 and 2004, the Patriots won 21 straight games. That is something that has really not been emphasized enough: this is the second time that Belichick has coached an NFL team to at least 18 straight wins. Perhaps the media struggles to place this accomplishment in its proper context because so many writers and broadcasters spent years underestimating and denigrating Belichick. Remember when conventional wisdom suggested that Bill Belichick was out of his depth as a head coach and that all he had done during his career was ride the coattails of Bill Parcells? Belichick has torn that "theory" to shreds but it is also worth noting that Parcells was a mediocre coach when he did not have Belichick on his staff: Parcells' record with Belichick is 117-73-1, while his record without Belichick is 55-57. Parcells won both of his Super Bowls with Belichick at his side and the year that he coached New England to a Super Bowl loss was the only year that Belichick was on his staff there. In seven seasons coaching without Belichick, Parcells never won a playoff game. In fact, Belichick coached the Cleveland Browns to a playoff victory--the most recent one for the Browns--in 1994 over Parcells' Patriots.

Long past the time that it should have been obvious that Belichick had been a major asset for Parcells, many members of the media were still reluctant to give Belichick the credit that he is due. Remember when the "experts" said that the Patriots would not be able to withstand the losses of coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis? That was an ironic twist considering that when Belichick was a coordinator for Parcells he was not considered indispensable by the media--though it should be obvious that he played a much more important role for Parcells than the departed Crennel and Weis later played for him.

The most recent attempt to not give Belichick his due credit is the so-called Spygate situation, which has to be one of the most overblown stories in NFL history. Hall of Famer Howie Long and his fellow Fox network commentator, Super Bowl winning coach Jimmy Johnson, have both stated that the kind of videotaping of signals that the Patriots did is widespread throughout the league. Long does not justify this conduct but says that it is hypocritical of the league to only go after New England and not try to investigate similar actions by other teams. Whatever the Patriots did during the first half of the first game of the season, it is not going on now and had nothing to do with all of the games that they won.

The Patriots will beat the Giants 38-17, crowning one of the greatest seasons in sports history. Hopefully, the media will get Belichick's story right this time; they sure have had enough practice getting it wrong.

7 comments:

Alex said...

Hey Pats fans!

I found a video (Super Bowl Radio Row) on Boston.TV thought you'd like to see it:

http://www.boston.tv/clips/631741639.html

enjoy!

vednam said...

I'm looking for the Pats to finally blow out a team in the postseason. The greatest teams of the past 20 years all did so, and a 19-0 record would lose some of its luster if the Pats just seem to outlast the Giants in a close game or escape with a victory.

David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I think that 19-0 is impressive even if you get there by kicking a field goal in the third overtime.

I would phrase things a little differently than you did and say that winning the Super Bowl in blowout fashion adds luster to 19-0.

vednam said...

There's no doubt that 19-0 would be very impressive regardless how the final victory comes. Winning the Super Bowl itself is impressive.

I just feel like the Pats have a chance to really top off their case as the best team ever. If this Super Bowl turns into a beat-down of 49ers-Broncos or Cowboys-Bills proportions, there wouldn't be much left for the critics to say. If the Pats barely squeak by, on the other hand, the teams with more overpowering playoff performances (like the 49ers and Cowboys) would still have an argument.

Dr. Z had a point when he said it seemed like the Pats have already peaked. That's what we've gotten from the playoffs so far (and really the last month of the regular season). I think the Pats are due for a big game, and I think we'll see a blowout tomorrow.

David Friedman said...

Vednam:

A few weeks ago, Chris Berman made the point that--other than the Dolphins--every other great team had at least one off game that turned out to be a loss. It is to the Patriots' credit that they may have had one or two off games but they won them anyway. I don't think that they peaked so much as the competition adjusted a bit to what they were doing with Moss and that weather conditions dictated a different kind of game.

As I indicated in the post, I expect a Patriots blowout, also.

Anonymous said...

You predicted the Patriots winning eh? Better not quit your day job.

David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

You're more than a little late to the party, but welcome to Best Ever Sports Talk. Yes, I got that prediction wrong and I'm pretty sure that I am not the only one. Brady was hurt and Samuel let the game-winning interception sail through his hands but give the Giants credit: they had a sound game plan, they executed it well and they made enough big plays down the stretch to pull off the upset.