It’s hard to imagine that, for the most part, Patriots and Red Sox fans are one and the same. Case and point: Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS. The Red Sox had surged ahead of the Yankees, 8-1 (their historic comeback clearly just a formality) in the fourth inning, yet not a soul throughout the Nation dared utter the words, World Series. However, on Sunday night in Indianapolis, with the Patriots holding a 21-3 lead and driving in the second quarter, New England fans near and far had collective visions of South Beach dancing in their heads.I was one of them. Talked to and text messaged my friends about more impending glory. Even declared out loud that the day the Patriots blew an 18-point lead in a playoff game would be the day I declared the end of the dynasty. And I sort of am. But not really. Just wait.
See that’s the difference between Patriots and Red Sox fans: two polar opposite psychological dynamics operating within the same fan-framework. In other words, we’re real screwed up, so cut us some slack.
Back to the original point. Ask any Sox fan if they’ll ever have to hinge great chunks of their personal and professional lives on a Red Sox playoff run. Ask them if life will ever be as good as it was during those eight nights of baseball in October, 2004. Answers will always be some variation of: Nope, Sox got the one, did it unprecedented, now my father/grandfather/son/pet can die having lived a fruitful existence. I’m saved.
While we obviously want to see the Sox succeed (and not get five-game swept by the Yankees), that familiar chill and snicker when recalling the ’04 playoffs will never cease to be. It is there in that Sox-psyche, forever embedded.
But it’s different with the Patriots. Much different. We saw this team rise from the ashes of NFL futility. A team that for over two decades didn’t even merit discussion on the Boston sports scene. The Patriots played home games 26 miles from the hub, could rarely be seen on TV, and had appeared in one thrashing of a Super Bowl in their history. With the Celtics and Bruins hanging banners in the 70s and 80s, and with the Red Sox losing in Shakespearean fashion, the Patriots were blander than white toast.
But after its acquisition by a savvy businessman with a passion and a plan, the New England franchise grew so fast and so decisively that suddenly it could only be compared with the all-time greats.
Which brings us to Sunday night. The Patriots, driving for a fourth-first half touchdown, saw their drive halted on an offensive pass interference call against Troy Brown. A possible 28-3 lead and assured 24-3 advantage was nixed by one play. But that didn’t really matter. If a lead in a playoff game against a great opponent has ever been airtight, it’s a Patriots lead. And we know that from past experience (17-3 in the 2001 AFC Championship at Pittsburgh; 17-3 in Super Bowl XXXVI against St. Louis; 21-3 in the 2004 AFC Championship at Pittsburgh).
In all those games the opponent made a strong push, but our defense never gave up a lead and Tom Brady did what was necessary to win. We had no reason to believe the Patriots would allow a new ending to be written. But hindsight’s 20-20.
And hindsight tells me the Patriots had to play three quarters of tough, playoff football against the Jets before traveling 3,000 miles to beat a team that was nine times better than they were on paper. (Well nine Pro Bowlers at least.) It was the proverbial “game they had no business winning but always win.”
The team then got hit by the flu-bug somewhere in between San Diego and Boston, and it accompanied them to Indy. It put Artrell Hawkins, the backup safety to the injured Rodney Harrison, out of the game. It rendered the steely Troy Brown eerily human (he ran a curl when he was supposed to run an out on the third down play that would’ve essentially sealed the game). Coupled with Rosevelt Colvin’s absence in the second half, along with Eric Alexander and Rashad Baker’s presence in crunch time, the Pats D was, for the first time, vulnerable. Not to mention uncharacteristically ragged and fatigued.
Yet we all feel that with another thirty seconds or so, Brady would have found a way to get the boys into the end zone, and onto Miami, because that’s what he does in January. But not this time. It took a perfect storm to drown the Patriots Sunday night. That is why I am not sticking to my comment from in the moment, that the dynasty is dead, because it isn’t. Unfortunately, this phase of it is. Guys like Tedy Bruschi, Corey Dillon, and Troy Brown all deserve to retire. Especially Bruschi.
I have a feeling we haven’t seen the end of some (maybe all) of that trio, but we certainly have seen their dominant days pass, and that is sad. That said, Brady is staring his prime square in the face. He has an offensive line that is young and cohesive, and most importantly, protects him. He has a budding running back that will emerge as one of the league’s best over the next few years. He has a young wide receiver with all the tools to become his next principal beneficiary, if he can only adopt the Patriot-ethic.
Defensively, the only area without question marks is up front, which is a good thing. With Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Jarvis Green manning the trenches for the next three years, the Patriots will be remain a run-tough defense. They must find a way to get younger and faster at the linebacker position, a notion we’ve never had to embrace in the Bruschi-era. And if they can find a way to keep Asante Samuel opposite Ellis Hobbs, good luck to opposing quarterbacks. If not, there’s still the x-factor, the reason why the Patriots have gone through 500 defensive backs in the last four years and have four AFC East crowns and two rings to show for it.
Bill Belichick. True, after this January good ole Bill may not be recognized as the classiest coach in the league, but he’s still the undisputed best. In Bill we still trust. So too does the Kraft family.
And as I alluded to before, Robert Kraft is not only a class-A businessman, he’s also a passionate Patriots fan who…HATES…LOSING!!!
He gave the Jets a first round pick just to snag Belichick, so don’t be fooled into thinking he’s going to let him get away (translation: the Giants may get Asante, but as for the guru, dream on). And don’t underestimate the mutual dependence Belichick and Brady have on each other. They each saved the other’s career. So with Brady’s best years on the horizon, watch as the Krafts hammer out a new deal for Belichick, and ride what they’ve been patiently waiting to declare as the second wave of the Brady/Belichick Patriots-dynasty.
I said after the second Super Bowl that when history was truly ready to look at the Patriots, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick would each have five rings. With that tandem at the helm you’re going to be hard pressed to find a Patriots fan who doesn’t believe that they’ll win another two. And thus we have revealed the one inherent similarity, rooted somewhere within our vast sports-psyches, between Red Sox fans and Patriots fans. We, more than any other fan base, embody our athletes.
Manny, Pedro, and the Sox got their title, are content with life, and can ride off into the sunset as perpetual champs. Brady, on the other hand, has made it no secret that his most coveted ring is the next one.
On both accounts, we concur.