Monday, December 24, 2007

Perfection is a Concept, Not a Record

It became obvious during the second half of the Patriots' 28-7 win over the Dolphins yesterday that all Bill Belichick's blather about not thinking about his team's chance for an undefeated season has been a different sort of fib than the Pats' coach usually tells. Belichick stonewalls, obfuscates, or puts a question in a frame of his own design, but he strives to avoid outright falsehoods. I attribute this to a long apprenticeship will Bill Parcells, who'd lie about the weather if he felt it to his advantage.

The way the Pats took a collective walkabout in the second half of an already won game confirmed my prior suspicions. The undefeated record has become New England's emotional generator, at least for the regular season. It is keeping their wheels on. If the Pats weren't 15-0, they'd be 13-2, or maybe worse.

If New England had lost to the Colts in November, I am certain they would have lost at least one of their three games against the Eagles, Ravens, and Jets. The quest for perfection provided the incentive to persevere at 100 percent commitment amidst tremendous frustrations. It doesn't take more than the loss of edge you need an electron microscope to find to turn an NFL team from machine to disassembled parts. See: Colts-Chargers the week after Indy lost to the Pats. See the Pats in the second half against Miami, for that matter.

Until Halloween, the Patriots were perfect, their offense an inhuman android built of touchdowns. In December, they have merely been good enough to win, mixing excellence with chunks of average. Good enough to win, oddly enough, is not a level of play that always does win. Occasionally, the other team reaches its theoretical level of perfection, and good enough isn't.

The Ravens did that, but the Pats mixed perfect resilience (always their best quality) with champion's luck to escape. If it hadn't been for the honor of a perfect record, they wouldn't have. Of course, if it weren't for the honor of trying to end the streak, the Ravens would likely have been their usual sucky selves, too, creating a chicken-egg situation too deep for philosophers.

Belichick's a historian, not a philosopher. That's why I'm sure he's using a 19-0 season as the goad to get his club through some pretty mundane games 12-16 on the schedule. The honor of being named the greatest team in NFL history (which, I believe, they'd deserve) has become the Pats' emotional generator, at least until the playoffs start. Belichick would never permit his team to have an emotional center outside his control. He has to be fueling this fire. I would not be at all surprised if the Pats saw as many films of the 1972 Dolphins last week as of the 2007 Dolphins.

Belichick probably ran Garo Yepremian's pass in the Super Bowl over and over and over again. It's hard to get a team to hate an opponent that doesn't exist anymore, but if any coach could, it'd be him.


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