Thursday, December 03, 2009

Writer's Blocking and Tackling

At least a half-dozen times since last Monday night, I've come up with different ideas for posts on the 2009 New England Patriots and their loss to the Saints. As far as I know, they were, if not good ideas, at least fresh ones.

(Note to some fans and commentators: A 38-17 loss does not indicate your team's offense was the problem.)

But as you may notice, I didn't turn any of those ideas into actual posts. I can't. Every time I sit down to type, a vision of the 2008 Arizona Cardinals gets in my way. Specifically, I see the Cardinals on December 21, 2008 down at Gillette Stadium, where they lost to the Patriots by 47-7 or thereabouts in one of the single most disgraceful performances by a professional sports team it has ever been my misfortune to witness. You can't even say the Cardinals quit in that game, because "quit" implies there was a point where the team was doing something.

Naturally, I and 100 other people wrote the Cardinals off for the playoffs, for which they had already qualified. Teams just can't look that bad and do anything in the postseason less than two weeks later.

Somewhat less naturally, the Cardinals proved us all wrong, winning three straight playoff games in admirable fashion to reach the Super Bowl, which they also damn near won. December's poltroons were January's swashbucklers. Same guys. Same coaches. Same game plans. There's no such thing as character transplants. To explain the Cards' transformation, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that regular season games are less than a 100 percent reliable indicator of postseason game results.

Actually, we also left with one of my oldest observations about the NFL. Almost every team, regardless of record or talent, turns in one genuinely rank performance each season, a festival of errors, timidity and helplessness. And that performance is an outlier, with no real bearing on what'll happen to said team in future games (two or more such games sure as hell is an indicator, but teams that bad have usually proved their lack of worth by Columbus Day).

The Patriots will have to play a lot worse than they did against New Orleans (who, correspondingly, will be hard pressed to match their performance that night the rest of the way) for a lot longer than one game to miss the playoffs. They may fail dismally in their first postseason game, or they may have become what most folks thought they'd be back in training camp.

I'll bet postgame analyses will not mention the Saints game in either case, nor should they.


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