Thursday, November 03, 2011

Remain Calm, or at Least Try to Panic a Little More Quietly

The blackout of New England created by the storm last Saturday night (partially responsible for the content gap of this blog) apparently extended to all knowledge of the National Football League. Oh, there's been plenty of heat among fans and opinion-mongers since the Patriots lost to the Steelers. Light? Not even a candle's worth.

Because it is played only once a week, pro football generates much more straight-line projection analysis and reaction than do other sports. That is, a loss is usually felt to indicate a future filled with losses, and a victory means an unbroken string of triumphs leading straight to the next Super Bowl. That straight-line projection has a perfect record of failure in football forecasting has never and will never change this tendency. When evidence grapples with the sillier depths of the psyche, evidence gets hit with the folding chair every time.

But there's silly, and then there's loony. The assumption that the Pats' win over the Cowboys meant the New England defense had turned the corner was silly. The reaction to the Pittsburgh loss has been full metal moronic. A one-score defeat on the road to a team with a record of success in the past decade second only to that of the Pats themselves is said to indicate the past decade didn't exist. We've only imagined every game played since Super Bowl XXXIX, because in the meantime, the Patriots have stunk, and Bill Belichick has been at best a bungler at both personnel selection and technical coaching.

The Pats haven't been perfect this season. Nor has Belichick. I understand why the coach might want to fire most of his defensive backs, but he might've been better advised to have replacements in mind when he made them redundant.

Still, New England is 5-2. They're tied for first in the AFC East. If they might be a tad weaker than in previous seasons, it's just a tad, and that weakness may well be statistical white noise that'll get erased by December.

After about the ninth talk show rant about Belichick's drafting I heard between Sunday and Tuesday (hey, all the entertainment in the house was a battery-powered radio
), it occurred to me to do something I have always hated -- research. I had to wait for power, but here it is.

New England's regular season record since Super Bowl XXXIX: 77 wins -- 26 losses. Five division titles in six seasons and counting. One Super Bowl appearance. Two AFC title game appearances.

No doubt about it. The presiding genius responsible for those shameful figures has to be another Matt Millen. Pity to see the game pass Belichick by like that.

It's OK to be emotional about sports. Otherwise, why follow them? But "emotional" should not always mean "emotional breakdown." When Rudyard Kipling wrote that triumph and disaster should be always met the same, he didn't mean people should freak out over both of them.

It always puzzles me that followers of sports do not really believe in the best-known and oldest cliches of their sports. Go on Twitter and follow a few baseball writers. Do they seem like people who feel "it's a long season?" Every day is the end of the known horsehide universe.

Football's no different. Straight-line projection analysis ignores the possibility that a football takes funny bounces -- a cliche used to illustrate the sport's inherent random, no, chaotic nature. Of all the sports, football should have the most judicious fans and media. It has just the opposite.

It's probably not so much fun to evaluate the last two Patriots games with the following two sentences. Tom Brady remains a really good quarterback. The Pittsburgh Steelers remain a very tough team to play. But it would be accurate. Doesn't that matter?

I recognize that it's far more difficult to fill up a newspaper column or four hours of radio or two beers worth of barroom argument with those two sentences. But I'd sure like to see a few people try.


At 11:23 AM, Blogger Dan Riley said...

As bad as the Pats looked Sunday, I kept thinking back on two games I recall they had no business winning--the Troy Brown Heist against the Bolts playoff game and the Monday Night Rex Ryan Brain Fart during the undefeated season (oh, yeah, regular season). Those were two pretty good Pats teams that shouldda, couldda won the Super Bowl, but they also couldda shouldda lost those two games, and if they had everything said about them would've sounded just like what you heard this week...with or without electricity.


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