Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pundits Commit False Start on Unhappiness

There has been a very odd strain of sports commentary around town this week. I just heard a fresh batch of it on the radio when I went to fill up the car with gas. Call it "preemptive bitching."

The theme, as expressed today in the Globe by Christopher Gasper, is that the heavily favored New England Patriots not only should defeat the Denver Broncos tonight, they'd damn well better. If they don't, it will indicate there's something fundamentally, deeply wrong with the franchise that has won 75 percent of its games over the last five years.

To get the full impact of this commentary, you need to listen to the radio. The tone of its advocates is cold, stern, angry even. I've heard it before, it's the exact same tone one of my high school math teachers used to talk to me about my horrible calculus grades. I was doing well in French and History, he'd say. So why couldn't I put in the effort to do well in calculus.

My teacher, a good guy, had it all backwards. I was putting in as much effort (don't ask how much) as in my other courses. My calculus grades weren't up to snuff because I didn't get calculus at all and never would. Effort and attitude had nothing to do with it. It was the same as trying to hit the curve ball.

So it is with the Pats tonight. I do not believe they will lose. In fact, I'll be startled if they do. But if it should happen, it won't be because of some inner moral weakness that strikes like clockwork in mid-January. It'll be for reasons that've been evident all year. Either the defense will fail to come up with the turnovers and red-zone stops that have saved its collective posterior throughout the regular season, the offense will find ways NOT to score 30 points or more, or both. Those possibilities have been baked into the cake of all 16 Pats' games so far, and three times they were realized.

Oh, one more reason. The Broncos could play a great game. See Jets v. Pats 2011. See Super Bowl XLII.

Winning NFL games is difficult. Winning playoff games is doubly so. Sure, plenty of them become blowouts. The teams that won those blowouts performed at or near peak capacity, and their foes did not. In other words, they happened just like regular season blowouts.

The Broncos have already won a playoff game. Logic says that gives them as much postseason credibility as all of the seven other teams still playing. So it strikes me as the height of misguided arrogance to state that it'll be solely the Patriots' fault if they win another one tonight. Failure's not always about you. Many times it's about what you're trying to do.


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