By Jason Keidel
So which way do we lean?
Patriots fatigue? Or an aesthetic love for greatness?
Should we be tired of the avocado ice cream, sleeping in space suits, and the whole narcissistic TB12 experience? Or should we just accept the self-importance and embrace what got Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots to this point? Again. For the eighth time together, the B&B and the Pats will play in the Super Bowl.
It’s hard to argue with results, especially those as profound as these. Yes, the refs jobbed the Jags, throwing six flax against Jacksonville — including that phantom pass interference call — while tossing just one flag for 10 yards against the home team all game.
But we can’t minimize, trivialize, or ignore the constant, almost seasonal splendor of the New England Patriots. There’s much to be said about winning, and also how you win. There’s nothing in the rules that forbid the Pats from waiting and letting other teams beat themselves, to let them implode, to let the moment squeeze them into mistakes. Like that delay of game after a timeout that negated a first-down pass.
And we can’t let the fact that Brady has been doing this forever obscure our view of his brilliance. If anything, it should add to it. As legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey famously said, “luck is the residue of design.” And the gridiron truth is that the Pats put themselves in a position to compete, not only with talent and temerity, but also by limiting mistakes, by not only being a team that can win the game, but refusing to be the team that loses it.
If you’re sick of seeing New England every February, beat them. There are teams that have just as much, if not more, talent than the Patriots, like the Steelers, for example. Yet only one team always has the requisite on-field hunger and humility to realize how hard it is to get here, and be willing to put in the hours and put up with the pain to do it.
Did the Jaguars lose because they’re so much worse than the Patriots? The Jags were up 20-10 in the fourth quarter, which speaks to how well they handled the Pats for three quarters. But in perhaps the most telling stat of the young century, the Patriots are 3-4 in the playoffs when trailing by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter. The rest of the NFL is 3-70.
Endless coaching cliches have been devoted to the notion of playing until the last pitch, snap, or shot. But how many teams abide by them? It’s more soporific than sexy to stick to the fundamentals, even as you’ve won more Super Bowls than any head coach or quarterback in NFL history. We’re sick of the process, of onto Cincinnati, of the sleepy machination of success.
But winning is never boring, which is why Foxborough is the vortex and apex of the pro football world. No matter what happens in two weeks, the Pats will be poached of their coordinators, losing at least Josh McDaniels to the Indianapolis Colts, and Matt Patricia to the Detroit Lions, both to assume head-coaching duties in their respective cities. You may notice that the branches from the Belichick coaching tree — from Charlie Weis to Romeo Crennel — don’t find a sliver of the same prosperity on their own. Another monument to the greatness of the process.
Maybe the Eagles will be a speed bump on their way to repeat champions. But as long as Brady is healthy and playing at his legendary standards, and Belichick wants to coach the club, the Patriots will likely get here next year, or at least be favored to do so. Because they are great and willing to grind. Teams are usually one or the other. Only Brady and Belichick are both.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.