LONGSHOTS: Patriots marching to Miami promised land?
by Dave Long
Well, itís that time of year again. And while itís amazingly warmer now in January than it used to be in these parts, itís still the best time of the sports year for me.
I love when the Sox and Yankees play, especially in May and September; the opening week of the NCAA Basketball Tournament; rivalry weekend in college football; assorted other big events like the U.S. Open in golf, and once upon a time in tennis; and when the Celtics were the CELTICS I also used to love the NBA playoffs. But there is nothing like watching your NFL team surviving week after week in January on their way to the big game.
Yes, it is playoff time and the Patriots lived to play another day by beating the J-E-T-S, jets, jets Sunday with a closer-than-it-looked 37-16 victory. But at the same time it was a very Patriot-like win where they came out strong, survived a few counterpunches and closed the deal by knowing how to win it in the end better than anyone else.
Itís the latest notch in the belt for an organization on its way to standing the test of time necessary to someday become one of the few real dynasties in NFL history. Only time will tell on that, but in the win against the Jets, and by scoring 40 or more in two of their last three regular season games, theyíre doing what they have always done in the Belichick era and for that matter under his mentor Bill Parcells as well. Theyíre peaking at just the right time.
They arenít perfect. Theyíve had me mumbling under (and over) my breath during a regular season that Bob Ryan perfectly summed up in the Boston Globe the day after it ended by saying, ďThat didnít feel like 12-4, did it?Ē Couldnít have said it better myself.
It just seemed they had more than their share of unfocused moments, like needing a safety to beat Buffalo on opening day, losing three of four in one stretch at Foxboro, the last-minute ďwinĒ over soon-to-be 3-13 Detroit and the turnover-happy period in November. But they did wind up 12-4 and Iíll admit that had me wondering, as far back as October, if it was them or if I was just a sports brat spoiled by all the success this century. At least until Ryanís comment, which let me know at least one other person felt that way.
But thatís in the past and now itís on to San Diego for Sundayís game with what many think is the NFLís best team. However, that will come only after weíve all spent all week talking and talking and talking about it. And while it will be analyzed ad nauseum, it will be done with an endearing rhythm unmatched in any sport.
It will go something like this:
Monday, everyone talks about how great Sundayís win was.
On Tuesday theyíre still talking about Daniel Grahamís catch for the key TD, Vince Wilforkís ballerina elephant lope down the sidelines after only he seemed to realize the ball batted down by Roosevelt Colvin was a fumble and not an incomplete Chad Pennington pass. But San Diego is the more prominent part of the discussion.
On Wednesday theyíre talking about Belichick getting into the head of yet-to-be-tested quarterback Phillip Rivers and barely remember Eric Manginiís name.
By Thursday not only do you know every one of the record-breaking stats in his fabulous 2006 season, but even I can now spell Ladainian Tomlinsonís name. Plus the yahoos are predicting a Patriot blowout.
On Friday we know all kinds of nice-to-know-but-donít-need-to-know facts, like that Marty Shottenheimer is 7-1 lifetime against New England and that the first time the two teams met in the playoffs was the 1963 AFL Championship game.
By Saturday, it seems like the game will never arrive and youíre like a guy lost in Mojave Desert crawling on your hand and knees in the blazing heat desperately searching for an oasis.
Then itís game day, where the first thing you think of when you open your eyes is the game and the entire day is built around the 4:30 kickoff.
Other sports, like baseball with its ebb and flow of a seven-game playoff series, offer their own brand of drama. But with baseballís 9 p.m. starting times for almost every game itís more grueling for fans to get through than players. After all, the players can sleep in after a 12:30 a.m. finish and we have to be at work bright and early. And it certainly is in stark contrast to the college football championship. Since each team has had five weeks off thereís little building drama. Although Iíll admit that since last yearís game between USC and Texas was probably the greatest football game Iíve ever seen, my argument isnít perfect. But, this year? Ohio State and Florida got the ho-him treatment from me.
How will it come out? Well itís Monday as Iím writing this so Iím not even close to the over-analyzing stage. But Iím pretty sure itíll come down to the readiness of Rivers, keeping the Chargers pass rush off balance, and of course turnovers.
Tomlinson? Well, I could be wrong, but while you know heíll do some great things, I canít see one guy beating them. Remember everyone was scared stiff of Marshall Faulk in 2001 and Peyton Manning in 2004.
I canít say I have quite the same level of confidence overall as in 2003 and 2004, or in a way coming down the stretch in the surprising 2001 season. But much of the defense is intact and they have the same coach and quarterback. Thatís a pretty good start. So I like the Pats 27-24.
Even if it makes me a yahoo.
Dave Long can be heard on Sports Night with Dave Long nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. on 610 WGIR-AM