LONGSHOTS: OK — it’s week nine and I’m ready to talk
by Dave Long
When the chatter about the Patriots are going to go undefeated started heating up after they beat Cincinnati in week four, I said come see me after the Colts game and if they’re still undefeated then we’ll talk. Well, your New England Patriots are 9-0 after coming from behind to beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Colts in their own building by scoring twice in the final seven minutes. So now what?
I rarely go overboard when a team gets off to a sensational start. Instead I want them to prove it’s not a just super hot streak rather than a historic season in progress. Generally I have a name for folks who take the opposite approach for a beloved team, but since I like to think I’ve matured a bit since, say, oh, last week’s column, I now call it Yearly Anticipation of High Performance (by) Our Own (team) syndrome, whose acronym interestingly still spells yahoo, but I’m not going to go there, since I have, you know, matured.
Especially since I took the Sox in six, while many of what I thought were Yearly Anticipation of High-Performance (by) Our Own (team) syndrome callers to (plug, plug) WGAM said sweep. And they’ve also been shouting about going undefeated since the Randy Moss trade, so maybe I need to chill. There’s also the matter of me picking them to win the Super Bowl but only after going 12-4 or maybe (gulp) 11-5. And finally, the super hot streak has stretched to nine games after taking out the undefeated Colts on the road while racking up an unbelievable 142 yards in penalties. So, I’m now starting to say, well ... maybe.
And while I am conservative about going overboard on a team, I’m just the opposite when it comes to breaking what seems to be an impossible record. If someone can do it once, why can’t someone else do it now? That goes for Joe DiMaggio’s supposedly unbreakable 56-game hitting streak in baseball and Jamal Lewis’ record of rushing for an astonishing 295 yards in a single NFL game. Whoops, almost forgot, a rookie nine games into his career by the name of Adrian Peterson ran for 298 the same day the Pats were going to 9-0 – so I rest my case.
As for running the table through an entire season, I know only the Dolphins have done it in the modern NFL, but why not? The Patriots already did the Tiger slam in winning 21 in a row over two seasons which included winning the Super Bowl. I know doing it in the same year is different because it will build into a gigantic story, but these guys don’t get distracted. So I’ll ask again: why not?
I do that because while I know mentioning something before 1993 is going to get Petey Tarrier’s eye’s rolling, which I’ll risk it to say, I’ve already seen some pretty long winning streaks in my day. I saw the Lakers win an amazing 33 games in a row in a streak that started 36 years ago this week. It continued into February when the Kareem Adbul Jabbar-led Milwaukee Bucks took out Wilt and company in a classic Sunday-afternoon tilt when Jabbar somehow stayed in the game after punching (not so) Happy Hairston right in the jaw. Two years earlier my Knicks won a then-record 18 in a row to start the year 23-1. The UCLA dynasty had four 30-0 seasons under John Wooden, won 38 straight tournament games to go along with winning streaks of 47 and 88. And what about the great 400-meter hurdler Edwin Moses going nearly a decade without a loss in winning 122 straight races? So if they can do it someone else can too.
Which brings me to the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Being a “records are made to be broken” kind of a guy, I am bothered by the champagne toast Nick Buoniconti leads after the last undefeated team goes down every year. I think those who are eclipsed should be gracious when it happens. Especially when it’s done in an admirable way — which is why Hank Aaron gets a pass in the Barry Bonds saga.
Ironically, those Dolphins remind me of the Patriots Super Bowl-winning teams. They were led by the best coach of that day in Don Shula, and Bob Griese was a smart game-managing QB, like the young Brady. They also had an opportunistic and under-appreciated defense whose prime asset was intelligence. And they survived big injuries, as the 2003 and 2004 Patriots did, by winning 11 times with sub Earl Morrill filling in after Griese went down with a broken ankle in game five.
But now, with Brady firing away, these 9-0 Patriots are a lot different. Those Dolphins had a punishing running attack where both Larry Czonka and Mercury Morris ran for 1,000 yards in just 14 games. Two Patriots receivers already have doubled the paltry team-leading 29 catches Paul Warfield had for Miami that entire season. And three more will go way by Warfield before it’s over too. Not to mention the 18 different Patriots to already score a TD is four more than the Ds had all year.
And what about Miami’s schedule? While you can only beat the teams you play, only the 8-6 Chiefs and 8-6 Giants had a winning regular-season record among their opponents — whose combined record was a horrible 70-124-4. In the playoffs they beat the mediocre Browns, whose quarterback, Mike Phipps, threw more interceptions than touchdown passes; the up and coming 11-3 Steelers, who got to round two only by the grace of Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception; and George Allen’s Redskins, who were boring but effective. And while they weren’t blow-out specialists, interestingly they beat the 3-11 Patriots 52-0 — though I can’t recall if they faced the same “they’re running it up” hue and cry Belichick’s boys have this year.
Will they do it? The biggest obstacles look to be Pittsburgh, who’s given up just 91 points as I write this, their tackling — which has been pretty shoddy the last month — and their schedule. It’s soft inside the division, but they’ve already faced playoff-bound teams in San Diego, Dallas, Indy and perhaps even Cleveland, with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Giants still ahead. But if they do, Buoniconti and company should still have that toast to celebrate their own great work and that of a Patriots team that will face at least seven playoff teams and play 16, not 14, games. Because it means the road taken by New England to an undefeated season will have been much tougher than the one taken by the great Miami team way back when.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM-Nashua.