Monday, January 16, 2006

Mr. Not-so-automatic

Being out and about with The Wife this weekend, I watched almost no football, so I don't have a whole lot of direct observation type of commentary to offer. Suffice it to say that I am, indeed, very glad that I will not have to follow through on my pledge last week.

Of course, longtime readers may surmise how happy I am that the New England Stupid Patriots not only came back to earth this week with a long-overdue playoff loss, but that they came back to earth with a resounding thud. (From what I hear, the officiating wasn't very good in that game, but also from what I hear, the officiating was pretty bad across the board this weekend, so I'm not terribly worked up on that score.) What's struck me, though, is something mirrored in this column from Buffalo News columnist Bob DiCesart:

The Patriots responded as the Buffalo Bills responded when Thurman Thomas sulked over a fumble lost early in the second half of Super Bowl XXVIII. They followed the lead, slipping out of character and out of sync.

That's what's going to eat at the Patriots during this offseason. It's not so much that they didn't play their best game against the Broncos. Their lingering regret will be that they disintegrated from within, surrendered the very qualities that had distinguished them the last four years.

It was Brady who set the discordant tone, not only with his actions but with his play. He overthrew open receivers, threw behind open receivers, miscommunicated with receivers on plays the Pats normally run by rote. The end-zone interception thrown late in the third quarter, the mistake that tilted the game to the Broncos, was forced out of greed.

I wondered more than a week ago if Tom Brady was starting to lose his composure a bit, when I read that Tom Brady was complaining about his team being "disrespected". I can't imagine where he might have heard that, because frankly, just about the only place that I ever read anything remotely non-fawning about Brady and how stellar and magnificent he is is the stuff I write in this blog. Even leading into Saturday's game against the Broncos, just about every sportswriter or journalist I could find offering picks was taking the StuPats in that game, just because of Brady's unflappable image. (The only person I saw who actually picked the Broncos was Shannon Sharpe on CBS. Oh, and me.) Brady has seemed like that unflappable and unassuming guy in the past, but not this year; it seems to me like a chip has been placed on his shoulder. I wonder if that is partly due to the departure of Charlie Weis last year, and I think back to Jim Kelly's great career. The Bills still had some great seasons after Ted Marchibroda left as offensive coordinator in 1992 (halfway through the run of four straight Super Bowls), but Jim Kelly was never quite the same after that. I wonder if something similar might be happening with Brady.

Oh well. Once again, a team with a shot at winning three consecutive Super Bowls doesn't even make it to the big game, and thus, the StuPats have still not done anything really unique, since three titles in four years has been done before (by the Cowboys of the early 1990s). Maybe they roar back next year, or maybe not. You never know in the NFL. All of these guys are going to be a year older, and eventually there's a physical toll -- plus, Brady himself is due for an injury or two.

As for the other games, I heard a bit of the Steelers' upset of the Colts on the radio. I, too, was shocked at the outcome of that one, and I'm starting to question Tony Dungy's ability to get his players amped up for playoff games. But then, I also have to question the players themselves: they should have gone out there and made sure that in Dungy's period of immense pain (his son committed suicide just weeks ago), he would at least finally get that elusive title. It was their time to carry him, and they completely let him down. Ugh.

And I suppose I should comment on the Bills, who are still searching for a head coach. Is there something in the water at One Bills Drive these days that renders guys normally known for being straight-shooters completely incapable of giving straight answers when they take the podium for a Bills press conference? Ralph Wilson could have just cleaned house two weeks ago and then got up and said, "Here's Marv Levy, my new GM, and now we're looking a coach. Marv, you're not the coach. You're the GM. Go to it." Instead, we're in that precise situation now, but after two annoying weeks of "What did you mean when you said this?" and "Would you ever under any circumstances consider" and the like. The Bills will probably end up dilly-dallying and splitting hairs and saying cute things at news conferences while all the best coaching candidates get hired, and then the Bills will grab some team's offensive coordinator on the cheap. Football in Buffalo: it's a hoot these days.

Oh well. I'll still have figure skating. Go Team USA!

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