Monday, December 29, 2008

Somtimes that's just the way it goes

New England sports fans have been spoiled all decade long. Three Lombardi trophies, a pair of World Series titles, an NBA championship, another pair of regular season MVPs, a near-perfect campaign, a defensive Player of The Year award, more playoff games than satisfied Scott Boras clients… The list goes on.

But in the spirit of the gift-giving season, let’s not be brats of the spoiled variety.

Yesterday the Patriots became the first 11-5 team to be playing golf pre-postseason since the NFL developed its 12-team system. It came down to the fourth tiebreaker on two separate occasions for the Pats to be sent home before the New Year for the first time since 2002. Their conference record fell one game short of both the Dolphins and the Ravens, which is why both rookie coach-led teams will be continuing their seasons next week.

Unlucky? Sure. But unfair? Don’t be such a homer.

For once, luck wasn’t on the Patriots’ side. Remember 2001 when David Patten was virtually unconscious on the Buffalo sideline but somehow managed to have a body part touching the pigskin, allowing the Pats to continue their drive in the midst of what would become a 9-game win streak to ultimately grab the wild card and the subsequent Super Bowl? Need I mention the Tuck Rule? Both were instrumental in the beginning of the Patriot-Belichick-Brady dynasty. And both required a bit of leprechaun-like charms.

With three games left in the 2008 season, the Pats sat at 8-5 and yet didn’t control their own playoff destiny – as we saw. But make no mistake, it wasn’t all because of black cat luck and it certainly wasn’t because of a tough schedule, either.

Sure, the 8-8 Chargers will host the Colts this wild card weekend, but sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. San Diego’s admittance into the tournament is more in part to a pathetic collapse in Denver rather than a glitch in the postseason rulebook. And sure, the Bolts had the luxury of playing the Chiefs and Raiders twice each, but who do you think New England beat up on six times a season for the past eight years in the AFC East? It wasn’t Indianapolis or any other team that even sniffed the January brackets more than once in a royal blue moon.

The Patriots were 2-4 this season against teams that eventually made this year’s playoffs. They beat up on the JV (putting it mildly) NFC West, got embarrassed by the Dolphins at home, San Diego on the road and blew it against Peyton and the Colts in the dome. Yesterday they shutout the Bills, but needed help from either Brett and the Jets or the Jaguars to continue their season. Neither delivered the favor, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

We’ve watched Senor Hoodie out-coach the league all decade and this season may have been his most impressive masterpiece, gluing together an 11-5 season with a quarterback that had barely played since grade school, after losing the league MVP, the team leader on defense and almost everyone in between. The Pats finished the season on a four-game win streak, but the season is 16 games long for a reason. This time, it just wasn’t their turn for glory. And they weren’t screwed or stolen from and the league’s rules are just fine.

Sometimes you just have to tip you hat in admiration. This would be one of those times. Tony Sparano took a 1-15 football team and triumphed over the Foxboro favorites, starting in Week 3 by unveiling Arkansas’ “wildcat” offense just miles from the Rhode Island border. But I’m aware, it hurts the ego a bit to bow down in front of Sir Tuna – who undoubtedly had a hand (or two) in the Fins’ Celtic-like one-season turnaround. But as those in Motown know best, sports can’t always be full of titles and rings – or wins, for that matter.

This was the Dolphins year, folks. Chad Pennington fittingly beat the Jets in his final exam as the Pats could only sit and watch Favre and his miserable three-interception performance from their respective La-Z-Boys.

Of course it’s tough to swallow and pending Tom’s left knee, the dynasty may not be over. But be gracious, chowder fans. Cassel and the Pats gave it their all; nothing to be taken from them. This time – for once – it just simply wasn’t in the cards. No need to be sore losers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Conflicting thoughts?

Last week, CBS Sports' Gary Parrish disagreed with me in my column about Bo Ryan. But how much does he really disagree, seeing as he posted this a mere month before?

Aren't we arguing the same thing?

Final column and PCP:

So many lessons in such short amount of time

PCP: Favorite Herald memory?