By Ryan McGowan
The Patriots are done. Tom Brady is done. Bill Belichick is cooked.
Jason Whitlock thinks Tom Brady’s time is over. Bill Simmons thinks the Patriots might go 5-11 this season. Fans all over the country, even right here in the 617, are wondering where the Patriots Elimination Parties are going to be held in Week 11 with their record sitting at 2-9.
Because when it comes to the Patriots, every game is magnified to be a microcosm of the decline and fall of the Belichickian Empire. The result of every quarter is symbolic of the larger script that the national press and fandom desperately want to believe. Every play is blown up to take on greater meaning in the grand cosmic scheme of the Patriots’ downfall.
So the Patriots barely squeak by a fired-up, playing-like-it’s-their-Super-Bowl division rival in Week One, a team that hasn’t won in Foxborough since before Gillette Stadium was even built, and the whispers start. They’re done. Brady is rattled. He’s thinking about the knee. He won’t ever be the same again. The Bills almost beat them—there’s your proof. Even though we all know that “almost” only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and aiming at a urinal.
Meanwhile, all TB12 does is rack up AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors (for the 13th time in his career) and lead yet another fourth quarter comeback. Without, of course, the team’s best defensive player, who hurt his knee in the first quarter.
Then in week 2, the Pats thoroughly dominated the first half in the Meadowlands. They cause wunderkind Mark Sanchez to drizzle urine down his leg and fumble on the first play from scrimmage, and they drive three times deep into Jets territory only to watch college QB turned possession receiver Julian Edelman drop a sure-fire touchdown pass inside the five. The Jets D mercifully escapes with three field goals and a 9-3 Pats lead at halftime. Sanchez gets one good drive to start the third quarter, and the Jets defense buckles down for a 16-9 win at home. What could have easily been a 24-3 blowout at halftime somehow becomes the primal evidence that Tom Brady’s days as a viable NFL quarterback are over.
The Jets are a good football team. Rex Ryan is a damn good football coach, who pulled out all the stops against New England, including having every ex-Patriot on the team serve as team captain, not to mention his legendary reverse-911 voice mail to season-ticket holders. They were playing their home opener. The Pats’ best defensive player was again out.
Yet somehow this loss causes the national guys (which includes Simmons, who has been in Hollywood way too long to even earn any street cred as a Boston fan anymore) to go completely insane and pronounce the Sacrament of Last Rites for the New England Patriots.
No other team gets such ridiculous scrutiny and jumping to conclusions. The Colts start off slow last year, and the media give Peyton Manning the benefit of the doubt. (Why? Because he was coming off knee surgery. Sound familiar?) He’ll come around, they said. He’s just got to find his timing again and get back on track with his receivers. But when Brady is coming off knee surgery, and is without his best over-the-middle guy in Wes Welker and with his best deep threat, Randy Moss, aching in his lower back, it’s proof that he’s as washed up as Amelia Earhardt on a remote Pacific island.
One of Whitlock’s anointed successors, Big Bad Ben Roethlisberger, has him team at 1-2, having lost back-to-back games to the Bears and Bengals. (The Bengals!) Where is the outcry for the fallen Super Bowl champs? Where is the clamor for the “changing of the guard” from the Steelers to the Jets or Ravens or Saints or whoever this week’s flavor du jour is?
It’s because for whatever reason, when it comes to the Patriots, everything is a microcosm for something larger. Minutiae becomes hyperbole. New England comes one Eli Manning pass short of a 19-0 season and all of a sudden they go from the greatest team in history to the biggest group of losers ever assembled. Eric Mangini tattles that Belichick kept film on other team’s sideline signals on file to study for future reference, and the entire country assails the Hooded One for the most vile form of cheating and demands that asterisks be placed in front of all three Super Bowl titles. Eagles players demand their stolen rings from SB XXXIX.
Then it’s revealed that Mangini himself and Mike Tannenbaum manipulated the injury list last season so as to keep an obviously hurt Brett Favre from appearing (a practice, by the way, that probably had a hell of a lot more effect on the outcome of games than the Patriots having a tape to study an opponent’s hand signals weeks later ever had) and no one even bats an eyelash. The Jets pay their fine, everyone moves on.
Where’s Gregg Easterbrook opining about Mangini representing everything that’s wrong with the world? Where’s Tom Jackson demanding that the Jets’ 34-31 overtime victory over the Patriots in Week 11 (a game which, ultimately, kept the Patriots from winning the division and going to the playoff last season) be overturned and awarded to the Patriots? Where is Roger Goodell sodomizing the Jets for half a million dollars and a first-round draft pick?
They say that the attention paid to someone is the best compliment you could give him. The liberal blogosphere hates Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck, and the right-wing punditry despises Michael Moore, Bill Maher, and Obama himself, but the very fact that these people are constantly ripped in print just proves to their supporters how relevant they are. Maybe no one cares about Mangini and the Jets because they haven’t really been relevant since Joe Willie was making poolside drunken guarantees.
So for all my complaining, the fact that the media even takes the time to slobber over the supposed demise of the once-great Patriots must be some consolation in and of itself. It’s proof that the franchise remains relevant, even if by “relevant” I really mean “despised.”
But Masshole Nation, of course, has no problem with being despised. Pretty much our entire way of life is a big F-you to the rest of the nation. We don’t watch NASCAR. We don’t care if you think people are nicer and friendlier in the Midwest. We couldn’t care less if you played by one set of drinking game rules where you came from and we play by another. We don’t care if our streets are confusing; buy a friggin’ map. This is the way it is in New England.
So the national media and fandom can keep hating on the Patriots and celebrating every perception of their fallibility as proof of a divine power. It will just make it all the more sweet for the next time Bob Kraft hosts the Lombardi Trophy high over his head on a Sunday night in February.