FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 6: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots paces the sidelines against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter on November 6, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Giants won 24-20. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
I don't even know what else to say here. This is absolutely brutal.
I know I'm supposed to think of five positives that we can all use to hold us together moving forward. I also know that this sinking feeling of hopelessness that I can't seem to shake is more than a little over-reactive, and that there actually were a number of good things that came out of Sunday's game. But the bottom line is that I'm not feeling very optimistic at all right now, and that's just how it works. What I really want to do is go on an angry fan rant where I just start spouting profanity associated with poor decision-making and failed execution and an inability to put it all together in all three phases of the game. I want to harp on the turnovers and call out Julian Edelman and beat the pass rush woes into the ground some more. I even have a hankering to call out the offense for being predictable, abandoning the run, and forcing throws into coverage.
But that's not going to do anyone any good, is it? Bitching and complaining is a lot like eating an entire bucket of KFC in one sitting: fun to do, and vaguely therapeutic, but not exceptionally productive at the end of the day. It's more important than ever, in times like this, that we all stay positive and keep things in perspective. I know it hurts, and the manner in which the Patriots lost makes everything seem a lot worse than it is, but in all honesty it really wasn't that bad. The Pats are just in a little bit of a slump right now, plain and simple. They have played their worst football of the season in back-to-back games, lost a game at home for the first time since the Carter administration, and dredged up memories of the worst day of many Patriots fans' lives. And so, it's easy to despair. But yesterday also saw some good strides forward in several areas, and once you take a step back and focus on the big picture, there is plenty of reason to believe that it's all going to be all right.
You don't believe a word of that, do you? Fair enough. Well here are five positives anyway.
Best defensive front we'll see all year. The New York Giants have the one of the best, if not the best, front fours in the game. Period. Being able to generate pressure like that without having to send extra defenders is a huge advantage, as more men are free to bracket Wes Welker and disrupt the tight ends. The recipe for beating the Patriots is pressure Brady and disrupt his timing, and the Giants have been built to do that for several years now with a dominant defensive line. Very few teams in the league have the ability to do what New York did on Sunday, and New England had to limit its plays and take extra receivers off the field in order to max protect Tommy B. While the Patriots will undoubtedly have to face some solid defensive lines come playoff time, this team has hung its hat on taking things one game at a time. There are eight games left in the season, which ultimately means eight opportunities to get better and make a solid run for the playoffs.
Non-conference loss. As much as this loss stings - and boy does it ever sting - it's a loss to an NFC opponent that won't really factor too heavily into any tiebreaker scenarios should it come down to that. It's always better to take a loss to an NFC team than an AFC team, as at the end of the day you need to compare your team to its counterparts within the conference over anything else. Plus, with the Jets beating Buffalo on Sunday and the Ravens beating the Steelers, no one team has a real inside track to the #1 seed in the AFC just yet. In the grand scheme of things, this is another loss we can afford to take and is much less impactful than last week's loss to Pittsburgh.
3rd Down defense. I could expand this point to include the defense as a whole, who played very well for 58 minutes on Sunday, but seeing how abysmal the Patriots were on 3rd down last week, I feel like the 3rd down D deserves its own recognition. A great combination of pressure and execution held the Giants to 4 for 14 on 3rd down and forced a whopping eight punts. With the potential on New England's offense, that should be enough to win any game. All I really want to see is steady improvement from the defense every week instead of these crazy hot and cold streaks, and I'm hopeful that Pittsburgh represented the last woeful day for New England.
New England is always in the game. Although they had a solid 4th quarter, the Patriots looked absolutely awful offensively for most of this game. In spite of that, this game was extremely close right until the very end. It's definitely heartening to know that even when the Patriots don't play well at all, they are still good enough to stay in close games late against quality teams. This leads me to believe that all the Patriots have to do to win is play well. They don't even have to be great - they just have to play well. Like with Buffalo, one less turnover and New England probably wins this one. It leads me to believe that this team isn't as far away from putting it all together as we all think: it just feels that way right now.
I'm REALLY going to rub it in later. I'm not sure if any of you have picked up on it yet, but I'm pretty obnoxious, immature, and unpleasant to be around. I laugh when people fall over. I leave my friends' contact information and email addresses at Scientology Centers and sign people up for pretty much any mailing list I can find (enjoy your subscription to Aluminum Siding Monthly, Uncle Pete). I find few things more enjoyable than a well-timed fart on a crowded subway during rush hour. In the words of Dennis Leary, I'm an a**hole, and I'm proud of it. And while that definitely explains why nobody ever returns my calls or comes to any of my parties, it also means that I always take great joy in getting to say "I told you so." A lot of people are dismissing the Patriots right now, and for good reason; as I said yesterday, this is not a Superbowl caliber team. But last time I checked, the season wasn't 9 weeks long and 5-3 was still a fairly decent record. I know that New England is going to put it together and turn it around, and when they do, I'm going to be right there in the face of every New Yorker claiming that the Pats are washed up and the Ryan era has begun in the AFC East. I'm going to stroll into every Jets bar in town with my Tedy Bruschi jersey on, act like a total jackass, and then sue the establishment once I get beat up. I'm going to open up a chain of Patriots bars with all the money I win in the settlement, retire at the same time as Brady, and then he and I are going to form a band and travel the country making beautiful music together. And then we'll throw a free concert for all the Pats fans who stuck with the team during these bleak times, and all the reporters who sullied Belichick's name - well they won't be invited!
It's very easy to panic after a loss like this one. New England so rarely loses two in a row, and so rarely loses at home, that the cloud of doom hovering over the New England faithful is much thicker and darker than it should be. Stepping back and looking at it objectively, the real truth is that the AFC is absolutely wide open right now and the Patriots still control their own playoff destiny. Things are not nearly as bad as they seem, and a 12-4 season is still not out of the question by any means. As long as the Patriots are playing their best football down the stretch - which they ALWAYS seem to do - this loss will eventually become a distant memory. Brady was absolutely right when he said that we will know a lot more about where this team stands by this time next week. The Patriots have a great opportunity on Sunday to show their mental toughness, putting the past two weeks behind them and getting themselves ready to face a surging Jets squad that seems to be playing its best football right now. A win against the Jets, on the road, in a hostile environment, should be enough to right the ship and get everything back on track. A win next week will also put the Patriots firmly in the driver's seat in terms of controlling the AFC East. It isn't crazy to call Sunday's game a must-win for New England. They have the talent; now it's time to start putting it all together.
And if you think I'm being too optimistic here - well OK. You probably aren't alone. But don't be surprised when you don't get your ticket to The BradyShanes Foxboro Revival Tour.