Perhaps even more tragic than the New England Patriots coming up short on the World's Biggest Stage is the undeniable fact that the 2011 NFL season has officially drawn to an unsatisfying close. When the smoke clears, you feel a little silly; after all, you've spent the better part of seven months becoming increasingly attached to something you have absolutely zero control over. The season ends on a very somber and unhappy note for the fans of every team not named the New York Giants, but there's a good chance the fans of the Super Bowl casualty have it the absolute worst. To see the peak of the mountain in plain sight just before getting swept up by a sudden avalanche is something that "empty" or "upset" doesn't even begin to describe.
Somewhat fortunately, there are the five stages of (Patriot) grief we all must go through and endure—and we will come out as better, more battle-hardened fans as a result of it.
1) Denial: This didn't really just happen, did it? We just witnessed our team rattle off an amazing ten straight games in rather convincing fashion, and November seems like such a long time ago. I mean, the calendar year still read 2011 the last time the Patriots lost! An eternity! And on top of that, we weren't going to lose to this team again. Oh no. We have so much to prove, so many emotions to avenge, so many wrongs to right. The script was written, the game would be close, but much like we witnessed all season, the Patriots would somehow, someway find a way to get it done. That 21-17 score I see on the top of my screen cannot be the correct score. Maybe I'm just reading it wrong after suffering an alcohol-induced bout of temporary dyslexia? There's no way the clock reads 0:00, either. I mean, Tom Brady still needs to complete his come-from-behind win, single-handedly defeating the Giants and his many doubters in one fell swoop! Didn't this game seem like it went by rather quickly, for a Super Bowl? Surely there's at least another quarter of football left.
2) Anger: How does Wes Welker not catch that pass to all but seal the deal with 4 minutes remaining? A catch I could have made! And Rob Gronkowski ... ohhhh, Gronkowski. I loved you with every earth-shaking spike and goofy grin you flashed all season, but seriously?! You're going to let a linebacker of all people pick off a deep pass intended for you? Your ankle must hurt like hell, but you could've at least swatted the ball down if you were going to be dancing on said ankle the rest of the night at a club. And that godforsaken football. Did the Giants have magnets in their already sticky receivers gloves? This much-maligned defense caused a staggering three fumbles, and a total of zero are recovered by said defense? (Expletives).
3) Bargaining: I'll trade you one ear-splitting Madonna halftime performance for one more chance for Welker to make that catch. I'll even toss that spirited Kelly Clarkson anthem in if you make Gronkowski's ankle even the tiniest bit healthier before kickoff. I'll stop eating fast food the rest of my life, stop drinking the rest of the year, and donate half of my meager annual earnings to charity if that means the Patriots emerge victorious in this one. Anything is worth not having to deal with this very 2007-esque punch in the gut again, and the media onslaught that inevitably precedes what is going to be a very long and tedious offseason.
4) Depression: Ugh. Nothing feels the same anymore. Everything just sucks. Watching YouTube clips of Brady-to-Moss highlights don't excite me in the least bit—not anymore. "The Brady 6" documentary on the NFL Network used to bring a child-like tear to my eye. Now it's the single worst thing I've ever seen. I bet Giovanni Carmazzi of all people could have made a better pass to Welker. Giants fans are looking forward to the 2012 Draft, wondering how they can get even better next season—and we're just sitting back wondering what the hell justhappened. All the college recruits look horrible, anyway. Forget Tom Brady. Forget football. I'm taking next year off. I think having a Colts-like two win season in 2012 would somehow be less painful than swallowing this spoonful of molasses—again.
5) Acceptance: The Patriots—as successful as they've been in recent years—were playing with house money this year. With as historically bad as the defense was for the better part of the season, they were a bounce or two away from winning the whole thing. This just goes to show that we still have the best quarterback in the game in Tom Brady, and as long as he's under Center and healthy, we have a shot to win it—every year. And that defense? They showed exponential improvement there at the end. What was once a weakness became a strength. And you know those pundits that love to talk up how invaluable playoff experience is? Our young guys just got it in truckloads. Top it off with a quick receiver here and an injured-but-returning Ras-I Dowling there—and the Super Bowl ingredients are still available in endless amounts on the New England Patriots' spice rack.
We were beat, plain and simple, by the better team this time. But there's a very good chance—especially with our usual suspects in the fray—that we'll be the better team next time.