It's hard to believe that the 2013 NFL season is halfway over; it seems like only yesterday that we were all still reeling from the loss of Wes Welker right before Aaron Hernandez killed a guy and Gronk's recovery experienced setbacks leaving the team in a state of flux and Patriots Nation unsure of how this season was going to play out.
Well play out it has, and at 6-2, I'd say that the Patriots are in pretty good shape so far. However, you wouldn't know it based on some of the general attitudes that have been prevalent since Week 1. In fact, if you didn't know what New England's record was and had to figure out how the season was going based on the tone of media articles alone, odds are that you would walk away thinking that the team was. 500 at best.
Yesterday, Richard Hill wrote an extremely accurate and wonderfully sarcastic piece about the demise of Tom Brady and how everything seems to be Brady's fault no matter what the final score says, how many passes get dropped, or how many players end up on IR this year. The amount of attention and criticism Tommy B receives year in and year out never ceases to amaze me, and to think that entire segments of popular sports programs are devoted entirely to analyzing the position of Brady's body as he sits on the bench goes a long way in demonstrating his influence on the league and the sport in general. And as Brady grinds through what has statistically been an off year for him, it's very easy to forget that the Patriots are currently very well positioned at 6-2 and are right in the hunt for a first round playoff bye. The way the media has been talking, you'd think the Patriots weren't first in their division and tied for the 3rd best record in the AFC right now. To those of us who know better, all of this gum flapping is irritating, tiresome, and obnoxious, but it is also to be expected. Because at the end of the day, I can understand where all of these detractors - Pats fans and haters alike - are coming from. In a way, they are right; the Patriots have a serious problem. They have a problem far greater than a significant dropoff in talent or an insane amount of injuries. No matter how you slice it, there is a serious, insurmountable obstacle facing the New England Patriots.
They are competing with the New England Patriots.
This is what it has come to for everyone who watches this team. Not only are they pitted against every other team in the league, but they are also going head to head with their own ghosts - and that's a battle you simply can't win. Because when you have established a culture the way New England has - not just winning, but winning big, winning pretty, and winning often - the simple act of taking the field on Sunday and securing a victory is no longer an adequate benchmark for success. That New England is going to generate at least 10 wins and make the playoffs every year is a given; the 16 games that take place between September and late December are merely a formality. And because of that, the excitement of a regular season win has lost much of its luster, and the only way to get the same thrill that, say, a Jaguars fan would get from getting even one single win this season, is to demand that this team not only win, but win in a certain way that leaves absolutely zero doubt in everyone's mind who the best team in the NFL is. That this team has taken to the arena, battled and defeated its opponent, and won the day is now irrelevant; it must still stand before Caesar and the raucous crowd and have its fate decided by whether or not their victory was entertaining enough to satisfy the bloodlust of the masses. Proving the better team will not spare the Patriots a thumbs-down; they must crush their enemies, see them driven before them, and hear the lamentations of their women. They aren't quite doing that in 2013, and as a result they are currently the worst 6-2 franchise in NFL history.
At the same time, there are the Patriots haters who want nothing more than to see this team fail. Watching Brady struggle this year is their Graceland, and they have absolutely zero intention of backing off on those numbers just because New England is still winning games. I mean, of course the Pats are going to win, but who cares about that? I mean, look how lousy Brady looks! The Patriots barely beat the Saints! Brady is only winning games by a few points a week! What a bunch of losers! Never mind the impediments Tom Brady has had to overcome this season to get where he is, because all that matters is the negative. It's like when the class fat kid comes back to school in the fall having lost 100 pounds over the summer and now looks and feels better than you do, so you start making fun of the size of his nose or his fashion sense in some desperate attempt to hide your own seething jealousy.
In Week 10 of the 2001 regular season, the Patriots lost 24-17 to the St. Louis Rams. I was absolutely ecstatic with that result; the Pats had hung with the Greatest Show on Turf and proven that they can compete with the big boys. Now, a 24-17 lost to ANYONE leaves me in a bad mood for days before I'm able to get over it and move on. I'm not exempt from expecting a lot from this team. But I'm also not so foolish as to take winning games for granted, and I'm certainly not going to sit here and say that the quarterback who is helping to engineer those wins has lost it. I don't care how this team wins, as long as they win and I'm still watching them play in January. If getting to the Super Bowl this year means that Tommy B doesn't put up any good numbers and misses the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2008, then so be it.