As we push towards the end of the season, the Patriots may be the front-runners, but it’s at times like these that we must remind ourselves the race is far from over.
When I coached soccer, a kid came up and told me that he’d heard that soccer was a game of running. I quickly corrected him that soccer was a game of sprinting. The ball goes to the player that gets there fastest. Running was just what you did between the sprints. That young man became quite the little ball thief over time, beating others to the ball.
You see, running is an aerobic activity; you take in as much air as your body needs to sustain the activity. Sprinting is anaerobic; you’re in oxygen deficit, and eventually you must stop or pass out. I bring this up, because whenever a long distance (aerobic) race becomes close at the end, it must turn into an anaerobic sprint. If you sprint too early, you won’t finish the race. If you start too late, you’ll lose. Timing the sprint is one of the keys to winning the race.
The NFL season is like a long race. As the team starts out, they are trying to work together to hit their stride. Too fast a start, and they’ll falter (see NY Jets); too slow, and they’ll never catch up (the Chargers?). They struggle to find a pace and stick with it. How much film study? How much weight training? How much field time? How much healing time? They have to find the right balance if they are going to maintain themselves through the race.
Just like runners reach a wall that they must pass to be successful, so players, especially rookies, can hit a wall as the season drags on. College seasons are much shorter and less intense than NFL seasons. It’s up to the coaches to provide focus and the veterans to provide leadership to get them through the hurdles. They chant, “Maintain the pace. Focus. Do your job.”
The Patriots have finally come into their stride, and maintaining it is job number one right now. Three games left is no time for sprinting, and it’s no time for slowing down. The Patriots are the front runners, and it’s their race to lose. They must keep the momentum through the last three games. With luck, they’ll have a bye week to recover and catch their collective breaths before the playoff sprint. Again with luck, those games will be at the Razor.
In this race, there is only one trophy and it goes to the team that has what it takes to cross the finish line in February despite injuries, distractions or inexperience. The Patriots are running like a champion now and must focus on one game at a time and one mile marker at a time, until finally the finish line comes into view and the time comes to sprint. Get the duck boats out of mothballs, but don’t warm them up. There’s a season and a race left to finish and that line is still a long ways away. Go Patriots!