This article is always the hardest one to write.
Usually, my "Coping With Loss" articles are met with the knowledge that there's always the next game, and that even though the Patriots may have just lost, there was still plenty of time left for them to turn it around. Not this time, though. As I write this, the Patriots are probably cleaning out their lockers and getting ready for a long offseason, and nothing I could possibly say here is going to change that. However, the truth is that compared to some of the last season-ending articles I've written, this loss is much, much easier to swallow. Here are five reasons why I'm already feeling a whole lot better about the Patriots' season ending earlier than any of us wanted it to.
Jeff Demps and Jake Ballard. I'm probably way more excited for Demps than I should be, as I can't see him making a huge impact anywhere other than in the kick return game. But I just can't help thinking about what he could potentially bring to the New England offense as a receiving back and the mismatches he could create coming out of the backfield. As for Ballard, it will be great to have another large, fast tight end with great hands to not only compliment Rob Gronkowski, but fill in for him should he go down again. There is no reason why New England's offense can't be as explosive as it was this year, and there are already two players on the active roster that can make the offense that much better. Add in a key offseason acquisition or two, and we'll be in great shape. Which is why...
You know we'll be back. So we didn't get it this time; it's not like the Patriots won't be back in it next year. I already know that New England is a legitimate playoff contender next season and the 2012 year isn't even over yet. Yes, we're going to have to deal with a bunch of articles about how Ray Lewis has beaten Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as his miracle run continues, and then we'll have to read about eleventy billion "what to do with Wes Welker" articles between now and the time the Patriots lock him up, but honestly that's a small price to pay for constantly playing meaningful games in January. And before we get to deep into the offseason rumor mill, let's all say it together: NO. TOM BRADY IS NOT DONE YET. THE WINDOW HAS NOT QUITE CLOSED. THERE IS STILL TIME. Don't buy into any of it.
This was a legitimate Loss. There were no insane catches. There was no game-sealing drop. There was no nonsense, absurdity, or madness that just shouldn't have happened. There was just a Ravens team that played better than the Patriots did. They made more plays, they had a better strategy, and they deserved to win. I can obviously point to a handful of plays that I'd like to have back, but you can do that with every game, and the bottom line is that the 2012 Ravens are a better team than the 2012 Patriots. There is no agonizing this morning about how the hell we lost that game and there is no constantly replaying one or two snaps over and over again in my head. The Patriots lost to a better team, plain and simple, and that's the kind of loss I can live with all day.
More experience for youth. Any way you slice it, this was a young team with a lot of inexperienced players in key spots. And it may have been youth that ultimately led to New England's demise, as the key injury of the season turned out to be to a cornerback who wasn't even on the team to start the season. There are a lot of good pieces in place on this team, and if they can just get themselves a legit safety, I think there is a lot of potential for this defense to finally become the unit that won the Patriots three Super Bowls. The season didn't end the way we wanted, but the team got some valuable experience out of it.
Now I can actually enjoy the Super Bowl. As the AFC Championship wound down and the reality that my football season was over set in, I came to the realization that I haven't actually enjoyed a Super Bowl since the Buccaneers trounced the Raiders in the 2002 season. Ever since that Super Bowl, I have spent the first Sunday of every February either insanely stressed out because the Patriots were playing in the game or insanely stressed out because I had to root against Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. It has been either the Pats, the Colts, or the Steelers in the Super Bowl every year since 2002, and for once it's kind of nice to have absolutely zero rooting interest in the game. I could honestly care less who wins this game, which means all I have to do on Sunday is eat a lot of wings, pizza, nachos, cocktail weenies, Doritos, cookies, bacon, Cheetos, marshmallows, mini-burgers, and breadsticks, and get myself good and hydrated while I wait for the commercials to come on. I can't say that I'm not looking forward to it. No stress over the next few weeks. No constantly checking ESPN. No worrying nonstop. No wallowing in the shower with all my clothes on if my team loses the Super Bowl. No having to listen to quarterback comparisons of whoever wins this year to Tommy B. It's absolutely fantastic to have your team in the Super Bowl, but I'm excited to just enjoy the game for what it is for once.