Friday, January 11, 2008

Endgame: New England Patriots

The NFL Playoffs are at hand. As such, Alex and Zac will be revisiting all twelve playoff teams, the characters that have made it to the final chapter in this season's story, and digging deeper to find out just who they've become having arrived at this point. Today, Zac takes a look at the New England Patriots.

If the Patriots were a song:

Clipse – “Hello New World”

If this team can destroy everything in their path and establish the start of a new dynasty, we enter a world in which fun has no value in professional football, only wrath, bitterness, and the will to compromise everything for the sake of winning.

If the Patriots were a political figure:

Lord Summerisle (from The Wicker Man)

Everything said is spoken just right, and the image sold is almost too convincing to resist, making it all the easier to look past the terrible decisions both require.

Who are the Patriots?

It struck me, talking to a friend last night, that there must be some reason why I hate this Patriots team the way I do. What made this discussion all the more odd/interesting/difficult is that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it is that I hate about them. At every turn, every single argument, my friend was able to point out the one fact that it has taken me an entire season to realize about this team: They are, in almost every way, my idea of the ideal football team. As such, I have come to accept that if I’m going to stick with my construct of the NFL season as a story, I have to accept this Pats team as an inextricable part of that story, and that I need to start loving their narrative implications even while I hate their implications for football and sports in general. In a league where antiheroes are a dime a dozen, the Patriots are the great antivillain of this season’s tale; their construction and their goal are the ideal that most NFL fans want, but it is the path that they have taken to arrive at both of these destinations that is so repulsive to us. It would be beautiful, if it wasn’t already so terrible.

Certainly, the defense is a testimony to the power of creative game planning, with Bill Belichick constantly finding innovative ways to take away opponents’ greatest weapons. Ever since he forced a wrench into the fast paced gears of the Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI, Belichick has made his defensive bones making teams beat him using their second best attack. What makes this strategy even more devastating this year is the fact that he’s now added an offensive arsenal that puts up far too many points to be beaten by second choice attacks. Where a less creative mind would waste time trying to turn a great offensive line and a mediocre back into a good running game, Belichick has damned the torpedoes, thrown out five downfield threats at a time on the field, and dared defenses to guess where the ball is going. Focus on Randy Moss, and Wes Welker will remind you why racist Fitzy from Woostah is still pissed he’s not a fackin Pro Bowlah. Throw an extra man on Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth suddenly remembers he’s nothing if not very, very fast. Clamp down on receivers, and Ben Watson will show you why on any other team he’d have Antonio Gates numbers. Oh, and if you do try to just take everyone on one on one, they’ll just let Randy Moss do in one play what the rest of the gang would have done in seven. It might be the single most creative solution to an offensive problem I’ve seen this year. Think Maroney is putting up good numbers because he’s a good back? Guess what, that guy who you played high school football with who now bags groceries could put up Maroney numbers with that cast around him. On defense, the masking of weaknesses is equally effective, with a so-so secondary being covered up by a pass rush that gives offenses no time to work downfield. On both sides of the ball, this team is a triumph of creativity over tradition.

Unfortunately, it’s also a triumph of the worst human character traits over the best. You know what else masks the lack of a run game? The fact that Tom Brady and Randy Moss run up so many unnecessary points in garbage time that they break records, records that were legitimately set in competition and not just achieved for the sake of having them: Greed. What else makes a weak secondary look passable? Rodney Harrison taking every opportunity available cheat and attempt to injure his opponents: Dishonor. What else makes Bill Belichick seem like such a genius? He's made himself so unlikable among his peers, and even his family, through his strange quest for “revenge” that everyone would rather leave him alone: Bitterness. As such, every fan of innovative football watches this team and leaves torn, unable to decide whether they love the execution more than they hate the team itself. Personally, I resent the team for forcing me to choose, and my personal desire is to see them fail so that another, more palatable collection of individuals can carry the banner of creative game planning. Still, even I realize that this team is the most interesting narrative wrinkle in the last five years of football, and for that alone, I’m glad I’ve had the chance to watch them play, even if I spent every moment rooting against them.

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