Sports used to be the island of paradise in the sea of absurdity. It was the place we could go to escape politics and hurricanes. It was devoid of extremism and overreaction. It was perfect.
No longer, as evidenced by the predictable reaction to the New England Patriots’ public flogging on opening night of the NFL season.
In a world where perspective and critical thinking are long-gone, let’s try to apply them some while we watch the rest of the catastrophic injuries and end-of-the-world upsets that are perennial part-and-parcel of Week 1.
The Patriots were never going 16-0. That was click-bait foolishness and morning-show filler. Nor is this the beginning of the end. That is wishful thinking from your troll coworkers and social media friend-emies. They’re prosperity phobic. Forgive them.
Truth, as always, lies somewhere on the spectrum. Probably in the moderate-right quadrant that reads, “12-4, division champ and Super Bowl contender.”
Speaking charitably, however, there are holes. Glaring ones. Only those completely submerged in the Kool-Aid tank could have missed them.
One statistic/social media meme started making the rounds before the game even ended. “The last three times the Patriots lost their season opener, they won the Super Bowl.” By extension, we’re supposed to assume history repeats itself.
Let’s forget about the obvious logical fallacy in that analysis for a minute and dig more deeply into those three specific losses.
Cincinnati in 2001 was Drew Bledsoe’s final full game as New England’s starting quarterback. Many of us had already grown weary of his lack of emotion in the huddle and his off-the-back-foot interceptions into double coverage. On the heels of a 5-11 season, the Pats were a slight underdog to the lowly Bengals. Bill Belichick had done nothing to make the surrender of a No. 1 draft pick to obtain his services look like a shrewd business move. If you say you visualized that evolving a championship season, you’re either a liar or mildly disturbed.
Buffalo in 2003 was over before it started. Belichick’s choice to cut Lawyer Milloy was proven the right financial and football decision time and time again, but that was nobody’s hot take (a term that mercifully didn’t exist) in the immediate aftermath. ESPN’s Tom Jackson was pilloried for his proclamation that the Patriots hated their coach, but before and during that 31-0 debacle he was a million percent correct.
Miami in 2014 wasn’t exactly a lock, either. The Patriots were coming off back-to-back losses in the AFC title game. They had traded their label of dynasty for one of a team that had trouble closing the deal. After some notable losses to the New York Jets in the early years of the decade, it was no longer a shock to see New England struggle against division rivals. And even the Pats’ championship teams shared their ancestors’ struggle of biblical proportions to win in South Florida.
That last detail captures the common denominator that made the previous three defeats different from the toilet bowl lid-lifter against the Chiefs: The word “at.” Even Super Bowl-winning teams typically go 4-4 or 5-3 on the road. Losses are normal in a hostile environment, especially within the division and conference. If I were picking winners objectively in a pool, I might have circled the opponent’s name in all three games.
There were no such reservations about Thursday night’s tussle. Concerns about the ridiculous overkill of the championship ceremony notwithstanding (think Apollo Creed’s over-the-top entrance before his death at the fists of Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV”), the Patriots were the better team on paper. They had the defending champion’s traditional privilege of playing at home before a national audience. Everything was set up to fall into their lap.
On a schedule that includes enough uncertainty with trips to Pittsburgh, Denver and New Orleans and a date with Oakland in Mexico City, Kansas City was the level of good-but-not-great opponent that looked like a good place to pencil in a ‘W.’
So spoiled we are. Seeing the Patriots unprepared to play on such a significant stage seems incomprehensible, but it has happened before. Yes, in the Belichick era, and multiple times. Monday night massacres against the Chiefs and Saints come to mind.
Brady isn’t nearly done. He didn’t hit the imaginary wall the day he turned 40. But his safety valve (Julian Edelman) is gone, and it will take some time for the offense to find its way. Remember the month-and-a-half it took the secondary to circle the wagons after Milloy’s departure back in the day? Similar situation.
The offensive line and the defense, as always, are works in progress. This is life under Belichick, where there is constant personnel turnover and an annual quest to meld acquisitions, castoffs and the occasional Patriots lifer into cohesive units.
Belichick teams don’t always lose on opening day/night, but they never peak in September. This year’s outfit is no different.
Rest securely in that knowledge and tune out the tumult.
Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. His email is [email protected]