Sunday, November 1, 2015

The undesirable undefeated season?

It’s been well over seven years since it happened … I still have nightmares and sore flashbacks because of it.

On fourth-and-five, with 75 seconds left in regulation, Eli Manning connected with David Tyree for the iconic “helmet grab” that ultimately led to the New York Giants winning Super Bowl XLII. A fifth-grade version of myself stood stunned, crushed, and in disbelief when Plaxico Burress reeled in the 14-yard touchdown reception that gave New York the 17-14 victory on football's biggest stage. 

Tears stained my newly-purchased Randy Moss jersey as I watched my beloved Patriots finish their season with an ironically disappointing 18-1 record. The perfect season was lost. A Patriots’ season which re-wrote so much history (especially offensively) failed to pick up the most important merit of all, a Lombardi trophy. Suddenly the perfect regular season, Brady’s 50 touchdown passes, and Moss’ 23 touchdown grabs seemed all too distant and irrelevant. 

As a result of this traumatic 2007 experience, I can’t say I don’t get a little uneasy when I hear analysts discussing another perfect season for New England this year.  Don’t get me wrong, I never take a win for granted, but it just seems like all too much of a deja-vu scenario for this season’s Patriots who currently stand at 7-0 after blowing past Miami on Thursday night. 

While New England isn't blowing teams out of the water with the same tenacity that the ’07 squad did, lots of factors make an undefeated regular season not seem like such an unrealistic possibility.

In typical New England fashion, the offense is legit. As long as Tom Brady keeps a clean bill of health we can expect the Patriots to stay at, or at least be near, the top of the NFL scoring charts; the Pats lead the NFL in scoring through 8 weeks (35.6 PPG). As usual, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola carry a majority of weight in the receiving aspect of New England’s offense. Running back Dion Lewis has been a pleasant surprise for the Pats’ offense thus far into the season. Lewis, who was out of football for the past two seasons due to injury and inability to stay on a roster, has proven to be a shifty, quick-footed option for New England’s backfield; he is the perfect compliment to a north-south running back like LaGarrette Blount.  In Thursday’s 36-7 win over Miami, Lewis caught six passes for 93 yards, proving his worth as a receiving option out of the backfield. 

The defense, however, is what makes me most optimistic about what the remainder of the season holds for New England. With his two-sack performance against the Dolphins, Chandler Jones took the NFL lead in individual sacks (8.5). Malcolm Butler, yes the Super Bowl savior (who I had some doubts about experience-wise), has proven to be a solid option at corner. No, he’s not Darrelle Revis in the slightest, but he can do a decent-to-good job of limiting the opposing team’s number-one receiving option to minimal damage. As a whole defensive unit, New England ranks a very respectable eighth among NFL defenses in points per game allowed (19.0). 

Much like the ’07 team, New England is playing this regular season coming off of some fresh controversy with the league. The Patriots find themselves in the middle of a revenge-type season towards the NFL after an offseason full of legal activity due to the fiasco that was “Deflategate.” Everyone remembers the Spygate scandal of 2007 that sparked the Patriots’ historic run to the Super Bowl. I feel the same vibe surrounding the mission of this year’s team: Make Goodell and the rest of the league pay for dragging out Deflategate as long as they did. While the uptight and short-spoken Patriots might not acknowledge it, they would love nothing more than to see (the enemy) Goodell handing the Lombardi Trophy over to Robert Kraft in February. 

Looking down the road however, I do see some possible bumps in the road that could halt New England’s pursuit of perfection. Here’s a look at what New England has left for the remainder of the regular season:

Week 9 vs. Washington
Week 10  @ NY Giants
*Week 11 vs. Buffalo
*Week 12 @ Denver
Week 13 vs. Philadelphia
Week 14 @ Houston
Week 15 vs. Tennessee 
*Week 16 @ NY Jets
Week 17 @ Miami

I keep in mind that no opponent should ever be overlooked, but I went ahead and marked the Patriots’ biggest threats with an asterisk (*). 

Regarding Buffalo: Anytime a Rex Ryan coached team (Buffalo) faces off with the Pats, a closely-contested game could follow. The Bills’ put up an impressive 19-point fourth quarter in their 40-32 loss to New England in week 2, so you can bet they are hungry for another chance at the reigning Super Bowl champions.

Regarding Denver: While Peyton Manning looks like a shell of himself offensively through Week 8, the Broncos’ defense is legit; as I write this piece the Broncos are 6-0 themselves and lead the NFL defensively in yards per game allowed (281.3). 

Regarding NY Jets: A week 16 match up with the Jets at MetLife Stadium could get very interesting for the Pats. The Jets gave New England arguably their biggest challenge of the season in a week 7 game at Foxborough. Expect MetLife to be as hostile as ever if a scrappy Jets team has the opportunity to end the Pats’ perfect season. 

All this talk concerning another 16-0 season for New England raises a question in my mind: Is their some value in a loss?

I personally feel that the most overlooked factor in the Patriots’ run to the Super Bowl trophy last season was their week 4 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots were infamously massacred that Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium, 41-14. The loss was some truly bitter-tasting medicine that the Patriots needed, and they responded almost immediately after taking the dose.

Bill Belichick's "we're on to Cincinnati" mantra was born, the Patriots won 10 of their next 12 regular season games and concluded their season hoisting the Lombardi trophy. As weird as this sounds, that was a phenomenally-timed loss looking back. 

The value of a loss transcends beyond the world of sports … What would the “Karate Kid” be if Ralph Macchio never got beat down by those Cobra Kai punks? Would “Rocky” have been as special if Sylvester Stallone didn’t lose to Apollo Creed? Would the Bad News Bears have been as memorable if they weren’t so, well … bad?

If 19-0 and a fifth Super Bowl trophy is meant to happen for New England, then bring it on. I’ll certainly never pull for a loss, but if it’s what’s needed to gear this team for a playoff run, then I hope the “L” comes in the next nine weeks, not anytime after. 

Wincing just a little with every win and mention of perfection.
A Super Bowl XLII-traumatized, Angel Viscarra.