logoby Dan Snapp

So what’s the big deal? Brady sat out the entire second half.

Oh, right. Not that Brady.

“Runningupthescore-gate” is my favorite gate yet. It’s got all the classics: irrational speculation, righteous indignation, even body language interpreters. I can’t wait to see how the Patriots are going to top it.

At the heart of it is a desire to have some measure of control over the Pats. Nobody can do it on the field, so they wag the disapproving finger instead.

“For shame that you defeated us by more than what we determine is the proper amount.”

Everyone cites these unwritten rules the Patriots are supposedly breaking. It’s an unwritten rule that you let up with a big lead in the fourth quarter. It’s an unwritten rule that you must sit the starting QB. It’s an unwritten rule that you don’t attempt a drop-kick, or execute a fake field goal, or have your third string quarterback throw a last-second touchdown pass.

What we need is an actual written, Unwritten Rulebook. As it stands, nobody knows what the true rules are; just whatever sounds convenient after the fact, after the alleged offense.

So where are the lines drawn? How much of a lead do you need to have, and at what point into the second half, before you take out the starters? And by “starters”, who are we talking about? Is it just the quarterback, or all the skill players? What of the line? What of the defense?

Ironically, only pass plays count as “running it up” in the Unwritten Rulebook. Tom Brady handing off to Heath Evans for a 10-yard-run with 13:34 to go in the fourth is perfectly acceptable, says the UR, but throwing 35 yards to Randy Moss a minute later is strictly verboten. Apparently, running the ball up the gut on fourth down is OK, too, so long as it’s not the quarterback.

Hopefully, the Unwritten Rulebook will give some suggestions on what to do instead. Up 38-0 into the fourth, should the winning team kneel the remainder of their offensive plays? Apparently they’re not supposed to try anymore, so why continue the charade? After receiving punts, maybe they should just punt it back. I suspect that would be even more of a slap in the face than, you know, actually trying.

The winning team just can’t win.

Teams in the past had unique ways of handling blowouts. My father tells the story of Giants squads so dominating, they switched up sides at halftime, with the offensive players playing defense and vice versa. Yet when Bill Belichick puts linebackers at tight end,  receivers at cornerback, or defensive starters on special teams, he’s criticized for either putting his players at risk of injury, or “making a mockery of the game.” The unwrittens must have been re-written somewhere between eras.

Risk of injury is the one legitimate argument against what the Patriots are doing. With the game sealed away, why risk injuring Brady? It’s a good question. And really, Brady is what this whole thing is about. If Matt Cassel started the fourth quarter, nobody would care what plays they ran, or who else was in there running them with him.

There are three plausible reasons for the Patriots’ sudden aggressiveness: 1. Prepping for the Colts; 2. Looking out for legacy; or 3. Actually running up the score to stick it to the league. It could be a combination of all three.

They may very well be running it up on purpose. In week one, they broke a rule and were punished heavily. The subsequent overkill – by the league, the players, and the media – gave the Patriots their “us against them” talking point for the season.

They’re very protective of their legacy, so once the legitimacy of their three titles was questioned, the die was cast. A common refrain was “They only won each by three points.” If that’s the factor that caused the doubt, they were going to make certain there would be no room for doubt this time around. If an opponent’s dignity was a residual casualty, so be it.

Maybe this team wants to be remembered as the best ever. To do that, they have to go undefeated (to match the ’72 Dolphins’ feat) and they have to dominate games. Anything less and history drops them a notch.

Which brings us to the Colts, the real reason for the run-up. No offense to the rest of the league (well actually, plenty of offense), but the Colts are the only team the Pats have played all season. Ignore the disparate uniform colors and patterns. Those weren’t the Jets or Bills, Bengals or Cowboys. They were Colts.

Not in person, of course. But plenty in spirit.

The Patriots have lost three straight to the Colts, giving up 40, 27 and 38 points, respectively. They used to be the team that shut down such big, high-scoring offenses, but no more. The Colts passed them by, so they had work to do. Everything they did in the offseason, and every game along the way has been with an eye toward this meeting, and their eventual playoff matchup.

This game is worth two to the winner. The Pats knew they’d probably have to win every game up to it just to keep pace, and they’d have to learn to score points in bunches. The team never looked past an opponent, of course, but each game also served as a testing ground. The defense tinkered with unique lineups, like the one lineman formation they tried against Dallas and the offense tested all scenarios, all formations, and all weapons in their arsenal.

Win or lose, the philosophy will stay the same: keep winning, because the Colts will surely keep winning, and keep dominating, because the Colts will surely keep dominating. The records, the honors, the marks – they’re all nice if they come, but there’s only one real goal, and only one team in the way.

In the meantime, the league will keep begging for mercy, and the Pats will keep putting teams out of their misery.

It’s kinder that way.