logoby Dan Snapp

Arizona may have lost in OT, but it wasn’t in vain. For unknowingly, those scrappy, noble Cards provided the league with the blueprint for beating the San Francisco 49ers:

Don’t suck worse.

The league’s collective mood brightened Sunday night. See, while the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t actually win, they revealed the path to not actually winning by a smaller margin than by what previous Patriots foes didn’t actually win.

See the significance? Three points! Why, it’s even within “They must have cheated to win” range. Moreover, it proves the Patriots are mortal. That they, too, bleed. Add the sad news of Rosevelt Colvin’s season-ending injury, and surely the Pats are seen as downright vulnerable.

What heady times we live in when the worst they can throw at us is how empowering a three-point loss is to the opposition. Let’s hope the Patriots empower the remainder in similar fashion.

After the Eagles surged for their final lead Sunday, my sister-in-law called.

“Is your family safe?” she goaded. “Are there any sharp objects in your immediate vicinity? Should we call anyone?”

“I’m not worried,” I told her. “They’ll still find a way to win it.”

Perhaps Ellis Hobbs said it best: we’ve been spoiled by the blowouts. But how comforting that the constant sense of security never went away. It’s surely a residual from the 2003-04 championship years, the feeling of confidence that the Patriots would always find a way to prevail.

Everybody’s thinking the Eagles did the league a favor, illuminating the Pats’ vulnerabilities – and maybe to a degree they did just that. But they did the Pats a favor as well. They reminded  them of the greatness they’re still capable of when not everything’s going their way.

They gave Bill Belichick the fodder with which to belittle his charges. Meanwhile, they gave the rest of the league hope. Tell me, which is more likely to breed overconfidence?

Let ’em have their moral victories. We’re in it for the actual ones.

The Eagles also did Pats fans a favor. Finally, a week where we’re not besieged by Spygate accusations, running-up-the-score moralists, or body language experts disseminating post-game handshakes.

The blowouts and the mad charge toward the record books have been fun, but they messed with our expectations. Instead of focusing on the important things – locking up the division, securing a bye and home field advantage, and winning the Super Bowl – we’ve been force-fed these purely cosmetic goals repackaged as the Holy Grail.

It created an impossibly high ceiling, and with it came a rabid mob salivating at the prospect of the Pats falling short. The perfect season, the team records, the individual records – they should all be “Who cares?” items, purely gravy if they come to fruition, and no big whoop if they don’t. The Pats have bigger fish to fry.

So now maybe the Eagles game will help us get our priorities straight again. We’ve been held hostage all season by the media storylines.

Let’s shut the gates. All of ’em.

We can find comfort in the fact those storylines never set foot in Bill Belichick’s kingdom. Witness this from his Monday press conference:

Q: Does it amaze you the expectation level that seems to be attached to your team? People expect blowouts.

BB: We expect to win every week. I’m not saying we expect to win every game, but each week we prepare for the game, we expect to win that game. That’s the way we prepare for it. You don’t go into any game thinking we don’t win it. We’ll go into this game preparing for it and expecting to go down there and play well and beat Baltimore. That’s the way we go into every game.

Q: But the fact that a lot of people on the outside –

BB: I don’t care what everybody else thinks. I can tell you what this team thinks. Right now we’re thinking about getting ready for Baltimore. That’s how we approach the game. I can’t tell you what anybody else thinks. I don’t care what everybody else thinks. It doesn’t make any difference.

People on the outside? In Belichick’s world, there is no outside.