logoby Dan Snapp

So now the Patriots are lucky? Lucky they don’t have to face the big, bad Colts again in their path to the Super Bowl?

Luck certainly didn’t help the Colts much. Ninety lucky horseshoes (one for each side of the helmet) didn’t work. Their lucky ref’s feet, the ones imbedded deep into Bill Polian’s back pocket, nearly did the trick. But overall, as they say, no such luck.

The better team advanced. The big, bad Colts aren’t big or bad anymore, and they showed that Sunday. Unless they could pull a rabbit out of a hat, they would’ve gotten creamed by the Patriots. The Chargers saved them the embarrassment.

Let’s not sell San Diego short. They’re a tough, talented team that showed grit on defense and resourcefulness on offense. They earned their trip to Foxboro.

Perhaps they’re not as difficult a matchup for the Pats as the Colts would be, but I’m not so certain. Consider the obstacles they overcame: winning on the road, in front of a hostile crowd, in an (let’s be honest) artificially loud stadium; overcoming a multiple MVP quarterback and a team of refs cowed by the hometown GM; playing with a gimpy star tight end; hamstrung by a coach more willing to give the ball back with a minute and a half to the multiple MVP than pass on third down; and losing both their starting QB and running back in the interim.

Either the Colts are that bad, or the Chargers are that good. Maybe a bit of both.

Which Blueprint Would You Print?

Anyone who played a wind instrument as a child may be privy to the concept of “circular breathing”. In theory, the player continues expelling air while inhaling through his nose, enabling him to sustain a continual note. In practice, results are mixed.

“Circular reasoning” is similar in concept, but more open to hyperventilation. To do either, you pretty much have to blow.

Which brings us to Jets beat man Rich Cimini. A month ago, Cimini glommed onto a popular theme late in the season: proclaiming that your team – providing they stayed within ten points – in defeat supplied the “blueprint” for beating the Pats.

Cimini took a novel approach, which is what makes it my favorite of the faulty blueprint claims. He basically suggested Belichick was hoisted with his own petard:

Bill Belichick devised a brilliant plan that slowed down the high-scoring, quick-strike Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Instead of the usual 3-4 scheme, Belichick employed a two-man line — a 2-4-5 alignment. The strategy came with this unorthodox charge: If Thurman Thomas rushes for 100 yards, Belichick told the defensive players, we’ll win …

…On Sunday, Mangini used Belichick’s strategy against Belichick, and it kept the Jets in the game against the heavily-favored Patriots. The Jets wound up losing, 20-10 … but they may have uncovered a way to beat the undefeated, history-seeking Patriots.

Essentially, “Make the Patriots run the ball.” But Cimini’s theorem came with this proviso:

If the Jets had any offense whatsoever …

And so collapses the house of cards. Belichick plans for the team they’re playing, not the one they’re not. So the Jets’ lack of offense likely factored into their game plan. Moreover, when given the opening to run, the Pats – in contrast to say Mike Martz – ran, did so successfully, and won the game by two scores.

Cimini’s blueprint blew. Actually, all of them did. They were nothing more than basic football truisms trussed up as something revolutionary.

The Colts got an early lead and forced the Pats to play catchup. The Eagles blitzed heavily and effectively blanketed Randy Moss. The Ravens won physical matchups at the line of scrimmage. That each could do so successfully is more a tribute to that team’s execution than to any ingenious plan.

For all the supposed blueprints, how come none was ever used twice?

Here, then, is my submission for “How to Beat the Patriots”: do best what you don’t do best. That’s the one common thread among all the near-misses: success by teams’ second options.

The Patriots defense is far from dominant, but is proficient in taking away what teams like to do. They take away Brian Westbrook, forcing A.J. Feeley to try to beat them. Feeley made the best of the opportunity. They limit Peyton Manning, forcing the ball into Joseph Addai’s hands. Again, nearly fatally.

In the closest call of all, against the Ravens, the Pats failed at denying what the Ravens do best, and Willis McGahee ran wild.

Sunday, don’t be surprised to see strong numbers for the Chargers QB, whomever it will be, but in a double digit loss.

The Awful Truth

There are few true moments of clarity in our lifetimes, times when your mind opens itself up to some infinite truth. One hit me last Monday, standing in line at Disney World for an hour with my five-year-old, waiting for an autograph and picture from some pretty, anonymous actress in an Ariel costume, herself likely a dozen runny noses and greasy little hands away from giving up the dream and going back to grad school like Daddy suggested.

That ultimate truth revealed itself all at once: “Disney will always win in the end.”

No matter the measures you take – the hotel discounts, the knowing somebody who knows somebody who can get you in, discovering that doing the character breakfast means free parking – no matter what, Disney will find you, and they will make you pay.

Every year, the NFL finds itself a new suitor in the playoffs, the next big thing, the “team nobody wants to play.” An ultimate truth in the NFL is that the Patriots want to play that team. The Jaguars were this year’s playoff darling, and they were ripe for the kill: strong in areas the Pats were reportedly weak, with some modest success during the season, but very, very green.

In scenarios like that, the Patriots are Disney: they’ll always win in the end.

The pretenders have been weeded from the NFL playoffs. The Colts and Titans, with their “gentleman’s agreement” between Tony Dungy and Jeff Fisher to end their game expediently. The “Just Happy To Be Here” Cowboys, whose coach reportedly didn’t even game plan for the regular season finale. And these Jaguars, yappy posturers beguiled by their own press clippings.

The Jaguars are now patting themselves on the back that they “kept it competitive.” But that’s exactly what the Patriots want: opponents comforted by moral victories while relinquishing real ones.



Randy Moss revealed what the Indy types suspected all along:

“You know, we’ve got a hellified offense here.”

The perfect season always did have a Faustian ring to it.