by Scott Benson

I’ve had that headline since, like, the fourth week of the season, and I can’t believe I’m using it now.

It may, perhaps, be the worst loss in profesional football history, this 18-0 powerhouse, favored by two touchdowns, losing to the lowest seed of the allegedly inferior NFC in the only game that really matters when real history is written. It sure feels like the worst loss in history tonight, as the New York Giants scored the winning touchdown with less than two minutes left to beat the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Dreams of immortality have been replaced by nightmares of ignominy that may last a generation, or two, or even longer.

The Patriots, frequently conceded the championship at various points through an often dominant but tumultuous season, were left flinging hopeless and aimless bombs to no one as the final seconds of the game evaporated into the Arizona desert. Their record-setting offense, the most prolific scoring machine in the history of the game, went out not with a bang, but with a whimper. Their once proud defense, now reduced to a mere supporting role in the shadow of their starry offensive teammates, was too old and too slow and too weak to win the game on their own, to make the one play they had to, when the outcome of the game rested solely in their hands.

Where to go from here? The heartbreak of Indianapolis has nothing on the pure devastation of this moment. How do they come back from this? How do they gather again, to go that one step farther, to once again be the last team standing? With the burden of this failed attempt at perfection strapped to their backs, in the harsh light of already furious opposition? For all their powers, it seems impossible in this aftermath of incredulity. For all this winning, this loss, this unforgettably awful loss, only makes me feel like it’s time for a page to turn.

It’s The Defense, Stupid.

I’m glad they got Wes Welker and Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth and I know that they probably wouldn’t have made it this far if they hadn’t. But what good did it do in respect to closing the deal? Super Bowl XLII was won with defense, and the defense that made the most plays took home the prize. Meanwhile, as the Pats loaded up their offense this off-season, they also also welcomed back 38 year old Junior Seau, 35 year old Rodney Harrison, 34 year old Tedy Bruschi and 32 year old Mike Vrabel as the core of their defense, with their only reinforcement coming in the way of 30 year old free agent Adalius Thomas. The middle of this defense, the core of so many past glories, the heart of so much of the organization, has gone as far as it can go. The game was in their hands tonight and they didn’t have enough left to grab it and hang on.

Tom Brady

Nothing – nothing – will ever take away from what Tom Brady has done for the Patriots, and tonight, he rallied a moribund offense to score the go-ahead points with just under three minutes to play in the Super Bowl. But for too much of the game, he and his record-setting teammates did nothing, and all the long bombs and jump balls and pinball machine scoring over the past five months meant less than nothing in the end. The Patriots defense lost the game at the end because Tom Brady and the offense put them squarely in the position to do so.  Brady’s the best player that ever has played, or ever will play, for the Patriots, but even that, even a perfect season punctuated by barrier-breaking offensive performances, was not enough. The road back after this season will be considerably longer than last.

A Truly Offensive Performance

As much as anyone, the offensive line lost the game for the Patriots. This decorated crew of pro-bowlers could not give their quarterback a moment’s peace from the opening gun. There was no running game, because after a few promising rushes, there were no holes. Stephen Neal went down to injury, but let’s face it, there is no excuse for the way the Patriots offensive line played tonight. It’s hard to believe that when the big game came, so many big game players didn’t show.

Randy Moss

His season here was an unforgettable one, and one gratifying thing about tonight’s game was to see Moss emerge, after a frustrating playoff, to make the difference on the Patriots last drive. I honestly thought Randy Moss had won the game for the Patriots. Who knows what happens from here; will his legal entanglements in Florida prove to be just enough to break up this marriage of convenience that produced so many memorable, but now bittersweet, moments? Will he return? If he does, we now know the Patriots can’t win the championship on he and Brady alone.

Wes Welker

I believe he tied a Super Bowl record for receptions tonight, and there’s two things for certain on a night of many doubts: Wes Welker is all football player, and he’s going to be with the Patriots through 2011. Not all news tonight is bad.

Ellis Hobbs

As long as he lives, Ellis Hobbs will never live down that fade route that left the Patriots down by three with 35 seconds left. Which stinks, because I remain convinced that he and Asante Samuel are the least of the Pats worries, if you don’t count Samuel’s upcoming free agency. Hobbs was out there on an island on that last play, and though he was helpless against it, that fade was merely the end result of a total team breakdown when it counted most.

The Coach

Before the game began, the names Lombardi, Noll and Walsh were being uttered. After the game, the words ‘undefeated three-time champ and two touchdown favorite loses the Super Bowl with two minutes left’ are too difficult to grasp when thinking about a coach who has become nearly invincible over the past eight years. Bill Belichick, Super Bowl loser? Like Brady, nothing can ever change what Bill Belichick has done for the Patriots and their fans, but has the phrase ‘sixty minutes’ ever had such poignancy as it does tonight? Once again, they didn’t play sixty minutes.

From Here

There will no doubt be more thoughts in the days ahead, some of which we’ll share with you, some of which we’ll be better off not sharing at all. Perhaps other members of the PD team will stop by for a final word on what tonight became history, for all the worst possible reasons. In the meantime, we leave you with our thanks for your support this year – for your clicks, for your interest, and for your participation. It’s hard to call this a ‘good year’ tonight, but it will be one that we never forget.