In the NFL, the line between victory and defeat is thinner than a goal post upright. So often these games, wins and losses, are decided by one play a missed field goal, a broken tackle, a turnover, a blown assignment. However, in the aftermath, it's never about just one play. Instead, these singular plays set off a chain reaction of revisionist history. In depth, after-the-fact evaluations of why a team lost, why a team won, who deserves the game ball and who deserves a pink slip.
Its too bad, really. But theres nothing we can do about it. Over the course of 60 minutes, the plays both good and bad come so fast and furious that its impossible to digest them in real time. Its impossible to evaluate their role in victory or defeat until we see what happens next, even if what happens next isn't always a product of what happened before.
For instance, if Adam Vinatieri missed his game-winner in Super Bowl XXXVI, wed have no reason to remember J.R. Redmond in New England. If in turn, the Rams had won that game in overtime, the most heroic performance of Tom Brady's career would be remembered as an underwhelming afternoon 16 of 27 for 145 yards and a TD.
If David Tyree doesn't make that catch in Super Bowl XLII, Asante Samuels blown interception wouldnt exist. If Eli Manning hadnt found Plaxico Burress a few plays later, neither would Tyree. Is Wes Welkers drop remembered as the reason New England lost Super Bowl XLVI if Mario Manningham doesn't make his own miraculous catch? Nope. But today, and forever, Brady and Welker blew that game. Maybe it's unfair, but that's reality.
As is this: With one stop down the stretch yesterday in Seattle, the Patriots would have flown home last night on top of the world. They would have gone into one of the NFL's most intimidating stadiums, against one of the NFL's most heralded defenses, and come home with an impressive, hard-fought victory. In that moment, it wouldn't have mattered how they won, just that they won that they survived and we would have all turned the page, feeling good about the Pats chances next week against the Jets and every step after that.
But Russell Wilson-to-Sidney Rice changed all that. One play one act of pathetic coverage by two rookie defensive backs changed everything. Of course, it wasn't just them, but in a way, it was just them.
If Tavon Wilson finds a way to stick with Rice and break up that pass, would you give a damn about Tom Brady's first half intentional grounding? Of course not. But today, Brady's decision is a problem. Somehow, that's a major reason New England lost a game that they led 23-10 with nine minutes left and a greater indicator of Brady's waning talents. If Nate Ebner takes a better route and disturbs Rice's concentration, would the sky still be falling? Would Tony Dungy have gone on national TV and gotten away with calling the Patriots an "average NFL team"? Of course not. Instead, we'd all be lauding New England's toughness and perseverance. In fact, with the Texans getting destroyed at home against the Packers, and the Ravens defense falling apart in Baltimore, we may have even used this game as an argument for why New England's the cream of the AFC crop.
One drive. One 46-yard touchdown pass. Two NFL Draft no-names.
Now obviously there's a happy medium between merely chalking everything up to one bad play, and over-reacting to the various plays that came before it. Even if Wilson and Ebner had come through, it would have been equally careless to ignore the obvious problems in New England's secondary, some of Brady's poor decisions and the lack of consistency and cohesiveness that the Pats showed on both sides of the ball. But the point is that it's never that easy. On either side. So much happens down the stretch in these games that it's like a weekly NFL version of Sliding Doors. One thing happens and everything is different. There are at least 20 things that could have occurred plays that could have been made that would have rendered Wilson and Ebner's coverage insignificant. If that sounds confusing, that's because it is; because there's no right way to properly evaluate and appropriately dish out the blame for everything that happened yesterday in Seattle.
But we can say this: There was a time in Patriot history when we didn't need to worry about this stuff. There was a time when, regardless of all the craziness that might unfold down the stretch, we had faith that despite mistakes that were made and shortcomings that existed, that the Patriots would find a way to come out on top. That when it came time to execute those plays make those field goals, break those tackles, cause those turnovers and be there in that coverage New England would be there. The Patriots would step up and save us from falling into the funk that we're feeling this morning.
In 2012, the expectation is the opposite. It's no longer: "OK, calm down. They got this . . . they got this . . ." It's: "Man, how are they gonna find a way to blow this one?"