Patriot Mind Games

Patriot Mind Games
September 20, 2010, 7:26 am
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By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

You know what happened at the Meadowlands Sunday.

The fact that you're even reading this means that you're one of the frustrated millions who sat through three anxiety-ridden hours of football, ran the gamut of NFL emotions and were left feeling empty, confused, or just plain pissed off over the actions of your New England Patriots.

And now you're caught in the early season NFL mind games.

We go through this every year with the Patriots. We live and die for every game. When they're winning they'll never lose again. When they're losing, all is lost. It a dangerous and ridiculous tradition, but we fall for it every season.

How can we not? Regardless of how many countless hours were spent previewing and predicting how the 2010 season would play out, by the end of Week 2 that's thrown out the window. At this point, we go on what we've seen, even if that is such a small sample size. We have no choice. We either form opinions on that sample or choose to not care as much. We can treat it like April baseball and say, "Eh, whatever, it's only September. Not a big deal." But thats impossible. It doesn't matter what month it is, there's too much craziness and fanfare around every NFL game (especially a Jets game) to not get a little crazy.

So, today, we're all a little crazy.

We're crazy over the fact that the Pats not only lost, and not only lost to the Jets, but lost to the most unlikable Jets team in a long line of unlikable Jets teams.

We're upset that the Pats choked the game away. Obviously, that's a relative term. This wasn't a Bruins choke, or a Buckner choke, and it definitely wasn't a Sprewell choke. But there's no way around the fact that the Patriots placed themselves in a position to win this game. Victory was within reach, and the Jets didn't take it; the Pats gave it to them. They let it slip away.

On top of all that is the fact that this loss came underneath an enormous microscope. It was the biggest game of the entire week. It's the one that the national media will talk about the most, the one that will haunt your SportsCenter and send you into temporary hiding from TV, radio and (well, I guess not entirely) the Internet.

That depression won't last forever, but the mind games will continue all week. We'll sit in the aftermath of this ugly Pats loss and wonder what they could have done differently, or why they didn't do anything differently. We'll criticize a secondary we spent an entire week celebrating. We'll wonder if Belichick's lost it after having just convinced ourselves that he'd recaptured the magic. We'll bring up all the storylines from last year and obsess over this team's inability to win on the road or make in-game adjustments. That's part of being a fan. That's just what we do.

But still, there's that nagging feeling that, for now, it's all in vain.

In a way, the NFL season's a lot like a season of 24.

In 24, for the first few episodes, all the plot lines feel so important. You know that there's still much left to unfold, but you can't help but get caught up in the moment. Everything is so dramatic. Everything means so much. Then 18 hours later you look back and think, "Hey, remember when that Russian guy held the airport hostage, killed three cops and then drove his car into a plane? What did that really have to do with anything?"

The NFL's the same way. Ten weeks from now, we'll look back and see a thinly-veiled connection between what happened on Sunday afternoon and the actual state of the league, but so much will have changed by then. The NFL world will be such a different place, and Sunday's game will mean far less. By then, Week 2 will be an afterthought, and all the assumptions that are currently bubbling in our brains will have been replaced by definitive answers.

By then, we'll know who the Patriots are, but for now all we can do is get caught in the mind games.

All we can do is wonder

What did this loss mean?

On one hand, it's impossible to feel optimistic. That second half was disgusting. It raised a lot of questions. It brought back a lot of insecurities. It gave us a lot to think about. But at the same time, why are we more confident in our instincts now than we were at this time last week? Isn't this the same team that we were crowning all the way up until kick-off (and well into the first quarter)? How could we be so wrong in our perception after Week 1, yet so sure we, or anyone, has it right this time around?

The answer is we can't.

What does Sunday's loss mean?

It just means that we still don't know who the Patriots are. We don't know if they'll go down to Miami and knock off the Dolphins two weeks from now, or if they'll drop a home game to the Bills this Sunday. We're stuck in limbo between their domination of the Bengals (who beat the Ravens on Sunday) or slopfest against the Jets (who lost to the Ravens last Monday). We're just trying to make sense of it all, and having a hell of a hard time doing it.

Or at least I am. The mind games are getting to me. It happens every year.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33