December 3, 2016

Mercy Killing

logoby Dan Snapp
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So what’s the big deal? Brady sat out the entire second half.

Oh, right. Not that Brady.

“Runningupthescore-gate” is my favorite gate yet. It’s got all the classics: irrational speculation, righteous indignation, even body language interpreters. I can’t wait to see how the Patriots are going to top it.

At the heart of it is a desire to have some measure of control over the Pats. Nobody can do it on the field, so they wag the disapproving finger instead.

“For shame that you defeated us by more than what we determine is the proper amount.”

Everyone cites these unwritten rules the Patriots are supposedly breaking. It’s an unwritten rule that you let up with a big lead in the fourth quarter. It’s an unwritten rule that you must sit the starting QB. It’s an unwritten rule that you don’t attempt a drop-kick, or execute a fake field goal, or have your third string quarterback throw a last-second touchdown pass.

What we need is an actual written, Unwritten Rulebook. As it stands, nobody knows what the true rules are; just whatever sounds convenient after the fact, after the alleged offense.

So where are the lines drawn? How much of a lead do you need to have, and at what point into the second half, before you take out the starters? And by “starters”, who are we talking about? Is it just the quarterback, or all the skill players? What of the line? What of the defense?

Ironically, only pass plays count as “running it up” in the Unwritten Rulebook. Tom Brady handing off to Heath Evans for a 10-yard-run with 13:34 to go in the fourth is perfectly acceptable, says the UR, but throwing 35 yards to Randy Moss a minute later is strictly verboten. Apparently, running the ball up the gut on fourth down is OK, too, so long as it’s not the quarterback.

Hopefully, the Unwritten Rulebook will give some suggestions on what to do instead. Up 38-0 into the fourth, should the winning team kneel the remainder of their offensive plays? Apparently they’re not supposed to try anymore, so why continue the charade? After receiving punts, maybe they should just punt it back. I suspect that would be even more of a slap in the face than, you know, actually trying.

The winning team just can’t win.

Teams in the past had unique ways of handling blowouts. My father tells the story of Giants squads so dominating, they switched up sides at halftime, with the offensive players playing defense and vice versa. Yet when Bill Belichick puts linebackers at tight end,  receivers at cornerback, or defensive starters on special teams, he’s criticized for either putting his players at risk of injury, or “making a mockery of the game.” The unwrittens must have been re-written somewhere between eras.

Risk of injury is the one legitimate argument against what the Patriots are doing. With the game sealed away, why risk injuring Brady? It’s a good question. And really, Brady is what this whole thing is about. If Matt Cassel started the fourth quarter, nobody would care what plays they ran, or who else was in there running them with him.

There are three plausible reasons for the Patriots’ sudden aggressiveness: 1. Prepping for the Colts; 2. Looking out for legacy; or 3. Actually running up the score to stick it to the league. It could be a combination of all three.

They may very well be running it up on purpose. In week one, they broke a rule and were punished heavily. The subsequent overkill – by the league, the players, and the media – gave the Patriots their “us against them” talking point for the season.

They’re very protective of their legacy, so once the legitimacy of their three titles was questioned, the die was cast. A common refrain was “They only won each by three points.” If that’s the factor that caused the doubt, they were going to make certain there would be no room for doubt this time around. If an opponent’s dignity was a residual casualty, so be it.

Maybe this team wants to be remembered as the best ever. To do that, they have to go undefeated (to match the ’72 Dolphins’ feat) and they have to dominate games. Anything less and history drops them a notch.

Which brings us to the Colts, the real reason for the run-up. No offense to the rest of the league (well actually, plenty of offense), but the Colts are the only team the Pats have played all season. Ignore the disparate uniform colors and patterns. Those weren’t the Jets or Bills, Bengals or Cowboys. They were Colts.

Not in person, of course. But plenty in spirit.

The Patriots have lost three straight to the Colts, giving up 40, 27 and 38 points, respectively. They used to be the team that shut down such big, high-scoring offenses, but no more. The Colts passed them by, so they had work to do. Everything they did in the offseason, and every game along the way has been with an eye toward this meeting, and their eventual playoff matchup.

This game is worth two to the winner. The Pats knew they’d probably have to win every game up to it just to keep pace, and they’d have to learn to score points in bunches. The team never looked past an opponent, of course, but each game also served as a testing ground. The defense tinkered with unique lineups, like the one lineman formation they tried against Dallas and the offense tested all scenarios, all formations, and all weapons in their arsenal.

Win or lose, the philosophy will stay the same: keep winning, because the Colts will surely keep winning, and keep dominating, because the Colts will surely keep dominating. The records, the honors, the marks – they’re all nice if they come, but there’s only one real goal, and only one team in the way.

In the meantime, the league will keep begging for mercy, and the Pats will keep putting teams out of their misery.

It’s kinder that way.

Comments

  1. Great column as usual.

    But why must you insist on running up the verbal score against other, lesser columnists, in your trade? Have you no shame?

    You’re making other NFL commentators/writers look downright pedestrian. You are toying with men who have been writing far longer than you and making far more money.

    Please desist. It’s embarrassing. Think of the greater good of the profession of sports column writing.

    Maybe, in the last quarter of your column, you might ease up? Mix a metaphor. Dangle a participle. Call Randy Moss a name. Use the word “classless” in a derogatory way. Call into question three championship victories and then source it onto the shoulders of “a friend I have on the competition committee.”

    Mercy, Snapp.

    Mercy.

    It’s the mark of a benign, loving sports writer.

  2. Thank you. This is exactly correct. At least in my opinion. The pats blew an 18 point lead against the Colts last January and Belichick will not let that happen again. He’s preparing them to play a full game every game so they go into the playoffs (and this Sunday) knowing they are expected to keep the other team from ever getting back in the game. Up to now, this has been practice for the Colts and any other teams they meet in the playoffs.

  3. One of the hosts on WEEI, when talking with Bruschi about it, said he had no problem with the Miami game, but he took particular “offense” at the two yard pass to Welker for the TD. Like you said, is it supposed to be better if they ran it in with the fourth string running back, like they did against Dallas? Oh wait, that got complaints too.

    Idiots. I liked Shannon Sharpe’s comment quoted here earlier in the week – of course they ran up the score; that’s what offenses are *supposed* to do. And that’s more or less what Bruschi had to say to the EEI host.

  4. Isn’t Shannon Sharpe being the voice of reason one of the signs of the Apocalypse?

    Any player out there who says “We’d never do something like that” is either lying or played his whole career with the Cardinals. Everybody else has been on the doling out end of a blowout where something was done late in the game that could be characterized as “running up the score”.

  5. jamesgarnerisgod says:

    My still-favorite comment was Jason Campbell’s talking about when the Redskins “are in situations like this” they don’t run up the score. When was that, exactly? Playing Uno with your 6-year-old nephew?

    Now we have SI’s Don Banks essentially calling for opponents to put a bounty on Brady and/or Moss. Think I’m kidding?

    “It’s fair to wonder if New England’s pour-it-on mindset will leave it vulnerable to any repercussions in the season’s second half? Will some humiliated defender put a target on Tom Brady’s back, or try to take out his frustrations via a cheap shot on Randy Moss’ slender frame? Revenge, of course, is a two-way street, and the Patriots’ habit of winning big certainly isn’t winning them any friends, but it may be influencing their enemies. If a team did try to take revenge, the impact on New England’s Super Bowl dreams would be obvious.”

    Nice. You want to know when RunningUpTheScore-gate will stop? How about when the league gives back the half-million it stole from Belichick, the quarter-million it stole from the Krafts, and the thousands it has stolen from Wilfork, Vrabel and Brady (for not snapping ALL of the snaps on his chin strap!).

    Until that day comes, just open up and say “aaahh.”

  6. One thing that seems to get overlooked is that Belichick teams have ALWAYS ‘run up the score.’ His philosophy is clearly to be aggressive as possible and never let up. Remember last year when Testaverde threw that TD pass against Jax and all the pundits freaked out? Wasn’t there talk of bad sportsmanship against Green Bay last year because Brady played most of the second half in a total rout? Brady has never come out of a blow-out game earlier than with 5 minutes left as far as I can recall, and every year there are at least two games when the pundits complain that BB leaves Brady in too long. So the line about Belichick “giving a finger to the league” is either specious, or BB’s been giving the finger to the league most of his career (maybe?). The only difference between this year and years past is that instead of only two or three opportunities to blow people out in a season, the Pats are just too damn good and blow other teams out game after game.

  7. Well, Don Banks, they can’t get close enough to hit him. Go ahead and put the target on his back. They’ll be lucky to even get a look at it.

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