August 18, 2017

Revis Archipelago

By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Columnist

Zen riddle: If a tree falls on “Revis Island”, does it make a sound?
Answer: Of course. The safety heard it.

It’s a dumb debate that never should have reared its ugly head in the first place. Everybody knows the truth: Darrelle Revis is an exceptionally talented cornerback, arguably the best in the game. And like every other cornerback in the game, he sometimes plays zone, and he sometimes get double coverage help from his safeties. He is, like every other cornerback in the league, not an island.

There’s no shame in admitting that, and by no means does it diminish his own abilities, which the Patriots respected enough to target Revis a mere four times (2 completions for 77 yards) in 37 pass plays Sunday. Yet the island myth persists, thanks to Rex Ryan, Revis’s acolytes in the media, and Revis himself, who loved the moniker so much he trademarked it.

But the problem for Revis this week comes care of Wes Welker’s 73-yard pass play right after halftime. Revis was opposite Welker, and when Tom Brady’s play fake drew safety Eric Smith up, Welker split the two defenders for the long completion. Revis apologists were quick to disavow him of the blame.

“See, Darrelle Revis is gonna let him go,” said Phil Simms right after the play, “Because he says ‘I’ve got deep safety help, I don’t have to worry.'”

“On the first play of the third quarter, when Tom Brady hit Welker for 73 yards down the middle,” wrote Peter King, “It was unclear who was in primary coverage — Revis or safety Eric Smith.”

“Darrelle Revis all but made Wes Welker disappear,” wrote Ron Borges, “But the one time he left him in the hands of safety Eric Smith Welker roasted him like beef tips on the grill.”

“To be clear,” Albert Breer tweeted, “My view of Revis/Welker play: Revis had deep 3rd, passed Welker off to Smith, who wasn’t there, after biting on play fake.”

What was more gratifying for Patriots fans was what Simms said moments before the play: “They can match up with their greatest asset, which is Wes Welker. Of course they’re doing it with Darelle Revis most of the time. Not every team has a guy like number 24 where they say, ‘You go out and cover him and we’ll take care of the rest.'” So an island is an island, except when it’s an archipelago.

Revis, Ryan and Bill Belichick all suggested it was a miscommunication.

“(Welker) looked like he was running across the field,” explained Revis, “Then he got us with kind of a double move and went up the field.”

“It kind of looked like one of those, ‘I got him, you take hims,’“ said Ryan.

“I don’t know whether Revis was supposed to stay with him or whether the safety is supposed to take that inside release and grab him,” said Bill Belichick on WEEI. “Somehow they got a little miscommunication when Smith stepped up on the play fake.”

But Smith said it was quarters coverage that became double coverage once the tight end blocked:

Before the snap, Smith said his responsibility was tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was in the Patriots backfield split off to the right side.

“We were in quarters coverage and when my tight end blocked, Revis and I would have been doubling Welker low and high and we basically didn’t have either one.

“It wasn’t a communication thing because we made the communication before the snap.”

So it could be a pass-off from Revis to Smith, and Smith screwed up. Or it could be a communication failure and both players are at fault. Or it could be double coverage, and both players were at fault. Regardless of what they were in, I’m just wondering whatever happened to Revis Island?

There’s a strange phenomenon that occurs whenever a great athlete’s legend eclipses his accomplishments. It’s a product of the media hype machine, in which no feat goes un-exaggerated, and it creates a cult of personality surrounding the player that the player himself can never hope to meet. Darrelle Revis has now joined this pantheon of hyperboletes.

When the Chicago Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan made two great plays at the end of the clinching game: he stole the ball at one end of the court and made the winning basket at the other end. But what gets lost is what happened prior to the shot, when he pushed off on Bryon Russell to free himself. Worse, it’s been whitewashed as Jordan faking out Russell on the dribble. The most the Wikipedia entry on the topic will offer is that Jordan was “possibly pushing off on Russell.” Possibly?

Why weren’t Jordan’s feats at the end of that game – which were legitimately great – great enough that people didn’t have to go making up things that he didn’t achieve? And if you don’t think there’s a whitewashing, compare the NBA Finals Memories version of the play with a more complete one. See something missing?

Brett Favre is the NFL crown prince of this phenomenon. Anything he achieved was bloated as legendary or classic within minutes of a game’s conclusion. Any apocryphal Favre folk tales – like saying he didn’t know what dime coverage was, or carrying a penny in his uniform during SB XXXI – was accepted as gospel. Any failures, like the numerous campaign-killing playoff interceptions, were swept under the rug because “He’s like a kid out there” and “He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.” Any personal indiscretions, such as his bout with vicodin, were either downplayed or re-purposed to show the personal strength Favre exhibited to overcome the problem. And whenever a personal note could be introduced, such as his wife’s struggle with cancer or his father dying the day before the Packers played the Raiders, it got exploited to further Favre’s glory. There’s no doubt Favre played a great game that night, but is he truly the only player in league history to ever play a game right after a parent died, and play well?

Again, there’s no denying Favre was a great player. Just never as great as legend suggests.

The Patriots played Revis appropriately. He’s a great player, much, much better than his secondary teammates, and so they avoided him. Welker still caught 5 balls for 124 yards. Deion Branch still had 7 receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Hernandez still nabbed 5 balls for 56 yards. And Brady still completed 73% of his throws for 321 yards.

After all, why even bother passing in Revis’ direction when you’ve got “Where’d He Go?” Cromartie on the opposite side? On the touchdown, Branch left Cromartie alone long enough to seed the end zone, if not the female population of Foxboro.

Revis is Ty Law with a better press agent. Like Law, Revis is an elite  cornerback. And like Law, Revis gets away with defensive holding all the time. Watch him covering Welker. More times than not, he’s got his hands on him past the five-yard allowable area.

And like when Lebron James or Kobe Bryant commit fouls, Revis’s own indiscretions go conveniently overlooked, thanks in great part to Ryan’s Pat Riley-esque working of the refs. Ryan somehow implants the seed into their brains – “Revis is so amazing that any contact you see has to be incidental” – and that simple belief takes hold Inception-like to become the reality.

If only Bill Belichick knew back in the day that all he had to do was repeat the mantra that Ty Law was the best defensive player in the league, and suddenly Law would be immune to all the Polian-dictated league pass interference mandates. Somehow, I doubt Belichick could have pulled it off the same way Ryan does so effortlessly.

Carrying such a label actually does a lot for Revis’s legacy. It’s what assists him getting voted in as a Pro Bowl starter every year, even years when he has zero interceptions. And it will help him come Hall of Fame discussion, because again, people are likely to better remember the legend than the reality. But when he fails, and his speed leaves him, and when he finally starts getting called for all the holding penalties (like Law finally did), the label will feel like an anchor around his neck.

Back in 2009, the Jets defeated the Patriots in their first meeting, with Randy Moss being held to four catches for 24 yards. When asked about Revis shutting him down, Moss responded that Revis had help.  A scout confirmed Moss’s claim, stating that out of 77 offensive plays, the Jets were in true double coverage on Moss on seven, and “had a safety lingering over the top in some sort of zone” for much of the game. Even the video of Revis’s interception in that game (recently shown again in the Belichick Football Life documentary) showed double coverage on Moss. Still, in a press conference before the teams’ second meeting that year, Revis chafed at the suggestion he had help.

“I was in man-to-man coverage,” he said. “Everyone saw the game, everybody knows I was in man coverage, that was the case. He’s supposed to say that because [that day] wasn’t his day, he got shut out and was frustrated about it, which is cool.”

And this is how we know there’s no Revis Island: An island never cries. And a rock never has coverage over the top.

The Lesser of Four Evils

By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff

There’s a small scene in the John Sayles movie “Lone Star” in which an Army officer is mulling whether the family of his African-American girlfriend will accept him being white.  “They think any woman over 30 who isn’t married is a lesbian,” he says to a buddy. “She figures, they’ll be so relieved that I’m a man…”
“Yeah,” responds his friend, “It’s always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice.”

This is how it felt rooting for the Steelers against the Jets. Sure, we hate both teams, but there’s no question which one we hate more.

The reality of the Patriots as a yearly Super Bowl contender has given us a new dilemma: how to choose a rooting interest on the occasions the Patriots get knocked out.

Last year, the choice was easy. The Saints had no notable history with the Patriots, the franchise itself so down-and-out for so many years they were an easy underdog to root for. What’s more, they had a coach who seemed to pray at the Belichick altar. His onside kick to start the game’s second half was straight out of the fourth-and-two playbook, the distinctions being it worked and they won (and thus showing the hair’s breadth line between “genius” and “goat”).

This year, the choices were slim and none. After the inexplicable loss to the Jets, we were left with the Bears, whom we hate for Super Bowl XX; the Packers, whom we hate for Super Bowl XXXI; the Steelers, whom we hate for their whiny, Spygate-spouting players and boorish, self-entitled fans; and the Jets, whom we could hate on principle alone were it not for the multitude of other offenses committed the past few years.

So it becomes a palatability matrix, a measure designed to determine the Super Bowl winner least likely to cause a heart attack.

Chicago would have been an easy choice – Super Bowl XX 25 years in the rear-view mirror and the principals of that win long removed from the franchise – but then the Ability to Defeat a Greater Evil also factors in. If they got by the Packers, the Bears seemed like easy pickings against whomever won the AFC (like they were three years ago).

With Green Bay, we still have the burning memory of Super Bowl XXXI, but that was Brett Favre’s team. After the exhaustive measures he took to stick it to his old team, there’d be a certain karmic justice watching them win one without him. Mow that, Brett.

Pittsburgh’s a tough case, because you respect the organization and the coaching staff. But no team’s players complain more than the Steelers, from Kordell Stewart and Joey Porter to James Harrison and Hines Ward. Any defeat suffered was never their fault; they were always “cheated”.

The Jets were the nightmare scenario. Had they won the Super Bowl, we’d never hear the end of it. It would be deemed justification of the Rex Ryan “refreshing” approach to coaching. It would set off another three dozen “The dynastic Patriots are dead” stories. It would lead to more face time for Rex (and who in their right mind wants that?), more face time for Workman’s Comp Ed (Somebody should design him a hat for that), and more national commercials for Mark “Sanchize”.

When I was a kid rooting for the Patriots, the playoffs were never like this. I would feel bad the Patriots were knocked out (or eliminated long beforehand), but never could muster the blinding hate for the remaining teams that seems to come so easily today.

There was no Internet or 24-hour sports television then to examine every intimate detail, or scrutinize every wart and pimple of every player for every team. So when Pittsburgh or Dallas or Oakland or Miami were winning Super Bowls back then, I didn’t hate them. I didn’t know them well enough to hate them. It’s only years after the fact – when I learn that Mercury Morris is a whiny attention whore or Don Shula a moralizing hypocrite – that the hate flows freely.

The Super Bowl is broadcast worldwide. Think of the people tuning into the game, barely comprehending the game’s rules and certainly not privy to the endless back stories that serve to fill all the dead air time throughout the season. They get to look at this game, and this sport, with fresh eyes. I envy that.

So who to root for? Do like the media does and root for the story. Only root for the story that tweaks only the most deserving of individuals.

Root for a Troy Polamalu forced fumble and recovery for a touchdown, only to find Troy’s helmet slid up from the opponent’s chest to his helmet during the tackle, so the play gets called back on a penalty.

Root for Hines Ward to be taken out on a crackback block after an interception.

Root for Aaron Rodgers to be the beneficiary of a tuck rule call, so Charles Woodson shuts up about it now and forever.

Root for more women to come forward with charges against Ben Roethlisberger on the eve of the game, no matter if the charges have merit or not. They can be dismissed later, with Roger Goodell feeling out the right suspension time based on body language experts telling him whether Roethlisberger sincerely “looks” sorry.

Root for injuries to take out a couple starters (nothing serious, but enough to knock them out of the game) so Goodell gets a taste of what Super Bowls are going to be like with an 18-game season.

Root for three punts to hit Jerry Jones’ video screen.

Root for overtime, so Goodell and Peter King get to see their grand experiment put to the test, but root for the exception to their painstakingly planned-out  rules, one that doesn’t allow for their perfect order of things. Like say Green Bay onside kicking to start the overtime, recovering the ball, and then ending their series with a field goal to win. “But Ben never got to see the ball!” they’ll protest, and they’ll enlist a new fact-finding commission (but no “football people” involved, right Jonathan Kraft?) to find a more “fair” resolution to the problem. They’ll call Bill Polian to oversee it.

Root for Fox to have a camera crew down in Mississippi for the Favre reaction shot when he realizes Rodgers matched in three years what Favre could only accomplish once in 20. Root for Fox to reflect that comparison in a nice graphic next to Favre’s dumbfounded reaction.

Root for the day when you can turn off your TV and radio during the week, ignore the stories on the Internet, and only tune in on Sundays to be able to watch the game for the game itself once again. And leave all the static bullshit back where it belongs.

Under-the-Bus Rex

By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff

Any parent recognizes the behavior instantly. You innocuously call out your kid’s name and they respond, “It wasn’t me!” They weren’t in trouble before, but they probably are now.

Just Call Him Rex Lyin'

That’s Rex Ryan.

For whatever reason, when first questioned about the tripping incident during the Miami game, Ryan’s gut reaction – and Ryan going with his gut is no small gesture – was to disavow any knowledge of Sal Alosi’s actions. Now he’s screwed, because the tape didn’t self-destruct.

As a result, either he’s a deceitful tyrant willing to scapegoat his subordinates so to elude culpability, or an in-over-his-head career coordinator unable to control what happens on his own sideline. Take your pick, Jets fans.

In his short tenure as Jets’ head coach, Ryan has been celebrated as the Anti-Belichick. The media thought he was honest, funny, brash, and forthright. More importantly, he filled their notebooks. “Refreshing!” was the most common laud from the scribes. Now that he’s lied to them, though, they smell blood in the water and they’re circling.

The kicker is he didn’t even have to lie about it. He could have copped to the Code Red, and be done with it.

“Hell, yeah, we line ’em up. I told ’em to,” he should have said. “What’s the big deal? We saw Miami likes to get a little edge in coverage having their guys run 30 yards out of bounds, so we thought we’d discourage that. Sal shouldn’t have tripped the guy, but I don’t see anything wrong standing there.”

The New York press probably would have applauded. Ryan would have been praised for his leadership, his honesty, his willingness to say, “The buck stops here.” Perhaps Ryan would have gotten a slap on the wrist – a few players were not designated to be in that area – but that’s as far as it would have gone.

This past offseason, Jets linebacker Bart Scott claimed (something later supported by player polls) that many league players wanted to come play for Ryan. I wonder if that’s still the case. And I’d love to see the same poll posed to league assistant coaches. Want to come work for Rex? Just make sure you rent.

Now the Jets are the ones tripping all over themselves, trying to contain the damage, with each updated penalty opening the door to more questions, more doubt and more egg on their faces. And Ryan’s being exposed as not quite the stand-up guy they all thought he was.

Quite refreshing, if you ask me.

Lie Gate

By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

Roger Goodell Is Satisfied, Thank Goodness.

Commissioner Goodell is satisfied. Satisfied that the New York Jets’ tripping incident (“Thighgate” I think they’re calling it now) has been resolved fairly and judiciously, just as he was satisfied two weeks ago with the Broncos videotaping incident. He even let his old team determine their own punishment. He bravely stepped into the fray, said “OK with me” as he turned away. Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Roger.

So in both cases, a rogue employee acted alone, and each met with the kind of swift justice you see only in Sheriff Goodell’s Old West. There’s a lesson here for Bill Belichick: always have a scapegoat at the ready. Taking full responsibility for what happens in your own organization? Well that just don’t fly here in Dodge City.

Spygate is never, never going away. The past few weeks prove it. Whenever one of these incidents crop up, the Patriots will always be the go-to analogy, the jumping-off point for comparison, even a target, if at all possible.

After the Denver incident, ESPN’s Mike Sando wrote “The Rams have a right to feel cheated” about Super Bowl XXXVI, because now that a former Patriot employee has been fired for a taping a walk-through, that must be proof the Patriots actually did tape the Rams’ walk-through. You know, the long, damaging, slanderous and ultimately baseless Matt Walsh investigation aside.

“I’m more comfortable removing the word allegedly,” Sando wrote, which is good, because nothing turns the wheels of justice faster than a comfortable journalist.

The next night, Mike Florio teased on NBC that his Monday notes column would explore why the league should re-open the Spygate investigation. Florio wussed out on the promise the next day, but the damage was done: the allegation was already out there, and that’s all that’s needed to advance the myth. Besides, as Florio knows all too well, nothing sparks visits to his site faster than a good “Spygate” allusion.

Even when the Patriots are being praised, Spygate is referenced. “All of a sudden, in a competitive sense, Spygate doesn’t seem so important,” Peter King wrote Monday, stating the Patriots’ amazing record from 2007 to now shows that taping defensive signals had minimal impact on the game. That’s nice of King to say, but this is exactly what Belichick said back in 2007, a claim that’s been supported by opposing coaches such as Bill Cowher. Where were you then, Peter?

Of course, King has to add this caveat:

Understand I’m not attempting to minimize what the Patriots did wrong. Roger Goodell was right to take away a first-round pick and whack the Pats $750,000 for the misdeed.

Thanks, Pete. I’m sure your steadfast allegiance is duly noted by the good commish.

Easterbrook

Gregg Easterbrook was beyond effusive in his praise of this year’s Patriots in his column yesterday, but again, still brings it all back to Spygate:

But this being the Patriots, there’s a dark side. In 2007, Belichick admitted to years of what seemed to everyone except him as cheating. If New England returns to the Super Bowl, the sports world might have to relive Spygate — including the unresolved questions of why Belichick wouldn’t come clean until forced, and why he never really apologized. If the Patriots win this year’s Super Bowl, people might wonder if they are cheating still. Probably not, but considering the elaborate, systematic nature of their previous clandestine efforts, this can’t be ruled out. Many football enthusiasts, including in the league front office, might not mind if the Patriots are knocked off early in the playoffs, and Spygate: The Sequel doesn’t happen.

Even when he’s winning decisively, Bill Belichick can never win. He tried doing it the Colts way in 2007 – with a high-profile, overwhelming offense leaving no doubt in opponents’ minds how they were defeated – and got blamed for running up the score and not shaking coaches’ hands more convincingly for the cameras. Now he’s back with a team more reminiscent of the 2001-2004 squads, with scrappy overachievers spouting the “team” mantra, and suddenly rivals are back questioning how they got beat.  “Wait a second, that guy’s not a first-round pick. They must be cheating…”

Spygate was the product of a green commissioner feeling his oats. He wanted to show who’s boss, and so he massively overreacted to a minor issue, and it’s that massive overreaction that’s given Spygate its disproportionate weight*.

* Here’s where rival fans will tell us how taping defensive signals is the sole reason for every New Cheatland Cheatriots victory under Bill Belicheat. We get it: you’re not fans. I won’t get into the vagaries of why taping signals in a non-designated area is cheating but taping them elsewhere isn’t. I’ll just say if you think that’s why your team lost, you truly don’t understand football. But still, this paragraph is devoted to you, all the way down to leading it off with an asterisk. Enjoy!

Even so, Goodell didn’t use the term “cheating” when laying down his punishment, and he even stated that it was Belichick’s dis-ingenuousness that led to the stiffer penalty:

“I think I’m pretty well on the record here. I didn’t accept Bill Belichick’s explanation for what happened and I still don’t to this day.”

This is what bothers me about the Denver and New York decisions. Maybe it’s simply Goodell finally learning his lesson and nipping these “scandals” in the bud, before they become a major waste of time, money and resources, and for which there will never be a definitive conclusion. But Goodell really took Josh McDaniels and Rex Ryan at their word?

Steve Scarnecchia

Perhaps McDaniels didn’t know anything about Steve Scarnecchia filming the walk-through, but seriously, just a one-day investigation? That’s all you devote to a guy who tries to fashion his team after Belichick’s, controlling every facet of his organization?

By contrast, Belichick admitted filming signals was by his order, and the ones doing the filming did so right out in the open in team gear. McDaniels passes the buck, and Goodell takes it on its face.

And Ryan, who claimed no knowledge of what happened on the sideline when Nolan Carroll got tripped, is clearly lying. He watched the whole thing happen in front of him, rather than watching the ongoing return. And the Green Man Group lineup along the sideline is so clearly coached. There’s bound to be mounds of video evidence of it, and it isn’t even illegal, so why lie about it? All of a sudden, Mr. Refreshing Candor clams up.

But Denver and New York don’t meet the threshold for long, drawn-out investigations. For that recipe: take one stubborn, taciturn coach; add a vengeful media that smells blood in the water; toss in a grandstanding senator with a not-so-secret agenda to tweak the NFL toward benefiting his corporate constituency; fold in the aforementioned green commissioner with an itchy trigger finger; and mix in three Super Bowl wins.

It’s simple: Denver and New York haven’t beaten anybody in any meaningful game for over a decade (well, four decades in the Jets’ case), so nobody thinks they cheated.

I’m not even asking for penalties here. Maybe the judgments handed down are the correct ones. I just want due process, and by that I mean a season-long inquisition rife with innuendo, false accusations, and irrational proclamations, taking up every waking moment of a team’s fandom and media, the exhaustion eventually leading up to that team’s loss in the sport’s centerpiece game.

Then again, the Jets don’t play in February.

Randy Moss Is Expecting

By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff

I don’t know how to say this without sounding like the worst kind of dyed-in-the-wool homer, so I’ll just give it my best John Madden:

Now I kinda like what the Patriots are doing.

I hated the Randy Moss trade, every single aspect of it. The timing (coming off their biggest win of the season) was odd, the compensation weak (certainly the desperate Vikings could have been talked up to a second rounder), and most importantly, Moss remains an elite scoring threat.

Bill Belichick’s six-minute press conference (which he said he called to “shed light” on the trade but which did no such thing) only served to heighten the confusion.

Would this man really make fun of somebody else's hair?

“Was it an off-field issue?”
“No. Randy’s been great.”
“Was it a performance issue?”
“No. Randy’s been great.”
“Was it money?”
“Nope. You’re running out of guesses.”
“So what was it?”
“It was a combination of things.”
“Like what?”
“I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

It was a strange press conference even by Belichick standards, and possibly his target audience was Moss alone. It was a breakup, and Belichick was telling Moss, in his best Constanza form, “It’s not you. It’s me.”

Then Belichick bolted from the podium, leaving the press with the old Holmesian truism: Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

All other possibilities exhausted, Randy Moss must be pregnant (it does explain the moodiness).

There are more rational options, of course. Moss, talent though he is, is an odd fit in the Patriots offense. His blocking is comical. He’s a meager threat on end-arounds, slip screens or slants. And when he does catch that five-yard slant, it’s typically for a six-yard gain.

Compounding this is Moss’s own self-image. He was a once-in-a-lifetime athlete with skills so immense that throwing to him in single coverage deep seemed a higher percentage play than to say to a wide-open Jake Reed underneath. How can you be that great and not feel self-entitled?

You’ve seen the NFL Films shots of him going up and down the Vikings sideline clamoring for the ball. He was that good, he wanted to win, he knew what he could do with the ball if he got it, and he wasn’t getting the ball. It had to be frustrating.

He was so good that one coach, Mike Tice, coined the term “The Randy Ratio” for that practice of trying to get the ball in Moss’s hands 60% of the time (the term “Telegraph Tice” was coined the same day).

Then there’s the double coverage. Even at 33, Moss draws more than his share of it. The conventional wisdom is if Moss is doubled, he’s done his job, whether the ball’s coming his way or not, and whether he keeps running mid-play or not.

But there’s only so much of this a player wants to deal with before wanting to touch the ball again, hence the maddening Brady attempts to Moss in double coverage or on fruitless bombs.

Finally, there’s the money. Playing out a contract year, with a 2011 lockout looming, there’s the possibility of not signing another deal until he’s 35. He’s understandably nervous*.

* The Globe’s Shalise Manza Young last week had an anonymous source claiming Belichick told Moss in the offseason that he wasn’t part of the Pats’ future plans, but then coming back during camp to talk contract. The source said Moss told Belichick he wanted to wait until after the season. If Moss didn’t want to negotiate a new deal, why would he complain post-Bengals game about not feeling wanted? It doesn’t make sense.

So no, Moss isn’t pregnant, but he’s still expecting. He expects to see the ball, he expects to get paid, and like he said after the week one victory, he’s expecting to be told he’s still wanted.

Moss’s time in New England was a godsend. It rejuvenated his career and legacy, and for a while his image. But for the 90% of Moss bad behavior rumors that aren’t true**, the 10% that are true*** have people believing they’re all true.

** Going toe-to-toe over personal grooming, Charlie Casserly? That was laughable on its face, especially considering Moss has had his own share of bad hair days.
*** Going toe-to-toe with Bill O’Brien sounds more plausible, but not enough reason to get traded. What makes more sense is the uncertainty of his contract, the chance to get something in return now, and the bizarre behavior following the Bengals game and at the offseason team event. Like Belichick said, “A combination of things.”

Moss said he wanted to stay in New England and he said he wanted a new contract. Now he’s got neither. New England was his best chance – unless the win-now Vikings win now – at a ring, plus everybody’s back to thinking he’s just a diva.

Meanwhile, Deion Branch’s own diva behavior is all but forgotten. He took a pay cut, he accepts his role, and he wishes he never left. All is forgiven.

Branch makes sense in New England, because he’s one of the interchangeables. That receiver screen could come to Welker with Branch and Tate blocking, or to Branch with Edelman and Welker blocking, or to Tate, or to Edelman, or to Woodhead, or to Hernandez, ad infinitum.

Their receivers now all play flanker, they all play slot, they all play split end. And the only expectation is that the open man gets the ball.

Brady talked to WEEI about the distinction between Moss and Branch:

“They’re entirely different receivers,” he said. “How should I say this? Deion’s a very smooth route-runner and his legs aren’t very long. A big receiver has a longer stride to get down field more, but he’s not as quick underneath. Deion has good speed, but he’s also a very smooth route-runner. We were able to find ways to get him open against some pretty tight coverage.”

The moment I thought this might just work came an hour after the game, listening to ESPN Radio recap the afternoon. On the Pats, Marcellus Wiley claimed, “The Ravens handed them the game.”

This was a familiar refrain. One of the hallmarks of the 2001-2004 Patriots was a baffled media and a defeated opponent locked in denial. To them, whatever way the Patriots won, it couldn’t possibly have been earned. So they fell back on the old standbys: the refs, alleged cheating, or the favored team simply having a bad day (memorialized by Kordell Stewart’s AFC Championship Game chestnut, “Sometimes the best team doesn’t win”).

These are moments to be savored. This is where we want the Patriots to be – flouting convention – and where we want the league to be in relation, always in disbelief at what just happened.

In 1995, Bill Parcells was trying to talk running back Leroy Thompson into staying on with the Pats. Thompson was fresh off a 65-catch season, and Parcells told him if he could accept a certain role – much like Dave Meggett had done with Parcells on the Giants – there was a place for him here. Thompson balked, envisioning himself as a feature back, and so signed with Kansas City. He was out of football in two years.

I imagine Belichick and Moss had a similar conversation; that Moss was told he would no longer be a focal point of the offense, but still was quite valuable. And I think, still wanting desperately to win and still thinking he was the best means to that end, Moss demurred.

It’s a shame it didn’t happen for Moss in New England. But then, the one thing he could never outrun was himself.

We Want Answers

By  Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff

Your guess is as good as mine.

The Patriots trading Randy Moss makes no sense, from the compensation (a measly third-rounder) to the timing (game five while tied for the AFC East lead) to the trading partner (October 31st opponent Minnesota). Vikings coach Brad Childress loves to tell the press all the times he thinks he outwitted Bill Belichick. Today, he’s right.

There’s got to be more to the story. There’s no way a team simply gives away* their top deep and red zone threat in the midst of a tight divisional race.

* While a third-round pick is nothing to be sniffed at, a 2011 pick does the Patriots no good in 2010 (and possibly no good in 2011, for that matter, given the looming lockout).

Throughout Moss’s time with the Patriots, he’s been the good soldier. We’ve never seen the petulance that famously followed him in Minnesota and Oakland. He had contempt for the press, but on Belichick’s Patriots, that’s a good thing.

So what happened? Do the Patriots think his skills have eroded? With fewer balls coming his way, has he become a locker room cancer? And as petty as it makes the organization sound, was Moss’s week one public admonishment of “not feeling wanted” a bridge too far?

We all have heard and get the old Branch Rickey quote, “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late,” but this really doesn’t apply, not for what they’re getting back. What’s a third-rounder to the New England Patriots? It’s a pick they’ve blown much more often than they’ve hit. And as much as the Patriots like to continually be future-facing, there’s only so much future for Tom Brady to still face.

There will some knee-jerk rationalizing to come, with terms like “bridge year” thrown out. There will be suggestions Belichick soberly looked at his squad and decided it ain’t happening this year. People will eventually say multiple picks in rounds 1-4 next year justifies the move.

I don’t buy it, because I don’t believe Belichick ever gives up on a season. There’s got to be something else.

Belichick will probably offer his usual platitudes, “We’re just trying to do what’s best for the organization … we saw good value in the deal … Randy’s been a tremendous player for the Patriots and we thank him and wish him well …” yada yada yada.

We’ve never asked for more explanation from Belichick, always taking him at his word whenever he stated his goal was to make the team better and win games.

Not this time. This time, the team got worse. We’d just like to know why.

Dan Shaughnessy Has a Sniffle

By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff

Christmas came early for the Shaughnessy clan. Randy Moss spoke.

“Damn, I hate football.”

Dan Shaughnessy loves material that writes itself. Hell, he’s written the same column for twenty years. You know the formula: take newsworthy item, add outdated cultural references and dumb nicknames, relate the item somehow back to the Red Sox, throw in a little Grey Poupon, and boom. That’s a column.

But Randy Moss on the podium, saying he doesn’t feel wanted? That’s beyond writing itself. That’s honey flowing from a microphone. Shaughnessy’s fingers barely touched the keyboard. He just called up the UsualSuspects.doc, changed a couple of the names and references, added the requisite exposition, and hit “send.”

“God bless Randy Moss,” Shaughnessy must have thought. “Otherwise, I’d have to write about the damn game.”

Shaughnessy, once described as “the bravest columnist in town” by his boss Joe Sullivan, is paid to add insight and context to events like these. Certainly, Moss saying he feels unwanted is a newsworthy event, and dictated somebody opining on it.

The problem is Shaughnessy has no insight or context to offer. That would require work, a subject on which Shaughnessy knows less than he does Moss.

Moss has long been an enigmatic figure, either naive or uncaring of how his words play in public. He’s been burned enough times by the press to build a healthy distrust, not unlike that of his coach. Most famously, there was the “I play when I want play” myth, in which a little added context reveals Moss was actually saying he doesn’t need added motivation from Denny Green or Cris Carter to get up for games. A key moment of that episode was when reporters asked Moss if he wanted to take the comment back.

“Hell, no,” Moss said. “That shit is what I said.” That’s the comment to key on, the one that separates Moss from the likes of Carter (who’s already making the media rounds today as the go-to “Moss Expert”) or Brett Favre, professional posturers eternally willing to dance to the tune the press plays.

Moss says what he means, without apology, filter or spin. Yesterday was the same. Moss said he felt unappreciated and not well-liked.

Moss is no doubt feeling the pressure of being in the last year of his contract, with players around him signing new megadeals, in an uncertain labor environment that could see him not negotiating a new contract until he’s 35.

But he also said he loves it New England, wants to stay and is going to work his ass off this season, new contract or not.

Shaughnessy’s take from it? “Classic meltdown.”

You likely missed it, but Shaughnessy wrote something profound on Friday. It was buried deep in another sleepy stab of a column, four paragraphs from the end, where few of his readers still venture.

Shaughnessy referenced Gay Talese’s 1966 Esquire article on Frank Sinatra, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Talese couldn’t score an interview with Sinatra, yet still crafted an insightful profile of the man by talking to the principals in Sinatra’s periphery. It was a groundbreaking piece of writing, ushering in a new era of journalism.

So this was interesting. Dan Shaughnessy talking about a reporter taking initiative. Praising a writer making something out of nothing. Dan Shaughnessy?

Where would he go with this, and how would he relate it back to Tom Brady’s cult of personality, ostensibly the column topic? Would there be the likely comparison to the Foxboro throng striving for something of value from similarly reticent public figures like Moss or Bill Belichick? Or maybe this was a crack in the Shaughnessy veneer, candidly identifying the journalist he wished he could have become?

Nope. Shaughnessy’s next paragraph:

Now we have Sept. 9, 2010, featuring “Brady Involved in Car Crash,’’ followed by “Brady Agrees to Four-Year Pact.’’

Shaughnessy inadvertently hits upon a cultural reference that’s actually relevant to him and his brethren, and he punts it. He couldn’t care less about the message of Talese’s enterprising efforts. He just wanted to riff on the iconic headline.

“I think most journalists are pretty lazy,” Talese said in a 2007 interview. “A little lazy and also they’re spoon-fed information.” Talese was referencing the run-up to the Iraq War, but Shaughnessy’s work ethic applies.

If you want some insight on Randy Moss, check out this City Pages piece from 2002, about the same time Shaughnessy was writing today’s column, but about Manny Ramirez. There will probably come a day when he forgets to replace an instance of “Manny” with “Randy”, or going forward, replacing “Randy” with the name of his next target for derision.

The likelihood is there will be no work repercussions for Moss. He’s true to his word, and so that means another memorable season on the field. He may even get the extension he wants. And the last thing Belichick cares about is what a player says to reporters, especially ones who had their pieces written long before Moss opened his mouth.

Shaughnessy’s not the only lazy one. This piece was queued up over the weekend, waiting for something to tie it together. Then Moss spoke, and it was only a matter of waiting for Shaughnessy’s inevitable reaction.

Basically wrote itself.

Blue Keister Colt

By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff

Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian has had a rough week, enduring a good butt-whipping from the Indy press and fanbase alike for the team’s decision last week to not pursue a perfect season. But in light of his recent interview with NFL Network, we’ve concluded Polian isn’t necessarily wrong, just misunderstood. In fact, I think you’ll agree Bill is our kind of guy.

See, while everybody else in the league was out there trying to reach the Super Bowl, Bill was casting his eye toward history:

“16-0 we did not feel was an historic achievement. What was important to us, and what we tried very hard to do on a short week against Jacksonville after we had wrapped up the home-field advantage was to set two records. One, for the most consecutive regular-season games won. We were tied with New England prior to that, and we now hold that record ourselves. And secondly, for the most games won in this decade. And I don’t believe that anybody can catch us now, no matter what happens this week. We felt those were both extremely historical milestones that were worth going out there and risking everything for. Having achieved those two… we felt prudence should dictate what we did from there on in.”

16-0? 16-0 has already been done you dumb hayseeds, Polian was telling Indy’s fanbase (oddly, 19-0 never came up in the interview). But most wins in a decade and a 23-game regular season win streak (and pay no attention to that mid-streak playoff loss to the 8-8 Chargers behind the curtain)? Now, those are records of distinction.

Not a day goes by in which I don’t think back in awe upon the teams that won the most regular season games in the 70s, 80s and 90s, whoever they were. The ’72 Dolphins, on the other hand? I can’t even remember the year they went undefeated.

“At least the ’07 Patriots had the guts to go for it,” argued Tedy Bruschi. “It is historic to go 16-0, because that means you have a chance to go 19-0. You only can go 19-0 if you go 16-0 first and 19-0 trumps every single team record ever.”

But Bruschi misses the genius of a Bill Polian. This a man with an eye for the esoteric: iron man streaks, number of days without an injury on the assembly line, number of Jets assistants roughed up in stadium tunnels, most days in first place. Somebody has to care about these things, and for that we’ve got Bill.

“Take care of the little things,” Joe Paterno famously preached, “And the big things will take care of themselves.” I think Bill Polian lives by this credo. For all we know, he may still be expecting 19-0 to work itself out now that he’s worked out the finer details.

And oh, those finer details! Like the record number of one-and-done playoff appearances by a team with 12 or more wins (3, and could have been 4 had the ’02 10-6 Colts paid more mind to the little things). Or the fewest Super Bowls won by the team with a decade’s most wins (1, a mark likely never to be broken). Or the most head coach/Jesus comparisons in the media (154 and counting). Unfortunately for Tony Dungy, the record one-and-dones robbed him of the more illustrious Most Pro Bowls Coached mark (5) still held by Tom Landry and John Madden.

I think the Pats should work out a little gentleman’s agreement with Mr. Polian for the coming decade. Sort of a win-win proposition: The Colts can again have the most wins in the decade, and as many regular season winning streaks as they please, accommodating Polian’s taste for the trivial; and the Pats get the Super Bowls.

Just like the deal they had this decade.

No Sin So Long As You Win

There’s this new game I like to play. I call it, “Imagine if Bill Belichick had done that.

After three straight losses, Mike Tomlin told the media the Steelers were going to “unleash hell” in December. Then they lost to Oakland and Cleveland. Imagine if Belichick had done that.

You get the idea.

Tomlin’s decision Sunday to try an onside kick with four minutes left while holding a two-point lead over the Packers has been called into question by the media, but with nowhere near the fervor of Belichick’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-two in the waning minutes against the Colts a month ago.

In both instances, a respected head coach made a decision contrary to the conventions of the league. In both instances, the decisions failed. And in both instances, the stats geeks later backed the coaches up, saying the numbers supported the choices. The only distinctions? Tomlin won, and Tomlin’s not named Bill Belichick.

Mike Reiss, probably at great risk to his ESPN cred, highlighted the disparity in media outrage to the two calls.

“What became clear this week,” Reiss wrote, “is that the furor surrounding ‘fourth-and-2′ went way beyond that.”

Both Belichick’s and Tomlin’s decisions can be defended, though. The one that made no sense at all was Titans coach Jeff Fisher’s decision late in the game against Miami on Sunday.

The score was tied with 56 seconds left, and Titans punter Brett Kern had just laid down a punt at the Dolphins’ two. Fisher had all three timeouts left, but used none, letting the Dolphins run out the clock. Had he used the three TOs and prevented a Miami first down, Miami’s punting from the end zone with thirty-something seconds left, with possibly the punt return alone putting Tennessee in field goal range.

Instead, they go into overtime, and Miami wins the coin toss. Fortunately for Fisher, a Chad Henne interception saved his skin, and the Titans won on a Rob Bironas field goal.

Fisher’s rationale: ““Our defense had been on the field for two consecutive drives and didn’t stop them. We had a chance to end the game in regulation offensively. At that point, I was not going to take a chance and force his hand and let him take an opportunity to throw the ball down the field.”

Except that once they lost the toss in OT, they were putting their defense in a worse situation, and even more at risk of the Dolphins throwing downfield, with all of overtime and their full allotment of timeouts at their disposal. Fisher had nothing to lose and everything to gain in using his timeouts at the end of regulation. Imagine if Belichick had done that.

It’s the old axiom: when you win, all sins are forgotten.

Of course, there’s another consideration. While these coaches are flouting convention on the field, they’re loathe to do so in the press room. Unlike Belichick, they dutifully cater to the media, knowing where their bread is buttered.

As Reiss noted in his article, Tomlin spoke at length on his decision.

“Plan A didn’t work, but it kind of unfolded the way you envisioned it,” Tomlin said. “We had 30 minutes of evidence that we could drive the ball on them. We also conversely had 30 minutes of evidence to show they could also drive the ball on us. That’s why we took the risk when we did.”

Imagine if Belichick had done that.

I Context When I Want To Context

by Dan Snapp
[email protected]

Original publish date  – August 2nd, 2007

(In light of the resurgence of regurgitation by many in the media of this Randy Moss quote following Sunday’s game against Carolina, we’ve decided to bump this article up from the archives.)

The Globe’s Mike Reiss today repeated the celebrated Randy Moss quote “I play when I want to play” in his rundown on the Patriots receiving competition through the first dozen or so practice sessions. But was it in the right context?

Moss’s remarks were in response to a question about who motivates him to play. Here’s PFW on it:

Minnesota WR Cris Carter on teammate Randy Moss’ remarks that he only plays “when I want to play”: “Some of it, did he mean it? Yes. But some of it did get misconstrued? It was not taken totally out of context, but some of it was asked in the sense of: ‘Does Coach Green get you motivated? Do you like playing on Monday Night Football? Do you like playing the Packers? Does Cris have to get on you to make a play?’ And he said, ‘No, I play when I want to play.'”

This fantastic CityPages article also talks about the incident with proper context:

Most notably, there was the flap over his “I play when I want to play” remark. Ripped from the original context (it came in response to a question of how Moss motivates himself to perform), the wide receiver’s off-the-cuff but fundamentally innocuous answer left talking heads sputtering and howling. They said Moss disgraced the game by failing to give the proverbial 110 percent on every down of every game–even though many other receivers do the same, and the legendary Jerry Rice has admitted he does.

Later in the same piece, it describes how a week later, Moss wasn’t backing down from his original statement:

Last year, a week after the initial furor over the “I play when I want to play” remark, Moss was asked about the quote in a conference call with reporters. Did he want to take it back? Or clarify what he meant? His response: “Hell, no. That shit is what I said.” A second public outcry ensued. But a man from Rand stands by his words. You say what you mean, you mean what you say. It is an anti-image ethic. Whatever else he is, Moss is the antithesis of extremely image-conscious athletes such as his old teammate Cris Carter or, more notably, that most beloved of Minnesota sports icons, Kirby Puckett.

Predictably, Peter King shot first, screw asking questions, later or anytime:

b. You had your chance, Randy Moss, in your interview with Andrea Kremer on ESPN to say you screwed up last year with your I-play-when-I-want-to-play statement. Instead, you said: “It got blown out of context.” Oh. You get the richest contract in NFL history for a wide receiver. You take a chunk of plays in every game off. And you can’t understand why everyone’s so up in arms when you say you play when you damn well feel like it. “When I said that, it might have come out the wrong way,” you told Kremer. Might have? Get a clue, fella.

Why was the onus on Moss to clear things up when the reporters were the ones continually getting the story wrong?

The original quote came from a Nov. 23, 2001 column by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Sid Hartman. Here’s another rundown from scout.com:

Moss was quoted in a Nov. 23 column by Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Sid Hartman as saying, “I play when I want to play. Do I play up to my top performance, my ability every time? Maybe not. I just keep doing what I do and that is playing football. When I make my mind up, I am going out there to tear somebody’s head off. When I go out there and play football, man it’s not anybody telling me to play or how I should play. I play when I want to play.”

Michael Silver of Sports Illustrated had a good article on Moss in 2002.

Moss puts one foot on the bench in front of his locker and stares at me. “O.K.,” he says, “shoot.”

I come with this convoluted question-and-a-half: You’re a guy who has said and done a lot of controversial things, and people have formed some strong opinions. Are they getting the right impression of you, and if they aren’t, does that bother you?

“HAY-ell no,” Moss booms in his West Virginia twang. “Why should I worry about what people think? I’ve got everything I need — everything I’ll ever need. It’s not my fault that people don’t know me. Look, I’m going to speak my mind, no matter what the consequences are. The things I do speak might come out different in terms of language, but when I say something, I speak my mind.” The interview lasts a half hour.

We’re not picking on Reiss here by any means. There are few better than Mike. And we’re not suggesting by any means that Moss has simply been a misunderstood choir boy. But would it be fair to say this celebrated quote is rarely put in its proper context?

HAY-ell yes.

Beholden to None

By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff

The best take I heard on Bill Belichick’s now-legendary fourth down call:

You’re Jim Caldwell. In a rare league occurrence (and one Bill Polian’s having the Competition Committee consider for next year), you get to make the Patriots’ decision on fourth-and-two. So your choices are have them punt the ball, with a 100 percent chance of getting the ball back; or have them go for it, with more toward a 50-50 chance. What’s it gonna be, Jim?

By now you’ve witnessed the ocean of opinions flow in about the call. If nothing else, Belichick’s gambit has galvanized the airwaves. The reactions ran the full gamut: some hated it; some loved it; some gleefully added a new “B” entry to their “Boston Misery” Rolodex, to be revisited many, many, many times.

And now as we stretch past two full days of review, in hindsight we discover not only was it a ballsy call, but likely the higher percentage call as well.
bill-belichick
As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. Consider all the factors going into the decision: the percentages for and against; the fact the tired Patriots defense had given up not one but two 79-yard, two-minute scoring drives that quarter; the concept of giving Peyton Manning 70 yards to go, with two full minutes and a timeout, and four full downs to get first downs; the fact Manning had also thrown up two wounded duck interceptions that half; and the knowledge that your offense has chalked up 470 yards already on this defense.

We’ve had two days to absorb all this information, plus the benefit of the outcome of the play, to then come to the conclusion that at worst, it was a 50-50 call. Belichick had a minute to decide. He made the call decisively, and stood by it afterward.

This isn’t a Belichick-can-do-no-wrong missive. He did plenty wrong: the conservative play-calling late in the game when they could have delivered the knockout blow; the inexcusable waste of their last two timeouts, when the pivotal play of the game would occur outside of the two-minute warning; the uncharacteristically poor clock management; and most damningly, the failure to call a running play on third down when (as Belichick said later) he already knew he’d go for it on fourth down. Running the ball either gets it down to the two-minute warning or forces Indy to use their last timeout; Instead, they pass AND call a timeout themselves. Shameful.

A slew of coaches, both pro and college, have now come forth in support of the decision. They didn’t talk about any of the manufactured storylines (“What does it say to your defense?” “Manning’s now in Belichick’s head,” “This is just Belichick thinking he’s smarter than everybody else.”). They just looked at it as a play to try to win the game.

What struck me, though, was something Tony Dungy said in the postgame show. “You gotta punt,” he said. “You gotta play the percentages.” Just like that. No consideration of the alternative. A coach as long-tenured and successful as Dungy, and the “safe play” was the way to go. I’d have thought in all the years he’s coached, he’d have seen such an instance and have a pretty good sense of the pros and cons and percentages.

Nope. He gives the same answer as the first-year coach whose first order of business is trying not to get fired: Play it safe. You may still lose, but at least you played it safe.

Now neither Dungy nor any of us knew at the time that Belichick’s percentages were actually pretty decent, and the “safe play” may not have been any safer than going for it, but that’s not the point.

Everyone has accepted as a given that only Belichick would attempt such a thing, and upon attempting it, the only one to get away with such a thing. Were he still coaching, Dungy could get away with it, but he already acknowledged he’d never try it in the first place. Other coaches in the league are either so new, or in such precarious situations, they don’t have the clout to do it, even if they wanted to.

Belichick just did them a favor. The precedent’s set, with statistical backup, and they’re free to make the same call without fear of reprisal.

Even if Belichick knew the odds in his favor, he still had to know it was a controversial decision. He had to know if it didn’t work, he’d be crucified. Everyone who wanted their pound of flesh from him, for whatever multitude of sins they thought he committed (Spygate, Handshakegate, Runningupthescoregate, Whydontyoureturnmycalls?gate), would be coming to collect. He made the call anyway.

And therein lies the beauty of Bill Belichick: he doesn’t give a damn what anybody thinks of him.

Michael Silver described the call as a “setup for ego-driven gratification.” Peter King said it “smacked of I’m-smarter-than-they-are hubris.” “Too smart for his own good,” wrote Dan Shaughnessy, “The sins of hubris.” Michael Wilbon called it “The most arrogant end-of-game decision I’ve ever seen in 40-plus years of watching pro football.” And Shaughnessy asked yesterday, “Why is it so terrible to say that this was a mistake?”

Self-gratifying. Proud. Arrogant. Obstinate.

These guys don’t have a clue. They can’t understand why he won’t do what they expect him to do. They don’t get why he won’t admit to a mistake he doesn’t think he made. Even after the numbers back him up, they still want him to admit it was wrong (“I’m not saying the mathematical theory is wrong; it’s not,” King wrote yesterday. “I just think there’s a certain amount of playing by feel.”).

And they don’t get that neither pride nor arrogance – assuming Belichick possesses both in spades – have any bearing on how he calls a football game. Since he arrived in Foxboro 10 years ago, on the field he’s displayed nothing but a singular focus toward winning. He never let any distractions – Terry Glenn, Drew Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy, et al – get in the way of the team’s focus on winning the next game. Often, those decisions came at the expense of his own personal reputation. So be it so long as we’re winning – that seemed to be the credo.

Bill Belichick is beholden to none, and that’s a powerful thing. Sure, he answers to Robert Kraft, but Kraft’s lone directive to Belichick is “Win.” That’s like commanding sharks to eat.

Belichick’s responsibility to the players is to put them in the best position to make plays. He doesn’t owe apologies, any more than he’d expect one from a player. Listen to the interviews when they lose. To a man, it’s typically, “Coach expects us to execute the play, and we just didn’t do that.” When’s the last time you’ve heard a Patriots player not repeat the “What’s best for the team” mantra?

Belichick’s responsibility to the fans and the media? Nothing, save for the press conferences and interviews to which all head coaches are bound. He doesn’t owe us explanations. He doesn’t owe us reasoning into every minute detail of team operations. He’s trying to provide us wins, and that trumps every other consideration.

He’s not going to spout off with some pretense of bravado like Rex Ryan, or strut like some popinjay like Jack Del Rio, or play favorites like Brad Childress.

None of these coaches would forgo their reputation like Belichick routinely does. None would risk the wrath of the media, whom they so desperately court. Winning is still important to them, but none are willing to make the same sacrifices.

Michael Silver talks of ego. Ego? Belichick is the most reviled man in the league. If he really wanted to stroke his ego, he’s had countless opportunities to play the game they want him to play. To explain himself, to apologize, to become beholden to them and to us. Belichick won’t do it.

The team’s got some problems. They can’t run when they need to, nor rush the passer when needed. Either may prove a fatal flaw. Still, they had the Super Bowl favorite on the ropes for 56 minutes. Just because they didn’t win doesn’t mean they’re not good enough to do so.

The fact they’ve got a coach willing to make the tough call, who’s decisive in doing so, and unwavering in the backlash after it fails – well, that’s only an asset to the cause.

Spawn of Dumb Girl

by Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff
September 27, 2009

Two years ago, I wrote a piece saying Pats fans were entitled to root for the team in whatever manner they pleased. In hindsight, I was high.

Some people are just too stupid to be football fans. They should switch to one of those games in which the outcome is never in doubt, like wrestling or politics.

The Patriots entered Sunday at 1-1, an element which – in concert with a New Moon and Jupiter in retrograde – apparently signals the onset of The End Times. That is, if the fans are to be believed.

Mike Reiss has long had to deal with the unhinged in his weekly Globe mailbags or in responses to blog posts, but now these people seem to be everywhere.

Callers to WEEI suggested rookie receiver Julian Edelman needs snaps at quarterback, that the departed Jabar Gaffney is the x-factor the team’s missing (guess his gaffes have been forgiven), and that it’s all over anyway so the Pats should trade as many players as possible now for draft picks. One pointed out “Brady has lost two of his last three games,” and who can argue when facts are brought into the mix?

Which reminds me, two of the three major cogs of “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” are dead; is Doc Severinsen next?

On the Globe, it was a wall of stupid. Tom Brady’s to blame, to be certain, but what caused the precipitous drop in his play?

“It’s so obvious, Tom’s top priority is not football anymore,” said one commenter. Another tells Brady, “You are not playing well because you’re walking around like a zombie instead of being a motivational quarterback.” Others point to Giselle, because it’s well known that supermodels weaken knees with a force mere mortal Moynihans just can’t summon.

The fans in Tom’s court instead pointed to play-calling. “The Pats have no offensive coordinator this year. This is a big problem.” But would that really help? As “Eric” pointed out, “The offensive coordinator is gutless,” which makes sense, because a non-existent OC would logically possess non-existent guts.

The Pats this week traded for a backup linebacker, Prescott Burgess, which offers new grim portents.

“I guess that means Mayo is out for the year,” was one conclusion. “Who? What? Isn’t Derrick Brooks sitting at home?” said another, among many who count name recognition as a clear sign of ability. Others keyed off on the Burgess name, including one strange chain of references leading to the revelation that Candice Bergen played the Penguin on the old Batman series. Don’t ask me how.

Comments Topple Two
In a not-so-rare occasion of form meeting malfunction, the Boston Globe held a live chat during the game last Sunday. Chad Finn and Chris Forsberg gamely moderated the affair, which promptly surrendered reason as the game devolved.

Among the highlights:

“good call on dumping Seymore.”
“thought this offense was suppose to be better then 07”
“Is it me or is Moss barely breaking a sweat in this game?”
“NE has no hope. Giselle has done Brady in. He no longer has any motivation”
“toms terriFIED”

Lo and behold, there’s no chat scheduled today.

Lose today to Atlanta, and they’re gonna need sentries along the Tobin to dissuade potential plungers. Or with a nod to Darwin, they could direct them to the launch points that offer the best return on investment.

So who are these people, and why are they so breathtakingly stupid? I’ve got a theory.

My freshman year, finding a good place to watch the Patriots proved an obstacle. With the Pats fresh off their Super Bowl appearance with the Bears, the dorm lounges were crowded. Add to the mix a bi-polar resident, an ape who toppled furniture every time Irving Fryar fumbled a punt. Given Fryar’s flair for flub, no sofa was safe.

Fortunately, I got an invite from a friend in an all-girls dorm. A few present were into the game, while others watched because they thought Tony Eason was cute (“Take your helmet off, Tony!!”). The commentary was killing me.

“Why are they giving the ball back? Didn’t they just get it?”
“They got a touchdown on that play. Why don’t they just do that play every time?”
“Why does he give him the ball between his legs? Couldn’t he just hand it to him?”

Temptation beckoned this way for the better part of a half, but I held strong. Finally, I could hold it in no longer. One girl asked, “Why do they fall down after going two yards?” I laughed, and that was the end.

“You make us feel stupid,” they explained as they threw me out.

I’ve always wondered what happened to those girls, but now, mystery solved. They’re right there, plain as day, in the comments section for the Globe and Herald, chatting with Bill Simmons (Yup, these are his readers), or calling in to WEEI; Dumb, dumb girls, pining desperately for Tony Eason to remove his helmet.

We need to lay down some rules for membership. Not unlike the character in “Diner” who made his fiancé take a Baltimore Colts quiz before agreeing to marry her, we need to know we’re dealing with some modicum of understanding of the game

So here are a few basics:

  1. On occasion, your team will lose.
  2. On occasion, your team will call run plays. Use the down time as an opportunity to wonder what is wrong with Brady.
  3. It’s a business. Management and the players already get this. Best you do, too. Craziest thing, some other things you enjoy come from businesses as well! Doritos – made by a business. Guitar Hero – made by a business. Breast implants – made by a business. Sports radio – made by a business.
  4. “Two Words” is not an argument. “Duane Starks” is something Michael Felger teaches his parrot. Don’t be a parrot, unless you’re crapping on the Globe.
  5. The player you know isn’t necessarily better than the one you don’t. Four words: “Drew Bledsoe Tom Brady”
  6. Second-and-six is an acceptable first-down outcome.
  7. Choose: more experience or more youth? “Experience” and “youth” are opposites, like “Jets fan” and “no priors” or “Charlie Casserly” and “employed as a GM.”
  8. You can’t call a game better than the offensive coordinator, even a non-existent one. So put down the pipe, Mouse; the run-and-shoot is dead-and-buried.
  9. The refs will make crappy calls against your team. Crappy ones for your team, too. Get back at them by refusing to spot Hochuli at the gym.
  10. There’s a reason a guy is fourth string. Despite the omen of having in the middle of his name the name of the guy Simmons thought drowned in Lake Pontchartrain, BenJarvis Green-Ellis isn’t the answer at tailback.
  11. Supermodels have no bearing on an NFL game’s outcome. Pitchy country singers, on the other hand…
  12. You can’t trash a guy when he’s on the team, then yearn for his return when he’s gone. Nor can you yearn for a guy on another team, then trash him on yours when he’s only been here a month.
  13. Two games do not equal a season. Pace yourself. You’ve got at least 14 more to which you can overreact.
  14. If a player isn’t living up to your expectations, there’s a small chance he’s living up to the Patriots’ expectations.
  15. Just because a guy was a good contributor here 5, 10, or 15 years ago does not mean he:
    a. wants to come back here and be a position coach;
    b. is in any way qualified to do so;
    c. should have his number retired.
  16. When someone says Belichick is withholding information, ask yourself, “Is he censoring what channel the game is on, or how to get to Foxboro?” No? Then you have all the information you need to be a fan.
  17. People doing pre-game shows aren’t good enough to run a team (see Casserly, Charlie).
  18. Let the dynasty die. Jerod Mayo was a red shirt freshman the last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl. Let him, and his teammates, create their own legacy.

I’d suggest these fans need some sort of football 101 refresher, but if they haven’t learned a blessed thing after a decade of Belichick, what hope have they got? A decade of the best football any of us have seen in our lifetimes, and this is the best they can do?

Colleague Scott Benson put it best this week: “The enduring thanks of a grateful fanbase. I feel like we should warn the Steelers or something.”