The Patriots were losing 14-10 to the Steelers. It was the fourth quarter and the Pats offense was within striking distance of pulling ahead or at the very least, knocking Pittsburgh’s lead down to one. A penalty (one of roughly 548 they earned during the game) knocked them back beyond the twenty, making it a long something or other and goal. But it was only second down and like I said, worse case scenario is they kick a field goal; making it 14-13. I was in the kitchen, watching the game while doing dishes. In the other room, my wife was reading a story to our three year old daughter.
Brady dropped back, the Steelers were on him. He chucked it up, up, up and into the hands of a dude in black.
Sports frustration is a nasty beast and in turn, can cause a real nasty reaction. But I’m a parent now so my reaction was edited for a younger audience. It was still a loud reaction though; a reaction lit by frustration and exasperation. As a sign of personal growth, I thought about throwing the remote as opposed to actually doing it and thought about punching a wall as opposed to actually doing it. I’m mature now thank you very much. Instead I just kept repeating dude, really for a handful of times. But no swearing though. No curse words being used felt like the only victory that would be felt in Mudville on a rainy Sunday night.
Hearing me upset, my daughter rushed in, wanting to see if I was okay. She’s adorable. Her review of the new Grinch movie: “I didn’t like the Grinch, but then I did.” At halftime we made a gingerbread house. Because we built the gingerbread house in New Jersey, it’s nice, but the property taxes are astronomical.
I told her the Patriots made a dumb play. She asked why. I said because they aren’t playing smart. She asked why. I said I didn’t know anymore. She asked why (yes, again, it’s her thing now.) I again said that I didn’t know anymore. Then she asked if I wanted to read a story with her and mommy, which of course I did. We went into the other room, she climbed into the basket of clean clothes and we read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I didn’t watch anymore of the game. I checked a couple times on my phone, saw that the Pats held the Steelers to a field goal, saw that the Patriots had the ball back with a little over two minutes left and then saw that there wasn’t a Brady comeback in the cards this time. The Pats had lost to the Steelers 17-10 and inside I felt empty.
Nope. That’s not true. Inside I felt an overstuffed burrito of emotions that seemed to producing the same reaction all overstuffed burritos cause – pooping, brah. I was annoyed. I was frustrated. I was sad. I was annoyed some more. I was trying to rationalize. I was trying to stay positive. I was a lot of things all at once and very little of it was good. These feelings stuck with me through two Daniel Tiger books, finishing the dishes, taking the trash out, watching Saturday Night Live and really appreciating that Weezer sketch. These feelings did take a few minutes off while I finished Momentum Generation because that doc is excellent and I will 100% watch it again, but as soon as it was over, the feelings returned. You can guess if I woke up with it by this point so I won’t continue.
Such has been the case in 2018 as a fan of the Patriots. It has not been fun. And I’m not even counting the Super Bowl because 2018 has felt like the longest year ever and that happened way back in February; might as well be ten years ago. The summer was a mess because of Gronk drama and Brady drama and then Edelman got pinched for steroids. The preseason was besieged with injuries and by the time the season rolled around, there wasn’t much of a sense of relief to be found. It felt like it was time to go to work and not necessarily at a job you liked. The first quarter of the season was rough business and amidst the circling vultures, Pats’ fans were left to turn to rationalizing and deep breathing exercises and finding cold comfort in a series of yeah, buts.
But then things started to turn a little bit. Edelman returned and the Josh Gordon signing started to pay off. The Pats beat the Chiefs 43-40 in week six, a game that was preceded by two weeks in a row scoring 38 points and followed up by another 38 point performance. They beat the Colts, the Bears and the Packers and while the ground beneath the feet of the team and it’s fans was shaky and prone to sudden movements, things started to seem okay again. A week 10 loss to the Titans was a step back, but could also be dismissed as ex-Pats exercising demons and vendettas. The team rebounded with solid wins over the Jets and Vikings.
And then this happened.
If the tea leaves had been hinting that something was wrong with this year’s team, then at this point, alerts were now flashing all over billboards throughout the snow-covered plains of Patriot Town. On the one hand, any Patriot fan could tell you that weird shit happens to the Pats in Miami. This was probably just the weirdest of weird shit to happen. Congratulations. But a lot of the reaction to that game’s ending was based on the argument that perhaps the most surprising thing was that it was the Patriots it happened to and it was very un-Patriot like.
And while that could be true and the whole thing did feel very un-Patriot like, so has this entire season. This would then lead you to believe that perhaps the idea of this particular team being the Patriots of old in any way is flawed. They aren’t. I think people can get fooled into thinking that everything is largely the same for the team because the coach is the same and the quarterback is the same and the uniforms are the same but for the most part, the players aren’t. Even the ones that have been around for a while aren’t the same anymore (i.e. Gronk, Edelman, McCourty, Hightower.) Throughout this Brady/Belichick run, there have been eras. There was the initial era, one anchored by the defense, and then there was the one after, the big-time offense era with Randy Moss and Wes Welker. After that ended, there were a few weird, nondescript years that despite including a Super Bowl appearance were mostly forgettable, and before the most recent era began, there was the one that resulted in three Super Bowl appearances. Given the ages of Brady and Belichick, I think the general feeling was that that era would continue until one of them retired. However, it seems like that is not the case. It seems like a new era has started and it’s an era that bears a closer resemblance to those middling few years (2011 – 2013) than anything else.
This idea of it being a new era for the Patriots is the only way to make sense of this season, a season in which they have been inconsistent, undisciplined and sloppy and bush league on the road. They have shown flashes of the previous era, most notably during that stretch between weeks five and nine, but flashes don’t translate to carry over. They are just memories, not traits. Memories don’t win games, as was shown yesterday in Pittsburgh. The 2018 Patriots lost that game because it’s what the 2018 Patriots do. The 2017 Pats won a similar game because they were the 2017 team. Things change and it’s time for everyone to accept that, me included.
I was frustrated yesterday because I think in some way, I was coming to terms with this changing of the guard. I was caught in between placing hope in the achievements of the past and recognizing the reality of the present.
The present for the Patriots is a 41 year old quarterback who is unfortunately a shell of himself and a cautionary tale that if you made yourself who you are by building a whole life around football, taking a break from that will have consequences. Especially if you do it when you might need it the most.
The present for the Patriots is an offense without an identity.
The present for the Patriots is a Gronk who isn’t what he once was, but can occasionally dip into the reserves when needed.
The present for the Patriots is a defense that isn’t terrible, but is definitely terrible against the run.
The present for the Patriots are storm clouds gathering over the offseason, with Gronk likely to be on his way out of town and the same going for other members of the team. This could even Brady’s last ride with the team, as improbable as that sounds.
With the future looking so dire and the present so maddening, it’s tough sledding for Patriots’ fans. And what do you do now? The team is 9-5 with games against the Jets and Bills left. Presumably that would have them wrapping things at 11-5. They are currently in the third seed, meaning that they would be hosting an opening round playoff game for the first time since 2009. For that to change, they need to win out and hope the Texans and/or Chiefs stumble.
This is where things get tricky. With a good win next week against the Bills, the conversation could change and hope could be restored, no matter how foolish that may be. A resounding win the following week against the Jets and all bets are off. Again, those memories posing problems for the present. We are conditioned to never count the Patriots out, to never bet against them or consider them dead and done for. Any time you doubt the Pats, they make you regret it. But do the traits of old still apply when the old is just that – old?
If you were to look at the different eras within the Brady/Belichick era as siblings, at some point, the youngest sibling wants to start creating their own identity and no longer be known as the youngest and one that is “just like” their older siblings. This new era is just starting to stretch out it’s legs, develop tastes and preferences, staying out late and experimenting with drugs. It’s becoming it’s own era and for better or worse, we should just accept it.
Even if you don’t want too.
And for what it’s worth, the new Grinch movie is fine and the gingerbread house looks delicious.