And the Winner Is …

My plan is to co-write a book titled The Last Night of the Patriots Dynasty with Mike Hurley some day. On the cover I hope to have Jay Alford trying to actually end Tom Brady’s life from the final seconds of Super Bowl XLII, the way Mariano Rivera is standing hopelessly on the mound at Yankee Stadium on the cover of Buster Olney’s book. The problem is that the way the Patriots franchise is going I’m going to have to keep re-releasing the book in different versions every year with new material since it never seems to end with the Patriots.

New Englanders like to think the Patriots are the Yankees. And from 2001 on, they have been (unless the Steelers find a way to win this year), but now they have finally completed their transformation into what the Yankees were from 2001-2008 and what Mike Lupica likes to call “The Greatest Regular Season Show on Earth.”

On Friday, I talked about how I wanted to see “the look” on the faces of Patriots fans on Sunday night after a New England loss. And on Sunday night when I walked down Washington Street in Hoboken to get pizza after the game and “J-E-T-S!” chants were breaking out all around me as if Fireman Ed was leading a parade, I began to think back to February 4, 2008, the day after Super Bowl XLII, when I woke up and walked down Hanover Street in the North End in Boston and it looked like the opening scene from I Am Legend. There was no one to be found and if you did find someone they looked like their whole life had been devastated. It was a great feeling.

Obviously the feeling from the last few days isn’t nearly the same as three years ago since I’m not a Jets fan and this wasn’t the Super Bowl. It’s nowhere near the level of happiness that I experienced after Super Bowl XLII. It’s more like the relief I felt when the Rays beat the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. I still despise the Jets (aside from Sunday when I joined Gang Green for a day), but I didn’t hesitate to start sending text messages to Boston friends that sent me text messages after the Rangers finished off the Yankees in the ALCS when they didn’t have a horse in that race. There are still a few people that haven’t responded, and it’s now Wednesday, so I’m actually worried for their well being after that embarrassment.

I watched Super Bowl XLII with my current roommate, Redz (also a Giants fan), and I watched Sunday’s game with him as well – both games the Patriots couldn’t possibly lose. And after the game on Sunday, I asked him “Would you rather be here right now where everyone is in a good mood since the Jets won and Boston lost, or would you rather be in Boston to see that “look” again on the faces of everyone who predicted another Super Bowl because Bill Belichick and Tom Brady can’t lose?” We both agreed. We wished we were in Boston.

The Jets’ win wasn’t exactly Team USA beating the Soviet Union in 1980, but the Jets are faced with the same situation Team USA was. Team USA was built to win the gold medal, but the team they were built to beat they ended up playing in the semis. And after they beat the Russians, it was almost as if they had already won the gold, but they still had to play Finland and not have a letdown that would make the win over the Soviets a lot less meaningful. The Yankees were in the same spot following the 2003 ALCS and they had a letdown against the Marlins in the World Series and it took away from how significant Aaron Boone’s home run was. Beating the Steelers on the road for the second time will be hard enough. Beating them after upsetting the Patriots will be even harder.

Now that the Patriots are home for good and the Jets have advanced, I find myself in another predicament in that I’m running out of teams to hope win the Super Bowl. Most of the teams I didn’t want to see win the Super Bowl are gone. The Eagles are gone. The Patriots are gone. The Ravens are gone. The Saints are gone. But the Jets, Steelers and Packers are still alive and well. The Bears are my only option left and I don’t know if they’re the answer. I feel like a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and I’m running out of lifelines, and I’m running out of options.

Jets-Steelers is another matchup that has a lot of potentially awful repercussions. The Jets could win and send the city into a green-and-white frenzy. Or Ben Roethlisberger, the role model he is, could win for the third time in six years. And on the other side, Joe Buck’s Packers and Aaron Rodgers are still in it. That leaves me with only one option … become a Jay Cutler fan and hope Soldier Field can propel the Bears into the Super Bowl and then hope they get lucky in Dallas. I don’t think I can trick my brain into believing in Jay Cutler for a second let alone an entire game on Sunday and then again on Super Sunday.

I still have a few days to sort out the pros and cons of what’s left of the NFL playoffs and the teams still playing and who I want to win, but for now, it’s time to look back on a win that solidified the Jets and a loss that shook New England’s foundation on the same night of the Golden Globes. It’s been almost three days since the Boston sports world got kicked in the privates and bottled, and the time to capitalize on the misery of my Boston friends who thought that the Jets would lay down and serve as a red carpet for the Patriots to the AFC Championship is coming to an end. With the attention turning to Jets-Steelers and the upset of Sunday fading, let’s take one more look back at the events of Sunday by handing out some hardware. I just wish I had Ricky Gervais to give an opening monologue.

The Trent Dilfer Award for “The ‘Experts’ Were Wrong Again”
I will never forget during the 2008 preseason when Trent Dilfer said, “The Giants will be the biggest disappointment of the year and will miss the playoffs.” They did end up disappointing the tri-state area after Plaxico decided to carry a gun into Manhattan, but starting the year 11-1 should have had ESPN searching for a new NFL analyst.

I like Bill Belichick because he likes the Yankees. I like that he’s consistent with his answers to questions from the media. Dumb questions get dumb answers, and if you have a problem with Belichick’s answers then you really have a problem with the questions. But my whole problem with Bill Belichick isn’t a problem that he created. My problem with Bill Belichick is a problem that the media created for him.

All week we heard about how “You don’t want Bill Belichick to have two weeks to plan against you. You DON’T WANT Bill Belichick to have two weeks!” Now Belichick didn’t ask for people to believe in this theory that if given an extra week to prepare he’s untouchable and will think up this flawless plan to beat any opponent. We heard about it before Super Bowl XLII. We heard about it this week. But the last time I checked, Rex Ryan is a coach in the NFL too, and he might not have three rings, but in Bill Belichick’s first two seasons in the NFL he didn’t make back-to-back AFC Championships.

The three Super bowls in four years at the beginning of the decade put Belichick in a league of his own, but since the Patriots’ Super Bowl win over the Eagles, they have gone 5-5 in the postseason, losing the last two years at home in their first game of the playoffs each time.

It’s hard to have a winning record in the NFL. It’s even harder to win a championship let alone three of them in a four-year span, which is basically impossible at this point in a league of parody. But maybe it’s time to relax on thinking that it’s a foregone conclusion that Bill Belichick WILL win in the playoffs, and if given an extra week, will embarrass his opponent.

The Tom Brady Award for “Making A Prediction When You Say You Don’t Make Predictions”

Let’s go back to the week leading up to Super Bowl XLII …

“We don’t make predictions. We just let our play do the talking,” said Tom Brady.

Now let’s go back to last week …

“We’re just going to do our talking on the field. That’s the way we’ve always chosen to do,” said Tom Brady.

Umm … it might be time for TB12 to find a new line.

A lot of comparisons are being made between the Giants game plan in Super Bowl XLII and the Jets game plan on Sunday since both times Tom Brady didn’t look like himself in a big game. But in 2007, the Giants had Brady on his back the whole game with continuous pressure and he didn’t have any time. Brady had time against the Jets, he just couldn’t find an open receiver.

Brady looked like he was traded to the Patriots on Sunday morning and had three hours to learn the entire playbook and the offense. He was standing back in his statue stance without pressure, panning the field and still couldn’t make a play. And when he did try to hit a receiver, they usually weren’t looking or the ball would land at their feet.

The look on Tom Brady’s face throughout the game look like he just got pantsed waiting for the bus in junior high school, and I would like to thank the TV director for all those shots of him.

The Geico Insurance Award for “Mike Westhoff Probably Keyed The Cars Of Everyone On Special Teams”

If you told me that Nick Folk and Steve Weatherford went out drinking on Saturday night, I would say, “OK, that makes sense.” Could a kicker and punter have had a worse combined effort? OK, Giants fans, don’t answer that.

When David Harris didn’t run it in on the Tom Brady interception, I thought, “Nooo!” When the Jets ran three running plays after that, I thought, “Nooo!” When Nick Folk missed the field goal, I yelled, “Nooo!” and started thinking about the Jets letting the Patriots off the hook as if a team had just left the bases loaded against the Red Sox with no outs in the first inning.
And then when Weatherford decided that he would make Matt Dodge not feel so bad about his career and started bombing punts into the end zone, I figured the Jets couldn’t win with their kicker and punter taking the day off. Thankfully, I was wrong.

The Eli Manning Award for “People Didn’t Believe in Eli Either”

I don’t know what Mark Sanchez is just yet. I don’t know what he’s going to be. But I know one thing: he wins playoff games. And I was wrong about him all along and I admit it.

Sure, Mark Sanchez was brought into a great situation in New York and it’s not like he was drafted by an expansion team and asked to be a hero and carry the team, but he can only play in the situation he was put into, and he’s a doing an impressive job in it. In the last calendar year, he has more playoff wins (4) than Tom Brady has in the last three years, and he has as many playoff wins as Eli Manning has in career (all four of Eli’s came in 2007).

I want to not like Mark Sanchez. I used to not like him. I still kind of don’t. But he says the right things and goes out and plays hard. And he made Pete Carroll look like the jerk he is by proving him wrong about leaving college early. It’s no secret that Carroll only wanted Sanchez to stay at USC for his own personal reasons. A class act that Pete Carroll is!

No, I’m not about to jump on the Sanchize bandwagon, but I respect him, and he’s making it hard for me to not like him.

The Tino Martinez Award for “Everyone Thought He Would Bring Back The Winning Magic In His Second Stint With The Team”

On Opening Night at Yankee Stadium in 2005 when Tino Martinez came in as a defensive replacement, I honestly thought the right field bleachers were going to cave in. The cement under my feet felt like it was going to give at any moment, and when Tino made that diving stop after being in the game for only seconds, I was confident a riot was going to ensue. That is what Tino meant to Yankees fans and that is how badly people thought that by brining Tino back, the Yankees were brining back what they had lost in the four years he was away from the team: the ability to win it all.

The Patriots would have beaten the Colts in 2006 if Deion Branch were on the field instead of Reche Caldwell. Instead he was in Seattle because the Patriots didn’t want to pay their two-time champion and Super Bowl XXXIX MVP.

This year, the Patriots got rid of Randy Moss to bring Deion Branch back, and all anyone heard about was that Deion Branch “is the Patriots” and everything they have been about since 2001. Now that Branch was back in the mix, the Patriots were going to win the types of games they won when they were winning championships.

Well there was Deion Branch dropping the pass that would have given the Patriots a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, and there he was after the game crying the way that LaDainian Tomlinson cried when the Patriots celebrated on the field in San Diego. The way I feel embarrassed for Larry David when he does something in Curb Your Enthusiasm that just makes you feel awkward on the couch of your living room is how embarrassed I felt for Branch complaining about the Jets “flying” around Gillette Stadium. If you don’t want the opposing wide receivers to run around your field pretending to be jets then don’t lose home playoff games as the No. 1 seed and heavy favorites. Otherwise say that it’s disappointing you lost, accept blame and responsibility and clean out your locker and go home until next year.

The Christian Bale Award for “Best Supporting Actor”

I’m scared of what Bart Scott has in store for sound bytes if the Jets win the AFC. I’m petrified of what he is capable of if the Jets win the Super Bowl. And I think Sal Paolantonio probably feels the same way.

I respect Bart Scott because when he talks trash he actually talks trash. He doesn’t say “he is going to let his play on the field do the talking” and he doesn’t need to make clever foot references in a press conference to get his point across. He just comes out and tells it how he sees it and doesn’t care who he offends. And then he backs it up.

The Nick Swisher Award for “Making Poor Decisions On Your Own”
I hate when Nick Swisher tries to bunt because he should never be bunting and he simply doesn’t know how to bunt. But Swisher tries his stupid bunting in the middle of July against the Orioles. What Patrick Chung did (if he really did call for the fake punt) would be like Swisher bunting in the fifth game of the ALDS with absolutely nothing to gain.

How is Patrick Chung, a second-year player, allowed to make that decision? How does Bill Belichick allow that play to be called? In the end, Chung isn’t the one that this loss taints. It taints Belichick and Tom Brady, the faces of the franchise. Just like when the Colts took the penalty for roughing the punter near the end of the Jets game and they showed Peyton Manning on the sidelines, you just knew he was thinking, “This loss will come back to me and be a blemish on my career and not the career of the 53rd man on the roster playing on special teams.” Unacceptable play, but, hey, I’ll take it.

The Billy Walters Award for “Being The Man”

On Sunday night, CBS ran a piece on 60 Minutes about Billy Walters, a sports gambler in Nevada that bets hundreds of thousands of dollars on football and basketball games and won $3.5 million on the Saints in last year’s Super Bowl.

I take back anything bad I have said about Rex Ryan. He’s a hero. And I’m not joking when I say that. He’s the man.

When Rex ran into the end zone to celebrate Shonn Greene’s touchdown with the players, he won me over. For a minute I thought Rex was the one that scored the touchdown and seeing the players celebrating with him and letting him be one of the guys for that moment made you realize that when Bart Scott says he would “die for Rex Ryan” that he probably isn’t the only one on the Jets that would.

When I look at my team, the Giants, I see a team that if Tom Coughlin was fired tomorrow, the players would give remarks like, “football is a business” or “it’s not Tom’s fault” when really the majority of the team probably wouldn’t care and would likely be happy. (And Antrel Rolle verified this on Tuesday.) If Rex were fired, I could see the Jets threatening to not show up and play. That’s the vibe you get from this Jets “team” and it’s something you don’t get from the Giants.

The Jets are Rex Ryan. The entire team has bought into his trash talking system, and during Hard Knocks when he kept reiterating, “Play Like A Jet” I thought, “What is wrong with this guy?” Playing like a Jet meant not winning championships. But what Rex meant was that “Playing Like A Jet” meant “Playing Like A Jet From When I Took Over This Team.” Nothing with the Jets before Rex Ryan matters and like he said, “Same old Jets going to the AFC Championship for the second year in a row.”