Ding Dong, the witch is dead. Yesterday the Patriots season came to an end and the nation rejoiced. And it was a convincing loss. Fair and square. No referee bag jobs, no cheap shot to Gronk’s knees, not even the malfunctioning tablets could take the blame. The offensive line sucked, our kicker finally missed an extra point, our coach opted not to go for the points, Brady made some bad decisions, and so on. You know, football. Finally, America can be happy that New England is not going to win another title. And I’m okay with it.
Honestly, of course the hatred of the Patriots from all places not in New England was more motivation to cheer for them. At least for a while. Like most massholes, the feeling of everyone being against us, whether imagined or not, is a good enough reason to rally behind something. And after an entire offseason of listening to every worthless pundit grandstand about PSI and integrity in a sport with far greater ethical issues, it was easy to cheer hard for the Pats to be standing on that podium at the end of the year to stick it to that smug prick Goodell. Starting out 10-0 was fantastic. Winning is one thing, and for Patriots fans, an expected thing, but to go undefeated again? To stick it to the commissioner, to the petty teams left in their wake like the Colts and the Ravens, and to redeem the near perfect season of 2007? That would be perfection. Well, obviously 19-0 is perfection, but something about this season seemed like it would be more gratifying, you know, perfection with a deeper meaning. Sure we just won the Superbowl last year, but when you’ve got something to prove, don’t let recent championships get in the way.
Sadly, Denver took care of that. Not yesterday. That defeat was well earned especially from that offensive line who apparently thought the Roger Dorn-Ole-Bullshit approach to protecting the QB was a good idea. But the regular season defeat to the Broncos was when the dreams of erasing 18-1, Deflategate, and the hopes of other AFC fans came to an end. And it was the perfect game to get more pissed in defeat. Gronk was taken out in a hit that looked like his career might have ended, a practice squader fumbled a punt return at the worst time, and every call went against the Pats. (You know from a Pats’ fan perspective.) Losing in OT, in a game like that? It was easy to blame everyone else and keep that chip on our shoulder. Once we realized our tight end wasn’t dead, and the rationalizations for not caring about a perfect season anymore were all submitted, the focus was locked in again. Win the Super Bowl and say fuck you to the rest of America.
For someone from New England but no longer living there it’s still hard for me to understand why everyone hates the Patriots so much. Well, kinda. Belichick is surly old prick, Brady is a guy that endorses UGG boots, and they win all the damn time. That I get. Still, at a gathering recently here in the Northlands, I was shocked and angered to hear people bashing Brady and how they would rather see Manning win the AFC Championship. Manning? Peyton Manning? The old washed up loser famous for choking? The guy with as many HGH allegations as Super Bowl rings? You want to hate the Patriots because they’re successful, or because the multiple cheating scandals, or because of the over exposure of their quarterback, fine I get it. But to pick Manning and his forehead instead? Doesn’t his teams always win? (at least in the regular season…sorry, can’t help it, New England) Wasn’t he just accused of cheating a few weeks ago? Isn’t he on TV every fucking commercial break? Why the hell did America want Denver to advance to the Super Bowl for their chance to get destroy by Cam and the Panthers so badly?
And the answer isn’t because Manning or Papa John’s is that wonderful, but simply: “Anyone but the Patriots”. And even as a Patriots fan I can understand rooting against a team more than wanting a team to win. Even last week I was cheering for the Broncos to win, not because I like Manning or Von Miller or Ronnie Hillman, but because they were going against Bathroom Ben Roethlisberger. Rapists should be in prison, not the AFC Championship, so I cheered pretty damn hard for Peyton and his noodle arm. Should people hate the Steelers more than the Pats because sexual assault is more detestable than deflating footballs? Absolutely! Do the seriousness of crimes really matter in sports-hate? Not at all! First of all, this is the NFL where morality is out the window. We have a team nicknamed after a racial slur because their owner just doesn’t give a shit. We have teams employing and glorifying players who threaten and abuse their wives, because owners (and fans) don’t give a shit. We have players getting brain damage every week because NO ONE GIVES A SHIT. There’s no logic to what we support in the NFL, so we love or hate whatever feels right at the time. Even if it changes every week.
And it feels good to let the hate flow throw us. It’s like every one of us has a a mini Emperor Palpatine on our shoulder encouraging us to embrace it. And really, why not the Patriots? People can hate them without having to deal with the real issues of the league. Our coach is an unfriendly asshole, but he’s not actually evil. Our QB is a model-marrying, Trump-supporting, football-deflating, health quack pretty boy, but he’s not a rapist. And the team as whole has been known to bend the rules, sure, but it’s the fucking NFL. They just make up the rules as they go along. So yes, the Patriots are hate-able. But sports hate-able. It’s not like they employ rapists. Or murderers. Anymore.
And as a New England fan it’s fun to be the bad guy sometimes. Everyone is rooting against us? Good. I was looking for another reason to tell everyone to go fuck themselves anyway. And up until that regular season loss to Denver it was a blast. But after seeing Gronkowski hurt and the chances of 19-0 disappear, everything became less fun. It wasn’t just being so spoiled that winning alone wasn’t interesting anymore (although as a NE fan that does begin to factor in), but every game became meaningless other than a chance to lock up playoff seeding and hope that no one else got hurt. And like many Pats fans will gripe about today, it didn’t work: lots of players did get hurt. I’m sure talking about how if only Edelman was at full strength we’d be in the Super Bowl will only endear us to more people on Monday.
But more disappointing than the injuries was the way the team played in the 2nd half of the season. The home loss to Philadelphia was one of the more embarrassing losses in recent franchise history. The wins against the Texans and Titans were convincing, but not exactly satisfying. And the last two weeks of the season where they mailed it against NY and Miami were just plain infuriating. Losing against a bad team, okay. Winning against a bad team, great. But coming out and spending the whole game running out the clock? Rushing the ball 20 times a half just so that Brady won’t get hurt? Giving the ball to the other team in Overtime? If you don’t care if you win, rest players and commit to not giving a shit. But watching the Patriots sorta-kinda-but not really try to win games because they were afraid their offensive line couldn’t protect their QB and that their QB couldn’t make a play without all his weapons? Jesus Christ, it’s one thing for the fans to make these excuses but for the team to show us them was pathetic.
After watching that a small part of me hated the Patriots too. I had written them off going into the playoffs ( another good reason for people to hate Pats fans) but somehow their o-line held up against a supposedly good Chiefs defense. And their players were back! For one whole week everything looked great again. Edelman, Amendola, and Gronk were catching balls, so Brady didn’t have to throw it to someone who wasn’t white! No, I don’t think Tom Terrific is actually a racist, but he really does love his familiarity with his receivers. Still the whole gang being with him in Denver didn’t really mean shit when every Broncos defender got intimate enough with Brady to make many horny New Englanders jealous. What good is getting close enough to grab Tom Brady if you’re just going to throw him to the ground and walk away? Also, what good are your receivers when you don’t have time to throw to them?
So they lost. Manning looked as shitty as expected, but the Denver defense looked even better than expected. And they outplayed New England. Wade Phillips out-coached Josh McDaniels. Belichick’s famous half-time adjustments weren’t there. Our defense kept us in the game, but greatest of all time or not, Brady couldn’t make anything happen. No bad calls, key injuries, or thankfully last minute shanked field goals cost them the game. (The schoolchildren may have forgiven you, Blair Walsh, but I am not there yet) They just lost. Which is probably good for New England. They lost, but unlike the last two weeks of the year, at least they were trying to win. Even as bad as they looked yesterday, there is nothing more deflating (wacka wacka wacka) than seeing a team out there tanking it on the field. At least yesterday the Patriots went down with a fight.
Sure, I’m not happy that Manning gets a chance for another ring. And I’m certainly not happy that all the Pats-haters get to be thrilled on Monday morning. But something about this season just wasn’t right. As a New England fan, I rode the chip on my shoulder for as long as I could and it was damn fun thinking about sticking it to the league with another championship for the Patriots. But after the spending weeks watching players get injured, playing mediocre without injured players, and then playing scared to make sure no one else got injured, it really wasn’t that much fun anymore. And while winning in the Divisional round was enjoyable, one good game in months didn’t mean that they were the best team. So why should they win? They didn’t deserve another Super Bowl this year. That has to be okay. Even if it takes an entire day of watching the Malcolm Butler play on repeat this Monday, it’s okay to accept defeat. We can’t win every year, just embrace it and cheer for the Panthers in two weeks. Or don’t. People will probably hate the Patriots and you as their fan either way. But I’m letting go of this season. Even if I need to rely on Russell Wilson throwing to us on the 1 yard line a little more today.