It took us what, five full months to get here? Seems like it took forever. Anyone else need to get out and stretch their legs?
From the moment Training Camp welcomed its first players into the locker room for physical exams, to right about the time Tom Brady ran up to retiring referee Walt Coleman after the game Sunday to ostensibly wish him well, this year’s trip has been all about the regular season.
Every year, it’s all about the regular season. Week in, week out, grind-through-it moments of clarity and confusion; of focus, concentration and self-inquisition over performance, the end results and how to improve upon the finished product.
When put that way, it sounds like a struggle, doesn’t it?
The Patriots’ struggle has been real this season, if only because the current team carries the weight of great expectations upon their shoulders. These are the New England Patriots, of course…the team that has earned a postseason bye for a ninth straight year, re-setting their own NFL record.
Or how about this one – matching their mark for most wins in a decade? New England has 126 wins, including the postseason, in the Decade of the “Teens” (2010-19) with one year still to play. This matches the total number of wins by the franchise in the Decade of the 2000’s, from 2000-09, when the team won three Super Bowls.
Green Bay of the ‘60’s? Pittsburgh of the ‘70’s? San Francisco of the ‘80’s? Dallas of the ‘90’s? New England’s reign has been remarkably steadfast since the birth of the new millennium.
Unchallenged. Dominant. A legacy that may never be matched or surpassed, again.
Trying to live up to or follow in the footsteps of this precedent? That’s pressure – whether it is wanted or not. It’s reality, and it’s easy to see why the week-to-week focus for coaches and players remains on the next landmark or opponent – and only the opponent.
Because if you let the reality of history sink in, you can’t possibly measure up to the level of previous successes. Who could? So, don’t pay it any attention. Move along, there’s nothing to see here except the next snap of the ball.
We’re onto Cincinnati, or whoever. That’s the key to New England’s brilliant run of accomplishment. The ability to singularly focus on each individual step during the long road of a regular season – and some of them are missteps, for certain – before moving onto the next stage and reaching the ultimate destination every year.
Which of course, would be the Super Bowl.
We can talk about it. We can laugh, complain, fight and argue to our heart’s content, but it’s just so much ‘talk.’ We can celebrate the start of a new season with the opening of training camp but begin thinking about the team’s chances in the playoffs because we just know they’ll eventually get there.
But the coaches and players? They’ll take the five full months to travel this expectant road. They’ve been this way before. There will be bumps along the way, and perhaps, they’ll come up a bit short of their final destination in the end. Flat tires, breakdowns and accidents can, and do, happen.
But know that the road map to reaching the ultimate destination remains intact, every year.
So, are we there yet? Yes, kids. We’re there.
It’s time for the playoffs.
Complaint department closed?
With a 38-3 grounding of the J-E-T-S Sunday at Gillette, you might think the Patriots have things right where they want them heading into the postseason?
You’d be thinking wrong.
Although, for a season-ending game, the Patriots certainly managed to keep their mistakes to a relative minimum, considering the results – and the nitpicks – of the past month.
Wide receiver drops? There were a couple, but none with Julian Edelman’s name (or hands) attached to them. Penalties? Only four accepted flags for 30 yards in walk-offs, and just one negated what could have been a score or scoring drive – the offensive pass interference call against Dwayne Allen which rubbed out a big Rob Gronkowski gain.
The flag was a questionable one at best, anyway. You get those from time to time.
The one real complaint through the 60-minute New York beatdown? Punting in the 3rdquarter near midfield with 4th down and a chain-link length to go for a first down. Sure, it was 28-3 at the time, but with the difficulties the Patriots have had converting on short-yardage plays (hello, James Develin, anyone?) it might have been worth the attempt in order to keep working out the kinks.
The Tuck Rule Ref
In case you missed it, Sunday’s head referee Walt Coleman has decided to retire after 30 seasons as an NFL official. The game between the Patriots and Jets was his last regularly scheduled game, pending any postseason play that might come his way.
You might recall he was involved, unwittingly and unknowingly of course, with the very start of this dynastic era for the Patriots – by calling what looked like a fumble against Oakland in the 2001 divisional round of the playoffs an incomplete pass instead.
It was the infamous “Tuck Rule” call in a driving snowstorm at old Foxboro Stadium. Raiders fans still whine about it to this day, and pretty much the rest of the league still feels like the Patriots received a gift from the football gods on that wintery January 19th of 2002.
After Sunday’s game with the Jets had ended, Tom Brady was captured by cameras (and social media) running up to Coleman and the two paused briefly to exchange a few words. Think Brady said ‘thank you’ for more than just Coleman’s long career as an official?
Before the game, Patriots owner Robert Kraft had also presented Coleman with a game ball for his decades of service. No truth to the rumor this was inscribed on the side of the ball:
NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2._ When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble._
Ironically, Coleman hasn’t officiated a Raiders’ game since that one nearly 17 years ago. But it was the right call then, and the right call today. Sorry Oakland. Sorry NFL. The ref was only doing his job, and yes, the Patriots are thankful for it.
Black Monday to the rescue
Some outstanding examples of “no matter how bad you think you have it, someone else always has it worse” this week.
The first day following the end of the regular season has long been known as “Black Monday,” and this year was no different from any other. Anywhere from three to seven head coach firings had either been rumored or expected this year, and the end to 2018 did not disappoint in that department.
As of this writing, eight NFL teams have made coaching changes with Cleveland and Green Bay pulling the trigger on releasing Hue Jackson and Mike McCarthy before the regular season ended. Six more head coaches followed those two into the unemployment lines on Sunday and Monday, including Miami’s Adam Gase and Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis.
Gase spent a mere three seasons with the Dolphins with one playoff trip. Lewis spent 16 years with the Bengals but was a rather infamous 0-7 in the postseason. Cincinnati didn’t come close to a sniff of the playoffs this year. Rumors are already running rampant over Rex Ryan putting together a staff to potentially take over in South Florida.
Hey, it didn’t work out for him against the Patriots in the other AFC East cities, New York or Buffalo. Maybe Miami – the 3rd try and 3rd team within the division – will be the charm?
Or maybe it won’t. We should look forward to the possibility and the subsequent story lines, if nothing else.
Happy New Year!
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is in his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.