Nothing signifies having too much time on your hands as having watched every miserable game of a 6-10 season as I have for this season’s Miami Dolphins. One positive aspect of this is it has given me great insight into recognizing mediocrity. A team that can move the ball all the way to the twenty yard line with amazing efficiency and then fails to get in the end zone is mediocre. A player who can catch a ball that is impossible to catch in the first quarter, but drops a crucial perfectly placed toss in the fourth quarter is mediocre. A team that can win when they are up by a large margin, but when the score is close always finds a way to lose is mediocre. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is also mediocre.
But the power to deduct mediocrity also helps you recognize excellence. One of the Miami Dolphins football games I watched was a December contest against the New England Patriots. In the first half Miami could do no wrong. Their quarterback, Matt Moore, fired lasers to all his receivers. Running back Reggie Bush hurdled over tacklers. Miami’s defense sacked the Patriot quarterback mercilessly.
But then came halftime and in the second half New England justified my preseason forecast that they are the most likely team to win this year’s Super Bowl. Their head coach Bill Belichick (he of the hooded sweatshirt) adjusted the Patriot’s game plan and their quarterback, Tom Brady (he of the Uggs boots), executed the strategy to perfection.
Without much time to get rid of the ball, Brady quickened his release finding the elusive Wes Welker and the hulking tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, for one first down after another. And while Brady’s passing attempts in the first half kept missing his mark, he never made the colossal mistake of turning the ball over which was something Miami teams are not afraid of doing. And so in the second half the tides turned. The Patriots won 27-24 teaching me that three points are the difference between excellence and mediocrity. One team gets better as the stakes rise, the other withers and dies.
The case against the Patriots winning the Super Bowl lies in the old mantra that defense wins championships and they have the NFL’s worst defense. The Patriots do allow a ton of yards and points, but as their 13-3 record attests, they find a way to steal the ball from their opponent when it matters most.
More likely hurting the Patriots is because of their seeding, they will probably have to defeat both of the twin bruising defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. It is possible that Tom Brady could take a serious beating in these two contests as he has in past postseasons and without a running game or dominant defense the Patriots will have no weapons at their disposal. But the same case can be made of their toughest competition, the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints. Their respective quarterbacks, Aaron Rogers and Drew Brees, both had historic seasons, but their offenses are also so quarterback dependent that one brutal hit could knock them out of the playoffs just as Peyton Manning’s absence took his Indianapolis Colts from annual contenders to the worst team in the league.
Knowing that injuries are part of the game I’ll still pick the stylish Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to make the plays when they matter most and take home the Lombardi trophy.