Time to panic? Not yet
There is a big, red button that New England sports fans enjoy pressing quite a lot. No, it’s not the Easy Button from Staples. It’s the panic button. As soon as anything goes wrong for the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, or most especially, the Red Sox, it’s time to panic! “Their season is over! If they can’t beat (fill in the blank), how are they supposed to beat good teams?”
The answer is that real games don’t work like that. For example, the Cleveland Browns demolished the Patriots 34-14, therefore they must have beaten the Ravens, who lost to the Patriots 23-20, right? Wrong, of course. The Ravens beat the Browns by a touchdown. It just goes to show that things don’t always go the way they look on paper.
This would not be the first time a Patriots team has lost to a bad opponent and went on to better things. The 2001 Patriots lost to five teams during the regular season, including the Cincinnati Bengals, who finished at 6-10.
In 2003, the Patriots lost to the Buffalo Bills 32-0 to start the season. The Bills went on to win only five more games. The only other loss that season was to the Washington Redskins, who finished with five wins. Both of those teams lost at least ten games, and yet both beat the Patriots in a year in which they won the Super Bowl.
As defending champs in 2004, the Pats lost to both the Miami Dolphins, who finished at 4-12, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who they later beat in the AFC Championship game.
The point of that history lesson is this: don’t get too up or too down during the regular season. After the Patriots won five in a row, a lot of people (myself included) were ready to make them a lock to win their division at least, possibly the AFC and maybe even the Super Bowl. After just one embarrassing loss, however, Sports Illustrated ran an article stating that the Patriots were seriously exposed by the Browns and now everyone in the NFL knows how to beat them. While the Browns may have exploited certain things in the Patriots’ scheme, the Patriots could see that as well as anyone else, and therefore, they will work to correct those things.
I would caution a rush to judgment, as anybody can beat anybody on any given Sunday. The NFL is a league that has done everything in its power, from the salary cap to the schedule design, to create parity. What we saw on Sunday is what makes the NFL the most watched sports product in America today.
So let’s not bury Belichick and the Patriots yet, and let’s not crown them either. If there is one thing that is true about the NFL, it is that you have to earn every point and every victory. With just 16 games per season (compared to 162 in the MLB and 82 in the NBA and NHL), each game takes on an added meaning. More so than in any other league in any other sport, there are no throw-away games in the National Football League.
There are still twelve weeks remaining before we crown a Super Bowl champion, and that is plenty of time for any team to rise to the top. Whoever you root for, stay tuned. The remainder of the NFL season promises excitement as well as surprises week after week.