Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: Patriots

Why is Bill Simmons insane over the Patriots?


On a recent podcast, Bill Simmons lamented that the Patriots let Adam Vinatieri leave the team in 2006, because he exemplified the “Patriot Way,” and they have suffered for a lack of this intangible quality since he left. On a more recent podcast, with Bob Ryan, he lamented that the Patriots were ‘turning over’ 12-win seasons without winning a championship. The Patriots have gone 88-24 in the regular season in the post-Vinatieri stretch and have lost two Super Bowls by one absurdity and one note-perfect symphony of a pass play. Simmons’ nutso Patriots talk carried over to this year’s de facto jettisoning of Wes Welker, for which he called Bill Barnwell to act as a therapist and first responder. Barnwell had already written that Amendola’s statistics on the Rams were far better than Welker’s before he joined the Patriots as a tacit plea for everyone not to lose their shit, and the question isn’t whether Amendola will be better than Welker (he probably won’t be). The Patriots won three Super Bowls without Welker and could win without him next year. They have done just fine without Vinatieri. This is pretty damn good for a decade. Why the hysterical blindness? What makes Patriots fans like Bill Simmons so obviously crazy when it comes to the team, aside from the fact his head is so far down Secretariat’s mouth that all he sees is darkness?

The ‘Patriot Way’ has always been a death machine. Insofar as there’s a ‘Patriot Way’ at all, it is a plastic sign hanging above Bill Belichick’s office reading ‘buy low, sell high,’ which he slaps every day on his way out to the field and then sends some MLB packing. There are a few obvious amendments: Belichick, Tom Brady, Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork are irreplaceable, and are paid as such long into their careers. Terrell Suggs said in February that players on all 31 other teams ‘hate’ the Patriots. There’s a ring of truth there, but there’s a fat lie inside of it: Players hate the Patriots right up until they need them. Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Amendola, and Aqib Talib could file testimonials. It is a system of strict player valuation so mind-numbingly uncomplicated and successful that no one is content to just leave it alone.

Adam Vinatieri was so easily replaceable that the Patriots managed to do it that very season with a fourth-round pick who’s been every bit as good as Vinatieri, if not better, and neither has had a Super Bowl-winning kick, so you know, that insane qualification also checks out. The Patriots did not lose because the ‘Patriot Way’ was impure. In Simmons’ case, you win or you die, and your journey becomes loaded with meaningless symbols. The defining quality of being a sports fan is that a foothold in sports is worth the same as a doctorate. You can read talk about them at work or start a blog and it’s all the same. Intoxicants have the notable side effect of making you spout nonsense. The Pats hosted the AFC Championship game two months ago. There’s no evidence that there’s anything to worry about. There is no sorrow in 12-win seasons. There should only be pride, and the decision to shut up. Your gift horse won the Triple Crown.


BREAKING: Patriots Sued by Switzerland

“F[***] neutrality,” Switzerland’s ambassador to the United Nations, Manuel Sager, tells me over the phone in more or less crystal-clear English, which I find amazing given the lather into which he’s worked himself. The mother tongue tends to return, for everyone, in moments of blind rage, but Sager sounds like he’s lived in Los Angeles (where he lives) for his whole life. He also sounds like he’s been up for hours, but it’s 8 a.m. on the East Coast and, well, do the math.

He has certainly done the math, and the math says this: Heath Miller had 97 receptions in a single half against the New England Patriots yesterday, Ben Roethlisberger 241 completions, and the Steelers put up an unprecedented 163 points against a New England team that just nine months ago was two home games away from the Super Bowl. In those nine months, the seven billionth person on Earth was conceived and born, and it’s a legitimate question to ask if the Patriots will have a pass rush before the eight billionth shows up in the form of Rob Gronkowski II.

But that question goes on the back-burner while the Patriots’s legal team—aided by that of the NFL—deal with the unprecedented litigious action of a sovereign nation against a sports franchise. Sources say employees in the Patriots’s front offices were walking around in a such stupor Monday morning that they didn’t notice Antonio Brown regularly whizzing past them on donut runs.

Their remorse won’t satisfy Sager. If the Pats’s D is more porous than Swiss Cheese, is a renaming in order? New England Patriots’s Defense cheese doesn’t sound appetizing, but it could stand to net the franchise millions of dollars in licensing fees, and Deadspin is reporting that someone with an IP address in Foxboro trademarked two weeks ago. A spokesperson for Owner Robert Kraft denied the report after it was picked up by, but Sager isn’t taking any chances. An independent estimate shows that cutting the “Swiss” out of “Swiss Cheese” could put a big enough hit on the Swiss economy that it would be forced to apply for entry into the floundering European Union.

“That is NOT an option!” Sager yells, and there’s little doubt that anyone else in his house is awake at this point. “What we have here is a travesty of American, international and culinary justice.”

Anthony Bourdain, reached for comment, asked a reporter pointedly if he or she was working for The Onion and if they knew anything about the hours of the restaurant business, and what time they were calling, and the appropriateness thereof, after which point the connection went dead. A return call from what appeared to be Bourdain’s number asked a reporter to perform an unprintable act with a specific bakery item prominently featured in a digital short of a popular late weekend night variety show a few years back, at which point the line went dead.

Greg Aiello, a spokesperson for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, had no comment on the pending litigation, but told reporter via email that there was “no way those Krauts [sic] can win this lawsuit” and that the comment was “of the record.”

More on this story as details emerge.

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The family Christmas was scrapped this year in favor of a trip to Dallas over Super Bowl weekend back when I thought the Patriots had no shot of making it there. Instincts! Look at me, diagnosing the problem early on: no real playmakers and a shoddy defense. Look at me, forgetting late last week when asked if I thought the Jets +8.5 line is too high. “After a couple beers Friday night, I was convinced the Patriots were going to win,” I told Frowns. “And I never feel that way.” That should have been the sound of sirens, alarms, car horns. If I never think the Patriots are going to win, and they almost always do, I had the answer in my hands and let it slip away, like Alge Crumpler. The end was nigh.

It wasn’t inevitable, but it was clear from the second drive of the game that it was the type of game the Patriots lose. Any Patriots fan would know it, too, but many were so blinded by the 14-2 record that they felt a trip to the Super Bowl was a birthright. Even Kornheiser and Wilbon picked the Patriots over the entire rest of the playoff field. Now we’re looking a third Steelers Super Bowl in six seasons straight in the face, along with Roethlisberger/Brady arguments to propel the perpetual motion talk machine. All because the Patriots managed to lose to a divisional opponent, one which had previously defeated them and was designed specifically to beat them. All credit to the Jets: they have more talent than the Patriots. Yesterday was a clinic in what bigger, stronger players can do.

A word on Rex Ryan. Talking is not his strategy. Talking is part of his strategy. Note the quick retreat after the game in Ryan’s Brady-taunting. Watch the Jets quiet down this week against a team just as big as strong as them. I don’t think they’ll win the Super Bowl, but that’s not what yesterday’s game was about. Not that you’d notice, if you’d followed the postgame on Twitter, where the Internet was praising the Jets as if they had been crowned champions. It’s a great win, sure, but Ryan has said all year the goal is to win the Super Bowl. The guy has his priorities straight. Let’s not praise him for getting closer than the other losers. If the Jets win next week, we can start building rhetorical towers to his greatness.

For Patriots fans, remember: the Super Bowl is always the goal, and not getting there reinforces how good we were to win three. Those years are fading fast in our memories, but the Super Bowl is not a birthright. It must be earned. You don’t win that game without wining this one. Sometimes the bar eats you, and sometimes Tom Brady cannot stop it. If you want to take solace in anything, do it in the fact that the Jets aren’t celebrating today. They’re preparing. They’re trying to revive a championship culture. It might be time for us to do the same.

The Decline

The Patriots are on the decline. There’s no question about that now. I pooh-poohed people Bill Simmons earlier this year for calling them DOA after the Indy loss, but I stand by that. Simmons and his ilk fed us the Patriots as “winners when it matters” for the last decade, but called the dynasty kaput over a matter of a couple inches in Indianapolis. To suggest that 4th-and-2 had anything to do with what happened today was ludicrous. Maybe the plays preceding 4th-and-2, but not the event itself.

Randy Moss probably has to go. I’m drawing some parallel with Gisele here. Tom Brady finds a tall, lanky, good-looking friend. Tom Brady is enamored to the point of supplicance. Moss certainly appears to dog it from time to time out there, and Brady doesn’t seem to raise word one with him. Every time they talk, it’s a pep talk or they’re trying to speak some superstar language. That ain’t going to win you ballgames when a team’s got as many holes as this one. Put another way: that, in itself, probably has no bearing on much. But take away the time from Brady trying to fix the little problems with the offense, and that’s time wasted. As is becoming clear, there’s not much time left.

It seems like Brady and Moss are on one island, and the rest of the offense is somewhere else, particularly the offensive line. The defense played like crap today, and that’ll happen. It just hasn’t happened to us in such a big game in awhile. The defense was pretty good in the Super Bowl two years ago, but not anymore.

The Patriots now remind me of those late nineties 49ers teams that raged against the dying of the light with increasingly futile playoff campaigns. The magic could show up for any single game, but never stuck around to get them what they really wanted, which was another title. There were too many teams that were just younger and hungrier, despite their best efforts.

I got a Facebook message after the game consoling me. I don’t know what I have to be sad about. If this is the end, I can’t say I didn’t get everything I ever wanted, and more.

Bill Simmons, Heel

Bill Simmons has always been something of a heel to non-Boston Sports fans, a category I don’t belong to. They often tire of his Boston-themed columns, and if they don’t, they often scrape away enough of the good feelings that a misplayed pop culture reference finally breaks them. It’s understandable, but it never affected me. I enjoyed reading Simmons, and even as I type this, I’m enjoying his book, the absolute litany of copy editing errors contained therein aside.

But in two short weeks, Simmons has lost at least one 10-year reader and listener in the day-to-day, at least for the day-to-day. I’m sure I’ll come back some day, and it might even feel like it’s the same as it used to be, at times. It won’t be. It never is.

As regular readers of this blog know, it all started with his intellectually dishonest column about Bill Belichick’s 4th-and-2 decision; it’s not that he hated the decision that bothered me, but that he spoke so disingenuously out of both sides of his mouth. He argued that he did not take issue with the statistics showing that it was the technically correct choice to go for it, then took issue with the numbers. He argued that numbers don’t always apply to football situations, then created his own numbers, as if from thin air, and applied them to the situation. It was an argument built like an inverted house of cards—he undermined his own argument so quickly that the rest was all smoke and mirrors to obscure the fact that there was no “there” there, so to speak.

That alone would have been one thing, but he preceded these arguments by engaging in a podcast whereupon he somehow argued simultaneously—as many do—that Belichick was both “arrogant” and “didn’t have confidence in his defense,” and, like many others, didn’t even attempt to reconcile the contradiction. He also repeated a theory, hatched earlier, that since Belichick is 57 years old, he is likely “losing it” and that this is the first sign of said senility, lack of energy, whatever. I wouldn’t have a problem with this argument individually, even if I don’t agree with it, but piled on top of everything else he’s written it infuriates me. On top of that, it violates his own anti-statistical code. He’s busy scouring the history books and saying that 55 is the last good year for a coach… well, if that’s true, shouldn’t the Pats be looking for a younger coach? If that’s what Simmons is arguing, he should just come out and say it. If he thought people were angry about 4th-and-2, I’d love to see the reaction to that one. It’s the smart thing to do!, he’d probably say, make a pre-emptive strike based on the numbers!

That would, for obvious reasons, make me laugh.

That’s all, and was, water under the bridge until I saw one of his tweets today, which called the Pats “dead.” Take a look at their schedule and tell me what you see. I see 12-4. You know what the Pats’ record was when they won their first Super Bowl? 11-5. You remember who they played? A clone of the Saints from this year, or the Pats from 2007. There are details of which I’m obviously aware that could mitigate this: the 12-4 Pats wouldn’t likely have a bye and the Saints looked fairly unstoppble the other night. But to declare the Patriots “dead” is something in the spirit of Simmons’ supposed arch-enemy, Dan Shaughnessy. Yes, the Pats don’t look like the best team now, but if 2007 taught us anything, it’s that you only have to look like the best team on the last day of the season for it to mean anything. Do I believe then can, even if I don’t believe they will? Yes.

That’s what it comes down to: hope. If you hope your team does well, and you see one of its biggest cheerleaders raining on your parade, it’s time to disengage. If Bill Simmons can’t enjoy first place, and yet another awesome season, maybe he needs to re-read some of his columns from 1999 and 2000 to show how far we’ve really come. Will it help him get back to a positive mindset? Maybe, for a little bit, but never completely. Like my love affair with his columns, that part of him is probably gone forever.

About last night…

Last night’s Patriots/Saints liveblog will have to serve as your post this morning, at least for now. Click through to see what two things I said “mesh like two mismatched images overlaid on vibrating overhead projector.”

Pats/Saints Liveblog

Why not?

10:57 AS MANNY WOULD SAY, TURN THE PAGE Pats starting a drive down 14 at the start of the fourth quarter. I daresay this is it, or something trending heavily toward it. I believe we used to call this Brady Time. Or maybe that was must me, or maybe no one said it. But it certainly felt like we were gonna score. Today? Maybe not so much, but a touchdown drive would be huge. After missing Sam Aiken for a bomb on the first play, the next two plays go nowhere, and the Saints easily move the ball for a touchdown to put the game out of reach with 7:49 left. It’s Brees’ fifth touchdown, and to the Pats’ credit, they weren’t out of it until it struck. But it did strike. I would have expected absolutely anything in this game, so I’m not surprised, and I still think the Pats can win the Super Bowl. Can they beat the Saints if they play again? I have no idea how they would, but if they got that far I’m sure they could find a way. Right now it doesn’t look possible, but it’s just one night. The next five teams are the Dolphins, Bills, Panthers, Jags and Texans. We’ll talk about other teams in January. Let’s see what we do with these five.

10:40 I AM NOT IGNORING THE GAME I have largely avoided saying anything, but the Saints are absolutely humming on offense. They scored in no time whatsoever after the Pats touchdown. The Patriots’s secondary is suspect, but Brees is making them look worse than Manning did. Dude just distributes the ball and keeps coming at you. Now, thanks to Sam Aiken, Brady just converted another third down. Whatever the result of this game, this Patriots team looks and feels much more like the 2003-04 bunch than the 2007 crew did. Those teams won with third down conversations, turnovers and breaks. If it’s true that you “make your own luck,” that team had it, and this team seems to have a knack for the opposite. When the 2007 Pats showed up to face the Bills, they got extremely lucky and won; now the old-school team can’t quite get a break on the road, though Ravens fans might disagree. It is unclear if this game is coming down to breaks or execution, but we’re probably a wash on the first and behind in the second. There’s still time, but if the Saints get the ball without the Patriots scoring it could get late out pretty early here, and stay late out very late in New Orleans.

10:22 THERE’S THE MADDENING PART On the flip side of halftime, Laurence Maroney fumbles on the first play because he bowled someone over to get an extra yard. I mean, the Patriots lost to Colts game because he fumbled on a 1-yard run that would have been backbreaking to the Colts, and no one cared. No one in the national media, that is. Sammy Morris replaced him the backfield, and I expect that might last for a while. Morris favors the unspectacular philosophy of “run forward, avoid defenders, and hold onto the ball” that tends to serve Patriots backs fairly well. Maroney may be a good or even great running back, but his style and that of the Patriots’ mesh like two mismatched images overlaid on vibrating overhead projector. Meanwhile, the Pats recovered a subsequent fumble on the same play—with Maroney the strip—and continue to drive, earning a 1st and goal after some nifty Brady footwork kept him alive long enough to find Moss on a 40-something yard catch. It was a broken play, and the Patriots seem to be up against the wall right up until they execute. The Saints are relentless, but Maroney just popped it in from three yards out. That’ll happen.

9:45: WHOA Laurence Maroney just got knocked well out of bounds while he was running full speed, fell down, and scrambled back to his feet like he was still running. He hit his head pretty hard on the play; did he think he was still in bounds? All the evidence says no, because he smiled and walked back to the huddle, jawing with the Saints. But isn’t the problem that concussions are so prevalent that even stopping the completely obvious ones doesn’t prevent many of the problems? It’s either that or Maroney is so jacked up to play that he literally couldn’t stop his legs, which is kind of awesome. Maroney is just a bizarre player. I’ve never seen anyone so unafraid of contact be afraid of the line. It’s like getting to the line is one problem, deciding where to go is another one (hence his legendary happy feet), but going there is not a problem—except maybe for you. He’s absolutely punishing tonight, and he’s seeming to get stronger every game. After all the hype about what he could be, he’s turned into a fascinating, occasionally maddening player who ages like a decent bottle of wine: still fairly good, but slightly different from year to year and a better complementary piece than a show-stopper. But there is time yet. The Patriots have less time. Brady just missed Watson on a 3rd-and-10 and the Pats don’t score going into halftime, and are trailing 24-10.

9:09 IT WOULD BE HARD FOR ME TO PROPERLY REGISTER MY DISGUST WITH THAT BRADY INTERCEPTION So let me get this straight: we stop the Saints around midfield, return a punt to their 40, and on the first play Brady throws across the middle, on the run? That is a baaaaaaaaad decision. On the bright side, I can buy a phone that “trades hairdo for can-do” and is has a name that is licensed to Google by George Lucas. While trying to figure out how to follow this up, the Saints had another 4th-and-1 inside the 20 and went for it, and got it. Good job. They had done something cool with the aforementioned punt, lining up in a standard formation on 4th-and-4 near the 50, then rotating everyone to the punt formation. The idea, I’m guessing, was to keep the Patriots’ punt team off the field, but a) If the Saints didn’t take 4th-and-1 earlier, why would they go crazy with 4th-and 4? and b) Their punt team allowed a 60-yard return, so maybe the moving around messed their concentration. Still, I like the call, and the decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 again. That the decision worked and the punt one decision doesn’t make wrong and one right.

I can’t think of anything to follow that up, so we’re on to the next one

8:51 OBSERVATIONS PRIOR TO NOW THAT PROMPTED THIS: a) The Saints should have gone for it on 4th and 1 on their first drive, and b) Smart play by Darren Sharper to dive for Maroney’s legs while running beside him; shows that he knows Maroney’s signature move is the stiff-arm and was able to recall it so quickly. Also, Maroney did it once prior to that on the drive. And also, Sharper did it five plays later, only this time he was coming right at Randy Moss, and could have easily sent his kneecap into the stands. Geez. The Saints are pretty much hitting the #### out of the Patriots… who are still driving. They are amped up. I didn’t buy the “Superdome Craziness” argument they were pitching before the game, but seeing as this is the biggest game in their history, I think it was just a difficulty to adjust, on my part. The Saints’ D has the energy, but even on offense, the Patriots are hitting back. Kevin Faulk just ran down the sidelines for 15 yards and instead of going out of bounds, he ran smack into the man in front of him. Then Laurence Maroney bounced off three people on a 2nd and four. Yesterday was billed as the old school, phsyical matchup, but this game is far harder hitting so far. And now the Patriots have 4th and 1 inside the 10. And they’re going for it. Gotta love that symmetry.

The Play, Continued

I love baseball statistics, and I love their modern updates, but I find some of their hardcore backers offputting. I’m happy that anyone has an opinion on baseball, and if they think Juan Pierre should be batting leadoff because he steals a lot of bases I find it amusing and cute to some degree. I generally find positions like this to be borne in the ignorance of value of a single player, and not ignorance of the sport as a whole, and there are so many baseball players I just let it go.

There’s also the baseball’s ficklness (is that a word?). You can make the wrong decision—like batting Juan Pierre leadoff againts anyone, but we’ll say Tim Lincecum—and he can go 3-for-4, and voila!, whomever you argued against feels emboldened. Rather than fight it, I try to appreciate baseball as a sport where odd things can happen and root for my teams to make the right decisions.

I don’t feel the same way about football, and the 4th-and-2 play called by Bill Belichick to win the game against the Colts. I liked the call when it happened, and now I’m so in favor of it that to hear anyone speak against it grates against me. Bill Simmons devoted the first 12 minutes of his podcast to whining about Belichick, with his sidekick calling Belichick both “arrogant” and not confident in his defense; funny that he’s arrogant and unconfident. I’m generally a Simmons defender, but this was an abomination. I’ve yet to hear one good explanation for why the Patriots should not have gone for it. Not. One.

Here are the reasons to go for it, one more time:

• Statistics

The numbers bear out the call, or make it too close to call. The NYT says 78% of the time going for it will result in a win, while punting it will net a win 70% of the time. Football Outsiders does some more math and calls it basically even. Still: no definitive reason NOT to go for it.

• Confidence

For all the talk of the Patriots “not having confidence in their defense,” isn’t this HAVING confidence in the offense? And as Joe Posnanski pointed out, isn’t potentially putting your defense on the field with a 30-yard stand ahead having MORE confidence in them? (I’m not sure this is actually true in this case, but it makes as much sense as anything a grown man who goes by the name “Cousin Sal” says.)

• Logic

As I wrote yesterday, you play to win the game. You work for months to get into a position to do so. Do you take the chance? Bill Belichick did. That’s what I want in my coach. The fact that it didn’t work should have no outcome on our appraisal.

I look at this like the Spurs’ loss to the Lakers when Derek Fisher hit that miracle shot in the playoffs. Two almost identically matched teams, rivals of a decade, the game ending dramatically and by a hair’s breadth. The Patriots are the machine that makes the good decisions, anchored by their consistent star. The Colts are built around one superstar, leading to high risk and reward. The Pats made the right decision and lost. That’s all there is to it.

FINAL NOTE?: Barring Barack Obama suddenly opining on this, I’m going to drop it, but not before linking to a clip of Merril Hoge defending the clip on ESPN. For all the criticisms you can level against Hoge, he nails it here. That’s good, but what’s telling is Josh Elliott’s absolute refusal to let him just say what he thinks. It’s like Hoge was on the O’Reilly Factor or something. It’s embarassing. For all the things ESPN debates that are completely pointless, here’s something that should be discussed, and the host tries to nip it in the bud. Well played, guys.

The Play

They start in the spring. They being practicing as a mass, knowing that in a few months their numbers will be whittled to 53.

The summer comes along, and it’s time for cuts. Every day, the players but their asses to make the NFL. At the end of the month, some do, some don’t. The ones that do have one charge: win football games.

In an average football game, there are 125 plays, on average. You can lose the game on almost all of them, but you cannot win the game on most of them.

So when you get to 4th-and-“2” (really 1) against the best team in football, in their stadium, with the statistics in your favor and an all-time great staring you down, and you finally have a chance to win the game*, do you take it? For months, you’ve practiced and practiced and been taught to execute. Would you take that one chance?

I would, and Bill Belichick would. I’ve heard talking heads say he “disrespected” his team and that he “didn’t trust” it. Nothing could be further from the truth. He trusted his team to make 4th-and-2, and win them the game. He played to win the game. He understands what he is there to do.

Too many times in football and outside of it, people make the easy decision to save themselves, to look better. Belichick did what was right, not worrying about the consequences outside the lines. He ought to be commended.

The one good thing about the Pats’ failure on the play (if they even failed) is it exposed so many football analysts and writers as just fundamentally misunderstanding of the game. The list is long. Bill Simmons. Rodney Harrison. Peter King. Tedy Bruschi. Tony Dungy. Tom Jackson. Keyshawn Johnson. More, more, and more.

Make no mistake — they are wrong. Bill Belichick played to win the game, and he lost.

* Despite what he said, there actually was no guarantee of a win. The Colts take their timeouts after two running plays, and the Pats run a third to move the clock down. That gives Peyton the ball on the 20 or so with about a minute remaining if there’s no first down. That, I could live with.

The Patriots Don’t Hate Their Coach

After the Patriots cut Lawyer Milloy, Tom Jackson said, “They hate their coach right now?”

Turned out they got over it. They won the Super Bowl, and Belichick has been beloved by his players ever since. And he’s hated Jackson for talking about stuff he doesn’t know about.

So all that garbage you hear from Tedy Bruschi, Trent Dilfer, Rodney Harrison, et al about Belichick insulting his defense or some crap like that, just ignore it. Two of those players used to play for the Patriots, so they sound credible, but the emphasis is on the past tense.

Time to move on. They sure have.