Nine days after that ugly crash in Denver -- and five days until the Super Bowl -- I remain entangled in the 2013 Patriots themes still making the postmortem rounds.
Because I just can't let go...
* Bill Belichick's best coaching job ever?
Because of the ridiculous number of injuries to significant players that New England overcame to reach the AFC title game, 2013 is widely considered to have been Belichick at his mightiest. I'm sticking with 2001 as Belichick's grand masterpiece, and not just because it ended with the Patriots' first Super Bowl victory. But because Belichick at that time was not yet (echo effect goes here) BELICHICK. For a coach whose first head coaching job ended with the Cleveland Browns moving to Baltimore without him to convince those 2001 Patriots to buy what he was selling was truly remarkable. Now, though, he is (again, echo effect goes here) BELICHICK, so his program is firmly in place, creating the environment in which winning happens no matter who goes on IR or to jail.
But again, at the moment Mo Lewis hit Drew Bledsoe 13 seasons ago, Belichick was 5-12 as Patriots head coach, and moments later 5-13. Fans grumbled. He was still widely viewed as a great defensive assistant too odd to succeed as a head coach. Four months later he was a genius. 2001 remains his masterpiece. Everything else since then has been just an echo effect.
* Desperation time for 36-year-old Tom Brady?
No. Not even close.
The window of opportunity to win a fourth Super Bowl title with Brady is closing, but it is still open plenty wide enough. Brady this season showed no deterioration, even if the same cannot be said of the roster of skill players around him. Brady last summer said he hopes to play beyond age 40, which gives the Patriots at least four more seasons of Brady. Four years in pro-football time is almost a Paleocene epoch. It's a loooong time. Consider that the Patriots finished the 2013 season with only nine healthy players who were still on the team from four years before. There is always an urgent urgency in the Not For Long league. The window of opportunity is always closing on everyone. Yeah, Brady might get hurt next season. That is more a hazards-of-football thing than a Brady-turns-37-in-August thing. He is still on top of his game.
* Nothing short of a Super Bowl title matters anymore?
That is not so.
The promise of Super Bowl titles is why NFL players and coaches make the big bucks, I suppose. And certainly the Patriots set high standards. They spoiled us with three titles from 2001-04 and have teased us ever since. Still, in our winning-the-Super-Bowl-is-the-only-thing society, consistency gets nowhere near the respect it deserves. This was the Patriots' 13th consecutive winning season, with 11 of those being playoff seasons. (Green Bay has the second-longest active streak of only five straight winning seasons.)
Consider that the Giants beat the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl in the past seven seasons. And in four of the other five seasons during that stretch they missed the playoffs, including in the last two. The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs this season at 8-8. The Patriots remain seriously in the hunt every year. There is something to be said for that.
Bovada online sportsbook's over/under on the temperature at kickoff for Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday in the Meadowlands is 34 degrees. Peyton Manning's over/under in the postseason is, of course, 40 degrees, at or below which his playoff record is 0-4. Two of Denver's three losses this season came in sub-40 conditions, one being Nov. 24 in Foxboro. Usually it is not the cold that bothers quarterbacks, but the wind, like in Foxboro that night.
Manning started wearing gloves in some games after the spinal fusion surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season in Indianapolis affected his feel for the ball. According to the Associated Press, Manning in 13 games wearing one or two gloves has a 111.9 QB rating, better than without gloves. He doesn't wear them just in cold weather. He wore them while torching New England on a sunny-and-in-the-60s day in the AFC title game. So the cold and Richard Sherman might bother Manning on Sunday, but wearing gloves won't.
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