Culture of excess
This was going to be an assault, a full-on, guns blazing attack on the New England Patriots and the unsportsmanlike, classless way in which they have run up the score on a host of opponents this season. The next several paragraphs were going to set a world record for synonyms for arrogant. They were going to rip Patriots coach Bill Belichick for his lack of sportsmanship, vilify receiver Randy Moss for stealing paychecks from the Oakland Raiders the past few seasons only to come back to life for the Pats and excoriate quarterback Tom Brady for ... well, we were going to think of something.
But upon further review, as an NFL referee might put it, we just can't do it. We can't work up a decent amount of outrage over the way the Pats are rubbing other teams' noses in it, as they did in their 56-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night. Truth be told, we're actually kind of enjoying it. When New England piled it on, bypassing a field goal attempt on fourth-and-goal with a 35-7 third-quarter lead and threw for another touchdown, it was like Bill Gates stealing some kid's lunch money -- not just mean, but ridiculously unnecessary. The Patriots are so amazing to behold, though, so nearly flawless, that we have to forgive them their excesses. We can't hate them, because they're beautiful.
That's why the complaints about their lopsided victories and Belichick's penchant for leaving his starters in the game long after it's been decided have never really gained traction. A few critics have called for more compassion, but there hasn't been much of a backlash against the Pats. Notice how New England engenders very little booing on the road? That's because even opposing fans can't help but admire this team.
The Pats' games seem less like competitions than performances, or maybe even lab experiments set up to determine just how far superior one NFL team can be to another. If Brady closes his eyes, could he still hit Wes Welker in stride? Could Moss stop in the middle of his route, do the Soulja Boy, and still get open for a touchdown pass? How many points does New England have to score before the opposing defensive coordinator comes down from the coaches' box and tries to strangle Belichick with the strings of his hoodie?
The Patriots make all of that seem possible with their precision and their relentlessness, especially on offense. It's hard to criticize Belichick for leaving the Brady Bunch in longer than necessary when it's so entertaining to watch them perform. The New England offense scored on each of its first seven possessions against Buffalo. The last two of those drives were purely showing off (the Pats scored their final TD on a fumble return), but when the show is great, no one minds when it runs a little long.
That doesn't mean that the Patriots' cold-blooded behavior is the wisest way to go, however. It only takes one ticked-off blitzing linebacker, sick of looking like the Washington Generals next to New England's Harlem Globetrotters, to take a garbage-time cheap shot at Brady and change the course of the Patriots' season. The reason there are rules against taunting and unwritten ones against running up the score are not so much to spare the feelings of the losers -- this is the NFL we're talking about, they're big boys -- but to keep the peace. Disrespecting the opponent tends to lead to retaliation, and that seems to be the only thing that can stop the Patriots' locomotive.
But if Belichick is willing to expose his stars to such potential harm, that's his prerogative. Our only request is that he and his players stop with the disingenuous explanations for beating teams into submission. Don't tell us that the Patriots only know one way to play, or that they keep the pedal to the metal because they want to work on their execution or keep the edge. Just once we'd like to hear a Patriot tell the whole truth: "We humiliate teams because we can. One of these days we might break 100, because we're badass like that. And instead of whining about whether we're winning politely, you should thank your lucky stars that you have the privilege of watching us do our thing."
That would no doubt bring on another wave of criticism, but not from this corner. As much as we disapprove of what the Patriots sometimes do, we can't help but be fascinated by the way do it.