FOXBORO – Don’t worry, Patriots fans -- the defense won’t matter. I’m here to tell you that the team has learned from the last two years and the playoff losses to the Ravens and Jets.
They’ll take care of business in the last two regular season games, head into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed again and this time, get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in four years.
‘Tis the season for holiday wishes and all Patriots fans are wishing that this playoff season will be different. They don’t want to be left holding a bag of coal in the second weekend of January. They want to unwrap a brand new shiny Vince Lombardi trophy in early February in Indianapolis.
How fitting would that be? Tom Brady winning a fourth championship on Peyton Manning’s home turf, doing it exactly the way Manning might have, if healthy.
I’m going to play Santa and grant the wish. Stop with the negative thinking. The Patriots have.
“We know we have to tackle better. We know the fundamentals have to be better but we’re not paying attention to those who say we can’t do it.”
Those words of wisdom come from linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who recovered from getting embarrassed by Tim Tebow on his first-quarter TD run last Sunday to register a 29-yard sack of Tebow that made Bob Lilly smile.
“Whatever they say, it doesn’t matter,” added James Ihedigbo. “Just ignore the noise and go about our business. We know what we’re capable of.”
This team has the biggest of chips on its collective shoulders from everyone and their brother and sister saying this team’s defense has ZERO shot of advancing in the playoffs. Is there anyone better at using those sentiments as fuel to the fire than Bill Belichick?
The Patriots coach has been particularly ornery this week. You could just tell from the tone.
I ask a simple question about how Aaron Hernandez might help take the load off Rob Gronkowski as the Patriots move forward in the playoffs. I get the following:
“Everybody is important,” Belichick began with a slow simmer, before building. “Offense is about team execution, especially in the passing game. We don’t know where the ball is going to go when the play is called, we don’t know what coverage their defense is going to be in. Everybody has to be ready. Whatever happens then Tom makes the best decision that he can based on what he sees and what play we have called.
“All the receivers have to be ready to beat their man or get to a space where they’re open. Tom will try to make the best decision he can and get it to the guy that gives us the best opportunity. You can’t call a pass that just goes to one receiver, I just don’t understand that. A screen pass, that’s one thing. When you send five guys out for the pass and [say], ‘I’m just going to throw it to this guy,’ it just doesn’t work that way, at least not around here, maybe it does somewhere else. I just can’t understand that. I know everybody thinks that’s what we do. I just don’t understand it.”
That is why I absolutely love these Patriots going forward. Belichick is agitated, grumpy and dying to drive every last word of negativity into his players so they can prove the world that the experts are morons who have their heads inverted you know where.
What about replacing Andre Carter and his team-leading 10 sacks?
“Whatever 11 guys are out there, they’re going to have to get the job done, whatever it is,” he said. “We don’t know what play they’re going to run so whoever we put out there will have to defend whatever plays they choose to call -- runs, passes, play action, whatever it is, we’re just going to have to go out there and defend it with whichever group we put out there. Some of that will depend on who they put on the field and how we match up and soforth. I don’t know.”
I believe bitterness and anger can be a great motivational tool. So can an inferiority complex.
Don’t tell me about the 32nd ranked defense. Who cares? The Packers -- Super Bowl favorites -- are 31st.
Don’t tell me about the Patriots facing UFL quarterbacks the last six weeks. They’ve created turnovers, right?
Trags, dipping a bit too much into the spirit-flavored eggnog, are you? Have you not been paying attention to the worst-ranked defense all season? Did you not watch the abysmal first quarter in Denver when Tim Tebow turned into Jim Brown?
Guilty, on all counts.
And all the Grinches out there continue to berate me. Were you not paying attention the last two playoff seasons when Baltimore and the Jets came into Foxboro with Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez, respectively, and manhandled the Patriots?
Yep, can’t deny that.
But I also watched the last two weeks around the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger has no ligaments left in his ankles and his Steelers teammates barely had enough gas to hold on against the Browns at home before getting annihilated by the 49ers in San Francisco. The Steelers are bruised and beaten.
I watched as Joe Flacco and the Ravens were picked apart by the Chargers Sunday night in San Diego. The Ravens allowed Philip Rivers to score on their first five possessions. What do you think Tom Brady will do to that defense?
I watched as the Jets lost a mediocre quarterback in Sanchez and brought in a 41-year-old Mark Brunell with nothing left in the tank. The Jets were pummeled by an Eagles team that the Patriots left for dead on the same field just a month earlier.
I watched a Texans team not able to handle success, a week after their most dramatic win in franchise history. T.J. Yates beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on a last-second TD, marching the team down the field with no timeouts left. They clinched the AFC South with the win and then lost at home to the Panthers, as Cam Newton tore apart the Texans defense.
They then lost Thursday night to the Colts when they allowed Don Orlovsky to beat them with 19 seconds remaining.
Besides Norv Turner’s too little, too late Chargers, the only team with a chance of facing the Patriots in the playoffs that won on Sunday was the Bengals. And they trailed the hapless Rams, 6-3, at halftime. The Bengals actually may present the biggest challenge and danger to the Patriots if they get into the playoffs. They have a young, poised QB in Andy Dalton, a rookie All-Pro receiver in A.J. Green, a nice tandem of tight ends led by Jermaine Gresham, a bruising running attack and a very young and talented defensive line.
They also have Marvin Lewis.
Forget Rex Ryan. Please. Been there, done that.
Wouldn’t it just be hilarious to see Marvin have to answer question after question about Chad Ochocinco for a week? I would drive through the Blizzard of ’78 for that conference call at Gillette.
So, stop with all negative thinking. It’s Christmas and Hanukkah week. The Patriots have learned from the past. They’ll be fine going into the playoffs as the top seed. There will be no blips this year, only the bright lights that signal the way to Indianapolis.
Obviously, many of my tweeps on Twitter would beg to differ with me:
@BostonRocks Different how, Trags? You rarely win a championship without at least "good" defense. The Pats don't have that.
@hdecoursey Nope. Still vulnerable to teams who can effectively shut the offense down. Would hate to play Steelers or Ravens
@danwelch73 Defense still worries me. I don't think they have a championship defense.
@tmnchmnstr Not with that D
To all of you, all I can say is: Believe in Bill Belichick. He was Santa once upon a time, right?
No rant this week.
This week, instead, an appeal to help handicapped children and wounded veterans who love hockey. Wounded veterans are looking for funding to furnish equipment for the sport of sled hockey.
The group, which can be found here, helps young people develop social, emotional, mental and physical skills needed in today’s society.
“Sled Hockey USA” and “VetsOnJets” – both affiliated with USA Hockey - are looking for moral support and dollars to provide additional opportunities for today’s youth.
The Massachusetts sled hockey program was established after several years of work, benefitting both kids and veterans with lower extremity paralysis or amputations. Last year was the program's first year, and they are now collaborating with a similar program in New Hampshire.
The used equipment is getting old. Now would be a good time to help with new equipment for the new year.