The New England Patriots’ season came to end. It had been exciting, and was looking to us like a Super Bowl was in reach. The day after their AFC Championship Game loss to the Indianapolis Colts, we are looking at regular life again, and significantly down-sized Super Bowl parties.
The Colts and Peyton Manning were better – enough so to win. They showed a much improved defense, but the game toward the end became a typical Colts-Patriots affair – where the teams trade hectic drives until the clock runs out. In the first half we got touchdowns on such drives, and the Colts got field goals; that was to be somewhat reversed in the second half.
Manning was very much on target; although under a fair amount of pressure. Dallas Clark did what Marvin Harris did to the Pats in the regular season game. Stabbed us repeatedly with vaulting catches followed by speedy gallops.. I remember at the time of the regular season game [saw the game from a bar at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas where a playoff atmosphere hovered and I sat next to a cold calculating Colt follower] thinking maybe Patriot Coach Bellicheck was saving some tricks for their eventual playoff get together - not showing his hand. Wistful and wrong was I.
The Colts quarterback and his receivers are uniquely able to attack through the air. Short, long, in the middle. Most notably, Manning caught Clark a number of times on the run. It is astounding but not surprising when they pick up 40 yards on a single play.
The hometown crowd is a bit hurt by the breakdown after going to a 21-3 lead, and a 21-6 lead at halftime. On our halftime call I told Ma I was going to bed as the game was foregone, but I was just kidding. The Colts can generate points like New York short-order cooks shooting out breakfast specials. I think it is fair to say that the Pats victory the previous week against San Diego - which as at the time the “greatest football team in history” capable of outscoring the score happy Colts in spades - took something out of the Pats.
But you take the cards you are dealt, right? You cannot say that was the reason the team couldn’t run effectively, why Caldwell dropped the ball twice, why the Colts often could run in 6 and 7 yard gulps, why a headbutt on QB penalty tacked 12 yards onto a 14 yard Reggie Wayne reception, why we had 12 men in the huddle when two or three first-downs might have sealed our three-point lead.
Against San Diego, Tom Brady accomplished his usual magic to create the tying and winning scores within a five to eight minute period; with a little luck. He could not do it in one minute yesterday.
It makes me melancholy because the Pats still had a fair core of players that had been onboard through three Super Bowl victories, including Mike Vrabel, Teddy Bruschi, Larry Izzo, Troy Brown, Brady, and of course the head coach Bellicheck. Standouts from that run Adam Viniateri and Dan Klecko [a line man who scored a touchdown in the game] played for the Colts yesterday. That is the way it is. If the Pats had one a fourth Superbowl in six years [which would require them to bury the Bears that slaughtered the team in its 1986 SuperBowl visit] they would have moved into the realm of truly historically great teams. And I cannot blame the country in large part being glad for Manning an Dungee as they are now in a position to prove they are ultimately a successful team. Ultimately successful is not the same as truly historically great.
The Pats of 2006 worked hard and tried. For me Tom Brady is still Tom Terrific, my boy Tommy. The luck was not with the crew this day. In one moment when Reggie Wayne bobbled the ball, the sphere alone in the air, it seemed, maybe…the football gods would shine on us again. When we were great, just last week in fact, these things seemed to bounce to us.