Like snowflakes, no two NFL seasons are alike. I forget who first made that declaration. But it was a prescient observation.
Regarding your local 11, we are five weeks into the 2012 season, and the distinguishing feature is that, following each of the first five games, we were left with the following query: “What exactly did that mean?”
Yes, the Patriots are, at the least, good. We all knew that going in.
I thought the team was good enough that we could label the schedule — which conveniently placed the preponderance of the clearly difficult games in Foxborough — as a 13-3 schedule. Applying the logic we all love to employ, however faulty it inevitably turns out to be (e.g. who didn’t have the Arizona game down as a mortal-lock W?), I figured at Baltimore as an L. You had to be reasonable enough to think they could lose at home to either Houston or San Francisco, and perhaps even to a Peyton Manning-led Denver.
I was even ready — don’t laugh — to give the Jets a real shot down there in the Meadowlands.
Mix it up somehow and it still seemed eminently logical to me that 13 was a reasonable victory total for this particular Patriots team.
In theory, they should be 4-1. In reality, they are 3-2, and can anyone argue with a straight face that they deserved to win either of the two they lost? Come on, they were outplayed by both Arizona and Baltimore. Both the field goal that wasn’t and the field goal that was (no one will ever know for sure if it was good or not) represented Justice, at least to my way of thinking.
And Justice, with certain exceptions such as the Super Bowl, is what I generally seek in a sporting event. I abhor messy endings, and, yes, I’m talking about the Tuck Rule. Sorry, but it’s something we all have to live with.
It’s been something of an upside-down NFL season, starting with the NFC North, where both Minnesota and Chicago look like Very Serious Teams, Green Bay looks like Yesterday’s News, and the Lions look like a Classic Fraud. And, of course, we all knew that after five weeks all members of the once-scorned NFC West would have winning records, the St. Louis Rams included.
The Patriots, by the way, play the Rams in London Oct. 28, and now it looks as if they should plan on bringing their B-Plus game, at the very least.
High on the list of NFL surprises is the fact that after five weeks of play, your lads rank third among all NFL squads in rushing yardage. Third! Were you prepared for this? I certainly wasn’t.
Whoa. Is this real? Is it something we can actually rely on? Are the Patriots really and truly achieving the coveted balanced offense the entire football world, and not just Josh McDaniels, craves?
Right now, it’s three out of five. The Stevan Ridley-Brandon Bolden (and even Danny Woodhead) running game has been there against Tennessee, Buffalo, and Denver. It was not there against Arizona and Baltimore. So, how does that make you feel? Great? Good? Pretty good? Confident? Hopeful? Wary? I’m not sure.
I think we can all agree there’s a lot to like about Mr. Ridley. As Coach Bill keeps saying, he runs hard. This fumble thing is disturbing, for sure, but the fact is there’s a whole lot of football dislodging going on, with defenders punching or stripping the ball from the ball carrier, and the Patriots have proven to be pretty good at it themselves.
I’m not panicking on that score. I hope they keep giving Ridley the ball in so-called “closeout” situations.
As an aside, have you heard that after never once losing the ball during his Patriots career, the Law Firm has fumbled three times in his new incarnation as a Bengal? This is yet another reason why I will always maintain that in the matter of truth vs. fiction, I advocate taking truth, plus the points, every time. Trust me, you won’t go wrong.
Now, if this running is game is absolutely for real, it’s hardly a stretch to say the Patriots once again have the best offense in the league. I think we can shelve the idea of Wes Welker being “phased out,” although the real answer will come, I suppose, when Aaron Hernandez returns.
Regardless, what reasonable person could doubt Welker’s ongoing value? May I suggest the following inscription on his tombstone?
“HERE LIES WES WELKER. HE MOVED THE CHAINS.”
It is now time to make a public confession. Earlier in the season, I was starting to doubt, Lord forgive me, No. 12. He just didn’t look, well, right. He was misfiring more than usual. He was flinching in the pocket when it didn’t seem to be necessary, and I couldn’t remember when he had last connected on an honest-to-goodness bomb requiring a perfect throw. If this was a once-great player in decline, well, so be it. After all, he is 35.
Isn’t it nice when you can be so happy being so wrong?
Defensively, I love our front seven, and though I must yield to the experts in making the final assessment, it would amaze me if another nose tackle sort were playing better than Vince Wilfork, whose performance the last two years should make him a topic of conversation when the committee convenes on some future Super Bowl Saturday to discuss Hall of Fame nominees. He is fast becoming to Patriots DLs what John Hannah was to OLs.
But oh, that secondary. It represents the final piece of the puzzle, and it is the main reason we are left each weekend, win or lose, with that nagging doubt. Don’t you agree?
I know the defense managed to get Peyton & Co. off the field last Sunday when it mattered, but it took one great individual effort to get it done. Was there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Manning was going to get the Broncos in the end zone, and there could be a successful onside kick, and the 24-point lead would have been wiped out . . . and I hate to even think about it?
See, that’s what I’m talking about. There was lots of good last Sunday, but there was just enough bad to allow those of us who aren’t happy unless there is something to worry about to worry.
And this is no gimme in Seattle. You may be feeling peachy-keen. I’m lighting candles.
Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.