OK, Patriots fan, I have a question for you.
Are you happy?
I mean, are you OK with them? Is being reasonably assured that your team is going to win its customary 11 or 12 (or more) games and will win yet another AFC East title and then enter the postseason as not really a Serious Contender but more like a Quality Opponent enough for you?
If you are, that’s fine. I’m with you. We know there will be many pleasurable Sundays and Mondays, with only a few real clunkers. This assumes, of course, that certain people stay healthy, but that’s the case with every team in this most hazardous of team sports.
But time marches on and Tom Brady turned 37 on the third of this month and there are only so many opportunities to stock the trophy case in Foxborough with another Lombardi. Come February, it will be (gulp) 10 seasons since the third Super Bowl triumph. That’s a disturbing number of X’s, L’s, I’s, and V’s ago.
Given some of the monumental teasing you, the fan, have been subjected to, most notably the bitter conclusion to the Super Bowl in February 2008, and the subsequent run of highly successful regular seasons — the team is a gaudy 51-13 the last four years — it would be completely understandable if you are not satisfied with the product. You have expected more. This bridesmaid’s deal is getting old.
You’ve got to be in one camp or the other. I can’t imagine any middle ground.
I’m sure most, but not all, of you were jolted and angered by the recent Bill Belichick eve-of-the-season bombshell, the trading of Logan Mankins, who might very well have been the second-best offensive lineman in the history of the franchise, out-accoladed only by John Hannah. I say it is OK to be angered, but not to have seen this coming means you haven’t been doing your Belichick homework. If you check the public utterances of one Logan Mankins, going back to the OTAs, you will see that he knew he was vulnerable. He heard about the Lawyer Milloy deal. He lived through the Richard Seymour episode. He’s a smart guy.
I’m sure Mankins kept saying to himself, “Nah, I hope Bill wouldn’t really do that to me.” But his rational self knew very well that the coach and chief grocery shopper of the New England Patriots saves his emotions for trips to Canton. When Coach Bill says in reference to any personnel move that “I was acting in the best interests of the team,” he means just that. You don’t think that if he ever determined that Brady was slipping beyond redemption and he thought he had a QB available whom he really thought gave the Patriots a better chance to win on that particular Sunday or Monday evening he wouldn’t do it? Of course, he would.
That brings us to another Patriots issue. Is “In Bill I Trust” still your personal mantra?
That has been the governing principle in Foxborough for 15 years. Coach Bill sometimes moves in mysterious ways. One dare not question his judgment. After all, is he not always acting “in the best interests of the team?” Why, yes. As he sees it. The buck stops with him.
The truth is he is right often, but not always. Admitting an occasional error would make him more endearing and human, but he is not inclined to do that. Wouldn’t you pay cash money to hear him say, just once, “You know, I must admit I’ve made a mess of the a) wide receiver and b) defensive back positions in the last several years?” Because he has, and, especially with regard to the wide receivers, his moves smack of arrogance. His Father Flanagan, “there’s no such thing as a bad boy” signings haven’t been so fruitful, either, with the notable exception of Randy Moss’s record-setting performance in 2007.
Now then, brace yourself. I’m going to bring up the dreaded “S-word.”
Coach Bill was a bad boy. He was an envelope-pushing bad boy, and he got caught. He got caught and he didn’t care. He did it again and then offered up a preposterously lame and thoroughly disingenuous excuse about not being sure of the rule in question. Let’s make one thing clear: Nobody in the NFL knows the rules and regulations better than Bill Belichick.
People hereabouts want to pretend the S-word didn’t happen. The rest of the world knows better. And many Patriots and Belichick haters love to point out that since that S-word thing happened the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl. They coulda/shoulda/woulda won both times against the Giants, but they didn’t. Hats off to the Giants, and to Eli Manning, who twice one-upped Brady by taking the ball behind on the scoreboard and then orchestrating winning touchdown drives in the biggest showcase the sport has to offer.
Some people believe it must be divine intervention, punishing Coach Bill for being a naughty, envelope-pushing boy. I’m not going there.
The specific reason the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since February 2005 is that time and again they have not had a defense good enough to get the other guys off the field in a three-and-out when they absolutely, positively had to do so. The chief grocery shopper’s ingredients were not good enough. Mr. Brady hasn’t always been all that sensational in some of those games, either, but the primary reason for the Patriots’ premature season endings since that last Super Bowl triumph has been a so-so defense.
So, here comes Darrelle Revis. Here, in time, comes Brandon Browner. Here, ready for that proverbial breakout season, is Chandler Jones. Welcome back, Vince Wilfork. Is this the defense you’ve been waiting for?
If it is, then perhaps this interminable, embarrassing decade-long title drought is over (Try not to phrase it that way to your college roomie living in Cleveland). If not, hey, 12-4 is better than 4-12.
Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.