Melissa’s Monday Musings: Are the Patriots’ Winning Ways Good For the NFL?

And we are down to two! Of the four teams that remained, a Philadelphia-New England matchup was likely the dream scenario for the NFL. Both teams hail from major markets, the Eagles have a distinctly raucous fan base and Tom Brady is the most recognizable athlete in America.

Interestingly though, when these teams met in Super Bowl XXXIX (2005) the ratings dipped lower than they had the previous three years despite a thrilling game the was tied at the end of the third quarter. Super Bowl viewership is always a bit of a wild-card since it’s akin to a national holiday that relies on so many non-football fans, though I’d guess this year’s number would somewhat parallel the regular season’s downward ratings slump. But there may be another factor that makes a dent in either direction – the 10,000-foot view of the Patriots and whether they are viewed more with fatigue or awe.

I have a bevy of musings about the AFC and NFC Championship and other NFL happenings later, but can you believe the Patriots came back from a deficit and are in the Super Bowl again? It’s like that fly that sneaks into your house and is impossible to swat as it is far superior to you in every way. It is both annoying and mesmerizing. Let’s examine both sides.

Why the Patriots’ domination is bad for football: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have not headed up a dynasty: they have clogged two decades of football domination. Think of the poor generation of young Bostonians who have never had to face character-building football adversity. The crash will come one day and there better be a lot of therapists on stand by.

More so, the Patriots were far more interesting last season when despite Brady being robbed of four games, he went on to cement his greatness. Brady, with his fifth Super Bowl ring, is widely considered the best of all time. Belichick holds the same status in the coaching ranks. The Steelers may have won six Super Bowls to the Pats’ five but Brady eclipsed Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for most wins by a quarterback when the Patriots hoisted Lombardi last year.

Now, everything is gravy. There is nothing left to prove. Quick frankly, I have no idea why Brady is so insistent on playing until 45. For TB12 branding purposes he’s certainly proven that you can be a top-flight athlete over 40, and besides, how does football not spook him at this point?

The Patriots are the gold standard when it comes to on field excellence but off field Brady is as interesting as a no. 2 pencil and Belichick’s act of nothingness, while still fun to transform into memes, is tired. Yes, his eyes turn into light sabers if you ask him anything newsy. Yes, he mumbles for sport. Yes, he talks extensively about punters. Periodically a fascinating story will come out that delves into what makes Belichick tick – like Jenny Vrentas’s recent beauty about his relationship with Nick Saban – but when it comes to the day-to-day he strategically puts up a wall.

Also, the Patriots may be serial cheaters and may have received a kindness or two from the officials.

Why the Patriots’ domination is good for football: At some point the dynasty will end and while many will collectively exhale, it could be a rough road ahead searching for the next special team.  The fact that the Patriots are one win away from a sixth Super Bowl in this period of parity and season-altering injuries en masse is stunning. Like any great form of art, we should appreciate this moment.

When Brady regresses and Belichick moves on to Cincinnati or wherever, there is nothing close to a franchise that looks ready to take the baton. This is particularly true when it comes to the most important position that makes or breaks an organization. For what now seems like a brief moment in time, it appeared someone would emerge from the Andrew Luck-Russell Wilson-RGIII-Colin Kaepernick group. Wilson has won a Super Bowl and makes jaw-dropping plays from time-to-time but doesn’t have the skill set to compensate for a regressing defense or errant offensive line. Who knows what Luck will look like upon return. Same with Carson Wentz. Aaron Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer but he has never had the support system, including the coaching, to helm a dynasty anywhere close to what is happening in New England.

The fact that Brady was this underdog kid that beat the odds adds to his legend. And while he’s bland as unsweetened almond milk, Brady has never done anything criminal to deter from it. Well, aside from a certain hat choice.

The Patriots have also inspired mass unification, in that pretty much everyone who says chow-der and not chow-dah shares a strong dislike for this team for the reasons I spilled out in the previous section. Yet there’s a healthy twist. On so many occasions, the anti-Patriots contingent will expend much energy viscerally cheering on New England’s opponent, but by the fourth quarter they soften and can’t help but marvel at the undeniable greatness before them. That is exactly what happened on Sunday.

More Musings

– Jags safety Barry Church’s hit on Rob Gronkowski was not dirty and we have to stop giving this moniker to every helmet-to-helmet hit. What was he supposed to do on that play? While fans at home have the comfort of slo-mo, the actual game is played at lightening fast speed. Players have half a second to decide how to approach a receiver, who by the way, and this is key, is in motion. Church critics suggested that there’s a lot of space on Gronk’s 6’6”, 270-pound frame. Yeah, that’s not how it works.  Church’s 15-yard penalty was deserved because he violated a rule that is rightly in place to make the game safer. It doesn’t mean it’s remotely easy to follow.

– No quarterback can look as skittish as Tom Brady did in the first half of this game and then as stoic as he did in the second half. Brady’s an emotional player but his laser focus is a defining point of his greatness.

– What a game-winning drive aided by Danny Amendola. A punt return that put New England at the 30-yard line, followed by an amazing 4-yard TD catch in the back of the end zone. Amendola’s a special player who fits in perfectly in New England.

– No one makes halftime adjustments like the Patriots. It’s not even close.

– The Jags will be a winning franchise for years to come. Doug Marrone is a top-flight strategist and his wealth of talent, especially defensively, is the envy of most organizations.

– Hell of a game for Leonard Fournette. What a bulldozer in short yardage situations.

–  Major kudos to Nick Foles for looking like Tom Brady. After one errant early deep throw to Torrey Smith that forced Smith to lose his space, Foles was flawless. I went on several shows this week and said I believed Foles was the worst of the remaining quarterbacks, largely based on some inaccuracy and footwork issues. I was wrong. So wrong. Given the landscape, I think Foles would have to be really muck up the Super Bowl to not be a bonafide starter somewhere next season. (Ahem, Buffalo and Cleveland)

 – Fun fact: Rookie DE Derek Barnett, who strip sacked Case Keenum in the second quarter was the Eagles first round pick acquired by the Vikings in the Sam Bradford trade.

– Really disappointing performance by Case Keenum. He seemed spooked by the Eagles defense early to the point where his spatial awareness was way off.

–  At least the Vikings won when it came to best TD celebration of the weekend.

– Defensive Pass Interference is more infuriating than the catch rule. The league really needs to enact two levels: 15 yards for minor DPI, spot foul for more egregious acts that, for example, are designed to eradicate a touchdown

– Thank you to Tony Romo for being, in this writer’s opinion, the most consistently great aspect of the NFL this season. His analysis and enthusiasm was phenomenal.

– I’ll be heading to Minneapolis next week and look forward to bringing you some unique angles. Send warm thoughts, please!