Tuesday, February 07, 2012

I hate losing even more than I hate winning

I was wrong about this Super Bowl, but gladly so. I sank to 6-5 in this playoff season, making me slightly better than random chance, though considering that there are 11 playoff games, I don't know if 5.5 wins are possible. Many people, students included, asked me who I cheered for, but the truth, of course, is that I cheered against the Patriots. I like watching the Giants play, especially their defensive line, but I wouldn't necessarily say I always cheer for them. I am amused, however, that Eli Manning has now won two Super Bowls.

That's two wins by a total of seven points, which hardly inspires confidence, but that is what many people said (and still say) about Tom Brady's three Super Bowl wins, which were by a combined nine points. There are fewer people who challenge Brady's credentials because he has since gone on to put up the sort of irrelevant regular-season statistics that turn people like Peyton Manning and Dan Marino into such curiosities.

As untouchable as the Patriots were in those years, when they won ugly, with championship teams made up of spare parts (Tom Brady being one, initially) and receivers playing defense, they have become the sort of regular season paper tiger that the Colts have been for so long. Consider this run of playoff appearances after the last Patriots Super Bowl win seven years ago:

2005 playoffs - opened with a 28-3 win in the wild card round, lost 27-13 to the Broncos on the road
2006 playoffs - beat the Jets in the first round, squeaked by the Chargers thanks to Marty Schottenheimer's loss aversion, and then blew a 21-3 lead to the Colts in the AFC championship game
2007 playoffs - started off 18-0, then blew a 14-10 lead in the final minute of the Super Bowl
2008 playoffs - did not appear
2009 playoffs - routed 33-14 at home by the Ravens in the wild card round
2010 playoffs - got a bye, lost 28-21 at home to the loud-mouthed Jets in the second round
2011 playoffs - beat the hapless Broncos 45-10, squeaked by the Ravens on a dropped touchdown and inexplicably missed field goal, blew a 17-15 lead in the last minute of the Super Bowl

At some point, a pattern would start to emerge, as counter-intuitive as it is. Just like the Colts of the past decade, who could have won every regular season game by five touchdowns, but still lost 21-20 to the Chargers at home, the Patriots just can't seem to win when it counts. Or, more likely, someone just happens to be better. It's not the Patriots don't have talent, they have far more of it than they did when they won the Super Bowl, but it just hasn't been working out, no matter how explosive the offense gets.

Bill Belichick is acknowledged as the best coach in the league for thinking about the game in a way that makes other coaches fuzzy-headed. Not only does he play aggressive, but he's always playing, making adjustments when his competitors are content to let their teams play on using an existing strategy that's not working. He has played a significant role in normalizing the shotgun and multi-receiver sets on first and second downs, in any situation.

On the surface, just as he seems to get best at what he does, leading his teams to 16-0 and 14-2 seasons, he seems to get worst, losing both times in the Super Bowl. What's maybe more likely is that while the 16-0 team was a fantastic team, it simply met its match in the Giants that day. This time was probably not as good as it seemed, considering the way it played against teams with a winning record. Wins over the Broncos (9-8 when they met) and the Ravens were the only ones they recorded all year, but I wouldn't really count the Broncos as a winning team and the Ravens just barely lost.

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