The False Start: It ain’t over ’til it’s started

The king of fast food journalism, ESPN's Skip Bayless. Credit: Getty Images
The king of fast food journalism, ESPN’s Skip Bayless. Credit: Getty Images

 

The False Start is a weekly football column consisting of nonsensical analysis about how we, as consumers, think about the New England Patriots and the NFL – excuse me, THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.

PREGAME: Every football fan’s mental state right now – You’re not moving forward without looking backwards first, man(-ning)…

 

 

I love Peyton Manning as much as the next dude. I’ve never rooted harder for a non-Boston athlete to both succeed and fail. That’s mostly because when Peyton Manning matters, the NFL is more fun. And the best part? Manning usually pulls through.

Last Thursday night, his command of Denver’s offense – and the game, really – was transcendent. But his seven touchdown passes didn’t faze me. I mean, we’ve seen this song and dance before, haven’t we? Save for Manning’s one Super Bowl-winning season, his season arc usually entails throwing for a kajillion yards and 50 passing touchdowns. He appears to be in control, and then, come playoff time, things tighten up, and he falls apart. It’s not that simple, of course, but neither is football.

I’m not taking anything away from the guy – again, I love watching him play football. And hey, if Super Bowls were given out every week, then, without question, the Broncos would have received the Week 1 trophy.

So yes, Peyton Manning, Wes Welker and the Broncos will be great. Your 6-year-old nephew could have told you that before he threw seven touchdown passes against the Ravens. But the question remains: Will they be great when it matters?

 

COIN TOSS: These are two guys I’d love to have (19) beers with, that are immune to age, and, most importantly, always manage to rock a mean power suit in their respective pregame shows. So much so, that if either were pitching me in a business meeting, I’d absolutely invest a grand into their shady hedge fund without them even uttering a word. That leaves us with a tough call this week, but it’s worth asking:

Rodney Harrison vs. Kirk Herbstreit, who ya got?

 

“Oh yeah, that’s a ‘Walk-Off’ Challenge, my friend.”

 

Look, Rodney has rings, but Herbie’s street cred, after an interview with Eminem this weekend, is undeniably deniable (does that make sense?).

Verdict: Herbie and Rod participate in “Walk-Offs,” at the amusement of Bobby Kraft, pictured here at a Tommy Hilfiger fashion show this week, who comes in late with a flying elbow, and declares victory. Like a boss. THE PATRIOT WAY.

 

KICKOFF: If Week 1 represented hope, as I wrote in this very space last week, its aftermath and sequel used to be about validation. Yes, validation: for what we thought we knew, for predictions made, for belief, and for the ultimate “I TOLD YOU SO” -ers to come out, pitchforks in hand, like a hip-hop hype man prancing around the stage, overreacting at every turn. It was glorious.

That changed, however, when snarky Internet columnists (LIKE ME) and Twitter folk began holding everything – and everyone – in check. “SLOW YOUR ROLL,” we insisted. And now, the Week 2 chatter is more about overreacting to the overreacters. And, remarkably, this phenomenon spawned an even greater backlash of reaction. If this sounds very meta, very real, and very incestuous – well, that’s because it is. And I’m not quite sure we’re all better off for it.

The opening Denver rant is a reflection of this narrative. The Patriots, as we’ll get to shortly, represent the other end of the spectrum.

Somehow, I’d like to blame ESPN for this, largely because of its fast food journalistic mantra, “EMBRACE DEBATE,” fueled by Ronald McDonald himself, Skip Bayless, but then I’d have to watch Skip Bayless do whatever it is he does. Frankly, dear readers, I feel more comfortable and safe here, in the comfort of my ivory tower.

 

TOUCHBACK: As I was leaving a South Boston bar last Sunday afternoon, a woman in her late-20s bemoaned, “Bill Belichick needs to slap these kids around.” She wasn’t particularly upset, but she wasn’t happy either. Indifference as an emotion is a scary thing.

From that point on, I knew what we were in store for this week. Locally, the usual suspects in the media have taken their ire of everything Hoodie & Co. to new levels; places where I can’t follow. Because it turns out this season there’s a new twist on the media venom surrounding the Flying Elvis: We’re no longer judging the Patriots on just their win-loss record, but by the way in which they obtain said-record. A win is just a means to further scrutiny; satisfaction is unattainable; and now, football season is just a journey to disappointment. Because, guess what? Beating the Bills is “boring,” we’re now told. If this sounds awful, it’s because it is.

Worse, the end game is just as asinine as the premise. In this new spin, Tom Terrific and Co. must win by a wide margin in order to determine if – in Week 1 – this is a team capable of winning the Super Bowl, which, the calendar tells me, is over five months away. By this logic, improvement isn’t an option – how the Patriots looked on Sept. 9, 2013, is how they’ll look by season’s end.

If you want to scream, “WHY CAN’T WE HAVE NICE THINGS?!” now is the appropriate time to do so.

(Waiting…)

(Waiting…)

(With me?)

(Good.)

Now, this is all silly. No other team – not the highly-regarded Seahawks, who squeaked by the lowly Panthers, or the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens, who were outclassed by old friends with alliterative names that start with the letter ‘W’ and respected rivals (MANN .. ing) – have to deal with this unseemly expectation.

The danger of success, it appears, is that consistent achievement leads to its unwarranted devaluation. Good enough is never actually good enough. Ultimately, the regular season’s perceived depreciation means that time is both a friend, and enemy, of the Patriots. Yikes.

 

CHALLENGE OVERTURNED: OK, real talk: That was my defense of the indefensible, because, real life reactions to Sunday’s victory in Buffalo included muttering the following sentiments:

“Kenbrell Thompkins is a real part of this offense, and I’m not sure if he could start for the Bills.”

“Buffalo is really bad at football. I can’t even pinpoint specifics. Offense. Defense. Coaching. Their special teams isn’t very good either. Like, conceptually speaking even. Just end-to-end awful.”

“Did Kenbrell Thomkins get the same playbook that Joey Galloway had?”

“Good thing Stevie Johnson dropped that critical third down pass late in the fourth quarter! Needed that like you wouldn’t believe!”

“Kenbrell Thomkins is definitely a thing that needs to be monitored going forward.”

HALFTIME SPEECH: If there’s an obvious theme here that’s because Tom Brady targeted Kenbrell Thomkins 14 times, and the rookie wideout only hauled in four of those passes. That’s 28.5 percent. That’s not good.

It goes without saying that it’s entirely possible Thomkins will improve. After all, this is an undrafted rookie in his first NFL regular season game. In the meantime, on the bright side, here’s what Thomkins had to say about the performance:

“Got some things to clean up and everything like that, but notice I managed to play the whole game.”

In other words, he was present. Like a hungover college kid at a Friday class gingerly saying “present” as the professor takes attendance. Nice.

 

FUMBLE: Some inside baseball for a moment: Look, I love my column here. When I tell people what I do, they immediately want to know what I think is going to happen in any given game, and after dolling out my thoughts, they often react as if this magically confirms what they already expected, or drastically altered what they once thought. I never understood this authority, but with great power comes great responsibility, and in the interest of transparency, this probably feels like a good time to admit I went 6-9 against the spread. Suddenly, I feel much better.

 

FINAL SCORE: After just one game, Shane Vereen is second in the league among running backs in rushing yards. He did most of his damage in the second half despite suffering a hand injury – the same injury that will keep him on the shelf until the midway point of the season.

Danny Amendola is tied for third among all players with 10 receptions. But he, too, is dealing with an injury and is likely to miss this week’s game against the Jets.

And despite not playing in Buffalo, Rob Gronkowski still leads the league with (approximately) 19 offseason surgeries. He won’t see the field against Gang Green either.

The spread – 13 points!! – is far too high (even though it’s the Jets, the same team that managed to inspire everyone on Twitter to collectively use a #LOLJets hashtag when discussing the team as opposed to just the #Jets). Even though Rex Ryan’s defense has given him trouble in the past, I see Tom Brady at home, under the lights, managing to muster enough offense to win.

Patriots 24, Jets 13

 

Follow Ryan Hadfield on Twitter @Hadfield__

 


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