For the Patriots, 1 is the lonliest number

By Cyd Zeigler jr.

19 down, 1 to go

In August, I decided I was going to write this column based entirely on the Patriots every week. “I’ll be the obnoxious Patriots fan and play it to the hilt,” I decided. It was actually quite fun. It’s amazing the hate and venom that other people will spew when they don’t get what they want. It was eye-opening.

First and foremost, congratulations to the New York Giants and their fans. I truly did not think a loss for the Patriots this season was even possible. After watching their first game, I felt that there was some undefined greater power at work and that the Pats were truly “destined” for 19-0. I was wrong. Sports are sports, nothing is pre-ordained, and anything can happen. “Any Given Sunday,” right?

By Jim Buzinski

18-1: Well, so much for “Greatest Team Ever” and the “Greatest Quarterback Ever” and the “Greatest Offense Ever” etc. Try “Greatest Disappointment Ever.”

The New York Giants’ mesmerizing 17-14 comeback win over the New England Patriots shattered all the pregame hype surrounding the Pats and their place in history. It left the Pats and the 1968 Baltimore Colts as the greatest upset victims in NFL history, both huge Super Bowl favorites who failed to deliver when it most counted. The Pats go from historic to just another Super Bowl loser, albeit only the second team ever to lose a Super Bowl lead in the final minute (the 1988 Cincinnati Bengals were the other).

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So congratulations to the Giants. To think about their last year, their Super Bowl victory was rather unbelievable. Their best player (Tiki Barber) retired, the fans all (and I mean ALL) wanted the coach fired, at least half of them wanted to run the quarterback out of town, their defensive leader held out in camp, and they started 0-2. That they went on to win the Super Bowl is pretty amazing, pretty inspiring. I’m happy for them.

Giants fans

The Giants fans have been very classy. Aside from the stories at work today about drunken fans walking down the middle of 2nd Ave. last night, the Giants fans have been respectful and celebratory. I guess when your team winning the Super Bowl comes as a complete shock, it’s hard to be anything but ecstatic (and as a Pats fan in 2001, I can certainly relate). Of course, it’s been fans of many of the teams the Patriots beat this season who have been rude and obnoxious. But, as I’ve said, people are often sore losers, so you can’t expect much better.

Greatest Team Ever

Are the 2007 Patriots THE Greatest Team Ever? No. I really don’t think that even exists. Are they A Greatest Team Ever? Yes. ’72 Dolphins, ’85 Bears, ’94 Niners, ’07 Patriots. It’s impossible to say which team is better. How can you compare teams that played with different rules, different schedules, different decades? You can try, but it’s futile. You ask five of the sport’s top experts which is the best team ever, and you could easily end up with five different legitimate answers.

There’s a lot of talk about how one loss destroys the Patriots’ whole season. I totally understand the players saying that in the hours right after the game. It’s all they’ll be able to think about for weeks to come. But what the Patriots did this season was, just as the Giants on Sunday, amazing and inspiring. They did what people thought was ‘impossible.’ They set records. Amazing records. Records that a “game manager” like Tom Brady wasn’t supposed to be able to break. 18-1? Yeah, that 1 stings. Definitely. If it had come in November, it would sting a lot less. But their accomplishment, years from now, will be remembered. They were 18-0, the highest-scoring team in history (making them the Greatest Offense Ever), and I’m very proud of them.


I’ve been hearing a lot for the last six months about how terrible of a person Bill Belichick is. More ammunition was handed to the haters when he wasn’t on the Patriots sideline for the final :01 of the game. I’m with Mike Golic on this one. He should have been on the sideline, but it’s just not a big deal. He and the rest of the people in the stadium thought the game was over. Yes, he should have gone back to his sideline when he found out it wasn’t over. Definitely. But, he’d just suffered the most devastating loss of his long career, he was incredibly disappointed, so cut him some slack. Not being on the sideline for a completely meaningless one-second play is just that: Meaningless.

Coaching calls

What in HELL were the Patriots doing going for it on 4th and 13? That’s what everyone at my party was asking as Tom Brady dropped back and sailed a pass out of the endzone (why he didn’t just lob it into the endzone for a jump ball for Randy Moss is beyond me). But even more confusing was why they then opted to NOT go for it on 4th and 5 or less two times. All three decisions were totally bizarre to me. I’m dying to hear what in hell they were thinking.

Super Bowl XLIII

My early prediction: Indianapolis 24, Carolina 13

18-0? Meaningless. Tom Brady’s record 50 TD passes? Meaningless. Randy Moss’ record 23 TD catches? Meaningless. ESPN’s “Patriots Ticker?” Officially a joke. In the end, New England wound up little better than the Miami Dolphins, save that the Dolphins didn’t have 100 million people watch them collapse at the end.

Said cornerback Ellis Hobbs: “The season means nothing now. It means nothing to me. … You know it’s all for nothing. … It’s one big blemish. We choked. We choked at the end.” Well said.

If it sounds like I’m ecstatic … well, I am (I went hoarse cheering when the Giants went ahead for good with 39 seconds left). It was nauseating to hear Patriots fans all season act like the 2007 team was clearly better than any in history, and broker no debate to the contrary. It was sickening to watch the media anoint the Pats as the best team ever, before they won anything. It was gag-inducing to read that the Patriots trademarked the phrase “19-0” before the game. It was disgusting to see “Spygate” get buried by the NFL, which destroyed evidence days after receiving it. Boston area fans have become sports’ most insufferable (because of the Pats and Red Sox) and to see their team fold in the final 2:39 was glorious. The German word “schadenfreude” sums up my feelings.

I was stunned by the result – I picked the Patriots to win 37-20 in my pregame column and kept expecting a big New England play that would put the game out of reach. But the big plays were almost all made by the Giants. New York trailed 7-3 from the first play of the second quarter until going ahead 10-7 with 11 minutes to play. It was a superb job by the Giants’ defense in shutting down a New England offense that all season was unstoppable.

The Patriots’ offense, which averaged an astonishing 36 points a game in the regular season, scored a measly 14. (This continued a trend that saw the Pats score 31 in their first playoff game, 21 in the second and 14 Sunday.) They were clearly dominated by a Giants front line that harassed Brady all day and recorded five sacks. Brady was hit on 18 separate plays, and like any quarterback who gets pressured he becomes merely average.

Make no mistake … The Patriots fell apart when it counted the most. Their defense allowed a 12-play, 83-yard drive that lasted 2:07, to a team that made the playoffs as a wild card. It made a legend out of Eli Manning, the second year in a row a Manning has ended a Patriots’ season (last year, Peyton and the Colts did it in the AFC title game).

GREATEST PLAY EVER?: I have been watching the NFL for almost 40 years and Eli Manning’s 32-yard pass to David Tyree with 1:15 left on 3rd-and-5 was the single best play I have ever seen given the circumstances of the game. Manning avoided four Patriots trying to sack him and kept his feet while being knocked backwards. He then threw up a prayer that Tyree answered by grabbing the ball and hanging on despite falling backwards and being manhandled by Rodney Harrison. You can watch the play here.

If Manning is sacked, or Tyree does not hold on, it’s probably game over right there.

What’s also of note is that on the play before, Pats cornerback Asante Samuel had a potential interception go through his hands on the sidelines. The Pats had won a couple of games this season with some improbable plays and the odds finally evened out Sunday.

COACH A—HOLE: Bill Belichick is a brilliant coach but he is a total dickhead as a sportsman. He showed his true colors when Brady’s last gasp pass fell incomplete. He walked to the middle of the field and shook the hand of Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

But one problem … the game was not over and still had 1 second left. Referee Mike Carey could be seen telling both coaches there was time left and Coughlin went back to his sideline. Not Belichick. He trotted off into the lockerroom and left his team out there to play the final snap without him.

What a disgrace. This is a guy who clearly was running up the score on overmatched opponents early in the season and he quit on his team at the end. A man with even an ounce of class would have regrouped his team and stood on the sideline Sunday as the final play was run, giving the opponent their due, but Belichick has shown over and over that he has no class. He was found guilty of cheating in Game 1 and ended the season abandoning his team with the game still going on. Perfect bookends and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.

ANOTHER VIEW: Think I was too harsh on Belichick? Try this from Yahoo Sports (I read this after I wrote my note above. The writer clearly struck a nerve, with his post getting 6,500+ comments):

“On more than one occasion this year, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have run up the score on an overmatched opponent, and forced an opposing coach to sit there and watch his beaten team go through the motions while their heineys were being handed to them.

”But when the shoe’s on the other foot, and Bill Belichick’s team has been beaten, he can’t sit there and take the pain for a few seconds.

”With :01 left on the clock, and his team just having failed on a last chance 4th down effort, Bill Belichick ran onto the field for a quick handshake, and then bolted for the locker room. Belichick’s an important guy and everything, but I wasn’t aware that the league had given him the authority to decide when games end.

”There’s time left on the clock, his team’s been humbled, outplayed, and lost their chance at history … and Bill Belichick doesn’t have the stomach to sit there and absorb the pain until the clock read 0:00.

”That’s unsportsmanlike at best, disrespectful at least, and at worst, it makes him a big sissy.”

CLASSY PLAYERS: In contrast to Belichick, his players were great in defeat. Even Randy Moss, who I have dissed, answered every question put to him and kept saying that the Giants played harder and with more intensity than the Pats did and deserved the win; no alibis or excuses given.

QUESTIONABLE: For one of the few times, Belichick was outcoached. His most baffling call came with 6:49 left in the third quarter and the Patriots ahead 7-3. They faced 4th-and-13 from the Giants’ 31, and went for it. Brady’s pass fell incomplete.

I was stunned that Belichick passed up a 49-yard field goal try by Stephen Gostkowski, not a gimmee but more makeable than 4th-and-13. Had he tried and made the kick, we would have been looking at a totally different end to the game. I bet that Belichick would have let Adam Vinatieri try that kick, but the Pats were too cheap and let Vinatieri go to the Colts last year (where he won a Super Bowl).

RUNNING NOWHERE: Brady threw the ball 48 times and a big reason was the total absence of the running game. New England ran the ball 16 times for an anemic 45 yards; the inability to run made it hard for the Pats to maintain drives and allowed the Giants’ line to focus on getting to Brady.

PROPHETIC: Giants receiver Plaxico Burress took a lot of ribbing for picking the Giants to win, 23-17. Everyone thought he was nuts, not for picking the Giants to win but for picking the Pats to score only 17 points. Even he was optimistic.

PEYTON’S PLACE: I loved the shots of Peyton Manning cheering on his brother from a luxury box. He had finally shaved and looked smoking hot in a sport coat. He was totally alone, obviously wanting to focus on the game without a lot of glad-handing. He seemed more excited watching Eli win than he did a year ago when he won the Super Bowl with the Colts.

STILL PERFECT: The only downside to the Pats loss is that the 1972 Miami Dolphins are still the only unbeaten team and we have to hear them all yapping about it. ESPN had Mercury Morris on after the game and he said he almost cried when the Giants won, and he gloated over the fact that the ‘Fins are still the only unbeaten.

WILD CARDS: It used be a rule of thumb in the NFL that a team needed a bye and an extra week off to have much chance at winning a Super Bowl. That rule no longer holds after the 2005 Steelers, 2006 Colts and 2007 Giants each went 4-0 in the postseason to capture a title, each defeating the No. 1 seed in the other conference in the Super Bowl.

NO LONGER CLOSERS: New England is now 80-3 in games they led entering the fourth quarter. But two of those losses came in their last two defeats. Last year, they led the Colts by 7 in the AFC title game and Sunday led the Giants by 4. This is an aging defense, especially at linebacker, and they really looked gassed at the end.

TRANSLATION: During parts of the game I turned the sound down on my TV and tuned into Sirius satellite radio broadcasting the game in Russian, German and Italian. I learned how to say “shotgun” in Russian; it’s “shotgun.”

TEAM EXCITEMENT: I root against the Pats more than any other team, but they certainly play close and exciting Super Bowls. Here is the margin in all four of their Super Bowls this decade: 3, 3, 3 and 3.

COMMERCIALS: The less said, the better. They sucked.