Brady en­dures

Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back still get­ting it done de­spite leaguewide chang­ing of the guard

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - SPORTS - SCOTT ST­INSON sstin­[email protected]­

I can­not be the only per­son who watched the fi­nal min­utes of the Ravens-Charg­ers game on Sun­day with a gnaw­ing, grow­ing feel­ing of dread.

It wasn’t be­cause I had any strong feel­ings to­ward the Ravens or Charg­ers specif­i­cally, or any par­tic­u­lar dis­like of ei­ther. No, it was be­cause, as Bal­ti­more, af­ter be­ing ut­terly som­nam­bu­lant for the first 50 min­utes, was now scram­bling around and still alive, I kept hav­ing the same thought: good God, the Pa­tri­ots are go­ing to go to the Su­per Bowl again.

I say I can­not be the only per­son who watched the game this way with some con­fi­dence, be­cause af­ter think­ing I was the only one tor­tur­ing my­self, I have since heard from sev­eral who said the same thing.

With Bal­ti­more and rookie quar­ter­back Lamar Jack­son look­ing hope­less for most of that game, it looked like a strong Charg­ers team would be trav­el­ling to Foxboro this week­end for a date with New Eng­land.

This was good: no one, out­side of Pats fans, wants to see them ad­vance again. The for­mer San Die­gos would at least have a good shot at knock­ing them off. A mir­a­cle Bal­ti­more come­back, though, would have been a dis­as­ter.

It had been ob­vi­ous through the first three quar­ters of that game that a smart team had fig­ured out how to stop the Ravens’ run-heavy of­fence; Bill Belichick would do the ex­act same thing and he wouldn’t be dumb enough, like the Charg­ers, to let the Ravens hang around at the end.

The Pa­tri­ots would have been a lock to re­turn to the AFC Cham­pi­onship. And then, Belichick ver­sus Andy Reid and the Chiefs at Ar­row­head? Or Belichick ver­sus Frank Re­ich in Foxboro? Nei­ther sce­nario is the least bit pleas­ing.

Both sce­nar­ios re­main, of course, en­tirely pos­si­ble. Which is why we, as a so­ci­ety, owe it to our­selves to root for the Charg­ers this Sun­day. These are frac­tured times, with po­lar­ized elec­torates, and fights over walls and pipe­lines and the fu­ture of our planet and many other weighty things. But surely this is some­thing we can all rally around, if even just for about three hours on a week­end af­ter­noon: please, Los An­ge­les Charg­ers, do this for us.

I’m not sure why, ex­actly, the prospect of an­other deep New Eng­land run seems quite so un­ap­peal­ing. Sure, there is the fact that the Pa­tri­ots have been to one mil­lion Su­per Bowls (ap­prox­i­mately) in an era when it is sup­posed to be very hard to be con­sis­tently good. But this has been the case for a long time now.

And yes, I ad­mit to hold­ing a cou­ple of per­sonal grudges here. I’m a lapsed Buf­falo Bills fan, but the scars from all the beat­ings over the years re­main. And in terms of fu­ri­ous press­box rewrites, few ex­pe­ri­ences have been as un­pleas­ant as Su­per Bowl LI, when I had a very nice col­umn about the At­lanta win pretty much com­pleted by half­time be­fore the Pa­tri­ots ru­ined what should have been a com­fort­able sec­ond-half ex­pe­ri­ence.

But it is more than that. This has felt at times like a water­shed NFL sea­son, where the league that con­stantly scores pub­lic-re­la­tions own goals sud­denly found it­self with an of­fen­sive ex­plo­sion keyed by young stars like Pa­trick Ma­homes and Jared Goff. The Mon­day night shootout be­tween those two in Novem­ber was great fun, the best game in years, and there was no one named Brady or Man­ning any­where near it.

We have, for a long time now, won­dered how the NFL would tran­si­tion from the old-war­rior era of Brady and the Man­nings and Big Ben, and now here were these young guys fling­ing it all over the place. Foot­ball!

And yet, hov­er­ing around in the back­ground all sea­son have been the Pats. Even with all the chang­ing-of-the-guard stuff hap­pen­ing, there was 41-year-old Brady, al­legedly feud­ing with his coach but still throw­ing to a col­lec­tion of small re­ceivers and an in­creas­ingly creaky Rob Gronkowski, who now lum­bers around like an ele­phant that has been hit with a tran­quil­izer dart but will still haul in the des­per­a­tion pass on third-and-18 with two de­fend­ers hang­ing off him. Ev­ery time it looked like New Eng­land had lost enough games to en­sure that it would not have a firstround bye in the play­offs, one of the Tex­ans, Chiefs or Charg­ers would throw up on them­selves to bring the Pats back in line for a top-two seed.

And now, here we are. Noth­ing about this Pa­tri­ots sea­son sug­gests that they should get through the next two weeks to make their third straight Su­per Bowl and ninth in the Belichick era. The de­fence has been soft, Brady ap­pears hu­man, in the sense that he ac­tu­ally ages over time, and he has a col­lec­tion of iffy weapons. When the Pats traded for Josh Gor­don, it was easy to imag­ine a guy who had barely played since 2013 stepping in to be­come Brady’s key big-game tar­get, the re­ceiver who would go for 175 yards and two TDs as Reid was star­ing at his play card in con­fu­sion in the AFC ti­tle game. But even that didn’t work out, Belichick turn­ing to his old bag of tricks and this time com­ing up empty.

Is it a sign that this is fi­nally it? Is the most re­mark­able dy­nasty in sports about to be fin­ished off by the rav­ages of time, and also the salary cap?

I imag­ine most any­one who watches foot­ball would like to think so, but I’m not quite ready to be­lieve it.


New Eng­land quar­ter­back Tom Brady, left, and head coach Bill Belichick speak on the side­line dur­ing a game against the New York Jets last month. The Pa­tri­ots host the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers on Sun­day.

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