The football gods really have long memories. Either that, or they took extra-long notes on the 2007 NFL season.
How else to explain what happened to the New England Patriots on Sunday at the Meadowlands? Better yet, how it happened?
Think about this: in Week 2 of 2009, the New York Jets talked junk about the Patriots and threw it all into the streets about what they wanted to do to them, and how they weren’t about to bow down to them, and all the things that should have had them eating about 10 flavors of crow by game’s end. And not only did the Jets back it up, they actually did make the Patriots look bad, even keeping them out of the end zone.
Not a huge deal, you might say, since this clearly is less of what we’re used to seeing of the Patriots, less of what we expected of them, and more of the injured Tom Brady than the rehabbed Tom Brady. But those who believe in karma have no doubts about what went on Sunday.
For all of 2007. And apparently, the balance has yet to be paid.
You remember, of course, the Perfect Season, the one that would have been one of the most admirable seasons ever, turned in by one of the game’s most beloved teams, had the Patriots not killed the mood and turned their admirers into bitter antagonists, first with Spygate, then with Rub-It-In-Gate.
Week after aggravating week, the Patriots, without admitting it but without even a hint of subtlety, endeavored to run up the score as high as possible, leaving in starters, throwing deep late, risking injury (particularly of the vengeful sort) to their stars. It was a middle finger flashed to the rest of the sport the likes of which had never been seen at the NFL level. And though, again, it never came out publicly, it was generally accepted that Bill Belichick was orchestrating it all to stick it to the league for investigating him for illicit taping of opponents, which plenty to this day are convinced the NFL never pursued as hard as it could have.
Despite a surprising number of defenders who loved seeing the Patriots never take their foot off the gas, the entire ploy made them look ugly and cheap.
The bottom line: the Patriots were really asking for it.
They got it in the Super Bowl, in a multitude of ways. They lost to the Giants, of course, ruining the quest for perfection. They lost to another Manning brother. The record-shattering offense never got going, and then when they finally had to come from behind and did, gave that lead right back up. They allowed a miracle play by a complete unknown who will now be as much of an immortal as any of their own players. Finally, the winning points were scored by a player who, within two years, would be sentenced to prison.
Even in the face of that, though, Belichick dared the gods, by leaving the field before the final gun, proving that you can’t flip a switch on that kind of mindset.
Then, at the start of the next season, Brady got it. His season-ending knee injury really made lots of people wonder about the limits of karma. That cost the Patriots the playoffs.
Then they lost, through various means, huge chunks of the defense that had been a bedrock of their dominance, back before they became infatuated with scoring points: Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour.
That was a temptation of fate. They dodged the consequences in the season opener, when they were all but gift-wrapped a win they barely deserved, to Buffalo.
And then … last Sunday.
The gods clearly intervened on this. The Jets came in advertising their arrogance. Lots of people dismissed their chances and their tactics, still believing that the Patriots’ humble, blue-collar nature would offset them easily.
Those Patriots, though, went away two years ago. The obnoxious, gloating, shameless point-padders took their place. And the universe proved that it was not done collecting the bill for it all yet.
These Patriots got out-talked, out-egoed, and then outplayed by, of all teams, the New York Jets.
The franchise that literally and figuratively trash-talked the entire sport for one full season, got another taste of its own medicine.
But it’s into its second year now. You have to wonder how many more doses the Patriots have coming to them.