Just ask Aqib Talib.
"Just because they're 2-9 doesn't mean they're going to come and hand us the win," Talib said this week.
He's talking about the once-mighty Houston Texans, who play host to the Patriots this week. The Patriots have enjoyed lots of success at Reliant Stadium. The Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVIII at Reliant Stadium, beating the Carolina Panthers on a day when there was wardrobe malfunction but no major officiating screw-ups of note.
The Patriots are coming off their most-impressive win of the regular season, beating Peyton Manning, Wes Welker, the ghost of Wes Welker and the Broncos 34-31 in overtime. They wiped out a 24-0 deficit, fed millions of fans and more than few media types a monstrous helping of crow and re-asserted, if not re-affirmed, the primacy of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as best the "QB-coach" east of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana.
When Belichick took the wind in overtime, he left Manning and the Broncos sucking wind. The nasty, cold weather conditions meant Manning would have to slip out of his comfort zone and throw to win. Each time the Broncos ran the ball, Belichick smiled in his best Evil Genius/Dark Lord manner and thought to himself. "I love it when a plan comes together."
Brady, meanwhile, continued to manhandle Peyton in a manner that little brother Eli could only dream of.
The 2013 Texans are more suited for the winner of Saturday's Iron Bowl than the winners of "Brady vs. Manning XIV."
A year ago, the Texas were the "up and coming" AFC darlings of many in the NFL intelligentsia. The had the gun-slinging offense and potent defense poised to dethrone the Old Guard of Brady and Belichick and the Patriots in the AFC elite.
The beatdown was replicated just over a month a later as the Patriots rolled to a 41-28 victory over the Texans in the playoffs.
The Texans, as a franchise, have yet to collectively recover.
Contrast that with the incredible resiliency of the Brady-Belichick Patriots. You know, the team that a year ago was poised to be dethroned by Houston or Peyton Manning.
The Patriots are 33-4 since 2003 in games after a loss. They were shafted by the non-pass-interference-pick-up-the-flag penalty at the end of their 24-20 loss to Carolina and denied one more play to win that game. The "Push Rule" penalty called in the OT loss to the Jets had never been called in NFL history before that game and has yet to be called since.
And while many media types, other NFL coaches, former top NFL officials and fans in 49 of 50 states according to one ESPN "SportsNation" poll believed/were right in thinking the Patriots got stiffed against Carolina, neither Belichick nor any of his players spoke out openly about that play. They recognized the play of Cam Newton and the Panthers and, in true Belchick Cliche style, "focused on the Broncos" the following week.
While it took New England another two quarters to recover, the end result left the Patriots all but assured of another AFC East title.
In just the past 21 months, the Patriots have lost a Super Bowl, an AFC championship game, had their most-prolific receiver in team history jump to their most-potent rival, had a player arrested for murder, managed the Tim Tebow circus and weathered seven Stevan Ridley fumbles, not to mention the envy, hate and ill wishes of fans in 31 other NFL locales.
They stand at 8-3 but very easily could be 10-1, in spite of all those injuries, departures and distractions.
Seven of their games have been decided on plays or penalties called in the final minute of regulation or in overtime. A breakdown of those games show big last-minute/OT plays by Brady ["showponies and unicorns" against the Saints], big plays on special teams [winning FGs by Stephen "He Doesn't Get Enough Credit" Gostkowski and the forced fumble against Denver on Sunday], materful coaching decisions ["Yep, we'll take the wind] and stellar stops by the defense [Talib's knockdown of Matt Ryan's fourth-down pass with 41 seconds to left against Atlanta].
Much of society and culture these days is focused on finding fault in those who are successful and "bringing them down." Trolls do it on the internet, and opponents try to do it on the football field. The difference is that football players, or those engaged in real life, actually have to move out of their parents' house and get dressed each day to go to work.
Little if anything of what fans and media types say ever really affects what happens on the field during NFL game day. No matter if you're in fear of "jinxing" a team because you know they're going smite a weaker opponent but are afraid to say it, or if you just "hate" an opposing team so much that there's no way they can win.
The Patriots won last Sunday night not because of all the fun millions of fans in New England had making jokes at Peyton Manning's expense, or because you turned off the TV when New England was losing. That type of idiocy is fun when selling beer. But it means nothing in real life or football.
The Patriots won because they designed and executed their game plan well enough in the second half and overtime to overcome their mistakes - including three disastrous turnovers - and the Broncos' ball-possession offense in the first half.
So, fear not Sunday.
This one is in the bag.
Unless someone drops it.
[Teams are listed with records and their rankings in last week's poll.]
NFL GIF of the Week, and possibly the season.
Best. Female. Fans. Ever. 18 degrees and the game ended in a tie. They probably don't remember a minute of it.
1. Seahawks [10-1; 1]: Monday night at home against New Orleans. Winner gets home field in the NFC title game.
3. [tie] Patriots [8-3; 5]: The Patriots have been beaten flat out beaten once this season. Their losses to the Panthers and Jets have more asterisks than Barry Bonds. Their overall clutchness defies both their critics and at times, themselves.
3. [tie] Panthers [8-3; 5]: Carolina Panthers merchandise sales are up 111 percent this year, according to NFLshop.com. And even more impressive, Cam Newton jersey sales are up 280 percent from Nov. 1 of last season. Among those loading up on Panthers merchandise this season, the officiating crew from the Panthers-Patriots game two weeks ago.
5. Broncos [9-2; 2]: Peyton Manning can hand off the ball any time he wants.
What about the second half?
6. Chiefs [sorry if you're offended] [9-2; 3]: A year ago this week, Jovan Belcher killed the mother of his child and then himself, ultimately taking his own life in the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium. The Party Line coming out of Kansas City and NFL Central this week is to "let them rest in peace." That's an understandable sentiment coming from his former teammates. But the loss of Kassandra Perkins should not be brushed from the history books, especially given the NFL's distorted sense of priorities when it comes to image and perception trumping reality.
The sanctimonious condemnations of locker-room culture, the villainy cast on Richie Incognito and the pity showered upon Jonathan Martin are all laughable when framed against the deadly activity of Belcher, [allegedly] Aaron Hernandez, Josh Brent and so many others who labor[ed] in the NFL.
Perspective is so often completely distorted in the quest for political correctness and fear of being contrary to the NFL's coveted image among certain coveted demographics.
Collective standards are one thing. But just because you're offended by something doesn't mean anyone else is. Nor does it make it any more important or pressing.
The losses of Perkins, Jerry Brown, Jr., Odin Lloyd, Richard Lollar, Jacinth Baker or Cherica Adams cannot be simply forgotten or brushed aside.
They are not here. And we pray they indeed "rest in peace."
7. Bengals [7-4; 8]: Coming off bye week. Appear to be a lock in AFC North.
8. 49ers [7-4; 9]: Can't shake Cardinals in NFC West.
9. Colts [7-3; 7]: Robert Kraft may have tried [or bluffed] to move the Patriots to Connecticut 15 years ago, but at least he doesn't Tweet after 40-11 losses like Jim Irsay does.
10. Cardinals [7-4; 13]: Carson Palmer making his bid for "Comeback Player Of The Year" honors.
11. Lions [7-5; 11]: Loss to Bucs was inexcusable. Bouncing back against Aaron Rodgers-less Packers
12. Bears [6-5; 10]: Humbled by Rams. Gave up 258 yards rushing. And this was not by design.
14. Cowboys [7-5; 17]: Big week for Tony Romo - a pair of wins and the cover of Sports Illustrated. So much for that curse.
15: Ravens [6-6; 19]: Jacoby Jones on Mike Tomlin's attempted trip: "I would have done the same thing." Easy to say that when you win.
16. Packers [5-6-1; 14]: Get back to us when Aaron Rodgers can play again.
17. Dolphins [5-6; 15]: Hung in there against Panthers. Still threat for the totally up-for-grabs second AFC wild card.
18. Jets [5-6; 16]: 16th? What were we thinking?
19, Giants [4-7; 18]: A very un-Coughlin-like performance against the Cowboys. Multiple mistakes and 11 penalties for 81 yards.
20. Chargers [5-6; 22]: Anyone know the 37th tie breaker in the AFC wild-card race?
21. Rams [5-6; 23]: Or the 38th tie breaker in the NFC wild-card race?
22. Titans [5-6; 24]: Ryan Fitzpatrick [109.2] had a higher passer rating last week than Brady [107.4]. Of course, Fitzpatrick was throwing against the Raiders. Fitzpatrick capped off a good weekend for Harvard on the football field, completing 30 of 42 passes for 320 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs.
23. Steelers [5-7; 21]: Here's one for Steelers fans: What's the difference between Belichick and Trippin' Mike Tomlin? Answer: Belichick wins when he cheats. And just imagine the outcry if Belichick had done something like this? The New York Post would be calling for his arrest.
24. Browns [4-7; 20]: Got nothing.
25. Bills [4-7; 25]: Head to Toronto this week. May not be be allowed back into United States depending whether or not Customs Agents are NFL fans.
26. Redskins [3-8; 24] [sorry if you're offended]: Robert Griffin III's has brought the sophomore jinx to a whole new level of jinxosity.
27. Raiders [4-8; 27]: Undrafted free-agent rookie QB Matt McGloin might be best news out of Oakland since A's clinched the American League West.
28. Buccaneers [3-8; 28]: It takes a lot for a football coach to be fired in Florida these days - just ask Will Mushchamp or Greg Schiano.
29. Falcons [2-9; 29]: Will still finish last in the NFC South.
30. Vikings [2-8-1; 31]: Best thing about a tie - they didn't lose.
31. Jaguars [2-9; 32]: No longer the worst team in the NFL, or AFC South for that matter.
32. Texans [2-9; 30]: Bring on the
Crimson Tide Auburn Tigers.
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