Nothing to be upset about
JJ Feigenbaum is a freshman at Wesleyan and an Andover, MA native. He has followed the Patriots for the entire 18 years of his life. Fanaticism runs in the blood, as his father, Mark Feigenbaum, was Patriots Fan of the Year in 1996. Ladies beware; he plans to name his first born child, son or daughter, Belichick.
I was praying for an upset on Saturday. It isnt that Id rather the Patriots play the Jets at Gillette next Sunday than head to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship game, though I would. And it isnt that I would rather see the Rams in the NFC title game over the Falcons, because to be honest I dont care too much about the other conference until it matters for the Pats. And it isnt like Im some teenage gambler, who took the dogs in a two-team teaser for this springs tuition at school, because honestly, I didnt.
No, I was praying for an upset, because, odds are, there was going to be at least one upset in the divisional playoffs, and I really didnt want it to be Indy knocking off the Pats. The Colts are a formidable enough opponent by themselves, without the weight of mathematical probability on their side. And lets be honest, no one expected either of the 8-8 teams to beat the only two, well, good teams in the entire NFC. So, essentially, for all my fellow Pats fans out there, it was a Jets win or bust. Yeah, it felt odd, but all of New England was rooting for the New York Jets. So hope and pray I did, and though it was certainly a rollercoaster ride Reeds kick is up and it is good! And Pittsburgh survives! Well, who needs math anyways. This Pats team has always been about playing on the field and proving that nothing about football is decided before the opening drive.
For a while, it seemed like the Jets were playing, dare I say, Patriot-like. Using smoke, mirrors, defense and special teams, the Patriots went into Pittsburgh and knocked off the Steelers three years ago. The Jets, who backed into the playoffs with two straight losses, barely survived the Chargers in an overtime upset last week, had no right, the way their offense played, to beat the Steelers on Saturday. And yet, with the football gods smiling on them, they took the Steelers to the limit. Just like Troy Browns lightning in a bottle three years ago, it was a Santana Moss punt return TD that sparked a flat team. Ben Rothlisberger looked a lot like a rookie all night, especially as he scrambled and found Reggie Tongue for a touchdown. Of course his problem was that Tongue is a Jets defensive back and the added six points to the visiting teams score. The Jets even got a great call from the officials in overtime as Pennington hit McCareins for a first down, thanks to a questionable spot. At the end of the day, the Jets scored only three points on offense but unlike the Pats in their win over Pittsburgh three years ago (which, I might add, have been the fastest three years of my life. I remember Drew Bledsoe rallying the troops in the Steel City like it was yesterday) the field goal was not enough to bring home the victory.
Though the turnover did not result in any points for the Jets, Shaun Ellis strip of Jerome Bettis, in a lot of ways, was a huge and at least potentially game changing play. Ellis was beat on the play and nearly saw Bettis dash past him, rumbling towards a few linebackers he very well may have trucked. The Steelers, trailing 17-10 at the time, were poised to tie the game up and take all the momentum away from the Jets. Yet in came Ellis big mitt, ripping the ball out of Bettis arms. Though the Steelers would later tie the game up at 17, that they did it with only 6:00 to go, upped the pressure on everyone on the field, rookie Rothlisberger included.
Then again, its not like the increased stakes helped the Jets and Doug Brien too much, evidenced by his clunker and, moments later, his shank job. If there is one thing that I am thankful for as a Patriots fan, its Adam_ no, its Coach Belichick and then its Tom Brady. But right after that, it is Adam Vinatieri. If the Jets had Automatic Adam, their game would have been over the instant the field goal unit trotted onto the field. Its not like Doug Brien is a bad kicker, he was just under 83% on the season and 10 of 11 on kick between 40 and 49 yards. And then came the playoffs. Brien nailed his first kick, a 42 yarder, but missed another pair of 40-something yarders, either of which would have essentially won the game for his squad.
So now we have in Gillette tomorrow not the de facto Super Bowl, but a battle of two AFC juggernauts, the Pats and the Colts, for the right to face off with the other superpower in Pittsburgh seven days later. Sure, it would have been nice to see the Jets upset the Steelers, bringing the AFC championship game to New England and helping the Pats out with the upset odds, but at the end of the day, as fans, we have exactly what we want and pretty much what we were guaranteed to see: a great playoff game between two great teams. Math be damned, I still like the Pats to win.
(To be continued on Monday)