After nearly 20 years of unparalleled dominance in the world of professional football (let alone professional sports), being a New England Patriots fans comes with a certain amount of existential dread – the team can’t stay *this* good forever, and one day – possibly some day soon – they will be dethroned. The Patriots have morphed from a team that was once a rag-tag bunch of underdogs into the Yankees of the NFL; everyone wants to see them get beat. So one would hope the fan base would remain humble and…respectful of their opponents.
Or not. Come Saturday 1/13 at 8:15pm, the notion of Tom Brady and the Patriots absolutely decimating The Tennessee Titans will be a near certainty. And that is a problem because history loves an underdog, and pride cometh before a fall.
When you toss in an aging and banged-up GOAT at quarterback, the alleged drama surrounding that quarterback, and the mojo and energy surrounding the Titans following their improbable comeback against the Chiefs, there is more than enough doubt, drama, and mystery, to suggest the Titans could hypothetically beat The New England Patriots.
How? Read on to find out.
1. Via Hubris: The Great Equalizer.
Never underestimate the power of a mediocre team with nothing to lose. On paper, the Titans are nothing to write home about. They are 9-7 compared to the Patriots 11-3. Mariota has a season-long passer rating for 79.3, compared to Brady’s 102.8 – while throwing for a 1000 more yards to boot.
The Patriots are 2nd in points and first in total yards from scrimmage. Meanwhile, the Titans aren’t even close. On defense, The Titans have the Patriots edged in yards allowed and especially in rush yardage. The Titans have allowed on average 88 yards per game on the ground, compared to The Patriots 114. And even then, the Patriots have allowed less points overall.
So yes, on paper, the Titans are dominated in every meaning statistic save for yardage allowed. But games aren’t won on paper. They’re won on the field where anything can happen – and if the Patriots aren’t properly prepared for a fairly stiff defense and a team coming off an improbable win against a better team, they might just get smacked.
In 2010, the Patriots lost to the New York Jets, a team they trounced in the regular season by a 30+ point margin, and dominated on paper in just about every stat…except defense, and lost a nail-biter of a game.
Did the Patriots take the Jets lightly, or was it simply the Jets had mojo and momentum from a barn-burner of a win against the Colts the previous week? Regardless, the mood in New England the week leading up to the game was foregone conclusion. The Jets were merely a road-bump en-route to another AFC championship. Turns out they were much, much more.
The Titans would do well to listen to a lot of New England Radio, Twitter, and media coverage – poster board material as it were. If they show up and play as the team no-one believed in, and the Patriots show up as a team expecting to win, the game might just turn out differently than predicted.
2. Via A Music City Miracle 2.0.
The above play, featuring Marcus Mariota completing a pass to himself for a touchdown, is the sort of thing improbable playoff runs, and Super Bowl wins are made of. They energize a team. Make them believe. Whether or not you believe in momentum, plays like this make a *team* believe in their own momentum…that they’re a team of destiny.
Be it Adam Vinatieri’s legendary snow kicks, Super Bowl helmet catches, or Music City miracles, freak plays like Mariota’s often change a team’s mentality for the better. And that’s the scary thing about the Titans – and a phrase that rings true to long-time Patriots fans: They find a way to win. With a good defense and…awkward offense, they stumbled their way to a 9-7 record, and a road playoff victory.
If, come 1/13 at Gilette, the Titans manage some strange luck-of-the-draw play, some strange series of events that leads them to surging momentum, Patriots fans better get scared – fast. You can’t game-plan for crazy. But you can recover with proper coaching and personnel. Which the Patriots have…though if recent information is to believed, those coaches and that personnel may not be seeing eye-to-eye.
3. Via a Complete and Utter Dynasty Implosion.
ESPN’s story about in-fighting and discontent between Brady, Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft, was a big story in New England this past week. The gist being Kraft and Belichick aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, and due to ego, Belichick just may be on his way out. In fact, Rex Ryan predicts as much here, and Giants fans launched a campaign to bring Bill home.
Of course, the Patriots are no stranger to controversy and shenanigans. Spy gate, Deflate gate, their star Tight-End straight up murdering a man. But the ESPN story is different in that it points to cracks within the ‘Patriot Way’, and conflicts with Tom Brady’s training methods, Belichick’s coaching ideology, and an owner who may or may not have superseded Belichick on what to do with blue-chip back up Jimmy Garoppolo.
Which is to say, if the ESPN story is true (which the Patriots deny) there are some high-level tensions amongst the people most responsible for the Patriots success over the past 17 years. With the release of the story, and the rumor mill churning at full-blast, it’s entirely possible the ESPN story is too big a distraction to ignore, and the Pats show up out-of-sorts. Listless. Defeatable. Mortal.
Speaking of mortal, Tom Brady – the defacto NFL MVP, has been nursing a leg and shoulder injury, leading to a mostly human stat line the past few weeks of the season. Of his 8 interceptions in 2017, 6 of them occurred during the last five games of the season, and 4 of them in the stretch following the ‘controversy’ surrounding Brady’s personal trainer Alex Guerrero being ousted from team facilities.
Which means all this drama, which before was exclusively organization versus the NFL, has now turned inward. Regardless of the turmoil – if there is any – the Patriots made their way to an 13-3 record and the number one seed in the AFC. But they haven’t seen as crisp as past seasons. Questions of legacy and future loom large in New England, and ESPN, truthful or not, has not helped.
Is Belichick on his way out? Did Brady force the team to trade his younger, just-as-dreamy backup? Is there a super secret exodus plan? Are these distractions, true or not, enough for the Patriots to both take the Titans lightly, *and* doubt their very organization?
If you’re the Titans, hot off the heels of an insane upset? You gotta believe anything can happen. Because it can.