As the year winds down, the Pats are – happily – bringing it up. They played superbly against the Jags on Sunday: Brady nearly perfect, Moss present and accounted for, Welker impossible to catch, the D coming up Big, and on and on: lots of presents under the Christmas tree. Best of all, they played like they were having fun. Ever fulsome, Coach Belichick summed it up: “Yep. We were pretty good.”
Clinching the division title – the sixth in seven years – was just one of the goodies in Santa’s bag. Nothing is ever so delicious as when it’s sprinkled with a dash of schadenfreude (the guilty – or not so guilty – pleasure we take in others’ misfortunes).
Indeed, I am speaking about the Saints and the Colts and the premature termination to two nearly perfect seasons. Even though it might have served the Pats in 2007 to lose a game or two and thus relieve the pressure (I think Patriots Nation would gladly have traded an 18-0 run for one more Super Bowl win), that record still comes with bragging rights and I, for one, am glad that we don’t have to share the podium with those two.
This coming Sunday the Pats fly to Houston where two things are at stake. In order of importance, clinching No. 3 seed (less) and keeping healthy (immense). It’ll be interesting to see what transpires: if the Pats take it easy and rest a bunch of starters, or build on their apparent peaking at just the right time. It might also be worthwhile to quiet the critics who continue to whine that the team has won only two away games all season (and that includes London).
For the Texans, who can smell the postseason for the first time in their history, it’s do or die: they can clinch a wild card if they beat the Pats and then get some help – they still need two of the following teams to lose: the Jets to Cincinnati, Baltimore to Oakland, and/or Denver to Kansas City. Since the Pats-Texans game is the only early game of those four, the Texans, if victorious, will likely find themselves huddled around the locker room television into Sunday evening and maybe even on Monday, shouting, “Go Raiders! Go Bengals! Go Chiefs!” That has to stick in the craw.
But that’s their problem, not ours. We’ve earned the right to avoid that particular humiliation. Till the playoffs begin, we simply need to stay uninjured and stay sharp, keep building on the spirit of fun and camaraderie that has blossomed over the last few weeks, and to keep eyes on the prize. If we do that, we can step boldly onto the playoff field and maybe, just maybe, fortune will smile.