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Time Out for Sports Talk – Window Closing (and not just because it’s so cold)

Todd: I’m calling this week’s post ‘Random Thoughts, Part II’ (must use roman numerals during Super Bowl season), because whether it’s the latest cold snap putting my brain into a deep freeze or because another Belichick/Brady season has fallen short of a Lombardi trophy, last Sunday’s loss in Denver has left me feeling down.

I’ve mentioned it here and in various other blogging outlets, but my fandom for the Patriots is almost the direct opposite as it for the Red Sox.

The fall of 2004 forever changed the way I look at the Sox because I honestly thought that baseball team would never win a championship in my lifetime.  Now Boston has won three World Series titles over the last decade, and although I will never get sick of that happening, I also don’t get as bothered when they come up short of the ultimate prize.  The highs are not nearly as high as 2004 but the lows will never be as low as they were in 1986 or 2003.

But how I view the Patriots compared to the Sox is markedly different.  Shocking the world and beating the Rams in February of 2002 was a wonderful sports moment that I never expected to happen when it did, nor did I expect the Pats to win another pair of Lombardis a couple years after that.  But I suppose because the Patriot franchise of the 20th century lacked the idyllic pathos that followed the Sox like a badge of honor pre-2004 (the Pats were generally just downright pathetic, certainly not cursed), their Super Bowl championship wins only made me want more.

Looking back, I think the 2007 Patriots brought out the worst in me as a fan (whether that is oxymoronic in nature is up to you, readers).  That entire season, right up to that infamous February day in the Arizona desert, I felt entitled to watching my team—once the number one laughingstock of the NFL—post the greatest season in league history and finish a six-year run of dominance with a gigantic exclamation point.  The New England Patriots would forever be in the pantheon of all-time great teams without debate.

Adalius Thomas was a member of that ’07 Pats team.  As the wins piled up that season, he produced a set of t-shirts with the words ‘humble pie’ across the front in order to remind his teammates that winning a championship is never easy.  I bought one of those shirts and continue to wear it from time to time while watching Pats games to remind myself to not take this long run of success for granted.

That has never rung more true than over the last eight Patriots seasons, all of which have featured double-digit regular season wins, five AFC championship game appearances and two trips to the Super Bowl.  No championships over that eight-year stretch, but not for a lack of trying.

As I look back on this current Pats season, it is impossible for me to not admire how this team overcame numerous injuries to so many key players and yet still managed to get within two victories of a fourth Lombardi trophy.  That’s especially true the way last Sunday’s game in Denver went down, as they Patriots got zero breaks from the weather (sunny and unseasonably warm) and zero interceptions (or turnovers of any kind) from Peyton Manning, who also threw two touchdown passes and passed for 400 yards (a personal best against a Belichick-coached team).

At the same time, it’s also impossible for me to not wonder if the outcome of the last two AFC championship games would have changed had Aqib Talib been able to finish both of them.  If Tom Brady is the indispensible cog of the Pats offense, then over the last two seasons the same can be said regarding Talib’s contribution to the defense.  In both games, the Pats’ defense suffered against both the Ravens and Broncos without the threat of Talib covering the likes of Anquan Boldin or Demaryius Thomas.

While I don’t think that Wes Welker’s pick play on Talib was intentionally meant to seriously injure the Pats’ cornerback, it sure has me wondering what Welker said during his motivational speech the night before the game.  All kidding aside, I find it hard to believe that someone still recovering from two recent concussions would be willing to sacrifice himself just to try and remove an opponent from the game.  Call me naïve if you will, but that’s my take.

Brady will turn 37 years old prior to the start of next season.  If Manning is unable to beat the Seahawks in chilly New Jersey next weekend (we’ll post our Super Bowl preview and predictions next week), John Elway will remain as the lone quarterback to ever hoist a Lombardi trophy at that age.  While the Pats should again contend for one of the top AFC seeds in 2014, have we already seen the best of the Brady/Belichick era?  Has the window fully closed?  To me, the metaphor that best describes this long run of Patriots success is an incomplete sentence missing a period.  For that reason, I’m feeling a little down this week wondering if we’ll ever see that punctuation mark.

Mike: I actually don’t have all that much to add this week. Todd really said it best. It’s tough to swallow a Patriots’ season-ending loss because you simply expect them to pull it out in the end.

This season really put that notion into sharp focus as the team consistently pulled out wins in the last minutes of games, that it almost became expected that they would find a way to come back on Denver. And when they didn’t, the loss really stung.

I do want to touch on one thing Todd said, the fact that the window seems to be closing for Belichick and Brady. Sadly, I think that might be true. While I’m not going to go the doom and gloom route, the Patriots have a lot of holes that need to be filled, and I think there might be too much work to do to put them over the top, especially as other teams (I’m thinking the Colts) are starting to assure themselves in the AFC.

I think they will continue to dominate the AFC East for the next few years because I don’t think any of the other teams in the division are going to improve enough to catch up to them.

But things change once you get into the playoffs, age and injuries are catching up the the Pats, and like I said, they have a lot of question marks. Who knows how Gronk will come back from his devastating knee injury? And will Aqib Talib be back, and if he isn’t, how will the Pats replace him?

Just some food for thought as you’re watching the Seahawks beat the Broncos next week!

Check out more Time Out For Sports Talk on Facebook and Twitter. You can watch the TOST show here.

Our next LIVE show is our 20th Anniversary special and Super Bowl XLVIII preview coming up this Monday, January 27 from 8-9pm.  We will be joined in studio by longtime Boston TV sportscasting legend Bob Lobel.  You can post your questions via Twitter using the hashtag #TOST20years or call in at (617)484-2443.

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