Wow was it a great game, boy was it fun to see the plucky underdog prevail, man was it nice for a team called the Patriots to win at this moment in history, but let's cut straight to the key point—me. No one, anywhere, expected the New England Patriots to be in the Super Bowl, let alone win it. Except Tuesday Morning Quarterback, who predicted the Patriots would win here on Slate before the season started. Not to put too fine a point on it, but everyone was completely wrong about this NFL season, except me.
Not one single major sports magazine, sports site, or sports pages before the season began projected the Patriots would even make the playoffs, to say nothing of no one projecting them to win the Super Bowl—the documentation is below. Not ESPN, not Sports Illustrated,not Sporting News,not even the Boston Globe. Tuesday Morning Quarterback, by contrast, in its preseason preview had the Pats winning the Super Bowl.
Here's what I wrote, posted Aug. 28, 2001:
In each of the last two seasons, the dance has gone to a team so lightly regarded by the league's hype experts that it was not slated a Monday night game in the year of its triumph. The Rams in 1999 and the Ravens in 2000 were both MNF-free and both the last gentlemen standing.
Thus, TMQ predicts that the team goin' to Disney World this winter will come from among those that did not make the Monday Night Football cut: Arizona, Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Kansas City, New England, San Diego, and Seattle. Yes, this is a sorry group, but if the league brain trust thinks these teams are losers, one of them must be good.
OK, so I listed a bunch of clubs, but New England was among them. These were all teams nobody but nobody (again, documentation below) expected to do anything. TMQ said one of them would win the Super Bowl. And one of them did.
This is going to make me famous, right? The fame, the women, the glamour, the—OK, Nan, I'll take the garbage out in a couple minutes.
Masterful, Beautiful, Best Defense Game Plan of the Season: All week long we heard how Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel (OK, you didn't hear about him; he is the Pats' DC) would devise incredible blitz packages to rattle Kurt Warner. The Rams seemed to believe this hype and to prepare to burn the blitz, as Warner loves to. Instead New England blitzed seven times on 66 St. Louis snaps. Warner kept anticipating a blitz rarely there while the Pats used six- and seven-DB sets repeatedly. Against dime packages of light gentlemen—the American Ballet Theater defense—one ought to run. But the Rams ran 22 times and went pass-wacky 44 times, never adjusting to the way the defense was really aligned versus what was expected. In turn, infrequent use of the blitz made it effective, resulting in an interception returned for six and another that set up a field goal.
Masterful, Beautiful, Best Drive of the Season: The Rams have scored twice late to tie it, and New England gets the ball on its 17 with 1:21 in regulation and no timeouts, a plodding low-voltage offense, and a QB who had been fourth-string in training camp. John Madden was yelling at the Pats to kneel and go to overtime. (The Rams also had no timeouts.) Armchair coaches all over the country were yelling at the Pats to kneel and go to overtime. Instead eight risky plays in 74 seconds to the Rams' 30, in range for the winning figgie. New England knew it had a good kicker; it knew the Rams were acting like they'd just won the game when they'd only tied (check the tape for unseemly celebration on the St. Louis sideline); it knew underdogs can't be timid.
Best of all, New England knew—what did we work all year for, to kneel down and act fearful or to reach for the ring? It knew this because in the Raiders-Patriots blizzard game, the Pats tied it late, the Raiders had a final possession and passively knelt and never touched the ball again as New England got the overtime kickoff and marched to victory.
As for the drive itself, don't discount those first two junky-looking short passes; they made everything else possible. Brady's charisma and poise—you'll hear enough about these for weeks. Fabulous blocking on the last drive, letting Brady stay cool. That you won't hear enough about.