(I have to admit that the asterisk that the New York Post slapped next to New England in the standings all year was pretty hilarious in and of itself, but the wit was only sharpened by the concept of Rupert Murdoch's tabloid's ascension to the moral high ground, where it no doubt set up a bookie joint and a gentleman's club.)
People simply are going to have to learn to deal, as the kids say. There are reasons far beyond cinematography why the Patriots put up a season that any thinking football fan ought to have been proud to witness. They are smarter than any team that's tougher, and there aren't many of those. There was a lot of woofing and yapping in the Giants game. (To say nothing of nose tackle Vince Wilfork's dead-on Moe Howard imitation through the facemask of Giant running back Brandon Jacobs.) But when it came down to the essential measure of football toughness—the ability to make the best plays at the most crucial time—New England left the Giants in the dust. This is not the first time it happened this year. Against Indianapolis, in the season's signature matchup, the Colts made mistakes in the final minutes that these Patriots simply do not make. They prepare harder and more thoroughly than other teams do. Consider the last gasp the Giants had, an onside kick after their final touchdown. Instead of laying back, the New England special teams attacked, breaking up the New York line before it could form. The ball was plucked out of the air by Mike Vrabel, a Pro Bowl linebacker who still plays special teams because he loves to do it. I do not know this, but I will guarantee you the Patriots practiced that play for the first time no later than the third day of training camp.
And the intellect extends upward into the front office. Any team in the NFL could have had Randy Moss last winter for a bag of magic beans. Only the Patriots stepped up and took what was then a considerable risk. Any team in the NFL could have seen the value of someone like Wes Welker, who caught 112 passes this season. Only the Patriots did. Now, as they go into the playoffs, they do so far removed from the plucky little underdogs who broke up the St. Louis Rams in the 2002 Super Bowl. They're bullies now, it seems. And targets. Everyone's against them. They've got the world right where they want it. Deal with it, world.