The NFL Playoffs

The Patriots' Dance Moves Reviewed
The stadium scene.
Jan. 17 2007 3:59 PM

The NFL Playoffs

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Josh, I think your Saints are in good shape. They played balanced, well-coached (save for that ill-advised pitch to Reggie Bush at the end) football against an extremely solid Eagles squad. And I think they're facing a slightly weaker foe in the Bears this weekend.

Meanwhile, Justin, I'm far from sold on Rex Grossman. He makes poor reads and dumb decisions. The main thing he's got going for him is the deep ball—the long heave downfield that requires no thought, is a classic equalizer for mediocre quarterbacks, and, unfortunately for Josh, is a key weakness of the Saints defense. The New Orleans cornerbacks are slow and torchable. (They yielded a 75-yard touchdown bomb to the Eagles last week.) And the Bears' Bernard Berrian is just the sort of speed-demon wideout who tends to make them look bad. Still, if the Saints can keep a lid on these big plays, I think they'll win.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

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As for last week's Patriots game: Whew. The Chargers were terrifying. They were way more athletic than the Pats, played like crazed banshees, and were quite clearly the better team—except when it mattered.

Josh, I disagree with your theory that the Pats played awful and the Chargers played awful-er. Yes, Tom Brady threw an ugly interception to Drayton Florence off his back foot. But it was the result of the Chargers defense (led by monstrous Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams) getting a fierce push into the pocket. And yes, the Pats couldn't get the ball out of their own end for most of the first half. But this was a product of the Chargers D and terrific punt coverage, which pinned the Pats all day. Let's give some credit to San Diego for making the Patriots look so feeble.

As for the Chargers' mistakes: The dumb personal-foul penalties could have been avoided. But the fulcrum of the game—that fumble on the interception return—was less a Chargers boner than a tremendous play by Troy Brown. We all say after the fact that San Diego's Marlon McCree should have knocked the ball down. But when do you ever see that on a pass that hits the dback in his chest in the middle of the field? It would be more physically awkward to bat it down than just to catch it. Ninety-nine times out of 100, McCree makes that interception, is tackled immediately, and struts to the bench a triumphant hero. This time, Troy Brown (OK, I admit he's my favorite football player of all time) refused to let things unfold that way.

It's a tired cliché, but the Pats made enormous plays every time they had to. With just 1:58 left in the first half, they were down 14-3 and got the ball on their own 28-yard line. They'd done nothing on offense all day. Brady seemed out of sorts. Yet if they didn't score here, I felt (and the friends I was with agreed) that the game was over. So, what did they do with their backs to the wall? They drove 72 yards for a touchdown, with Brady going 5 of 7 for 55 yards.

Was this luck? Patriots mystique? The curse of Marty Schottenheimer? No. The Pats' coaching staff switched to a three-wideout set on that drive. They hadn't planned to use this formation, but it was a smart adjustment and proved more effective against the Chargers' tactics. The Pats also used all three timeouts in their battle against the clock. They hadn't wasted any prior to this (and hadn't challenged any dubious-looking calls by the officials …). Brady, as usual, remained calm and effective, despite the magnitude of the situation.

The point here is that the Chargers didn't lose this game. The Patriots won it. Those were two excellent teams making life very hard for each other. That's why neither one looked like a worldbeater.

But let's get to what's clearly the most important story of the weekend: isolated Patriots performing a spasmodic dance at midfield after the game had ended. Was this classless, as LaDainian Tomlinson has argued?

I've tried to equate this situation with moments from my own life. Would I rather have my squash partner run his mouth all game ("Nice backhand volley, chump! Not in my house!") and then transform into a gentleman afterward, shaking hands and offering kind words, no matter the outcome? Or would I rather he was tightlipped in the moments leading up to the match and then burst forth with a gush of taunts upon defeating me (perhaps dropping his racket, whooping, and then break-dancing across the smoothly sanded wood floor of the squash court)? Both scenarios are difficult to imagine, as my squash partners are political consultants and securities lawyers. But it does seem somehow crasser to taunt after the game is over, instead of during the action. The heat of the battle is gone, and now you're just kicking a man when he's down.

Also, I don't love the fact that the Pats are becoming known for sarcastic renditions of their opponents' signature celebrations. There was the Eagle flapping to mock Terrell Owens in Super Bowl XXXIX, and now the snide "Lights Out" dance to mock the Chargers' Shawne Merriman. I'd prefer that the Pats come up with their own, original taunting dances. As it is, they seem keen on policing all individual expression. They even come out as a team before games, instead of getting announced one by one. They're like the Cylons of the NFL. But I still love 'em.

How about you, Brendan? You loving these Pats?