A Patriot Predicament
It’s hard to know what to make of the New England Patriots right now.
Having sustained so many crushing losses–whether literally in terms of highly-controversial game finishes, or in the form of injuries to an already unreliable roster–would only point to a designation of this season as “not their year”. Yet after compensating for the early-season absence of Rob Gronkowski, and then somehow managing to mitigate the damages from season-ending injuries to Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork, it began to feel more like it was in fact New England’s “year”, simply because the team overcame so much adversity. Perhaps this unprecedented display of fortitude and adaptability could only bode well and be a harbinger of greater things to come.
But in light of failing to complete a comeback against division rivals Miami this Sunday, might the wheels be finally falling off of this resilient Patriot team? Home-field advantage seemed a necessity for postseason success, and when the Denver Broncos assumably take care of business against the likes of Houston and Oakland, New England could find the road to the Super Bowl much more strenuous, and even impossible, to accomplish.
Importance of starting Cutler
Marc Trestman may have made the biggest decision of his tenure in Chicago on Sunday. And not only did it pay off in the short-term, but the long-term impact will prove even more beneficial.
When first considering the debate over the rightful starter of the Chicago Bears–a now healthy Jay Cutler or an upstart Josh McCown–one would be disposed to choosing the latter: the Bears have been desperately seeking a sense of momentum and lasting efficiency, and who would better provide that than McCown (13 TDs and averaging 250+ passing yards in 7 games played) who has played a key part in keeping the team’s playoff hopes alive.
Nevertheless, in tabbing Cutler as the starting quarterback–the position Cutler held before his ankle injury–head coach Trestman affirmed a key team philosophy: an injury would not make a player lose his job, therefore sending a message to his players to not fear of playing with a “reckless abandon”. Trestman laid down the precedent of prizing playing with an unmitigated passion for the game and laying it all on the line above all, albeit a chance of resulting in injury.
Cutler shook off some rust in the early-going in Cleveland, throwing for three touchdowns with 265 yards in the air, and maintaining the Bears well within the race for the NFC North crown by helping record the win. Barring another injury, Cutler may be on the path back to quarterbacking stability, backup hero Josh McCown even remained in high spirits/content with Cutler as the starter, and Marc Trestman positively influenced his team. The Bears will now need to win out and hope that the Detroit Lions lose in the next fourteen days, but even if this doesn’t occur, only good will come out of this past week’s events.
Seahawks make a statement
For all the hubbub about Seattle’s rise to the top of the NFL’s pecking order, the one knock on the team has been there supposedly inconsistent and faulty performance away from the confines of CenturyLink field. After all, the Seahawks’ only two losses this year came in contests away from home in Indianapolis and San Francisco. And prior to facing the New York Giants for their final away game of their regular season, their average margin of victory for away game wins was 9.6 points (take out the 33-10 anomaly of a win at Atlanta and you have 6.25 points)–a stark contrast from the average of 18.67 points that the Seahawks beat their opponents by at home.
Anyways, the Giants seemingly posed a threat to the visiting Seahawks on Sunday, having won five of their last eight, three of which coming at home, and thus carrying a semblance of momentum. But MetLife Stadium felt like home for Seattle, drubbing New York to the tune of 23-0, and in doing so dispelling doubts of their away-game ability to some degree. Not only did Seattle shut out the home team, but they dominated the Giants in every aspect of the game: the Hawks ran more plays (67-53), possessed the ball longer (33:58-26:02), had more first downs (21-12), totaled more offensive yards (327-181), and won the turnover battle (5-1).
And that’s as if the Seahawks needed to prove any more skeptics wrong.
Or as if a win on Sunday was necessary to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which they would have had a great chance to do, even if they didn’t beat the Giants, with season-ending home games against Arizona and St. Louis.
Or as if Seattle even needed this display of away-game success–one more victory in the regular season, and the only foreseeable “true” away game the Hawks would face in the 2013-14 season would be on February 2nd…in MetLife Stadium, again.