Sunday, January 13, 2008

Talent versus tough

Further to the Pats' win over Jacksonville--who played like champs, stayed in there punching, and never fell apart:

Brady’s preppy cover-boy looks and manner notwithstanding—and talk about someone who knows that class is more memorable than hubris!—he’s an absolute assassin: he goes out there with the same ferocity as a 295-pound offensive tackle, and he’s just as intent on tearing your head off. Randy Moss had it right at the NY-NE post-game press gaggle when he said, “best part about playing with Tommy is his killer instinct”. And you look at this kid who looks like he ought to be squiring the prettiest blond girl to the high-school prom, and you think “killer instinct? This kid is too handsome and has had it too easy to have a killer instinct,” and you’d be wrong.

An athlete doesn’t have to be 295 pounds of 4% body fat 'roid-rage to want to destroy his opponents. It’s like the Polynesian immigrant kids who introduced the haka to their high-school football teams, and saw it catch on like wild fire. It’s a very basic, very fundamental recognition that we were carnivores, and predators, awfully early and for millenia. If team sports can find a way to channel that hard-wired killer instinct in such a way that no one is actually, lastingly damaged (and let’s reserve a special seat right close to the flames in the circle of Hell to which high-school coaches who handle kids abusively may be sent), and leaven over that a modicum of sportsmanship, camaraderie, willingness to endure short-term pain and effort for a long-term team goal, then that’s probably the most constructive re-channeling of the killer instinct, in a post-predatory world, we’re going to get.

Final game in the regular season (Pats at Giants) was pretty classic Brady/Belichek/Moss: down two possessions with 4:00 to play in the third, they never panicked, never even looked ruffled, came back 25 points in about 18 minutes. D finally woke up and shut down the Manning offense, and Brady's generalship and focus was matchless.

Classic moment: 2nd and long, on about the Pats' 30, Moss goes out on a long angle route, outruns the defensive back (who then falls down), cuts back at about the NY 8, Brady times the bomb perfectly but throws it maybe a half-yard short, bounces off Moss's hands and he drops it. All the typical "we have to say he's really talented but it's a relief to us when he makes a mistake because then we don't have feel inferior to Brady" comments from Collinsworth/Young in the booth.

Then the Pats run precisely the same play again: long slant route for Moss to about the NY 8, Moss's covering back (evidently) can't believe the Pats are running an exact reply and drops off coverage, Brady fires, and this time drops it perfectly over Moss's shoulder. Moss prances into the end zone (there's a great still photo they showed in the postgame of the split-second just before the catch, with Moss in mid-stride, the ball just about to hit his hands, and it's like a clinic in how a receiver should set up--he's got his fingers spread as wide as possible, and he looks like an octopus).

It was an amazing illustration of the Patriots' "we don’t panic, because we're badder than you" calm: so confident that they'll run the exact same play on which they've just been stonkered, knowing their execution and focus are so massively superior that, even if the opponent's defense knows exactly what's coming, they won't be able to stop it. It's like when Vrabel comes in on 4th-and-goal, and the D knows Brady's going to pull some little bloop pass to Vrabel, and he does, the defense still can't stop it. It must take the heart out of a defense—perfect execution against them, and they still find a way to beat you.

As I said below in reference to Favre—talent is physical: you get it by the luck of the draw, or don’t, and even if you do get it, it erodes.

But tough is mental: you earn it, you “fall down seven times, get up eight times.” And it doesn’t erode.


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