As I watched the New York Jets dismantle the AFC North “champion” Cincinnati Bengals and observed the Baltimore Ravens smack around the self-proclaimed “dynasty” known as the New England Patriots I couldn’t help but mumble aloud to myself, posing a question to all three of my personalities; me, myself and I. After dreadful one and done playoff losses did the Bengals have second thoughts about sacrificing their final regular season game in order not to “jeopardize their starters?” The Bengals said that they did not want to reveal too much to a team that they might be facing again in less than a week. What they did reveal to the Jets and the rest of the sports world was that they had no heart or backbone.
Did the “kittens” from Cincy realize that when they put the nail in the coffin of the playoff aspirations of the Pittsburgh Steelers that they were also leaping onto the undertaker’s slab as well? Did they think their shoddy scheme to indirectly be part of the process that eliminated the Steelers from the post-season would create an imaginary advantage? They may have, but as always, a loser is a loser is a loser. Both losing teams from the wildcard round in the AFC seemed to be living and competing in the land of Oz, complete with exclusive zip codes in the NFL’s region of make believe. Oh, for those readers who may not be accustomed to my literary style, in the wretched case of the Bengals and the Patriots I am using the words “champion” and “dynasty” in a very tongue-in-cheekish, Def Comedy Jam sort of way.
How were two wildcard teams that struggled to make the playoffs able to take full advantage of the second chances that were given to them? How? The question is why? Why, because in the playoffs, deuces are wild and it’s a different sort of party simply because you never know what to expect from teams that are not under any pressure to win because they have nothing to lose. Also both underdogs were less than impressed with the pseudo-pedigree of their competitors.
During the 2008 season when Patriots QB Tom Brady was forced to sit out the season, some people were just a few syllables short of suggesting that an asterisk be placed beside the accomplishments of that season due to the absence of Brady; because as we all know, if Mr. Brady was healthy there was no way that New England would not have been in the thick of the NFL championship race, possibly winning it all.
Well, it appears that Brady made a positive comeback from his injury and the Patriots appeared to be an almost ordinary franchise. In the horrific loss against the Ravens, New England had to depend on 20-year veteran linebacker Junior Seau to make plays for them on defense. When the videotaping privileges of “genius” head coach Belichick were grudgingly revoked by the NFL, that penalty was certainly one of the principal reasons why the continuation of the Patriots dynasty may have been disrupted, compounded with the 2008 season ending injury to their starting QB. See, when you employ the 12th man with the name of “cheat” it does not matter what personnel you plug in because the opposition will always be at a disadvantage.
But in this season’s wildcard playoff game there was no covert and illegal advantage for the boys from beantown. The Ravens read New England’s offensive scheme like a bad novel and the only film available for them to watch was game film. Oh, by the way, six of the Ravens seven losses in 2009 were administered by teams that made the 2009 post-season. In contrast, three of the Steelers losses in 2009 were handed to them by teams that probably cannot even spell the word playoffs, playoffs, what do you mean playoffs?
Last weekend, the Ravens and the Jets, two teams whose post-season chances appeared doomed less than a fortnight ago now have posted playoff victories in the books, having just kicked the snuff out of the division-winning Patriots and Bengal’s in their own yards. If Cincy had used all of the available logic they would have tried to beat the Jets in their regular season encounter so that they could have faced a Pittsburgh squad that was a little down on themselves even if they were in the midst of a three-game winning streak.
The Bengals laid down in the first game against the Jets. New York made sure that they stayed down.
Winning this year was a remote shot for the Bengals. Winning next year might even be more unlikely because when a team or a coach displays cowardice for any reason in the world of professional football the opposition often smells blood in the water and the talent of your squad may oftentimes be secondary. In football you have to man up before you can stand up. The Jets may have slipped into the 2009 playoffs by the back door but the Bengal’s had to leave by the same door.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and aubreybruce.blogspot.com.)