Sports fans are superstitious.
Many have pregame habits that border on the clinical definition of Obsessive \ Compulsive disorder. It matters not if we wear a “lucky” jersey, don’t wash our socks for the entire season or have a candlelight prayer session for an hour before the game.
Really, anything we do doesn’t alter the outcome of any game – but don’t waste your breath telling any of us that. We are in denial.
As for me, I make Chocolate Chip Cookies – not just any ordinary cookies, but a delightful confection known to my family and friends as “Karma Kookies”Recipe here.
Not for every game, mind you, just the big ones – and for the New England Patriots, early season games don’t get any bigger than their match up with the Buffalo Bills this Sunday.
The Patriots travel to western New York with a two-game albatross on their necks, losing heart breakers to Arizona and Baltimore, while the 2-1 Bills are riding high after victories over Cleveland and Kansas City. While being 1-2 after only 3 games is not really cause for panic or even concern, the fact that New England is struggling to find an identity, and facing a division foe raises the stakes.
Conversely, history has shown us that the Buffalo Bills starting fast isn’t necessarily a reason for optimism, particularly when their two victories have come at the expense of the Chiefs and Browns – not exactly the cream of the crop in the National Football League.
Both teams normally feature a two-headed monster attack that can dominate a game, but the sad nature of the NFL dictates that injuries can change the dynamics of an offense. It happened to the Patriots in February’s Super Bowl when Rob Gronkowski’s ankle was too damaged for him to affect the outcome of the game, and also two weeks ago when Aaron Hernandez suffered a similar debilitating injury.
It also happened to the Bills in the first 3 games this season when first Running back Fred Jackson, and then battery mate C.J. Spiller went down with knee injuries – and, as it turns out, all four players are listed as either out or questionable for Sunday’s contest.
But what do we know about the Bills, exactly? Truth is, what we think we know is not always what it seems.
At their best, the Bills have the ability to control a game on the ground. At their worst, they have to rely on the arm of Ryan Fitzpatrick. If neither of their prized running backs are able to go, the Bills will be forced to go to the air, which, depending on which Fitzgerald shows up, could be good or bad.
The good Fitzgerald will read the coverage and determine where the ball is going before the snap, relying on a three step drop and his receivers to gain initial separation against man coverage, and front the coverage in zone. There won’t be many big plays in this scenario, but it is highly efficient and can move the chains.
The bad Fitzgerald will become impatient with this scheme and start to audible and improvise. With his average arm strength mixed with his penchant for putting his average receiving corps in bad positions, he throws a lot of balls where you wonder who he was throwing to – many times to the opposition.
In the Bills’ quick-strike, Horizontal Spread offense…you know what? Screw this.
Any monkey with an IQ above that of a jar of peanut butter can tell you that the Bills have an average quarterback, average receivers, an athletic offensive line and two of the best running backs in the NFL.
Their defense is soul of this team, because 50 Million dollars guaranteed for a defensive end says so.
On paper, the Patriots should absolutely destroy this team. The gap in talent, which has always been the bitch-kitty for the Bills, is evident. Where the gap narrows is where intestinal fortitude is concerned. You can throw stats on paper all day long and argue that logic precedes all else, but what this game boils down to is who wants it more.
Where is the heart? Where is the moxie, the mojo, the desire? Thus far in this young season, it’s mostly all been with the Patriots’ opponents.
And why not? One should not need additional motivation to go up against the reigning AFC Champion, the standard bearer of football for the past dozen years – no matter the semantics, no matter the stats, the underdog mentality motivates all of New England’s foes.
The Patriots had that mentality all last year. Fighting through injury and attrition, the defense being held together with duct tape and a prayer. Go ahead and disrespect us, the team said collectively, we’ll beat you just to prove you wrong. At first the media lambasted New England, but they kept winning despite the fact that the defense, statistically, was one of the worst in the NFL.
They were the underdogs. They kept telling themselves that each week, and it was a marvel to watch. With an offense this talented, a coaching staff this brilliant and a fist full of undrafted free agent rookies playing their hearts out, the Patriots emerged from the pack and willed their way into the Super Bowl. There is no other way to describe the run we saw from them last season. It was pure will, pure heart.
They came into this season as clear-cut dynasts. They had Tom Brady with so many weapons at his disposal that it seemed that there was no way for a defense to contain them, let alone stop them. They drafted deftly, bringing in enough talent on defense to be the attackers, to dictate to the opposing offense. The youngest team in Bill Belichick’s tenure had dynasty written all over them…
But somewhere along the line, they lost that edge, that underdog mentality. It matters not where or how it was lost, just that it is gone. The mental toughness that defined this team should have carried them through the Cardnials’ game after star greyhound Aaron Hernandez went down with an ankle injury, but the team collapsed into a funk and was never able to fully recover.
That same mental toughness should have allowed them to finish off the hated Baltimore Ravens last week, to overcome their emotional motivation, but they collapsed once more, surrendering a two score lead with 7 minutes to play.
Some will argue that they just were unlucky, and if that’s the case, go ahead and transfer luck to them by wearing that lucky jersey, by wearing those pungent socks. Pray for them, if it relieves your anxiety – but I’m done with making Karma Kookies, because I realize my superstition is dumb and fruitless and will only serve to make me fat.
The Patriots have to make their own karma, their own luck – and that comes from playing with the heart of a champion. It’s that heart that helps to overcome the loss of an integral player. It’s heart that causes them finish off an opponent when the have them down.
This afternoon’s contest is about more than what their record is at the end of the day. It’s about rediscovering that intestinal fortitude that made them the improbable victors from the AFC last season. It’s about rising above the mounting injuries.
It’s about smash mouth football, lining up and saying here we are, just try and stop us - no trickery, no cuteness. There is no room for those things in Patriots football.
The Patriots need to rediscover their mojo, and it is on them alone. Karma Kookies can’t help them.