When Brandon Spikes hits someone, his hair explodes.
That’s what my 8 year old boy told me yesterday as we watched the highlights of the New England Patriots’ 52-28 demolition of the Buffalo Bills.
And he’s right. His long locks flowing from under his helmet, flailing everywhere like gyrating serpents as if a creature like the mythical Medusa was hidden behind the menacing tinted face shield as he stalks the ball carrier…
… finding the man with the ball – closing in - and when he gets close enough for the back to see his eyes, they turn his hands to stone; the serpents snapping in unison like a bullwhip as he makes punishing contact, instantly exploding in as many different directions as there are locks on his head as he drives through the tackle – the ball hits the ground, followed shortly by his victim…
Ah, madness. I usually try to shield my boy from such demented fantasies, but explosions and mythical monsters are right in an 8 year old’s wheelhouse, so why bother?
Just before the half on 2nd down and goal from the Patriot two yard line and Buffalo leading 14-7, Bills’ running back C.J. Spiller took a hand off from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, cut left to a small seam that he thought he could squeeze through.
All he found was Spikes. And his exploding hair.
Spikes met Spiller in the crease, clocking him so hard that the ball came loose. Defensive Tackle Vince Wilfork, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, plucked the ball away from Spiller, saving a sure 7 points and, perhaps, the game.
Later in the 4th quarter, Spikes did the same thing to Bills running back Fred Jackson, this time with safety Tavon Wilson recovering. The Patriots quickly scored, putting the game out of reach.
Moments later, Wilfork impacted the game once again by decleating Buffalo receiver Donald Jones as he skimmed the line of scrimmage and took a short dump-off pass over the middle. Whether by design or instinct, Wilfork had dropped into short coverage, and was the last person Jones thought he’d run into.
But he did, and Jones became the poster child of the Patriots physical, attacking defense.
With each passing week, it seems that the Patriots have become more physical, more intimidating, more game-changing – Spikes and Wilfork at the point of the attack - and now that they’ve finished off an opponent in impressive fashion, it appears that they have found their hearts as well. With these things comes more than wins, it comes with a reputation.
And with football being a violent sport, having the hard-hitting reputation that Spikes is earning is a very good thing. He is the enforcer, the intimidator, the equalizer – the man in the middle of everything, anchoring a squad that is as tough inside the numbers as any of the Patriots’ Championship defenses.
Established veteran Wilfork already had a rep for being tough and durable and violent, as athletic and nimble a 330 pound man as you’ll ever see, and along with equally massive Kyle Love, Spikes, and fearless safeties Chung and rookie Tavon Wilson, they form an intimidating nucleus . Speedy and long Chandler Jones, tough guys Ninkovich, Mayo and Hightower round out a defense that is becoming one of the more intimidating lineups in the league.
And it’s all tied together by a 330 pound Titan of a man and the linebacker with the exploding hair.
Gone is the stupid and wrong “Bend but don’t break” philosophy of the past half-dozen seasons – replaced by the “You’d better hold onto that ball tightly, because you’re gonna get smacked” philosophy.
Granted, the former was good enough to get the Patriots to the Super Bowl last season as the coaching staff used smoke and mirrors in their defensive magic act. The opposition would move the ball up and down the field seemingly at will, racking up huge stats along the way. But when the smoke cleared, they were left looking in the mirror, wondering how they lost the game.
Somehow, it was effective – but blood pressures began to rise among the fan base and it caused fantasy football owners each week to start every player they had from the team facing New England.
Not this season. Not with the reputation this defense is earning. Not with the man that former Patriot linebacker Tedy Bruschi calls “A monster” and “a cross between Rodney Harrison and Ted Johnson” roaming the middle of the field. The man that even Tom Brady gushes about:
“That play that Spikes made to knock the ball out from Spiller, I love being on the team with Brandon Spikes. What he does for our defense, and creating fumbles, and really the hard-hitting presence that he is in the middle of the field. Brandon brings that physical element, and to knock the ball out of Spiller like that, that was really awesome. And that’s what he did against Arizona, to knock the fumble off the (running back), but that was one of the best plays that I’ve ever seen anyone make. He has a nose for the ball, he has a nose for knocking the ball out, and that was a huge play in the game yesterday. For Vince to be on the top of it and to recover it, that was a huge play in the game.”
After all of the plays that Tom Brady has witnessed in his 13 years in the NFL, rarely have we heard such a gushing testimonial, particularly for a defensive player. In that snipit, one can sense the growing respect that the 2010 second round draft pick has earned, and will continue to earn as he is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.
In greek mythology, the image of Medusa was believed to have apotropaic qualities, meaning to have the ability to ward off evil, and legend is that the demi-god Perseus carried around the creature’s head as a weapon. In the modern day NFL, Brandon Spikes and Vince Wilfork have the same qualities, having the ability to change the direction of the ball carrier just with presense alone, as well as changing the momentum of a game with one violent exchange.
As the rest of the Patriots’ defense follows suit and becomes even more intimidating, even Perseus’ father, the mighty God Zeus, wouldn’t be able to hold onto the ball if he tried to run into the teeth of the Patriots’ defense.