How to hurt a 290-lb tough guy's feelings

Apparently, just score a few points on him in a football game. After Spygate was blown out of proportion in August, every non-Patriots fan in the NFL universe has made themselves feel better about their not-as-good team by using such terms as "classless Patriots" and "Belicheat." Look, what he did was against the rules, but it's not like it changed anything... I for one couldn't understand how there wasn't a bigger ruckus about Rodney Harrison using human growth hormone to "recover from an injury" and um, apparently, to get up for a big game or two. I mean, that's cheating. I was a little surprised by the length and depth of the outcry until I realized that most of the people with an opinion didn't know the facts... that Belichick was basically getting the same footage he could get from the NFL or Fox Sports, just in a slightly more convenient format because the cameraman would pan up to see time and down each play.

Fast forward 8 weeks, and the Patriots are just obliterating everyone in their path. Some say they used Spygate as fuel for the fire, but that's probably not true past week 3: they're just actually that good. They've beat opponents by over 200 cumulative points... in eight games. So now the big outcry is that they're running up the score. I personally have a problem with what the Patriots are doing, but not for the reason's everyone is claiming. Let's get those objections out of the way first.

1) They're risking injury to a key player. Tom Brady is a Pretty Good Player. Take him out, and the Pats are just another playoff team. Having him dive on fourth and one when they're up by 45 points with 12 minutes left is silly. Now Mike Wilbon, a scumbag/piece of shit type sportswriter from Washington DC (go figure) is calling publicly for someone to take a cheap shot at him. I don't condone this, in fact I'm frankly sickened by it and hope Wilbon gets out of his Avalanche this evening, to the sight of 5 300-lb guys running full-bore at his grille. The point is, there's just enough classless, childish, and undisciplined assholes on the field in the NFL where this becomes a concern. And Randy Moss is leading the team in offensive snaps. I think this is great in the early part of the game, but for God's sake, when you have God's ganky-hamstringed gift to quarterbacks on your team, get him the God out of the game when it's decided. And Wes Welker, the 4'2" slot receiver who makes his living as a tackle dummy - how long is he going to last? 19 games, one would hope.

2) The games are boring. As a fan, the highs just aren't as high without the lows. Dallas was a decent game because we waited until 25 minutes were left to get a double-digit lead. Blowouts are not good for a team. They make you soft and undisciplined - witness Junior Seau with the football over his head after an interception, or Donte Stallworth waving the football almost in the face of a D back 5 yards out of the endzone. Not only can you not do that in a close game, you can't even think about doing that, or think about that time you did that, or think about anything except holding onto the frickin ball. And also, it takes a whole other mental makeup to play from behind; and these Pats aren't getting practice with that. Good problems to have, all.

Now to my thinking on running up the score. First, let me say that I think running up the score is unsportsmanlike unless there's a reason. Second, let me say that it is pretty much the last conclusion I would come to that someone is "running up the score." The term to me is reserved for occasions when there is no advantage, tactical or strategic, to what you are doing; when there are obvious alternatives; when there is no danger; and when not running up the score is better for the winning team. When these are all satisfied and the team is still out there for no apparent reason but to demoralize for fun, then it's unsportsmanlike. I don't think I've ever actually seen an instance of running up the score by my definition, ever, except maybe in playground basketball. Let's take a look at the whining to the contary.

1) "When we're in those situations, we " - You're not in those situations. Very few players in the NFL have been in the situation where they lead 42-0 going into the second half, like against the Dolphins in week 7, or 35-0 in the third quarter. Seriously, what do you do at this point as a coach? There's a lot of time so you can't just start running the ball and punting after 3 and outs, because you actually do risk a comeback. You can put some reserves in to get them PT, but you're not going to throw the B team out there for 30 solid minutes like a preseason game are you? Or play soft until the other team gets within striking distance, and then hope you can pull away again with your cold starters. Saying you would do this in a league like the NFL, where people are paid millions and work 80 hour weeks to be the best 1% of 1% at what they do, is preposterous.

2) "You need to show some respect for the game" - This was a Redskins linebacker, after a 52-7 week 8 whupping. In my opinion, the people that need to show some respect for the game are Redskins linebackers. Washington's plan in this game was obvious - hit New England receivers as hard as possible after they got the ball. This is a fine strategy, but you have to actually make the tackles. Who disrespects the game more - the receiver who makes the catch late in the game and run his best route to get another first down? Or the tackler who misses plays because he's trying so hard to injure the guy on the other team? I learned team sports from a great teacher in college, and above all the message was this: you disrespect the game, your teammates, the other team, and fans if you're lucky enough to get paid to do this when you don't go 100%, and when you play dirty. That's it.

3) "There's unwritten rules" - this is true, and they are good things to follow. I don't think they apply here. Those rules usually apply to the last few minutes of a blowout game, and in this case the Pats ran 3 series with backup QBs. The fact is that it's outlandishly rare to do what the Pats are doing right now. Rules don't apply, for a few very simple reasons. First, you need to be realistic as a coach. Not every game will be over by halftime. You can't have your best players conditioned to a 40 minute game when you will inevitably have to play a few 60 minute games in the schedule. When it happens once, give them the fourth quarter off. When it happens 8 weeks in a row, you're asking for a late letdown if you don't force the intensity all the way through.

4) "Teams should put it on the ground when they're ahead by XX points" - This is somewhat misconstrued. Teams "put it on the ground" for selfish reasons at the end of games when they hold a lead. The clock stops on passing plays, but it doesn't on running plays, so you can eat more time off the clock all else being equal. However, if you just bunker down and run exclusively you don't chew much time at all, because the other team loads up against the run and you end up punting 3 and out. You eat time off the clock by a mixture of runs and first downs. Running more with a lead is reasonable. Running exclusively is stupid.

A corollary to this one is "kick a field goal instead of going for it on 4th down." This is just stupid.

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