The Cold, Hard Football Facts Ombudsdouche
You remember Cool Hand Luke, the guy the guards couldn't break so they killed him? At one point the guards almost worked him to death because he "didn't have his mind right." But he was playing them, as the guards found out later.
The effort to work him to death also gave us one of the great movie scenes of all time:
show video here
Like Cool Hand Luke, the Patriots didn't have their minds right against the Saints. Unlike Luke, though, the Patriots weren't playing their adversary.
In fact, the Patriots had no interest in playing the Saints at all. They were aware of the Saints record, alright, and they were aware there was some kind of hullabaloo going on, but they were about as interested in playing a football game as I am in sex with my wife after a few minutes surfing the web before turning in.
The Patriots game represented a watershed moment for the yet-to-finish-more-than-a-six-pack Saints. But on the other hand, Belichick's crew looked like someone who was just jarred awake from a siesta on the couch as their mother-in-law gets out of the car and heads up the walk. They know something bad is about to happen, but not sure what or why.
The Patriots lost their motivation in Indianapolis. I'm not making excuses for them. I'm not saying the Patriots would have beat New Orleans had they been up for the game. Nope, they still would have lost. But not in blowout fashion. The Saints aren't 21 points better than the Patriots.
Look at it this way: there's a good chance the Saints and Colts meet in the Super Bowl. Is there anyone who believes the Saints blow out Manning's Colts? Manning has willed his team to victory against the most adversarial circumstances too many times to think otherwise.
Yet, two weeks ago against the Colts, New England proved they belonged on the same field with the best the NFL has to offer. If the Patriots aren't the cream of the crop anymore – and they're not – they're still damn close.
And that's the rub. See, the Patriots weren't outclassed by the Saints, they were out-motivated. And that falls squarely on Belichick's shoulders.
Most of the time motivation is overrated. Coaches who rely on it often find that the well runs dry. Belichick's avoidance of emotion and steady reliance on X's and O's is what makes him a great coach. But every so often a coach needs to find a way to fire up his team when they have every reason to lay over. Even great tacticians have to turn motivator once and a while.
In the 1980s, the L.A. Rams worked practically all decade to find a way to get past the 49ers to the Super Bowl. In 1989 they finally had the team to do it. They squeaked out a 13-12 win in San Francisco in Week 4. When they met again in a huge Week 14 game on Monday Night Football to sew up the division, the Rams jumped out to 17-point lead. But they gave up a series of devastating big plays and lost an emotionally crushing nailbiter, 30-27.
At that point, the Rams were about as low as it gets. They could have tanked. But their coach John Robinson found the right approach. He told them the only way to get rid of the bad feeling was to run the table and get a rematch in the NFC championship game. He challenged them.
It worked. The Rams won their final two regular season games. They beat the Eagles on the road in the wildcard, when Jackie Slater dominated Reggie White. They beat Bill Parcells' Giants in New York, the same Giants who won the Super Bowl the following year. They got their rematch with the 49ers.
Then they lost in humiliating fashion when Jim Everett took a dive. But that's a story for another day.
Over the long haul, Belichick's steady, unemotional style is superior to Knute Rockne speeches. But he failed to motivate his team against the Saints, and time will tell if finds a way to bring them back from the depths of the loss to Indianapolis.
The Patriots aren't as talented as they used to be. But that's not their biggest problem. Their biggest problem right now is that, like Cool Hand Luke, they don't have their mind right.