The New England Patriots since 2007 have played sexy, sun-soaked, bikini-clad football.
It was pigskin pornography that ignited the scoreboard and tickled the loins of fans, observers and analysts. It yielded plenty of excitement, pretty-boy cover photos and magazine centerfolds.
It also yielded zero championships.
“Sometimes it wasn’t enough to get it done in the big show,” said Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork, one of just two holdovers from New England’s last championship team in 2004, after the team’s bona fide ugly 13-10 win over the Jets Thursday night. “I like winning 13-10.”
The team may no longer have a choice but to win ugly. And that could prove a thing of beauty for Patriots fans who hope to recapture the inglorious glory of their championship years.
After all, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots offense were statistically castrated during the 2013 off-season. Ripped of 88 percent of its receiving production from 2012, the team suddenly finds itself unable to penetrate opposing end zones at will.
It's a return to their roots for a team and a fan base that has lost its way over the past decade, that has forgotten about the mental fortitude it takes to win championships in pro football.
So the Patriots have shed the bikini, packed on a few pounds and pulled on their granny panties over the first two weeks of the 2013 season.
They turned back the clock for the second week in a row Thursday night, authoring a poorly written, misspelled minorpiece rain-soaked win over the Jets in Foxboro.
The victory Thursday night marked the first time since 2004, New England's last championship season, that Brady's Patriots won a game scoring 13 point or less. (The 2008 Patriots, with Matt Cassel at QB, beat the Bills 13-0.)
The Patriots also scratched out an equally ugly win in Week 1 just four days ago, riding a last-minute drive and last-second game winning field goal to a 23-21 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Neither victory inspired fantasy football fans. The narrow wins over old division rivals led by rookie quarterbacks hardly make the Patriots Super Bowl contenders. Nobody will look at these wins and forget Peyton Manning's seven-touchdown supermodel performance against the Ravens last Thursday.
But old-school Patriots fans should be excited about the outcomes. They might prove just what the Christian Grey of the Gridiron ordered for an outfit that has forgotten its roots and strayed far from its championship path.
High-school-aged fans in New England might not realize that the two victories this week perfectly reflected the way it used to be for the Patriots a decade ago: the battle-hardened team would tough out win after win, week after week, often amid ugly weather like Thursday night’s rain fall.
- Tom Brady was labeled an unspectacular game manager. He barely achieved that status against the Jets, completing just 19 of 39 passes for 185 yards, 4.7 YPA, and 1 score.
- There were few if any big names on offense. Long-time role player Julian Edelman was the brightest star Thursday night (13 catches, 78 yards, 6.0 YPC).
- Critics labeled New England boring. The Patriots offered all the excitement of a colonoscopy against the Jets and needed three picks of Jets QB Geno Smith to seal the deal.
But those unspectacular, star-less, boring teams of a decade ago proved perhaps the greatest victory machine in NFL history. They rarely gave the game away, wilted under pressure or took a punch without giving back harder than they received.
The weekly knife fights sharpened the Patriots into a deadly killing machine. Few teams stepped into a dark alley with those old-school Patriots and lived to tell the tale.
The Patriots rode this brand of football to three Super Bowl victories in four years, not to mention a spectacular NFL record 34 wins over two years highlighted by a record 21-straight victories over the course of two consecutive championship seasons (2003, 2004).
The 2003 Patriots notably won 17 games and a Super Bowl while scoring just 348 regular-season points, 209 points fewer than the 2012 Patriots. They beat the Giants 17-6 in the rain, the Browns 9-3 in the sun, the Cowboys 12-0 in primetime and the Dolphins 12-0 in a blizzard.
It was never pretty. But it was brutally successful.
Then somewhere along the way fans and even the organization got bored with all the success. They no longer wanted to win ugly, they no longer wanted to be the subject of ridicule in those pigskin beauty pageants on ESPN and elsewhere.
New England fans and media began to clamor for “stars” and “weapons” to surround Brady, to change the tough, battle-scarred but boring image of the team.
Winning was no longer good enough. Patriots fans wanted to win pretty, too.
And did they ever. The Patriots since 2007 have looked prettier than Carrie Underwood in a frilly red thong and corset.
Bill Belichick and the organization capitulated to public pressure. They surrounded Brady with "weapons," sexy toys like Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and begin to put up offensive totals the likes of which the NFL has never seen.
New England has scored 500+ points in four of the last six seasons. No team has ever been so prolific for so many seasons. Hell, 21 NFL franchises have failed to score 500 points even once.
Individual records fell, too, for Brady, Welker, Moss and Rob Gronkowski.
They rewrote the record books. They won beauty contests. They fulfilled the fantasies of all those managers of imaginary fake football teams. But they ultimately failed to deliver the money shot.
The organization, and certainly its fans, began to believe that NFL football was easy. That the points would always fall from the sky. That anything but an attractive blowout was a failure. That all you need to do is let Tom Brady throw pretty passes to sexy tight ends and wide receivers and that the victories would follow.
But the reality is that NFL football is not easy. Wins are not a birthright. Success is not always attractive. Victory in the NFL is typically captured not by the prettiest team but by the team with prison tattoos and facial scars.
The sexy Patriots in this environment came up limp when it mattered most, failing to deliver when the games turned ugly.
Five times in six seasons the pretty Patriots were beaten ugly by the Ravens, Giants and Jets in the postseason. The prolific Patriots, who scored so many points in the regular season, averaged just 15.8 PPG in those five playoff losses.
They could no longer win a street fight.
You know, there's a great line in "A Boy Named Sue," the classic old Johnny Cash song.
"Son, this world is rough; And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough; And I knew I wouldn't be there to help ya along. So I give ya that name and I said goodbye; I knew you'd have to get tough or die."
That is the state of the 2013 Patriots.
The have no choice but to win those street fights this year. Toughen up or die. It's the harsh reality of life in the jungle, on the streets of Gatlinburg and on the fields of NFL football. So far, the Patriots have toughened up and survived two games.
The may even thrive amid the ugly bloodshed, like the championship Patriots past.