The Hangover is a fevered attempt to collect thoughts on the Detroit Lions and the NFL and anything else stuck in the craws of the brain on Tuesday after all football has burned out. All opinions belong solely to the author and all facts belong to that evil new war god of unfeeling thought.
Sprung a leak
The Patriots are broken. Injuries have shredded this fearsome terrible war machine, removing piece after piece until only the Dark Disciple remained on the field, throwing to Danny Amendola and a generic grocery store brand tight end and handing it off to no-name tailbacks. It's busted, crushed, and there's no telling where relief will come.
What's baffling about the loss isn't that the Eagles won with Bradford throwing for a meager 120 yards or Darren Sproles with 66 yards leading the rushing or 25 minutes of possession. That's not baffling, that's a Sudoku puzzle. We know the Eagles are bad, even as Chip Kelly gets credit for an offense that has nothing solved. Winning really does cure everything.
No, what's baffling is the insistence coming from Boston media that the injuries cannot be used as an explanation for what happened on Sunday. Forget any nuance; they must win. Win. Win. Feed the monster or more fans shall shuffle to the exits.
It feels like 2014 in negative-light, and there we can possibly find some answers. At the end of September the Patriots were drubbed 41-14 by the Kansas City Chiefs, dropping to 2-2 on the season. What followed was a collective breakdown in the belief in the myth of Tom Brady as the Ineffable Winner. Boston began to panic, while Steve Young vowed to fight anyone who put the blame on Tom Brady's shoulders while torching the front office and coach instead. Everyone lost their minds.
We all know what happened. The Patriots, who were hurt bad early in the season, got Rob Gronkowski back. The machine got back on track and then they rolled on to the Big One. In epilogue, as 2015 was in youth there was this psychotic need from some to apologize for their takes in 2014, a luxury that has never been afforded to anyone else in this sport.
It might be that Tom Brady just needs those weapons, rather than rely on some cosmic Winner-ness. Thankfully, for the Pats, the rest of their schedule allows some leniency and a chance to change the narrative. Maybe they'll get healthy in the interim. For now, it's pretty well busted.
It's quiet for the Lions, but around the league the playoff picture is starting to gel -- except for the NFC East and AFC South, which are far less a gel and more pools of beer and vomit. Everyone is gathering around and picking out Their Winner with a quarter of a season remaining on the books. This is a magical time of year for hot takes. Hanukkah, even.
The logic and lack thereof used to pick The Winner is in everyone's face, and sure enough, the one team that's shown everything and a bottle of Coke is receiving the most doubt. Turn on Monday Night Football's postgame. Ray Lewis is there screaming that the Carolina Panthers have not "been there before." They don't have the championship pedigree. If the Cardinals beat them, it's all over, they're exposed as frauds. All that jazz.
It's all the same nonsense we've done for years and years and years with teams that eventually become champions. Steve Yzerman was never a winner and was never going to be one, until he was, three times over. The Seahawks had never been there before and stood no chance, until they were champions and brutally murdered the Broncos. It's a useless piece of analysis that's quickly swept under the rug as revisions are made. Unlike with Tom Brady, no one apologizes for saying a team doesn't know what it's like to win a championship.
Football is the only sport where an undefeated team garners this kind of skepticism. I just don't understand sometimes.
Speaking of the Patriots, they're still being picked and trusted, even though they're not likely to enjoy the confines of Foxborough for the whole playoffs, nor do they enjoy a clear path through the trenches of the AFC. Injuries still plague this team, lesions and sores that we're denying vehemently. But sure, plenty will trust them over the Panthers.
And what of the Cardinals and Bengals, who aren't immune to the baffling loss? The same baffling loss will make every analyst lose all belief in the Panthers, if any remain. The Denver Broncos are thrusting in a quarterback mid-season, while the Packers are struggling to keep the ship together. The Seahawks are surging again just in time to snatch one of those wild cards. The hapless hordes of the NFC East and AFC South will come in and line up as fodder, but in a single-elimination format, weirdness and terror rule the day.
Yeah. I'm damn salty about the whole nonsense surrounding the Panthers. Whatever was there to use against Cam Newton ran out long ago, so now it's back to the tried and true position to cross arms and sulk and declare they won't win it all because of intangibles. Because the NFL uses single-elimination for the playoffs, they may very well get their wish, applying their narrative to a random outcome.
Young stars were all over the field in Nashville on Sunday. Not since some country music festival of some name that I don't know was in the Music City did we have such a collective (look, I don't listen to country music). To some, the Jaguars and Titans were the best game on television Sunday afternoon.
It's easy to see why. Blake Bortles threw for 322 yards and Allen Robinson generated half of those for him. Marcus Mariota, Heisman-crowned, threw for 268 and rushed for another 112; he too had a star receiver catching much of that for him in Dorial Green-Beckham. All four names here are rookies or in their second season.
It's impossible to talk about Mariota without having to also talk about Jameis Winston (if you believe the constant reminders from Fox and CBS commentators and the respective chyrons), but in the vacuum one only needed to talk about Mariota and Bortles. For two teams with hapless histories as the Titans and Jaguars, both with valor lost long ago, it was a game that could inspire fear and hope into both with what talent they had taking the field. Offenses are being rebuilt for both before our eyes.
Yes, dammit, Mariota can run in the league too. He was doing it against the Jaguars, but he was still doing it against an NFL defense. He has the ability to get out of bounds and slide fast enough to avoid the same hits that eventually battered down Robert Griffin. He can also throw, as can Bortles, who has been inconsistent as with any young quarterback but with the upside for all to see. For the Titans, Sunday was their first win at home in a long time. For the viewer, it was fun. Football should be fun.
Hey guys. Blaine Gabbert threw a game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Bears. 71 yards out to Torrey Smith, who lofted the ball in the air like a golden treasure. It was an absolute monster! A dragon! Breathing fire and hell and torching the eyebrows of thousands of Chicagoland natives. Not only that, but Gabbert also scrambled for the tying touchdown to send it to overtime to set up those pyrotechnics!
Holy crap! Monday Night Football turned into a nonsense-spectacle all over again and Matt Cassel, rebounding across the league as team after team hopes he's got some Tom Brady in him, led the Cowboys to victory, desperately throwing to Dez Bryant in the final drive to set up for the crazed field goal to defeat the team in Washington.
And there he is! The eternal journeyman, the grizzled sabertooth Ryan Fitzpatrick, he's there propelling the Jets to overtime, whereupon the Giants happily stabbed themselves in the face and conceded defeat.
There's a lot made of the pinnacle, the Franchise Quarterback. There is a magical sauce ascribed to them that makes them capable of comebacks and final drives and no one else (even though you could look at Aaron Rodgers career for late drives and realize Thursday is an aberration for his career). They are the golden children. The rest are unwashed. Cannot win. No sir.
But to hell with it. In the NFL, there's enough nonsense week to week where those walls are demolished and it's Matt Cassel keeping the Cowboys' season afloat (one game out! That's all it takes. My god, to play in the East!). Everything falls into place and none of that Winner Quarterback blabber matters. The narratives and myths are nothing behind the power of just some dude babbling nonsense right before he gets a ball hiked to his hands. Stranger arcs have happened.
This is important
Don't get angry at it. Don't get hostile. Don't dismiss it outright. Sometimes, the best solution is to see a viewpoint that may be painful or contrary to commonly held belief. It's necessary to a proper life. Today, the New York Times has something in that vein by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man who discovered C.T.E. and not, as he's been called today by some ESPN talking head, a member of the "liberal media."
Just read it. Read it and allow it to breath. Omalu's words are important, even if you might personally disagree with the message, even if you choose not to follow the words. They shouldn't just be dismissed because of cultish adherence to a sport we follow.