It's a staple of the buildup toward a big-time sports championship that involves a team perceived to be unbeatable. Some team knocks off the prohibitive favorite during the season - or comes close to it - and observers go over the game with a fine-toothed comb in search of clues to how the result can be repeated in the final.
You see it in the papers. On rare occasions, you hear it from the other players and coaches. On talk radio stations all over America, if not for this kind of talk, there'd be nothing but dead air or pitches for male-enhancement products.
Just look at what Team X did. They've given everybody a blueprint. All you have to do is follow it.
So it goes with the New England Patriots. The New York Giants fell to them by only three when they met in the regular season. So now they hold the key to beating the Patriots, next Sunday at the Super Bowl! And if not them, the Philadelphia Eagles. Or the Ravens. Or the Jacksonville Jaguars. Or the San Diego Chargers.
Come on, idiot, the blueprint is right there. This is how you beat the Patriots.
As pre-Super Bowl story lines go, it's not bad. There's just one small exception: The Patriots, you know, haven't actually been beaten this season. They're kind of, sort of, undefeated.
It's tough to sell a this-is-how-you-beat-'em angle with the first 18-0 team in NFL history. Now, a this-is-how-you-almost-beat-'em piece, that could work.
Just add that to the multitude of ways that the Patriots have made everything about this season unlike every other season before it.
No doubt, it's irresistible. The Giants did give the Patriots a good game and the whole country a good show in the Week 17 meeting in East Rutherford, N.J. Eli Manning became a man that night. The Giants' pass rush hit Tom Brady often. They ran back a kickoff for a touchdown. They had a 12-point lead six minutes into the second half. It was a stirring, inspiring performance, one that the Patriots can't brush off or overlook.
However, the Patriots still won.
That's the not-so-hidden flaw in all the blueprints. You keep seeing vulnerabilities, soft spots here and there, logical strategies that have disrupted their kickoff-to-final-gun dominance. Yet all they've produced are stomach-clenching finishes, high ratings, nationwide attention ... and close losses.
The events of Monday night, Dec. 3, here in Baltimore are proof. All you have to do - funny how the explanations start this way - is what the Ravens did. Have your quarterback play smart and don't make big mistakes (Kyle Boller had one of his most efficient games and threw only one interception). Run at their aging linebackers (Willis McGahee gained 138 yards). Hit Brady (they sacked him three times).
Oh, and don't call a timeout just before stopping them on a game-clinching fourth-down play. Or hold their tight end downfield on the next fourth down. Or throw a penalty flag into the stands.
Accomplish all of that, and you'll be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy by nightfall in Glendale, Ariz.
The blueprint talk started in earnest not after the Patriots escaped in Indianapolis on Nov. 4, but three weeks later when the Patriots escaped at home against 22-point-underdog, backup-quarterback-using Philadelphia. Again, just connect the dots: Put pressure on Brady, run Brian Westbrook at them, challenge their secondary.
Piece of cake. As long as the aforementioned backup, A.J. Feeley, doesn't throw three interceptions.
The Patriots' two victims in the playoffs also provided the simple clues. Take Randy Moss out of the game; he caught one pass each against the Jaguars and Chargers. That worked pretty well, if you discount Brady setting a record for passing accuracy by going 26-for-28 against Jacksonville. Intercepting three of his passes the next week worked just as well.
Seven close games, regular season and postseason, including one against their opponent Super Bowl Sunday. Average margin of victory: 6.1 points, including three by three points each.
The Patriots won every one of them.
So next time someone shows up with a blueprint for beating the 2007-08 Patriots, accept it graciously, scrutinize it closely, and then tear it into ribbons.
The way the Patriots have already done 18 times.
Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).
David Steele -- Points after
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