Whether the quote is credited to Clint Eastwood from the movie “Absolute Power,” or the late Hall of Fame running back and erstwhile philosopher Walter Payton, the words still resonate. Tomorrow, it seems fairly obvious from just a little more than a month of the 2013 season, is promised to no man.
Just ask the Houston Texans, who averaged 30.5 points in their first two outings of this season, both victories, and have only an aggregate 32 points during their subsequent three-game losing streak. Or Washington and Minnesota, each 10-game winners in 2013, but with one victory each this season. Or how about Atlanta, which, before its matchup with the New York Jets on Monday night, was also one of eight clubs in the league with one or zero wins, just one season after compiling the NFC’s best record a year ago.
Capitalizing on the agonizing yet promising conclusion to the Falcons’ 2013 season, which ended with the team 10 yards short of a game-winning touchdown (and of a Super Bowl XLVII berth) in the gut-wrenching NFC championship loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the team’s marketing mavens concocted a new campaign during the spring: “One more play.” The motto was a fine one, based the events of that NFC title tilt, but oblivious to the reality of the league’s truism continuum.
Yep, tomorrow really is promised to no one in the NFL.
The suggestion of the PR message – that Atlanta would begin the 2014 season in essentially the same place they ended the 2013 campaign – was a flawed one. The Falcons’ initial possession of this season, on Sept. 8 at New Orleans, originated from their own 20-yard line. Or 70 yards, in terms of field position, and hundreds of miles geographically, from where last year ended. Much to the chagrin of the folks charged with stoking hype and selling tickets, but not surprisingly to the Atlanta players, the NFL just doesn’t pick up this season from where it left off in the preceding one.
“The thing is,” acknowledged Falcons’ 17-year veteran and Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, “you just never know how things are going to work out from one year to the next. So you better make the most of your chances when the opportunity is there.”
ICONWhat happened to Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons?
Agreed wide receiver Roddy White: “So much can change from one season to the next in this league.”
Indeed, the league’s dynamic is forever morphing, history has demonstrated time and time again. This season certainly is no different. The four franchises noted above – Atlanta, Houston, Minnesota and Washington – all have losing records after qualifying for the playoffs in 2013. Their combined record (prior to the Monday night game) was a dismal 5-12. Green Bay, a chic off-season choice to perhaps go to the Super Bowl, is only at .500. The seven other playoff teams from last season all have winning marks, but only Denver from that bunch is unbeaten. No one would probably wager much money, at least at this juncture, on San Francisco or the defending champion Ravens, making a return Super Bowl appearance.
“We can still do better,” said the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick after Sunday night’s rout of the struggling Texans, a game in which the San Francisco quarterback, deemed by many pundits to be the model for the position’s evolving future, completed all of six passes. Then again, Kaepernick has been a lot better than Matt Schaub of the Texans, who only 13 months ago signed a $62 million contract extension, but who is on pace this season to throw close to 30 interceptions, has tossed a “pick six” in a record four straight games now, and who could be benched sometime soon.
At the start of the season, especially after they rolled to a couple wins, a lot of the “experts” pegged the Texans as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Three defeats later, Houston isn’t even the best team in Texas, at least according to records. And the same pundits are wondering what happened. Well, the NFL happened, that’s what. There is very little legitimate projection in the league, particularly in the age of free agency and player movement. Indicators based on last year’s performance are generally trashed, players agree.
“One (season) has nothing, or little,” to do with another,” said Patriots’ linebacker Jerod Mayo recently.
Granted, the dozen playoff franchises from 2013 had a combined record of 33-23 (.589) before the Monday night game, and nearly half of them (five, actually) were in first place in their respective divisions. But outside of the Broncos – and, really, does anyone want to buy stock in a defense that surrendered 48 points in a winning effort, before Von Miller and Champ Bailey get back on the field? – do any of them seem to possess championship pedigree?
Even the imperial Patriots, as close as the NFL has had to a “sure thing” over a 10-season stretch in which they went to the postseason all but one time, seem to have some uncharacteristic vulnerabilities. Ironically, coach Bill Belichick has forever espoused the notion that every season begins with a clean slate. If you’ve ever heard one of Belichick’s annual stock dissertations on “turn(ing) over the page” every year, raise your hand, but quit rolling your eyes.
Because as the early portion of this season has demonstrated yet again, it’s true.