I’m so sick of the Patriots that even rooting against the Patriots feels tired.
As soon as the Patriots came to be an evil empire, America has squeezed all it could out of the Super Bowl by banding together to root against them. It’s been a blast to see them toppled by the Giants and Eagles. It’s been infuriating to see the Falcons and Seahawks and also Eagles fall short. If we couldn’t get a fresh face from the AFC in the game, at least we got to engage in a bit of mindless hate. What fun!
But now the anger synapses have burnt out. Who cares if the Rams win or lose, we’ll probably still be on this ride a year from now. And whether he wins or loses, Tom Brady’s dumb face has only ever remained Tom Brady’s dumb face. He is smug, immutable, and immune to my outrage, or really anything that doesn’t impede his quest for Nirvanic Pliability.
So screw the Patriots, screw the Rams, and screw this game. There is only one pure thing left on the field: a relatively tiny man who holds the potential to turn this game into a real life episode of Breaking Madden; a man who has made his career out of being a glitch in the system, who has the potential to make this game a weird, hilarious mess.
I want to see James White catch 30 passes for 300 yards.
He was well on his way against the Chargers when he caught five passes on the Patriots’ opening touchdown drive alone. That’s five touches in the Pats’ first 14 plays, which would have added up to roughly 28 receptions across their 78 offensive plays for the game. The idea tickled me silly: What if the Patriots really just threw dump passes all game, while the Chargers sat back, waiting for some wrinkle or deep pass that was sure to come — surely this time — only for Brady to check down to White for another 8- to 12-yard gain to move the sticks.
My esteemed colleague Stephen White described the feeling of stopping White thusly:
Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski will still see a lot of the downfield passes, but don’t sleep on how important James White has been to the passing game. When it’s third-and-medium, White always seems to find a way to get open underneath, often short of the sticks, and then get just enough yardage for the first down.
Few things must be more frustrating for a defense than covering well down the field, only to have a dump-off to White move the sticks on them.
Like a spam attack in a fighting game, or a play action pass in NCAA Football circa 2005, the move would have made the Chargers feel helpless. The game would have devolved into a form of torture for them and for the viewer. Four hours of dada madness. That’s not the game we got in the Divisional round, but maybe that’s OK, because maybe that’s exactly the type of game this Super Bowl deserves.
We know the Patriots are capable of it, too. Their only true tendency over the years of so much offensive success is their ability to needle an opponent’s weak point until the whole team caves. Brady is the king of rifling through his progressions, which means he’s the king of checkdowns. He’ll take free yardage for as long as you give it to him, a fact that White proves.
White finished with 15 receptions against the Chargers. Not 30, unfortunately, but still a healthy sum — in fact, he tied the record for the most receptions ever in a playoff game. He’s also the only NFL player to ever record at least 14 receptions in a playoff game twice. In the Patriots’ comeback from a 28-3 deficit against the Falcons in 2017, he arguably deserved Super Bowl MVP honors over Brady. He caught 14 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, and added another 29 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, one of which won the game in overtime. He was so brilliant, even Brady was ready to give up his award.
And perhaps the best part about White obliterating the NFL record for the most receptions in a game by 10 is that you could reasonably enjoy it. He’s a classic too-small, too-slow player who did everything right to make it to the highest level of his profession. Brady and Belichick talk about him like a favorite son. Pats media members gave him a Good Guy Award. Before the season, Pats players named him a captain.
All that, despite never having been a lead back going back to high school. At St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, he shared a backfield with Giovani Bernard, who was a more highly regarded recruit in the class of 2010. White landed at Wisconsin, where he played behind Montee Ball, a Heisman finalist, and Melvin Gordon, a future first round pick, and still managed to rack up more than 4,000 yards rushing over a four-year career.
He has always been the consummate gadget back — ridiculously nifty and maneuverable in tight space (his Twitter handle is @SweetFeet_White) with hands like a wide receiver. His job was to make defenses pay for forgetting about him, and he did it incredibly well.
Naturally, he was overlooked in the NFL draft, falling to the fourth round behind 12 other running backs. Naturally, it was the Patriots who uncovered a diamond. And naturally, despite how important he is to the Patriots, he still isn’t the lead back — rookie Sony Michel has had 216 touches this season to White’s 181.
Point being, White is a great person in addition to being singularly suited for the job of turning the Super Bowl you don’t want to watch into a work of post-apocalyptic science fiction.
Thirty receptions for 300 yards. Brady chucking passes to a swinging White out of the backfield. White making one guy miss and falling over for a first down and more, over and over and over. A Rams defense that can account for anything failing to stop a man who has perhaps never been properly accounted for in his life.
Yes the Patriots would probably win another Super Bowl, but do you really care about that at this point? They’ll probably win three more before Brady retires. Life is pain, Eat Arby’s, etc., ad inf.
The Patriots have already ruined football. At least let a nice guy drive the final stake.