Interceptions can bounce into your hands, you can make 10 tackles from being out of position and you can rack up gaudy offensive numbers when your team is trailing by 30 points in the second half. The stats are fun, but they're not always indicative of success.
(Some may even argue that they're for losers.)
Nowhere was that concept celebrated more in the early part of this decade than in New England. The Patriots were never at the top of any statistical categories, but they came away with three Super Bowls. Don't believe me? Here's where the Pats ranked in key statistical categories in 2001, '03 and '04.
|Year||Total Offense||Total Defense|
This year, they're first in total offense, first in points scored, first in passing yards and first in passing touchdowns. They're also now in second place in the AFC East.
In New England, Peyton Manning was ridiculed for setting seemingly every NFL record there was to set while consistently falling flat on his face during crunch time. The image of Manning looking dumbfounded after throwing pick after pick after pick in big games against the Pats was one New England fans loved as much as any shots of the Patriots celebrating.
Now, that same fan base is celebrating statistical accomplishments while the franchise has not won a Super Bowl in seven years. It's risky business. It's the same organization that proudly hangs a banner celebrating a 16-0 regular season, and it's the same organization that used to preach that the regular season means nothing.
Of course, this isn't an overreaction to one loss to the Bills or a condemnation of the team or the fans or the coaches or anybody. It is, however, a warning that if New England isn't careful, it could turn into the Colts.
Some would argue that they already have, and interestingly enough, it might have been the 2006 AFC Championship Game between the Pats and Colts when Manning and Co. passed the statistical torch to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The Pats' defense couldn't hold a lead, Brady's offense came up just short, and the Colts went on to win the Super Bowl.
The next season, you'll remember, was an impressive one — statistically speaking, at least. Brady set the touchdown record, but the Patriots lost the only game that mattered. The 2008 season was a throwback season, as Belichick and Josh McDaniels proved that a system quarterback can win a lot of games. Matt Cassel and the Pats went 11-5, despite Cassel ranking eighth in passing yards and 10th in touchdowns.
Since then, you've seen the Patriots lose their only two playoff games, and now, you're seeing Brady putting up unprecedented statistics. It's not a bad thing, but if he throws for 387 yards and four touchdowns and the Patriots still lose, like we saw on Sunday, then it doesn't matter. The 2010 season was great for Brady, who was the first-ever unanimous league MVP, but he threw a pick early in the Pats' playoff game against the Jets and he never recovered. All those marvelous stats compiled from September through early January were irrelevant.
That notion is still alive in New England, but Brady's making those stats difficult to ignore.
Obviously, you want to have the best quarterback in the league on your football team. To wish anything else would be madness. You also don't want to waste those talents by running nothing but screen passes and quick slants. And you also don't want to ignore it when your quarterback wins AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors and sets an NFL record for most passing yards in a three-week span. Those are all good things. At the same time, leading the league in statistics is a lot less fun than leading the league in wins.
To a certain degree, the statistical output should be celebrated, but winning must always take precedence.
Wes Welker, who tied the Patriots franchise record in single-game receptions (16) and set the mark for receiving yards (217) on Sunday, certainly wasn't happy at the end of the day.
"We lost the game," he said. "You know, what should be a great fun day of breaking records and doing all those things, it's totally the opposite."
Welker leads the league in receiving by a healthy margin, and Brady is on pace to break every record in the book, but if the Patriots keep playing games like they did on Sunday, it's not going to matter a lick. It didn't in '07 and it hasn't since.
"Stats are for losers," Belichick said back in 2009. That was the more memorable part of his quote, but the ending was more significant.
"The final score," the coach said, "is for winners."