Well, now the rest of the country knows what it has been like to watch the Patriots all year. The hallmark of their performance through the entire -- what is it -- fifteen game winning streak has been that they played just well enough to win against whoever else they were playing. Future AFC championship opponent Indianapolis had the ball on the one yard line late in the fourth quarter, down less than seven points, and got stuffed. On the other hand, in the Pats' previous game in Houston, they nearly gave the game away several times, finally kicking the winning field goal with overtime nearly expired after the expansion Texans simply weren't good enough to take it. Most of the games have been tight; several have been squeakers.
There may have been some folks around the country who were surprised to see a competitive game with the Panthers. Those people weren't listening to Pats head coach Bill Belichick, who had been telling everyone who would listen that they were solid in every phase of the game, with high praise for specific playmakers.
But Belichick is generous to every opponent, and to an amazing degree, the team's public posture reflects the personality of its coach. Belichick won't take personal credit for the team's success -- whenever he's asked about it, he credits the players and his assistants. The players (like the coaches) accept blame for their own goofs, but credit whatever success they have, even on spectacular athletic plays, to having been put in position by their teammates and the coaches. Whenever they are asked about an opponent beyond the next, they won't say anything -- "we play one game at a time." (Belichick refused, in interviews, to discuss the playoffs until they were coming up, even though the team had clinched a playoff berth weeks before). They will discuss that next opponent, like their coach, respectfully, looking forward to the contest with the kind of quiet avidity that you'd expect from a team of really top flight accountants. When trash talk comes from the other quarter, they aren't, at least in public, so much offended by the insult as simply nonplussed at the other guys' unprofessional demeanor. And on the field, they do whatever it takes to win, whether that's mental tricks or sheer physical punishment.
A couple of other notes. First off, to anyone who's wondering about the suddenly clay feet of formerly "automatic Adam" Vinatieri, possibly the only kicker in the history of the league to have multiple simultaneous TV endorsement deals -- he is widely reported now to be struggling with back problems, which have been affecting him all season. He's a great guy, though, I hope he works through it.
It seems that the NFL office is shocked, completely shocked, that the halftime show at the Superbowl was tasteless. Perhaps they hadn't looked at the halftime shows at all the other Superbowls.
Also on that halftime show... well, I don't ordinarily praise Britney Spears for much, but good job dumping Justin. ("Wardrobe malfunction", suuuuuure). You go, girl.