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Monday, January 21, 2008
Updated: March 5, 2:47 PM ET
Perfect? Did you say perfect?

By Art Garfamudis
Page 2 guest columnist

Words: What do they mean?

More importantly: What are they supposed to mean? Why do we even have words if people are going to misuse them and misrepresent their true meanings? When someone says an airplane is "safe," either it is or it isn't. When someone says a piece of jewelry is "pure gold," either it is or it isn't, right? That leads me to today's word of the day:

Perfect

I'm going to break this word down for you, because I'm a writer, and if there's one thing writers know the meaning of, it's words -- although a lot of my colleagues have been misusing this word, as I will illustrate. Since you're only a reader, let me explain it to you.

Heading into Super Bowl XLII, we're hearing this word a lot. When you hear the word "perfect," what comes to mind? Right: Perfection. The absence of flaws. Did you see a flawless team playing Sunday in the AFC championship game? I didn't. I saw one that allowed its opponent to score four times. Do perfect teams do that? No. Perfect teams don't allow their opponents points at all.

In case you've been living under a truck with no radio, I'm talking about the New England Patriots, who haul an 18-0 record into the Super Bowl. They'll be playing the New York Giants, who are 13-6. We've heard a lot about the Patriots and their "perfect" season, and we're going to hear even more in the next two weeks. If I had a dollar for every time someone said New England was having a "perfect" year, I'd have a lot of money. I don't see it as being so "perfect," though, and I'm going to school you why.

League Leaders
Look at the top five players in the following categories: QB rating, receiving yards, sacks, rushing yards, tackles, interceptions. Out of the 30 guys, how many are Patriots? Just two, I'm afraid. Tom Brady has the No. 1 QB rating and Randy Moss is No. 2 in receiving yards. If this team were perfect, wouldn't there be more Patriots up there? Uh, yeah.

Prevention
Which team allowed the fewest passing yards in the NFL this year? The "perfect" Patriots, right? No. It was the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots were only seventh in that category. Hey, how about rushing yards? Maybe they allowed the fewest of those. Nah, that was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Patriots were fourth.

Prevention, Part II
OK, so maybe they had one of those "bend but don't break" defenses that allows yards but not points. Not only did they not shut out everybody -- the true sign of a perfect team -- they didn't shut out anybody. Worse yet, they kept only three teams in single digits. Did they allow the fewest points in their conference? No. The Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers were ahead of them. So was NFC leader, Tampa Bay.

Penalties
You know how you know you're playing well? You're not giving away free yards to the other team via penalties. To me, penalties show a lack of discipline. Guys jumping offside, using their hands incorrectly, hitting the quarterback late, interfering with receivers, whatever; this is stuff a good team gets out of its system in the heated doldrums of summer camp. So, where did the allegedly "perfect" Patriots stand in the NFL in penalties? How about seventh out of 32 teams? OK, maybe the penalties didn't do much damage -- nope, they were 16th in penalty yards. Does that sound like a "perfect" team to you? To me, it sounds more like an out-of-control mob than a football team.

Failure to Execute
When you see a punter coming on the field, what do you think? I'll tell you what you should think: "That team has failed. It didn't get the job done." So, wouldn't a team without flaws hardly ever have to call on its punter? Yeah, you would think so. New England, on the other hand, put 44 punts in the air. That's 44 times they threw in the towel and said, "We give up." Perfect teams don't give up.

Prevention, Part III
Any illusions you might have had about this team should have ended in Week 7 when it gave up four touchdowns to the Miami Dolphins. For those of you who don't look at the standings, that's the team that won one game all year. The Dolphins hit up New England for 28 points, their second-best total of the season. A truly perfect team would have beaten them 56-0 … both times they played.

Living up to Expectations
When you're "perfect," you're supposed to do what people think you should do, right? If people think you're capable of great things, you should do those great things. Well, here's a flash for you: The Patriots are only 10-8 against the spread so far. Think about that: Almost half the time, they couldn't cover. I'm betting there are a lot of bettors out there who don't think the Patriots are so "perfect."

True Perfection
You want me to concede a team is "perfect"? I'll do it when you show me a team that does the following:

• Makes all opponents go three-and-out, fumble or throw an interception on every drive.
• Does not even have a punter on the roster because it scores on every drive.
• Could forget to put an 11th player on the field on every play and still find a way to win.
• Beats the spread all the time, no matter how insane Vegas makes it.
• Has every game -- including playoff games -- wrapped up by no later than the end of the first half.

When that team comes down the road, I'll put its picture next to "perfect" in the dictionary. Not the New England Patriots.

Art Garfamudis has seen all or part of eight of the past 13 Super Bowls.