On Monday afternoon, the New York Times website published a William Rhoden column titled "The Day the Patriots Empire Began to Crumble." But it was actually The Day the Patriots Earned the NFL's Best Record. The Times regrets the error.
The original column somehow went up at 4:00pm on Monday, and commenters got right to it. Times Sports editor Tom Jolly explained to Yahoo's Cutline that Rhoden "wrote an early column for the first edition and the Web and then updated it to reflect the outcome," which of course was a 45-3 win for New England. No word, though, on why it was published prior to kickoff.
Rhoden did not predict the dismantling. He wrote with the impression that New England had lost, and that this meant something serious for Bill Belichick and his Patriots. A "shift in power was taking place," Rhoden explained, and after the phantom Patriots loss on Monday, it had been finalized: "the Jets are in ascendancy, while New England is in retrograde." Is that so.
To coin a phrase, Rhoden really went out to the movies on this one. His argument — and it somehow stayed put in the more up-to-date article published in Tuesday's paper — is shaded with moralizin' and repentin'. He believes that Belichick's fall from grace began with Spygate three years ago. He wrote that with the scandal,
the Patriots and Belichick lost more than money. New England lost some of its luster as a first-class organization. While no one doubts Belichick's coaching genius, he lost a measure of respect for violating the sanctity of sportsmanship and the integrity of competition.
And then there's this leap: the Patriots haven't repeated as Super Bowl Champs because Eric Mangini turned his former boss and mentor in for taping defensive signals in September 2007, and so they no longer film their opponents' practices and signals:
New England has not won a championship since the Jets turned Belichick in for cheating. Is this a coincidence? Or in a league in which winning and losing hang by such a slender thread, can the loss of a camera be the difference between them? The Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the Giants by the narrowest of margins, just as they had won their three Super Bowls by a combined 9 points.
Another figure he could not have included in his Monday Night Football game column, because the game was still not underway: the Patriots beat the Jets by a combined 42 points on Monday. They did this, as far as we know, without taping the Jets' snack time.
The Times replaced the piece later in the night. The column that appeared in Tuesday's paper had the headline "Patriots' Romp Stirs Questions, and Not Just for Jets," and employed the same Spygate-turn-of-fate argument. "If New England does not win another title under Belichick," Rhoden writes, "critics can say that a shift took place three seasons ago."
This critic, of course, is ignoring the fact that he declared that shift was final on Monday, before Bill Belichick's New England Patriots beat the New York Jets 45-3. Insert smug smile. Everyone loves a good journalistic fuck-up.
The Day the Patriots Empire Began to Crumble [TheGangGreen.com]
Patriots' Romp Stirs Questions, and Not Just for Jets [New York Times]