The passing of the NFL torch

Tue, Dec 1

The NFL changed last night. The exact moment of the shift was quick and subtle. Imperceptible, almost. But did you catch it?

Trailing the near-perfect Saints 31-17 with around five minutes left in the third quarter, the New England Patriots, after ruling the NFL for nearly a decade, were so bewildered that they were forced to go for it on 4th and 4 at the Saints 10-yard line.

Super stars Tom Brady and Randy Moss went right to their bread-and-butter: a 7-yard out -- a difficult play that they make look so damn easy.

Not anymore.

Saints corner Mike McKenzie, a guy who was sitting on his couch two weeks ago, easily jumped in front of Moss to knock the ball down.

And as he trotted out of bounds, Moss's entire body went flaccid, slumping as if he had just let go of some heavy baggage. Which, in fact, he had. What Moss dropped in that moment was the Pats air of invincibility.

Also gone? The weighty title of the game's best quarterback. It's now Drew Brees.

The game's best defensive mind? Hand that title over too, Bill. I mean, I lost count of how many looks, stunts and blitz disguises Saints d-coord Gregg Williams used -- by the end of the second quarter. Or, how about the way Williams so perfectly employed man coverage under a two-deep zone to fool Brady into thinking he had single coverage underneath?

Best front office? Just glimpse at the Saints roster: After two weeks McKenzie's now a finalist for comeback player of the year; running back Pierre Thomas was an undrafted rookie free agent; there's Marques Colston (a 7th rounder in 2006); and, Jahri Evans (a 4th rounder in 2006) who has become the best young guard in the game.

Right down the line it went like this last night as the power and prestige of the NFL was transferred from the Patriots to the Saints. New England is still an elite franchise, but after getting dismantled so thoroughly by the Saints, do the Pats scare anyone anymore? Hell no.

This summer, I mentioned to Don Shula that the 1948 Cleveland Browns should really be considered the first modern pro football team to complete a "perfect" season. Shula reacted with a predictable huff and a growl, still protective of the legacy of his former Miami Dolphins team.

But after watching Randy Moss surrender with one subtle droop of his shoulders, I think Shula should save his schadenfreude for the 2009 Saints.

After the shift that occurred Monday night, something tells me he's gonna need it.