September 28, 2016

Game Day Rear View Pre-Season Edition, Version 3.0

August 29, 2004
At Carolina, PANTHERS win, 20-17
By Pats67

Well, this is just great. I suppose we’re going to have to give back the trophy now?

That had to be the shortest title reign in history. In defense of the Patriots, I think it’s kind of crummy that the NFL suddenly decides to move the Super Bowl to August, but still, it wasn’t the NFL that turned over the fourth quarter of a championship game to its third string quarterback. Is it just me, or did that seem a little arrogant to you, too?

Yet it wasn’t even the most arrogant move of the night. That one goes to the Carolina fans, who piled out of the stands – while their team still trailed – to get an early jump on the victory parade. They obviously knew they had us, but they didn’t have to rub our noses in it. I’lll leave it to them to explain to Rodney Peete why they weren’t there for his first touchdown pass since the Truman Administration.

The only good thing about this game is that all of a sudden, getting hammered by Cincinnati in a meaningless pre-season game seems kind of, well, meaningless. Its small potatoes compared to blowing a fourth quarter lead in the Super Bowl. NOW we got problems.

Actually, we don’t. That was a pretty fair country football game our boys played last night, and for now, we can put last week’s stink bomb safely in the “so what?” pile. The third week of August typically offers the conditions that most closely approximate those of the regular season, and the Patriots responded with an effort (with asterisks; more later) that at times wouldn’t look entirely out of place on Three Games to Glory II.

Before we move on, allow me to say a few words about the Carolina Panthers. It’s not often that I have anything complimentary to say about anyone, least of all opponents of the Patriots, but I’m telling you, I loves me my Panthers.

With all due respect to the Tennessee Titans, no NFL team provides a more competitive challenge for New England. Though their all-world, all-mouth defense hasn’t yet to find a way to slow down Tom Brady & Co., John Fox and the Panthers still manage to stay step-for-step with the Pats when they meet. I think that’s because you can find more heart and guile in Jake Delhomme’s little finger than you can at an entire Manning family reunion.

I hear the grim prognostications of imminent obscurity for Delhomme, and I’m not buying them.

Patriots on Offense

(Cue heavenly choir) Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Listen, if you don’t know by now that Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL, you’ve got rocks in your head. Crack rocks.

Watching him last night, I decided that if Brady was somebody else’s quarterback, I would absolutely hate him. I’d probably think he was a system quarterback who got too much credit for his team’s success. I’d probably make a few man-purse cracks on the Internet. Because deep in my little black heart would lie the painful realization that my team was going to have to get up pretty early to put one over on Tom Brady. To compensate, I would loathe him.

Last night would have driven me crazy, as Brady was sharp from the first snap, accurately hitting David Patten and Deion Branch in early possessions. He continued to click consistently with both before finally yielding the floor to Toastmaster Kliff Kingsbury and his Stupid Interception Orchestra with a quarter to play.

High point: In the 2nd quarter, through a maze of false starts and holding calls, Brady slicing like the proverbial hammer, connecting with both Daniel Graham and Ben Watson for touchdowns. A horrid second-half interception by Dan Morgan (did Corey Dillon run the right route on that?) did nothing to change the bottom line: this Brady kid is good. I think it’s safe to start the season with him.

There’s plenty of backslapping to go around this week. Slap one goes to the offensive line. Drew Bledsoe may have that four-second alarm clock thing going, but last night Brady seemed to be using a sun dial. They could have shown a movie during some of those pass plays. And this is against a defensive front seven that’s supposed to be pretty good. Huzzahs to the five returning starters, who with back-ups Stephen Neal, Adrian Klemm and Brandon Gorin, mixed-and-matched in different yet effective combinations throughout the first three quarters.

The o-line also opened a few nice creases for Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk, but ahem, the Patriots were a pass-first, run-later team last night. That is still Charlie Weis over there on the sideline.

Back slap two goes to David Patten. Shame on us for even discussing his possible departure. We were reminded last night that a healthy Patten makes the Patriots a better team. He’s no fringe player trying to beat out PK Sam. It doesn’t appear Patten’s lost a thing in the speed, savvy and clutch departments, and he’s had the best pre-season of any Pats receiver.

Next up is Ben Watson. I want to retract any and all previous statements that may have indicated that I’m anything but wildly enthusiastic about the Pats rookie TE. I blame an over-the-counter cold medication for any regrettable comments I may have made.

It’s patently obvious now that Watson, as more than one message board soothsayer predicted, will be a major component of the Pats offense. He lined up in two TE sets with Graham, took the traditional fullback spot in the I formation, and seemed to play a H-back role on some occasions, and he did all of it in the finest tradition of “smooth – and polished.” No kidding. Barring something catastrophic, that was one hell of a make-up pick.

As for Dillon, he’s yet to put up the kind of run that makes abundantly clear the difference between him and Antowain Smith, but he did show some nice cutback skills last night, and I知 getting the feeling that when Dillon gets fully warmed-up, he’s going to be a load. The good kind.

Patriots on Defense

Bill Belichick may have tried to deflect criticism of his interior defensive line last week, but there was little question that the Patriots hadn’t been winning the point-of-attack battles, even when beating Philadelphia in week one. That changed last night, as the Pats d-line dominated the line of scrimmage throughout, thanks to Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and yes, Keith Traylor and Vince Wilfork. They were particularly effective in shutting down the Panthers ground game on first down, and though they never sacked the elusive Delhomme, they applied consistent pressure on pass plays.

Carolina’s offensive line may have undergone wholesale changes in the off-season, but good football is good football, and the Pats front seven played it last night.

I might have been seeing things (I upped the Heineken dosage), but Dan Klecko seemed to make a lot of plays from the inside linebacker position last night. He seemed to fit comfortably among the Vrabels, Bruschis, Colvins and Phifers, giving hope to Kleckomaniacs everywhere. Eat your vitamins and listen to your parents, kids!

I suppose if you want to be pissed about something, you can find fault with a sometimes-leaky secondary, even if it was without a suddenly-gimpy Ty Law. Should I be concerned about this, by the way? Or was Ty only sitting out to protest something? I’ve got to get down and get the papers.

But it’s like I’ve been trying to tell you – this Carolina passing offense can give you heart attacks. An industrious quarterback and tough, slippery receivers are going to make some plays on you once in awhile.

Better you should focus on the fact that, for the first time since February, the Patriots ball-hawking defense created some turnovers, including one to stunt a potential Panther scoring drive. Klecko, Vrabel and Jarvis Green each forced fumbles, which is a good sign in light of this defense’s inability to do so in its first two games. You don’t want to be the good defense that never forces a turnover. Too high a probability of a head scratching 6-10 record.

Patriots on Special Teams

Call me picky, but there is something too loosey-goosy about the kick/punt coverage and return teams. I’m not sure we can continue to attribute this to rookies and undrafted free agents, especially after we cut them.

What’s with Adam Vinatieri, anyway? If we’re going to pay millions of dollars for a kicker, of all things, the least he could do is make a big kick once in awhile.

Patriots on the Sidelines

I don’t want to say that officiating crew was flag happy last night, but even Johnny Grier was wincing at some of those calls.

Alarm over 15 penalties for almost 130 yards (including some ballcrushing defensive calls that resuscitated Panther drives) is pretty hard to dismiss, but some on, didn’t that seem a little over the top to you? One thing is certain: the referees are having a fine pre-season in anticipation of Flag Day, which this year is on September 9th.

Still, it’s a little hard to pin all the sloppiness on the officials, especially after I set the bar kind of high with that Three Games to Glory II reference earlier. Silver lining department: all those penalties will give Belichick something to yell about over the next two weeks. He can even threaten them with his jet-engine sound system. Tighten it up, you guys! Don’t make me put on Slippery When Wet!

A final sobering note: Troy Brown suffering a leg injury after returning a punt. I’m concerned whether the media will be able to successfully blame this on Belichick, what with the short-week and everything.

Patriots Next Week

First, pink slips for some, then a weird little Thursday night match-up with the Jags to wrap up the pre-season. Yikes! Watch the injuries – those guys carry axes!

Game Day Rear View, Preseason Version 2.0

At Cincinnati, BENGALS Win, 31-3
By Pats67

Before we begin, let’s pause and consider for a moment that there are no real game plans in pre-season, and certainly no free looks for opponents that you’ll face again in the fall.

There. I feel better already.

Actually, I don’t. I’m no football expert, but I’m pretty sure you don’t need a game plan to avoid being shoved 10 yards in the other direction on every play from scrimmage. Refusing to show your regular season goodies doesn’t have to mean that you’ll trail every pass play like red, white and blue streamers on an orange bike.

There’s really no excuse for the Patriots’ thoroughly listless and uninspired performance in Cincinnati last night.

There’ll be more than a little made of this in the next few days (for example, Greg Dickerson probably thinks he’s due some kind of journalism award now – maybe a Peabody). But you know what? I’m guessing the Patriots will get over it. I’m guessing that Gillette hasn’t suddenly become THE summer vacation hot spot for soft, self-satisfied football players.

I’m guessing that when they go back to work next time, the Patriots will remember that you can’t just get bored with training camp and mentally check out for a few days, even in pre-season. They’ll remember that by letting their minds wander ahead to more meaningful dates on the calendar, they lose the everyday things – focus, intensity, mental toughness, attention to detail – that are their lifeblood, the very things make them so special in the first place.

They’ll remember the NFL doesn’t give those gaudy Super Bowl hats and t-shirts to just any team, so they’ll put down their European carryalls, dust off their lunch pails, and get down to it.

That’s what’ll happen, right? Right?

Patriots on Offense

This is one game in which I would have welcomed the sight of Shannon Sharpe calling in the National Guard.

The Patriots were behind by a touchdown by the time they took their first snap, and that feat qualifies as the offensive highlight of the evening – at one point, we were only behind by seven points!

I agree. As highlights go, that’s kind of underwhelming. Look, it was either that or the 7 total yards (seven!) in the first quarter. Not much to choose from.

The Patriots got muscled off both sides of the ball all evening, and as a result, Tom Brady appeared to hurry several early throws. The good news is that the boys got to practice their three-and-out drill.

It wasn’t until part way through the second quarter that Brady was able to get anything happening, after stitching together a couple of down the middle darts to Daniel Graham and Deion Branch. Yet the drive petered out where so many Patriots drives have gone to die – inside the Red Zone. After another Brady to Branch completion brought them to the 14, the Pats turned to Corey Dillon, who lugged three times for a first down to the 3. From there, Dillon broke out his “man running into a brick wall while stuck in cement” impression, and I have to say it was convincing.

At the moment, Dillon looks for all the world like a guy who’s fully prepared to average three yards a carry this season. Later on, he capped his Homecoming Game by carelessly laying the ball on the ground after a successful screen pass. The only thing that didn’t happen was Bengals fans raining pieces of Corey’s old uniform down on him from the stands, but I swear if he’d stayed there much longer, that would have happened too.

Brady played the entire first half (and got picked after an ill-advised pass was tipped) before giving way to Rohan Davey, and if you thought things were going to get better at that point, you must have been sopping up Seabreezes with a sponge. Davey did appear to be slightly more comfortable under center this time, at least until guys started hitting him from behind. More good news – the Pats offensive unit got in some work on recovering fumbles.

So far, Davey has been the quarterback equivalent of a gawky teenager – all arms, legs and two left feet. Even on the rare instances when he’s been given adequate protection, he has been unable to step up and deliver a crisp, well-timed pass. When he’s forced to throw on the move, forget it. He might as well be throwing a wiffle ball on a windy day. I think it’s safe to say that Damon Huard’s Q Rating is moving towards heretofore unimagined heights.

There really isn’t much more to say about the rest of this unit, unless like me, you’re wondering if there was anything deeper to Adrian Klemm and Brandon Gorin starting the game as the tackles on the first-string offensive line, over Matt Light and Tom Ashworth. Last night seemed to be a night for coaches to send subtle and not so subtle messages. Was that a small one for the Contract Twins?

Oh, I almost forgot: Ben Watson managed to overcome the blow of being fired by Tom Condon to make his Pats debut with a couple of catches. I’ll say this; when Watson is running with the ball under his arm, he’s already the Patriots most impressive tight end.

Patriots on Defense

Let’s put it this way – the entire first team defense got benched.

It was the merciful thing to do. In their first two defensive series, the Pats allowed almost 130 yards on 13 plays. Now, math can be tricky sometimes, but if I’m not mistaken, that’s 10 yards a play. A first down on every snap. At this point, Bill Belichick had no other choice but to dig a big hole behind the bench and throw his entire defense in it.

They couldn’t tackle anybody. They couldn’t cover anybody. Those orange traffic cones would have shown more resistance on running plays, and broken-wheeled shopping carts would have taken more direct routes to the passer.

So Belichick banished them to the sidelines, and sent out the second teamers, who were so thankful for the opportunity that they immediately allowed a 75 yard touchdown drive. Thankfully, the Bengals collapsed from exhaustion shortly afterward, quelling any fears I might have had about them scoring in triple figures. It was all they could do to drag themselves to another 10 points later on.

But Belichick is like any good parent – he knows how to hold a grudge against his kids. So he trotted the first team back out after the half to battle the Bengal second and third-string. Can I just tell you something? It’s kind of disheartening to see your championship defense celebrating over the fact that they finally managed to stop Kenny Watson.

Most notable developments: Keith Traylor and Vince Wilfork getting rag-dolled on every offensive snap. Asante Samuel becoming the early season’s “illegal contact” breakout star. And these “FF” and “INT” columns on the scoresheet? What are they for?

I suppose if we’re looking for a bright spot, we might mention Rosevelt Colvin played a good bit of the game despite the Bo Jackson-like degenerative hip condition that was supposed to end his career and render his acquisition a bust. Oops! He even managed to record a sack on Carson Palmer. Until then, the only Pats on Palmer’s back were the ones he was getting from his teammates and coaches.

Patriots on Special Teams

This one’s easy – special teams sucks. They can’t cover, and they can’t tackle, and they can’t go a whistle without picking up a stupid penalty. They can’t field a kick cleanly. They can’t block. Maybe this has a little to do with the fact that the teams are stocked with some people who won’t be around on September 9th, but maybe it doesn’t.

Dexter Reid gets a slight exemption here because I figure that when they have three guys assigned to hold, punch and kick you on every play, you must be doing something right.

Cody Scates, where the hell were you last January?

Patriots on the Sidelines

If the Patriots keep playing like this, they’ll supplant the Red Sox as the most talked about team in Boston.

I stuck around and listened to Belichick’s post game press conference, and I thought he summed it up beautifully when he said, on two occasions, “ah…I don’t know.”

Final thought here – I love Pepper Johnson, and credit him with being a key figure in the development of the team’s character over the last few years (not to mention the stellar linebacker play), but I have to say so far, his work on his new position assignment (defensive line) is nothing to write home about.

Patriots Next Week

Off to the bright lights of Charlotte and CBS Television, for a Saturday night rematch with Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith and rest of the Panthers. I thought I told you I never wanted to see these guys again. Especially not in the week that most people consider the only meaningful one of the pre-season. Criminy.

Game Day Rear View Pre-Season Edition, Version 1.0

Game Day Rear View
Pre-Season Edition, Version 1.0
August 13, 2004
By Pats67

I got to tell you, I’m not happy with my progress at this point.

I mean, there’s only three weeks before the season begins, and the games start to count. If I think I’m just going to turn it on when the bell rings, I’m sadly mistaken, mister. I need to put the time in now to be successful later. Try telling that to me, though. Talking to me is like talking to that wall over there.

My conditioning stinks. Two beers in four quarters? Who am I, John Dennis? That’s pathetic. Pretty soon they’re going to be firing live ammo, and I’m going to need to dig a lot deeper than that. At this rate, I won’t have it when I need it, and then I’d be no better than a Colts fan.

And frankly, I’m not all that impressed with my concentration either. Was that me who wandered over to VH1’s Most Shocking Moments in Rock & Roll late in the fourth quarter? I should have made myself run a lap right there. I think I missed a Quinn Dorsey quarterback pressure! That’s not going to get it done in January, brother.

Let’s face it, even the lead to this column is weak. Fundamentally, I’m a mess. For all I know, I just misspelled fundamentally.

Well, that’s it, I’m taking the weekend to get my head right, and then Monday morning I’m getting to work. If I want the Patriots to be playing ball through January, I can’t be soft. Otherwise, I’ll be watching somebody else’s team in the playoffs, all sour-pussed and resentful, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Other than Miami fans, I mean.

Anyway.

Patriots on Offense

The first pre-season game is like that episode of The Brady Bunch where Robert Reed and Florence Henderson are in the first scene and then they hand it off to Ken Berry and his adopted Rainbow Coalition. Meanwhile, Reed and Henderson spend the rest of the show standing there with towels on their heads, cracking jokes with Christian Fauria. It’s exactly like that.

The best you can hope at this point for is that nothing horrible happens in those brief moments that your first offensive unit is on the field. Point, Patriots. In fact, there were even a few highlights Tom Brady evading a near-sack to hit the returning David Patten in stride for 20 yards, and Corey Dillon lugging three straight for a first down, capped by a promising burst into the secondary for 14. I had to throw away a couple of Antowain Smith wisecracks when that happened. Then there’s Patten again, snagging a 10 yard TD from Brady, reminding us that David Patten ain’t no piker. He re-appeared later to add a wicked sprint up the far sideline on a kick return, which was called back when Adrian Klemm committed a penalty while doing the unthinkable; actually taking the field in uniform. But that didn’t wipe out what Patten had done with his evening; so maybe we ought to hold off on ordering that Chas Gessner authentic for now.

Speaking of Gessner, he and the rest of the NFL Europe all-stars took over for the first teamers in the waning moments of the 1st quarter. For a few moments, they faced the Eagles front-line defensive unit, and the storyline that emerged from that interlude was that Tom Brady is really, really a great quarterback.

A funny thing happened to Rohan Davey on the way to Canton. The funny thing was that we actually saw him play. Now back on American soil, Davey looked ill-suited to pilot the Pats efficient ball-control offense. Where Brady often delivers the ball on three and five step drops, Davey seems to need considerably more steps than that. Thirty, forty, maybe. However many it takes to run around for awhile before delivering a poorly thrown incomplete pass while being hit from several directions.

As the night wore on, Davey improved, probably because Philadelphia let their wives suit up and play defense after awhile. He managed to guide the team to a couple of scores, including a TD pass to Michael Jennings, which was actually a desperation pass to a covered Gessner in the back of the end zone. Nobody told Jennings, who sprinted out of nowhere to grab the pass on a play that wasn’t exactly surgical in its precision.

Before we move on, let’s have a hand for receiver Ricky Bryant, who made me wonder why the hell everybody’s always talking about Chas Gessner (that’s my fourth mention in the last five paragraphs). Bryant made a nice sliding TD catch (Davey’s best throw) and returned punts like Mike Haynes. It probably doesn’t mean a thing in terms of the final roster, but give the kid credit. He did something with his opportunity.

Unlike Chas Gessner. (Five!)

Patriots on Defense

Hey, didn’t I read recently that Johnnie Grier’s crew averages more flags per game than any other officiating team? I don’t know why they’re talking that junk about Johnnie, considering the way he let the guys play last night.

I don’t want to say no one on defense stood out, but when Troy Brown is your big defensive story (a few cameos in the nickel and dime packages), chances are things were pretty unremarkable. But hey, who’s complaining? Beats losing three defensive starters, if you know what I mean.

A few things I noticed: Keith Traylor knifing through a double team and stopping an Eagle running play in the backfield. Rookie SS Guss Scott blasting the bejeesus out of somebody after an incomplete pass. Dan Klecko looking kind of unexceptional at inside linebacker. Ditto d-tackle Vince Wilfork, despite significant time at the nose.

The day was carried by people like Justin Kurpeikas and the aforementioned Dorsey, who were among the most impressive Pats defenders. Which means almost nothing, really. You got to look at the big picture – they got their work in, they got some stuff on film, nobody seemed to get hurt, and they allowed only two field goals and they won. Never count your money when you池e sittin� at the table. Take it and run.

Patriots on Special Teams

I missed the very end did they carry Josh Miller off the field on their shoulders?

Count me as a big fan of the seventy-five yard missles, especially the ones he angles out of bounds at the 15. And it may have been missed, but on the Pats first extra point, Miller scooped a low snap and quickly got it in position for Adam Vinatieri.

If this was the 60’s, he’d be taking a bow from the audience on this Sunday’s Ed Sullivan Show.

Patriots on the Sidelines

What am I am going to say? The coaching staff didn’t have a good game? Jeesh.

Here’s a story I’m watching Sports Plus on NESN before the game, and there’s Nick Cafardo. Somehow, the subject comes around to Damien Woody. Nick says that yeah, Woody wanted more money, and he’d have to go elsewhere to get it, but he was leaving the Pats anyway because he’d had enough of the way they do things down there.

That made me think of Peter King’s line earlier in the week which said the Lions would like their signing of Woody a lot more if his fat ass was anything remotely near being in shape.

So it occurs to me that what Damien had enough of was somebody ragging on him all the time about being such a sloppy load. So he headed out for the land of the perpetual 6-10, where things like conditioning perhaps don’t matter as much. Nick didn’t mention that, though.

Patriots Next Week

Back to where it all began, in Cincinnati. The Queen City, baby, site of the completely disheartening opening game of the 2001 season. Things have certainly changed since then.