September 25, 2016

Game Day Rear View, Edition 2004, Volume 2

September 19, 2004
At Sun Devil Stadium, PATRIOTS win, 23-12
By Scott A. Benson
[email protected]

So, the big story all week was how hot it was going to be at Sun Devil Stadium for the Patriots game with Arizona Cardinals. Many expected temperatures to exceed 100 degrees at game time.

It did end up getting pretty steamy out there, but still, I知 guessing it was nothing compared to how blistering hot it got at my house.

(cue Nelly)

Before I go on, I値l acknowledge that the Patriots in fact dispatched the overwhelmed Cardinals 23-12 today, and that the defending world champions won their 17th consecutive regular season game. I do understand that.

But it was needlessly taxing, in large part to New England Offensive Coordinator Lewis Carroll. I mean Charlie Weis. In a bizarre second quarter that left my entire left side numb, the Mad Hatter started with the stupid riddles again, and in doing so invited a disheveled Arizona team – already kicked to the curb by the champs (14-0) in a little over a quarter – back to a party they had no business being at.

The Cards were on virtual life support when Corey Dillon痴 early 2nd quarter bobble/fumble set them up them their first score, an eventual field goal. That seemed bad enough, a needless error that gave a besieged opponent another breath. But these things sometimes happen.

However, there is no rationalizing Adrenaline Weis痴 decision to follow that regrettable sequence by immediately ordering a bomb from deep in Patriots territory, even though Dillon had run for 5 on first and ten against an Arizona run defense that had been impersonating 11 folding chairs.

Hurried and harried by a fierce pass rush that had to this point been the Cardinals only hope, Tom Brady predictably underthrew the ball, it was intercepted, and bang-bang, now it痴 14-6.

The Cards went on to stop the pass-happy Pats on their next possession, but missed a long field goal that left New England with the ball at their own 48 with four seconds left in the half. The Pats would surely take a knee and end this miserable Alice in Wonderland quarter.

Nope. I am stupid naive. The Patriots 礎rain trust� actually tried to squeeze TWO MORE utterly stupid pass plays in those four seconds. And as a result, the half ended not with points, but with their most productive receiver, Super Bowl star Deion Branch, writhing on the ground with a leg injury that didn稚 look at all minor. In retrospect, taking the knee might have been advisable. Nice work in that second quarter, fellows.

Yes, the Patriots reassumed control of the game in the second half, and it was two reasonably-plotted drives by Weis痴 offense that did the bulk of the work.

But in those completely ridiculous and irresponsible 12 minutes, with a 14 point lead, the Patriots coaches had endangered their MVP quarterback, ignored their running back, hurt their best receiver, and wore out their swarming defense (pretty hard to pitch a shutout when your offense keeps setting you up with those first-and-goals), and there was no damn need for any of it.

By the way, I pulled up old carpets in my dining room and living room this morning, revealing some very nice oak flooring. We池e pretty happy with it. But you wouldn稚 believe how freaking loud it gets in there when you start angrily screaming your head off.

Patriots on Offense

Despite an eye-popping 158 yards by the workhorse Dillon, my undisputed offensive star of the game was wide receiver David Givens, who stepped up in Branch痴 absence and became the go-to guy during the extended third quarter scoring drive that gave back control of the game to the Patriots. Givens finished with 118 yards on six receptions, most in the second half, and if Branch is out for long, the big, tough, dependable Givens will play an even greater role in New England痴 offensive fortunes.

Not to say Corey Dillon wasn稚 completely fantastic. He lugged the ball an awe-inspiring 32 times in the searing heat, racking up his buck-fifty without a run longer than 17 yards. Most impressive was his propensity to lower his pads and drive for the kind of extra yardage that often times extends drives. The verdict is in � the Patriots haven稚 had a running back like Corey Dillon for a very long time.

Daniel Graham continued his hot start, making me wish I壇 taken him, rather than the inactive Ben Watson, in my fantasy football draft. In those heady few moments when it seemed as though the Pats would blow Arizona out, Graham worked free to grab two scoring passes from Tom Brady, the second on a wide open touchdown on a 3rd and goal from the Cardinal 19. I look for a full media blitz on 禅he Maturing Daniel Graham� over the next two weeks.

That痴 the good news (except for Graham, that is � now he痴 got to spend two weeks talking to Kevin and Nick). Now here痴 the bad.

Though he made his usual assortment of clutch throws, Brady seemed off his stride at various points throughout. I知 attributing this to a pretty decent pass rush led by the Cards� Bert Berry. This was not one of Tom痴 finest hours, let痴 put it that way. After they sprung to the two touchdown lead, the Patriots consistently moved the ball inside Arizona痴 20 but were never again able to punch it in.

Though the offensive line surely deserves credit for creating the space for Dillon to get into the Cardinal secondary, they were conversely ineffectual in combating the Arizona pass rush. They sprinkled a few nut crushing penalties in for good measure, like Christian Fauria痴 motion penalty that wiped out a Dillon 3rd quarter touchdown. Strange but true – a Patriots offensive line totals over 170 yards in rushing yet still has only a mediocre game.

Let痴 end on a high note. Just who does Rabih Abdullah think he is, anyway? That was a nice 4 yard run on third down that allowed the Pats to take three knees to end the game.

Patriots on Defense

Four words: out-freaking-standing effort. Particularly considering their tongues had to be dragging by the time the Charlie Weis 2nd Quarter Follies wrapped up.

The Patriots defense did exactly what you壇 expect them to do to an inexperienced quarterback on a mediocre team. First, they proved to be quite sturdy against the runs of Emmitt Smith, putting the onus squarely on Jump Around Josh McCown to move the ball for the Cardinals. And like I said, that worked out exactly how you壇 expect it to.

Willie McGinest had a monster game, leading a relentless Patriots pass rush that also included linebacker Mike Vrabel and a blitzing Rodney Harrison. Together, they sacked McCown five times and pressured him on countless other occasions. Late in the game, they were joined by a fresher Jarvis Green, who probably ran three miles in the fourth quarter alone.

A word about McCown: in a few years, when his middle starts to thicken (as it inevitably does to all quarterbacks), he値l suddenly lose that little quick jog move to the right that allowed him to elude McGinest and Vrabel those many times, and when that happens, I知 pretty sure he値l be joining all the other non-playing McCowns at wherever it is they gather. How does a 6-4 quarterback get so many passes batted down at line of scrimmage? By not being very good.

Impressive rookie Vince Wilfork joined with ends Ty Warren and Richard Seymour to clog up the point of attack and render concerns about the Pats run defense null and void, at least for the next two weeks. Attention handwringing mediots: If Dwayne Robertson was half as good as Wilfork, he壇 be spokesperson for Visa by now.

The secondary had a very imposing game as well, led by Ty Law, who took prized Cards rookie WR Larry Fitzgerald (36 yards on 5 catches) out of the game from the start. Eugene Wilson followed his strong opening night with some of the best centerfielding since Paul Blair, snatching two interceptions and giving promise for well-timed turnovers for years to come. No matter what the future holds, Wilson should remain at free safety. He痴 an absolute natural.

The only down note to the whole affair was an extended Cardinal touchdown drive in the third quarter, which featured two maddening conversions on 3rd and long (including a frightening 42 yard screen and run by Josh Scobey that set up a short Smith TD run and tighten the game to within eight). However, as noted earlier, the defense was likely a little winded from having to race out on the field every other thing during the 2nd quarter to bail out a certain 訴maginative� play caller.

Patriots on Special Teams

Not much to talk about here, though it would have been nice if Shawn Mayer would have grabbed that Larry Izzo forced fumble on the opening kickoff.

Probably the most unimpeachable Patriot today was Adam Vinatieri, who continues to justify his exorbitant salary by being a very reliable son-of-a-gun.

Oh, and welcome back, punt-returning Troy Brown. Very nice to see you.

Patriots on the Sidelines

Let me just say this. Charlie Weis started having a lot better game once I directed my ire towards the malfeasance of the officiating crew of Referee Tony Coolatta, or Tony Coolio, or whatever the hell his name is. I don稚 want to argue with anybody about this � these idiots didn稚 miss a chance to stick a shiv in the backs of the Patriots while allowing Arizona offensive linemen to consistently grab and throw pass rushing Patriots defenders to the ground not three feet from where Coolatta (whatever) was obliviously standing. This is how bad Coolio (whatever) and his jackasses are � when my dogs see his puss on TV, they run and hide under the table. C-level hacks.

Final note. Bill Belichick is Charlie Weis痴 boss, and thereby is ultimately responsible for the actions of his employee.

Patriots Next Week

I never thought I壇 ever feel like a third-week bye is well-timed, but after today, I知 ready for a break. In two weeks, it痴 back to Buffalo. So we know that if Law is ever going to be released, it will be a week from Tuesday.

Game Day Rear View, Edition 2004, Volume 1

September 10, 2004
At Gillette Stadium, PATRIOTS win, 27-24
By Scott A. Benson
[email protected]

Remember the old show Emergency, when Randy Mantooth and Kevin Tighe would happen upon a prone, lifeless body (like maybe a football fan whose team was in the process of blowing a 10 point 4th quarter lead), they’d rip open the guy’s shirt, put those hot-wired ping-pong paddles against his chest, yell “CLEAR!”, and electroshock the poor guy’s heart into next week?

I was just thinking, with all the technology we have today, why hasn’t anybody thought to offer a home version of this appliance to consumers?

I’m not asking for any particular reason, mind you. Just one of those crazy brainstorms I get when I’m just idly sitting around, like on a rainy September evening. I’m an idea man. They just come to me.

Admit it – you’ve been thinking about this Patriots season-opener ever since the NFL announced the 2004 schedule a few months ago. If you’re like me, you probably even played and re-played a few series in your head, imagining all kinds of Peyton Manning interceptions and Edgerrin James fumbles and Tony Dungy grimaces as you waited for September 9th to finally arrive.

Still, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t have imagined anything as thrilling, as mind-melting, as Depends-requiring as the Patriots utterly wild-ass 27-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night.

Here’s the first thing you’ve got to do. You’ve got to look at the big picture. Unfocus your eyes a little so you can’t see all the detail. Just like at the proverbial sausage-factory, it’s probably better that we don’t focus on every ingredient in the first game of the Patriots title defense.

Better we should take the long view. Which is, the defending champions took some pretty vicious kill shots last night, the worst ones self-administered, and yet remained standing at the end. This was no illusory, blowout-on-roller-skates victory-lap laugher, like the Pats’ ultimate false impression win over the Steelers on the night the first banner was unveiled in 2002. This one required nerve, ingenuity and perseverance. This one was a real test.

As we know by now, recent history is not on the side of NFL teams who are attempting to defend their Super Bowl championships. It seems to me the common thread running through all those teams, including the 2002 Pats, is that when the “tests” came, when they needed to summon the iron-willed qualities that had made them champions, their “It”, they couldn’t. They were startlingly, suddenly mortal again. Despite sincere preparation, despite the best of intentions and efforts, there was no “there” there. Whatever “it” hey had was just gone, in the mist of an all too familiar champagne and rubber chicken hangover.

So the only really important thing about last night is that the Patriots passed the test. I’m a little less worried today about spleen-crushing home losses in December.

Patriots on Offense

I need to write a Patriots book. Everybody’s doing it – Nick Cafardo, Pepper Johnson, Michaels Felger and Holley – so I need to write a Patriots book.

I’e got one problem. I think every chapter is going to begin, “Tom Brady is effing unbelievable!” That could get tedious.

You know what? I don’t care. Hey, lemme ask you – if you had to pick one of those quarterbacks last night, which one would you go with?

In many ways, Tom Brady wrote his own new chapter on Thursday night. The most in-control quarterback in the NFL began his 2004 campaign with an even greater command of the game. I’ll tell you this – he’s never thrown the ball better. He’s never looked better in the pocket. He’s never looked defter as a ball-handler. He’s never looked more able to control the game by the sheer force of his competitive smarts and ice-cold will.

Some Brady highlights: in the second quarter, answering the Colts’ first touchdown with two laser beams to David Patten (20 yards on 2nd and 17) and Deion Branch (for a 16 yard score). Later, after his defensive teammates had been pummeled by yet another relentless Colts drive, three quick strikes to Daniel Graham to set up a 45 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal with only seconds remaining in the half. Then, firing on all cylinders in the third quarter, peeling apart the Colts secondary with big third-and-long throws on two drives that concluded with book-end, feathery-soft touchdown passes to Patten and Graham.

And I think it’s nothing short of a miracle that when the gremlins took control of the Patriots communications equipment in the fourth quarter, rendering things kind of haywire for awhile, Tom Brady threw only one devastating interception. That’s a hell of a quarterback.

He’s only 27. He’s won two Super Bowl MVP’s. And he’s getting better.

Some of this may be due to the presence of Corey Dillon, who confused Pats fans for a brief moment when he suddenly appeared in the open field, free from defenders, running towards the Colts goal line. WITH THE BALL. Not having seen such an occurrence in many years, I figured the Patriots running back had picked the ball up during the commercial break when nobody was looking, but no, it turns out it was an actual play from scrimmage. The refs counted it and everything.

That 38 yard sprint in the second quarter keyed the Pats first touchdown drive of the season, and became the centerpiece of an impressive 15 carry, 86 yard night, but I’m here to tell you that Corey Dillon made one really HUGE play in this game.

Not one to be spooked by those pesky gremlins, Dillon saw the ball curiously laying unattended at the Patriots 19 with only two minutes to play, so he jumped on it. He didn’t pause to wonder why the hell the Patriots were throwing the ball with 2:08 left, in a three point game with the Indianapolis Colts, though you couldn’t have blamed him if he did. To his credit, he just jumped on the ball, leaving the questions to people like me. Thanks, Corey. That play alone was worth a second-round pick.

Though Brady, Dillon and the clutch team of Patriots receivers (Branch, Patten and David Givens each finished with more than 80 yards; Daniel Graham added another 50) were the offensive stars, they were supported throughout by a steady offensive line that gave Dillon just enough room to run, Brady just enough room to pass, while keeping the casualties to a bare minimum.

Patriots on Defense

Look at it this way: at least this game produced some nice new candids for our Memories of Peyton photo album. I particularly liked the slack-jawed one following Mike Vanderjagt’s inexplicable 48 yard miss that ended the game. Priceless.

Otherwise, eeewwww. At one point, I started boiling water, because I had to do something. I found myself yearning for the relative serenity of Super Bowl 38’s fourth quarter.

I’m sure the clucking hens of the dailies have already penned volumes on the perils of being so arrogantly tight-fisted with 350 lb. nose tackles, and I’m sure more than one jackass will make a good living this week arching his eyebrows and, sotto vocce, offering the most dire prognostications for what lies ahead.

I’ll just say this – this wasn’t about personnel, and this wasn’t about coaching adjustments. It was about execution. Make the damn tackle. Know the friggin’ coverage. Win the little one-on-one battles. They did virtually none of it. It’s no more complicated than that.

Thankfully, this is the Indianapolis Colts, and this is Gillette Stadium, so the Patriots were the beneficiaries of critical turnovers at the worst possible time. It’s good to know that you can still count on a few things in this crazy world.

There are four names that should be removed from any indictment. First, as the rest of the world continues to foresee either his retirement or his pink slip, Willie McGinest keeps making the biggest of big plays for the Patriots defense. Are you telling me you didn’t fly out of your chair as McGinest lurched towards an oblivious Manning, driving the Colts back 10 yards and forcing the liquored up idiot kicker’s game-ending miss? Willie McGinest saving a game against the Colts is becoming an annual tradition.

Secondly, somebody should keep an eye on Chad Eaton this weekend to see if he has HALF the game Ty Warren had last night. I’m guessing he doesn’t. Warren had a game befitting a first-round pick, pressuring Manning into a bad interception and forcing one of two James fumbles inside the Patriots five yard line. Proving once again that not only is Chad Eaton a big blabbermouth, he hasn’t the slightest idea what he’s talking about. Never has.

Lastly, second-year d-backs Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel. By delivering a hammer-strike on Mr. Butterfingers with only four minutes to play, Wilson prevented James from scoring to give the Colts the late lead. A play of Fred Marion or Roland James proportions.

Samuel stepped in for a gimpy Ty Law and, late (and completely bogus) pass-interference calls notwithstanding, played very capably throughout.

A Thought

You just know that somewhere on Thursday night, as ABC’s cameras brought Elton’s John’s piano-playing digits into tight focus, Jamin Elliot took one look at the gaudy new jewelry on the former Reg Dwight’s right hand and said “now ain’t THAT a bitch.”

Hey, at least the Patriots had the good sense to give a Super Bowl ring to a celebrity that won’t make a habit of hanging around the park. I mean, they could have given it to Affleck. Now THAT would have been a bitch.

Patriots on Special Teams

I’m giving him fair warning – the next time Deion Branch tries to catch a punt like that, I will personally wring his neck. If there’s not too much of a line, that is. A third-year guy with as much talent as Branch should have never allowed that to happen. Bottom line – for all the good he did on the offensive side of the ball last night, Branch very nearly cost his team the game. Hurry back, Troy Brown.

Patriots on the Sidelines

Look, I understand that you can never have too many points when you’re playing the Colts. I understand that the best way to stop their offense is to keep your offense on the field and in possession of the ball.

But Good God Almighty, the Patriots ran just four running plays to NINE fourth quarter passing plays last night, and this is with the lead. The atrocities included two straight pass plays – one the aforementioned sack/fumble and the other a near interception – on 2nd and 5, with two minutes to play and the Colts left with only one time out.

I’m sorry, no matter which way you cut it, that’s just hideously stupid.

But at the moment, I can’t help but recognize that the object of my morning’s steaming hot cup of derision also played no small part in that banner that somehow brought the all those emotions welling into my throat and into my eyes at around twenty minutes to nine last night, and made me feel so fortunate to be bearing witness to these events at this time and place. So I’ll deal with it.

For now.

Patriots Next Week

You mean there’s more games? This last one has such an epic feel to it, it’s hard to imagine there are 15 more on the schedule. First stop: Arizona. I’ll worry about that tomorrow. For now, I’m going to see if I can find that old prescription of nitro.

Game Day Rear View, Pre-Season Edition, Version 4.0

September 2, 2004
At Gillette Stadium, JAGUARS win, 31-0
By Scott A. Benson
[email protected]

You don’t know how much I wish Coach Bruce Allen would lift me after a couple of paragraphs tonight, so that some practice-squad Pats yahoo could finish this column while I chill and save myself for the regular season.

The fourth pre-season game is kind of like the third nipple: no good can come from it. Except maybe to remind one that “Jaguars” can be kind of hard to say on a full tank of oil.

Not that this is any kind of revelation (the fourth pre-season game thing, not the nipple or the oil thing) – it was pretty clear that this game had “limited upside” when Bill Belichick declined to start any of his front-line players. As someone who lived through the Tippett/Lippett/Veris atrocity, I sincerely appreciated it.

It turned out to be the highpoint of the evening. I am here to attest that it is, in fact, entirely possible to be utterly deflated by a game you could give a rip about.

I guess what I’m supposed to say now is that this was a meaningless, going-through-the-motions pre-season game featuring no starters and very few other players of significance, and when the bell rings next week, the real Patriots will emerge.

Right. I love those “when the bell rings” teams. I’ll just say it: I can’t shake the feeling that when the history books are written, this will not prove to have been a particularly effective training camp and pre-season for the defending champion New England Patriots.

I am just saying.

Patriots on Offense

Rohan Davey had almost four quarters to put up one point on the Jacksonville Freaking Jaguars and did not. He probably had as many turnovers (two picks and a fumble) as he did first downs. Davey may put his game together and become a capable NFL quarterback, but can we all agree by now that this will not happen in 2004?

I am sick of talking about Rohan Davey. Somebody change the subject.

The 2nd and 3rd team offensive line seemed to fare reasonably well tonight, yielding only a late sack of Kliff Kingsbury. Reserves Klemm, Neal, Gorin, Hallen and That Center Whose Name I Can’t Spell (Gene Mruczikowski) had even greater success with the run, at times opening some pretty reasonable creases and holes for workhorse Mike Cloud.

If there was anything good about this game, it was Cloud. In many respects, he had his most impressive game as a Patriot, finishing with 93 yards on 19 carries. He seemed to make good choices at the line, finding holes and then hitting them quickly and with authority. Even a late fumble doesn’t change the fact that in the final pre-season game, Mike Cloud did everything he could to earn a job. That’s got to count for something.

There weren’t too many receiving highlights because of, well, you know. Bethel Johnson had a couple of nice grabs, including a tough over-the-middle first down, before wisely heading for the hills.

Finally, to end in upbeat fashion, I present Mr. Ben Watson of Georgia! (Applause) Once again, Watson showed uncommon strength and speed with two catches for 37 yards. In the third quarter, he leapt high to grab an errant toss by (deleted) before righting himself and sprinting for gain of 22. Boy, some fantasy football owner would be pretty shrewd to grab this guy with one of their late picks.

Patriots on Defense

Before things got out of hand in the second half, I was actually pretty pumped by the job the Pats 2nd team defense did against Byron Leftwich and several other Jags starters. They forced punts on each of Leftwich’s three possessions and generally made him look like a flummoxed NFL Europe MVP.

Vince Wilfork continued to see time at the defensive end position, which will undoubtedly lead to a media assault on Bill Belichick. Somebody’s bound to bring up Bobby Hamilton, or jump to the conclusion that Ty Warren’s a bust. But for tonight anyway, I prefer to leave it at this: Vince Wilfork is a pretty athletic football player with good strength and an impressive push on pass plays. For a guy who ended up with only one tackle, he sure caught your eye.

Like Mike Cloud, LB Justin Kurpekis can go to sleep tonight knowing that he did everything he could possibly do to survive the final cut. He’s got some pass rush skills off the edge and hustles everywhere. With special team ace (and valuable backup OLB) Matt Chatham’s health seemingly an unknown, Kurpekis may get a further chance to prove he belongs.

From the charred remains of a defensive backfield that surrendered 28 fourth quarter points emerges the noble visage of CB Christian Morton, who saved a long Jacksonville touchdown (albeit only momentarily) with a startling all-out burst to catch Ernest Wilford from behind. At times, the reed-thin Morton seemed to be bullied off the line by bigger receivers, but I like a guy who doesn’t quit, particularly when he runs a 4.4.

Patriots on Special Teams

And it is here we find the one unqualified success of the Patriots pre-season. How much do you think the Pats improved their punting this off-season? I say a billion percent.

Patriots on the Sidelines

It’s late, and I’ve had a little to drink, but you know, next time we’re getting slaughtered in the fourth quarter, it would be nice if our players could at least attempt to hide the sideline smiling and laughing from the rest of us. Even if this game didn’t mean a damn thing, that scoreboard STILL said “Jacksonville 31, New England 0″.

Pardon the Interruption

You may have noticed there’s a different by-line on Game Day this week. I’m going to try a pen name for awhile. Honestly, this Pats67 (my real name, strangely enough) stuff is out of control. I can’t go out in public anymore. Do you know how many peed-on shoes I’ve signed? How many pictures I’ve taken with drunken college kids wearing off-the-shoulder Michael Vick jerseys? So I thought I’d go with something more literary, in the hopes I could sneak out for a steak and cheese once in a while without some greasy neighborhood kid on a bike yelling “Manning rules!” Anyway, I’ve decided to use “Scott”, as in F. Scott Fitzgerald or Sir Walter Scott. In fact, I even toyed with “Sir Scott”, but I decided that’s pushing it. In due time.

Im adding the middle initial “A” for “affectation”. The “Benson” I picked just because I liked that show. The governor was a stitch.

Patriots Next Week

Some game against the Colts, I think. I don’t know, I haven’t checked the schedule. It’s going to be hard to top a Thursday night exhibition skunking by the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is probably why they’re bringing in Beyonce.