October 1, 2016

Game Day Rear View, Edition 2004, Volume 11

November 28, 2004
Ravens vs. Patriots
At Gillette Stadium, Patriots WIN, 24-3
By Scott A. Benson
[email protected]

Where for art thou, Dennis Brolin?

Surely if the Michael Vick of groundskeepers were still in the Patriots’ employ, the Gillette sod would have looked and played like Augusta National’s today despite the wind and rain, and the poor Baltimore Ravens would have had a sporting chance against the duplicitous defending champions and their deliberately untended, quite nasty field. Oh, and Matt Light probably wouldn’t have gotten hurt, either.

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But you know how they do things down there. On Morrissey Boulevard, I mean.

I’m sure they’ll be a few hundred column inches devoted to Max Yasgur’s little farm down on Route One this week (the only thing missing was Hendrix doing the anthem), so the Boston Globe may never get around to telling you that the New England Patriots pulverized the Ravens in Foxborough on Sunday, seizing control in the second half before winning in a walk, 24-3.

With a steady rain falling and the middle of the field reduced to something resembling chocolate pudding, it was a day for defense. And the still-shorthanded Pats laid the wood to Baltimore, holding them to just 124 total yards (on only eight first downs) and forcing every critical error of the game.

The New England offensive unit, which struggled mightily with the Ravens’ all-star D for most of the first two quarters, ran off three consecutive scoring drives to open the second half, putting the game safely in the hands of the Patriots.

With the win, the champs go to 10-1 and remain the AFC East leader and 2nd seed in the conference. The Patriots have won 24 out of their last 25 games.

Before we move on, go back and read that last sentence again. You’ve got to smell the roses.

Patriots on Offense

The Pats won their fourth in a row and continued their march towards a possible best-ever regular season, but today could linger like a punch in the stomach if left tackle Matt Light is as seriously injured as he appeared to be after a 4th quarter running play. As Corey Dillon sloshed for a clock-burning first down behind him, Light went down with what appeared to be a left ankle injury. He was unable to put weight on the ankle as his teammates helped him to the sideline. The whole thing looked bad.

Brandon Gorin finished the game at Light’s spot, with Russ Hochstein filling in at right tackle. Given the Patriots’ proclivity for overcoming injuries to even their most valuable players, it’s hard to play Chicken Little with this one, particularly since we can’t be certain how badly Light was hurt. But if you can think about the impact of Light’s loss to the Patriots’ running and passing games without feeling a little shiver down your back, you’re a better man than I.

It was a tale of two halves for the Patriots offense today. Save for a 2nd quarter drive that netted a lone field goal (albeit one that set a record, as New England has now scored first in 16 straight games), the Pats struggled to move the ball on the Ravens during the first half. Often eschewing the run in favor of the pass, they accomplished little more than to set up one bad Josh Miller punt after another.

Yet the Pats came out in the 2nd half (with the teams tied at 3) and controlled the ball, the clock and the scoreboard for the rest of the afternoon. They notched two quick field goals to open the half, then went on a five minute touchdown drive to close out the 3rd quarter and extend their lead to 17-3. With Kyle Boller and the Baltimore offense still straining to make first downs, much less produce points, the Pats offense had put the game out of reach with a productive, error-free 15 minutes.

This was in large part due to another strong performance by Corey Dillon, who piled up 123 yards on 30 carries, 19 of them coming in the 2nd half. It was his ninth 100-yard performance of the season (most by a Pats back since Curtis Martin in 1995), giving him a total of 1121 yards through eleven games. His one yard plunge to open the final quarter was the team’s only offensive touchdown of the day.

Tom Brady battled Baltimore’s blitzes in the first half (the Ravens sacked him but once, but often hurried his throws and filled his lanes with onrushing defensive backs and linebackers) and then a damp and muddy ball in the second. Brady finished with only 172 yards and just a 50% completion rate, but still made a key throw here and there on the Pats scoring drives. His 15 yard pass to Deion Branch on a 3rd and 1 brought New England to the Ravens 5 and set up Dillon’s score.

David Givens (6 catches) was Brady’s most dependable receiver.

Patriots on Defense

With Asante Samuel back on the shelf (shoulder) and Earthwind Moreland fresh off a tough Monday night, the game opened with second-year free safety Eugene Wilson starting at cornerback and veteran special teamer Don Davis, a linebacker, at safety.

And the result? Let’s put it this way. Those three points the Ravens scored were a gift.

With two strong defenses and weather straight out of a Boris Karloff movie, field position was at a premium today, and it was here that the Patriots defense truly shined.

In the first half, they often found themselves defending little more than half the field, as the offense and special teams sloppily conspired to dig one hole after another for their defensive teammates. Baltimore started 2nd quarter drives at their own 49 and 45, and another at the Patriots’ 48. Yet time and time again, the Pats D dispatched Kyle Boller and the overmatched Ravens offense without so much as a first down. Only when the Ravens started a drive at the Patriots’ 16 were they able to marshal a field goal.

In the second half, with the tables turned and the Pats offense moving, the Pats defense kept Baltimore pinned deep in its own end. The Ravens’ best field position to start a drive was at its own 30. This sequence came early in the 4th, with Baltimore trailing by 14, but a blitzing Ted Johnson immediately set the Ravens back on their heels, sacking Boller at the Ravens 20.

On the next play, Tedy Bruschi blitzed again and forced the ball loose from Boller at the Baltimore 10. Players dove from every direction to recover the ball, but it squirted (literally) free until it was finally grabbed by Jarvis Green in the end zone. It was Green’s first professional touchdown, and the Pats had a well-deserved three touchdown lead.

So the defense without its top three cornerbacks rolls on. In its last 12 quarters, the Patriots defense has surrendered only 28 points. Most of all, the secondary continues to be a marvel. Though they were no doubt aided by the wind and rain, as well as some well-timed blitzes, the patchwork group held Boller to just 95 yards on 35 throws.

Wilson started strongly in his return to corner, defending a pass and making a sharp tackle on the Ravens opening three-and-out drive. On Baltimore’s next possession, Randall Gay grabbed the second interception of his young career when he drifted back in a zone and picked Boller for the first time in his last 123 throws.

And Don Davis? How can we explain this? Well, I’ve got an idea that Davis is always where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there. In his second year with New England, Davis is getting the chance that seemingly every Patriot gets at one time or another – the chance to provide incontrovertible, irrefutable evidence of his worth to the team. I’d say he’s coming through with flying colors.

Rodney Harrison, as is the custom, lead all Patriots with 13 tackles. Johnson, critical in rendering Baltimore’s runners (minus Jamal Lewis, of course) a non-factor throughout, added nine.

There was a blinding flash of the old Rosevelt Colvin when the recovering linebacker surged in the open field to sack Boller in the 2nd quarter.

Patriots on Special Teams

Josh Miller had a horrific game for the Pats, reacting like Seinfeld’s recalcitrant Newman to the inclement weather. He averaged a little over 32 yards despite kicking 8 times. Miller slightly redeemed himself later on with an excellent pooch kick that dribbled (literally) out at the Baltimore 3. Ah, all’s well that ends well.

Adam Vinatieri, no mere mortal he, was as usual unaffected by the elements, as his three field goals (including one from 48) were so straight and true they could have been kicked in domes. Hermetically sealed domes.

Someday I’ll figure out why the NFL feels it has to throw a penalty flag on every special teams play. Nothing slows up your afternoon like NFL referees officiating a play where a kick of any type is involved. I’m thinking they’re throwing these flags purely out of reflex, or spite, or both maybe. I’m pretty sure it’s not because these penalties are legit. I’m seriously supposed to believe that not one NFL team can ever run one freaking punt play without committing a foul?

But I don’t think I had any beef on the double whammy of Matt Chatham’s facemasking penalty and Bruschi’s personal foul on the same second quarter Miller punt. Thanks to the work of the Dynamic Duo, the refs spotted the Ravens at the Pats 16, and Matt Stover quickly broke the shutout. Awful.

Patriots on the Sidelines

What can you say? Five weeks ago, the Patriots were having their 21 game winning streak end badly in Pittsburgh, and the team’s top defensive back (and past Super Bowl hero) was being wheeled to the sidelines. Since then, they’ve won four straight using (apparently) nothing more than chewing gum and the contents of a men’s shaving kit. And they’ve gotten better each week. Not a one of us would have given them that chance when the Steelers had them reeling. Bravo.

Patriots Next Week

Another AFC North match up, this time on the road with the Cleveland Browns. Hey, before you get ahead of yourself, remember not to take this one lightly. If the Kelly Holcomb-led Browns have proven nothing else, they’re proven they can score through the air. If I were you, I’d temper the cockiness. It’s not very becoming anyway.

Game Day Rear View, Edition 2004, Volume 10

November 22, 2004
Chiefs vs. Patriots
At Arrowhead Stadium, Patriots WIN, 27-19
By Scott A. Benson
[email protected]

An abbreviated version of the Rear View this week, simply because I’m getting too old for the Patriots’ reign as late night TV stars. I’m not kidding. One more prime-time match up and I’ll be a dead ringer for Keith Richards.

Just imagine how bad it would suck if they were losing these games.

Well, not to worry. The Pats handled the Chiefs in Arrowhead tonight, winning 27-19 and snapping a 40 year losing streak in Kansas City.

The Pats, now 9-1, trailed early against the high-scoring Chiefs, but regained the lead early in the 2nd quarter and never looked back. Even when Corey Dillon’s 4th quarter goal line fumble turned into a late Kansas City touchdown drive, drawing the Chiefs to within 5, the Patriots were never in real danger of losing the game.

The win was critical as we move towards the final six weeks of the season. The victory enabled the Pats to keep their divisional lead over the Jets at two games, and left them trailing only the Steelers for top seed in the AFC.

Patriots on Offense

It was all Tom Brady tonight. Even though Dillon headed into the game on a team-record setting roll, the Pats elected to attack the Chiefs through the air from the opening gun. By the end, the run/pass scale ultimately balanced, but it was Brady who made the key offensive plays throughout. He was his usual effective self on third downs (the Pats were 8 for 12 overall), and hit three pass plays of over 40 yards (two sparkling catch and gallops by Daniel Graham and an over the shoulder grab by David Patten). Brady finished with 315 yards and a touchdown on 65% passing.

The touchdown, a thing of beauty, came courtesy of the returning Deion Branch, who had missed eight weeks after a nightmarish injury in Arizona during the season’s second game. After Kansas City had drawn to within 4 points midway through the 3rd quarter, Branch caught a short look in from Brady at the Chiefs 26 and cut across field before finding a crease for a quick burst to the end zone. It illustrated one point – as good as the Pats receivers are, none of them has Branch’s big play ability. He finished with 6 catches for 105 yards, grabbing a few key third down conversions as well, and looks to be fully prepared to contribute to the stretch run.

Though he seemed a secondary option for most of the game, Corey Dillon still had another strong performance with 98 yards on 26 carries. He knifed in from 5 yards out for the Pats first score and then added another TD run in the 2nd quarter. He could have had a third as the Pats drove deep into Chiefs territory to open the 4th, but Kansas City’s Fred Jones slammed an upright Dillon and forced a fumble that the Chiefs recovered at their two.

To his credit, Dillon returned after KC’s long touchdown drive and was a key figure in setting up an Adam Vinatieri field goal that stretched the lead to eight points and essentially sealed the game for the Pats with only minutes to play.

Patriots on Defense

I was all ready to complain about Trent Green shredding the Patriots secondary (he finished with 381 yards and two TD’s on 64% passing), but then I realized that the New England defense – as depleted as they are – had allowed exactly TWO touchdowns all night to one of the league’s best offenses. So I stuffed my complaining.

The Chiefs did seem to have an angle on the Pats, with Green hitting on two nearly identical scores to Eddie Kennison (one in the 1st quarter that gave them a temporary lead, and then another in the 4th quarter after Dillon’s fumble) . On each, Tony Gonzalez had drawn safeties to the middle of the field and left Kennison alone with Earthwind Moreland, who could only lunge for deft Green throws that dropped just behind him and into the waiting arms of the former Bronco.

But that was it, along with two Lawrence Tynes field goals. Not bad for a team still missing their starting corners. In fact, they were almost missing more than that – both Randall Gay and Asante Samuel were nicked up and missed periods of the game, but both returned. Samuel particularly struggled with his ailing shoulder.

The Pats crushed the Chiefs ground game, which was fortuitously missing Pats killer Priest Holmes. His replacement, Derrick Blaylock, who had ripped New Orleans for 186 yards last week, could do nothing against the Pats linemen and linebackers. He finished with only 58 yards.

The biggest defensive play of the game belonged to Rodney Harrison, who intercepted Green in the end zone as the Chiefs tried to tie the game at 17 at the half. After Kansas City had driven 60 yards to the Pats 9 with 54 seconds left, Harrison stepped in front of a third down throw to Gonzalez, who was conveniently getting the business from Roman Phifer at the time, keeping Green and the Chiefs off the board and preserving the Pats’ lead.

Ty Warren continued his strong development, totaling 7 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. He also stood firm against the run for another week. Let me say this – if you have been watching the Patriots and don’t yet understand that Ty Warren has become a very good defensive end, then there isn’t a damn thing I can do to help you.

Patriots on Special Teams

The most exciting moment of the night came when Tully Banta-Cain ran like a man possessed after receiving one of those stupid squib kickoffs that never work. I say we put him back there with Bethel and call it good.

Vinatieri had two more field goals, and Josh Miller averaged 44 yards a punt. Dexter Reid had a couple of good punt coverages, but the kickoff coverage unit still seems shaky.

Patriots on the Sidelines

Since defensive bellwether Ty Law went down in Pittsburgh, the Patriots offense has scored 32 points a game, undoubtedly making life a little easier for their teammates on the other side of the ball.

Not that they exactly need it – even with the injuries, the Pats defense has held their opponents to just under 16 points a game during this three-game winning streak.

Patriots Next Week

Another conference battle, this one with the 7-3 Baltimore Ravens next Sunday at Gillette. Blissfully, this game will actually begin in the afternoon (a 4:00 PM start), a rarity for aging Pats watchers.

Game Day Rear View, Edition 2004, Volume 9

November 14, 2004
Bills vs. Patriots
At Gillette Stadium, Patriots WIN, 29-6
By Scott A. Benson
[email protected]

Like University of Pittsburgh freshman quarterback Tyler Palko, I知 just so bleeping proud of this team right now.

Yes, I知 awfully proud of these Patriots, and the way they wiped out the Buffalo Bills 29-6 at Gillette Stadium tonight. I知 especially proud considering the 途idiculous� (Boston Globe痴 word, not mine) personnel situation they致e got down there.

I saw some pretty ridiculous things on the field tonight but none of them had anything to do with the Patriots roster.

The 8-1 Pats dominated the until-recently-surging Bills on both sides of the ball from the opening kickoff. They shredded Buffalo痴 third-ranked defense on the ground and in the air, particularly during a game deciding 17 point 2nd quarter. Defensively, they immediately and emphatically took away Willis McGahee and the Bills running attack, forcing Buffalo痴 badly fading Drew Bledsoe to- once again – try to win the game through the air.

Advantage, Patriots.

The victory ran their record over the last two dozen games to 23-1. It was also New England痴 16th straight win at Gillette Stadium. But most of all, it was another big divisional win for the Pats, as they stretched their AFC East record to 4-0. With a Jets loss to Baltimore earlier today, the Patriots lead the division by two games.

And with just seven weeks remaining, the Patriots trail only the likeable Pittsburgh Steelers for top playoff seed in the conference.

Let痴 close by talking a little more about this 途idiculous� personnel situation we致e got going on down there. Since losing badly in Pittsburgh three weeks ago, this 途idiculous� roster, including its 途idiculous� collection of defensive backs (sans Ty Law, but with Troy 糎illie� Brown), has slaughtered the Rams and then coldcocked the Bills. Two straight-up knockouts by a combined score of 69-28. Done, and done.

Yeah, I guess I壇 call that ridiculous too. But only in that ironic way the kids say it.

Patriots on Offense

Corey Dillon is once again the story here, rushing 26 times for 151 yards despite missing most of the 2nd quarter with yet another undetermined leg injury. Thankfully, he returned early in the 3rd quarter and was still in there to grind clock away in the fourth.

Dillon began the game by slicing the Bills for 30 yards off right end, bringing the Pats to midfield and keying an 80 yard drive that ended with an Adam Vinatieri field goal. All night, he pounded away at the middle of the Bills line (behind solid blocking by center Dan Koppen and guards Joe Andruzzi and Stephen Neal) and bested the perimeter of the Buffalo D, often for runs of 10 yards or longer.

Another tour de force performance by Dillon, who already has a season痴 worth of them. It was the first 100 yard game allowed by the Bills this year.

When Dillon was forced to the bench, Tom Brady started firing fastballs to David Givens and David Patten for first downs that drove the Pats deep into Buffalo territory. New England had been unable to convert on two early drives inside the Buffalo ten (settling for 6 instead of 14 points), but with Dillon cooling his heels (or his ankle, or his knee, or his thigh, or whatever part it was) on the bench, Brady found a wide open Patten and then Christian Fauria for two touchdown passes that essentially iced the Bills.

Fauria痴 TD came on a nice play fake with just 35 seconds remaining in the first half.

Though he had a slightly shaky second half that was marred by a Nate Clements interception that was eerily reminiscent of the pick he threw in Pittsburgh (Bethel Johnson fell down on this one too), Brady put up the points in this one when they counted the most.

Kevin Faulk ran 13 times for 61 yards in relief of Dillon, and Johnson had a leaping 47 yard catch of a Brady bomb that set up Vinatieri痴 second field goal.

Patriots on Defense

The Patriots defense totally overwhelmed the Bills from the moment Buffalo won the coin toss. The Bills ended the day with 125 total yards.

Willis McGahee had spurred the Bills recent upswing with three 100 yard games, but on the Gillette Stadium turf tonight, he was going nowhere. The Pats closed off McGahee痴 running lanes from the start, thanks to both a sturdy front (led first by Ty Warren, with five tackles) and a stout middle (Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson), and some solid run support from corners like Randall Gay. The Pats won the game the minute they won the line of scrimmage.

Because that put the ball, and the game, squarely in the hands of Drew Bledsoe.

The details of what followed are mostly unimportant. You致e seen it before. Passes straight into the hands of linebackers standing eight yards away. Forced passes that are just inaccurate enough to make for a spectacular interception. Confused, discouraged, lethargic play calling and time management. That sort of stuff.

Bledsoe threw three interceptions on the game, including Eugene Wilson痴 diving snag of a wayward bomb, Bruschi痴 29 yard return of a headscratching Bledsoe pitch and catch, and lastly, Troy Brown痴 first career pick. Brown snuck inside of Eric Moulds on a slant and, much to the delight of the partisan crowd, caught one from Drew for old time痴 sake.

Wilson and Bruschi痴 interceptions led to 10 early, yet crucial, points. Brown’s pick eventually drove Bledsoe to the bench.

Let痴 pause for a minute to say one thing about the defensive backs: Asante Samuel did not play today, leaving rookie Gay and taxi squader Earthwind Moreland to man the corners. They were joined again by slot man and sometime receiver Brown. These were the Pats first three cornerbacks. Yet for the second week in a row, the Patriots� opponents were unable to pass the ball worth a damn against them.

OLB Tully Banta-Cain was impressive once again for the Patriots, nailing one and a half sacks and then, in coverage, picking off a bunny from Buffalo rookie JP Losman in the game痴 closing minutes. Banta-Cain is athletic and fast, and he痴 seemed to turn a corner in the last two weeks. He looks more and more like a full-time contributor.

A beautiful evening was nearly ruined � horribly � when Bruschi went down late in the fourth. Replays showed a frightening leg injury (trapped under a pile, Bruschi was nearly bent in two backwards) yet, unbelievably, he jogged off the field and was seen on the sidelines grinning and looking relieved. From my living room, I let out a little cheer. It was truly a happy ending.

Patriots on Special Teams

Vinatieri had five field goals in all (and his 1000th career point), but these guys get a big fat 詮� this week because for the second freaking time this year, the Buffalo Bills ran a kick return right down the throats of the New England Patriots special teams FOR A TOUCHDOWN.

I swear, something is really wrong with these guys. Every week they kill me. They池e the kings of Sloppy Tackling, Out of Position football. Kickoff coverage that almost NEVER stops the opponent inside the 30 is one thing. But kind sir, punt returns up the gut (with every Patriot seemingly grabbing air) are quite another.

I知 sick of it. I don稚 know what the problem is. They致e got starters out there now. Still, this leg of the three-legged stool is friggin� wobbly. Thank God Josh Miller only had to punt three times.

Patriots on the Sidelines

Aside from special teams, you got to hand it to these guys again, especially the two coordinators. This game will do nothing but buff those resumes to a fine shine. You壇 have to say they both started with exactly the right plan to beat the Bills, they obviously prepared their team well, and to their credit, when it was time to play the players all executed. I壇 say unless you池e the Boston Globe, you壇 have to look far and wide to find something to complain about it in this category.

Aside from special teams, I mean.

Patriots Next Week

Monday Night Football. Arrrgh. I know this is the golden age of Patriots football, and none of us would change that, but come on, throw me a one o団lock game once in awhile, will ya?

The Pats travel to Arrowhead Stadium for a conference match up with the Constantly Collapsing Chiefs.

Game Day Rear View, Edition 2004, Volume 8

November 7, 2004
Rams vs. Patriots
At the Edwards Jones Dome, Patriots WIN, 40-22
By Scott A. Benson
[email protected]

There. I hope you致e learned your lesson. I hope we all have.

Our lesson for today, of course, is � don稚 count 粗m out. EVER.

There may be bigger regular season wins over the last few years than today痴 40-22 skunking of the Rams in St. Louis, but I can稚 think of them right now. A severely undermanned Patriots squad went on the road today and delivered a stirring performance under some of the most adverse conditions the team has ever faced.

The ass kicking that they got last Sunday in Pittsburgh � a thorough beatdown that ended their 21 game winning streak – was bad enough. But in the days that followed, it got worse. Workhorse Corey Dillon barely practiced, after missing the Steelers entirely. The valiant David Givens nursed a sore knee, as did Deion Branch. Cornerback Ty Law, hero of multiple Super Bowls, was placed on the shelf alongside his fellow starter, Tyrone Poole. Tom Ashworth, the starting right tackle, went on IR. The colorfully-named Earthwind Moreland jumped from the practice squad to the nickel package, and soon after, to the starting lineup.

So let痴 just say that a few folks were a little squirrelly about today痴 game. And the Patriots responded by going on the road to stuff their highly-touted opponent by three scores. You were saying?

So the lesson is – don稚 count 粗m out, because they always find a way. Today, it was two-way performances by their kicker-turned-passer, their linebacker-turned-tight end, and their receiver-turned-defensive back. It was another star turn by the runner who wasn稚 going to play. The receiver who wasn稚 going to play wasn稚 exactly chopped liver, either. And somehow, some way, despite being extremely shorthanded along their edge, the Patriots defense all but stoned Marc Bulger and his crew of supposed game breakers.

This one takes the cake. Last week痴 loss, as complete a thrashing as you would never want to see, had more than a few of us wondering if this might be one of those years when the fates, and our failings, conspired against us.

Yet tonight, after witnessing yet another courageous and cerebral stand by the defending world champs, maybe one of their best ever, we can be more confident than ever that the still-proud Patriots will still be standing come January.

You don稚 win games like this, under these circumstances, unless you have the goods. The New England Patriots have the goods, ladies and gentleman, even when they池e down to their fourth and fifth defensive backs. They proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt tonight.

Patriots on Offense

Here痴 the story for the offense today � after the Rams went up 14-13 with three minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter, the Patriots outscored St. Louis 27-8 the rest of the way. And they really could have had more.

Corey Dillon came off his alleged death bed to rush 25 times for 112 yards and a third quarter touchdown that for all intents and purposes put the game out of reach. At this point, you壇 have to say Dillon is exceeding the expectations that came with him in that draft-week trade. By a wide margin. There are few runners that are more valuable than Dillon is to the Pats, particularly in these days of many damaged wideouts.

Speaking of which, David Givens caught five passes for 100 yards, including a 50 yard bomb from Tom Brady that set up the 2nd quarter field goal that gave the Pats the lead for good. Business is business, but there has to be a way to keep Givens in New England beyond this year. He is emerging as one of the toughest, most dependable receivers in the league.

Brady continued to feel heat from the opposing defense, as his patchwork offensive line still struggles to protect the passer. He was sacked twice and hurried several more times, and again had a turnover that resulted in a defensive touchdown. Leonard Little痴 strip and fumble recovery in the end zone gave the then-struggling Rams their first score as the 2nd quarter began.

But as we have come to expect, Brady handled it all with great aplomb, immediately leading the Pats downfield for a touchdown and the lead again. On the day, he hit nearly 60% of his passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He did not throw an interception.

This year痴 likely MVP was most impressive when he checked off at the line of scrimmage at several points throughout, audibling to runs and passes based on the given defensive alignment. Brady was seemingly right every time, setting up key Dillon gains as well as his big 50 yarder to Givens.

Brady was also superb with play action work in two key goal line situations, first hitting LB Mike Vrabel (a great catch by Mr. Touchdown for the Pats first TD) and then Bethel Johnson (a 4th quarter score that iced it) after sharp fakes into the line.

Finally, let痴 celebrate the returning Patrick Pass, who ran a toss play around left end for 19 yards, and added another 22 on a dump off from Brady.

Patriots on Defense

Here痴 the first thing � Asante Samuel, our last and best hope at corner since the loss of Law and Poole, went out of the game with a shoulder injury on the Rams second offensive play. That left undrafted free agent Randall Gay as the grand old man of the cornerbacks. Enough said?

Yet aside from a few anxious minutes in the 2nd quarter, when the Rams began to move the ball against replacement Earthwind Moreland, it didn稚 make a damn bit of difference. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt each posted touchdowns, but anybody who tells you that either one was a factor in this game is nuts. Without a 35 yard garbage time catch by Holt, they would have been lucky to total a hundred yards between them. Gay and Moreland can稚 get enough credit this week.

Neither can the Jim Thorpe-like Troy Brown, who jumped into the breach following Samuel痴 injury (he did return in the 4th quarter) and manned the slot whenever the Rams went to three and four receiver sets. He even had a near interception. Remember all the crap Bill Belichick took for using Brown in the defensive backfield during training camp? How痴 that decision looking today?

Willie McGinest was the day痴 big playmaker, forcing both turnovers by the Rams offense and setting up 10 New England points. In the 2nd quarter, with the Pats leading by just two and the Rams at the Pats 30, McGinest ran down and stripped a scrambling Marc Bulger from behind, causing a fumble that was covered just inbounds by Jarvis Green. Nine plays later, the Pats extended their lead to five.

Then, with the Pats leading by 12 in the third, McGinest fell back into coverage and tipped a Marc Bulger pass to Roman Phifer at midfield. Phifer ran it back to the St. Louis 21, and Dillon ran it home four plays later. Once again, Willie McGinest had made the biggest of big plays for the Patriots.

He did not stand alone, however. The front seven, led by Vrabel, held Marshall Faulk in check (66 yards on just 12 carries) and put significant pressure on Bulger throughout. Often, he was forced to hold the ball as he searched for an open receiver. McGinest, Green, Ty Warren and Richard Seymour all had sacks. Second-year man Tully Banta-Cain had his best game as a pro in relief of Rosevelt Colvin, flying off the edge and fouling up the Rams pocket each time they tried to pass.

Rodney Harrison again led the Pats with eight tackles, though he was burned for the Rams longest completion of the day. Fellow safety Eugene Wilson was also sturdy, finishing with five tackles and a few solid hits on the typically meek Ram receivers.

Patriots on Special Teams

Hey, listen, Adam Vintaieri is the greatest thing since stinkin� sliced bread. He kicked four first-half field goals (each one dead solid perfect) as the Pats struggled to take advantage of Ram miscues and good field position. But that was nothing.

With seven minutes to go in the 3rd quarter and New England leading by five, the Pats drove inside the Rams 10 yard line but were stopped on 3rd and goal from the 5. Vinatieri quickly ran on to kick the chip shot and extend the lead to eight points.

He never kicked it. In a move that was not without a little poetic justice, Vinatieri took a direct snap and quickly threw a surprise touchdown pass to a wide open Troy Brown, who was allowed to drift toward the sideline unattended before the snap. Vinatieri (think anybody else will win AFC special teams player of the week?) threw a strike to Brown, who stepped into the end zone as slack-jawed Rams players – and their brainiac head coach, who痴 usually the one doing these things – watched helplessly. The only thing missing was Ricky Proehl.

Long snapper Lonnie Paxton hustled down and grabbed an all-too rare special teams turnover after Rams returner Shaun McDonald muffed a 1st quarter punt at the St. Louis 28. It set up the second of Vinatieri痴 field goals.

Patriots on the Sidelines

Small quibble � the next time you池e pinned back at your own 10 yard line, and your opponent has grabbed the momentum even though you致e been dominating, EMPHASIZE THE FREAKING RUN. You池e killing me over here.

But you have to tip your cap to the staff for this one. We didn稚 have the highest hopes for this game, and the Patriots killed the Rams. Killed them. They moved the ball whenever they wanted and stopped the Rams whenever they had to. Great job all around.

I think they felt that way too. It’s rare to see Belichick and crew celebrate a win as openly as they did this one. They deserved it.

Final thought � If you fit Ed Hochuli and his crew with orange reflective vests, you wouldn稚 know the difference between them and the average public works crew. A bunch of guys standing around, talking. Have they ever called a penalty they didn稚 have to conference over? If one of those guys ever inadvertently dropped their handkerchief, the game would be delayed fifteen minutes.

Patriots Next Week

Home again for an ESPN Sunday night divisional match-up with 3-5 Buffalo. YOU THINK MIKE MULARKEY DOESN探 LOVE HIS DEFENSE?

Just think. We’ll be able to thank the Bills personally for sticking a shiv in the backs of the previously high-flying New York Jets earlier today. The Bills win gave the Jets two divisional losses and, combined with the Pats victory over St. Louis, helped the Patriots to a one game lead in the AFC East at the halfway point.

Finale

Hey, 船akota�, want to tell us some more about how the Pats are going to lose to the Rams? They won by EIGHTEEN points, for cryin� out loud! You weren稚 even close! Tell us some more, 船akota�.