September 30, 2016

GDRV Roundtable

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Now, let’s see………where were we?

Oh, yeah, I was about to jump off a bridge.

But not my stout hearted mates here at GDRV. They weathered Sunday night’s storm with typical aplomb, even offering reassuring thoughts in the aftermath. I’ll give Doyle and Allen credit – at least they didn’t embarrass themselves this week. It’s no small trick, apparently.

A little inter-office stuff: I’ll tell you what bugs me about Greg – he gets two days to gather his thoughts before he writes. Two freaking DAYS. That’s like a year in Game Blog time. If I had two days to prepare, I’m sure I’d say to myself, “you know, you probably shouldn’t compare Brady to Bledsoe.”

But that’s the nature of the game I’m in. I’ve got to GET. IT. OUT. THERE. NOW. I can’t be bothered with every little detail, like if I’m right or not……I’ve got to blurt out something and get it on the Internet pronto. Those are the goddam rules.

Anyway, I’ve got to be like a defensive back, and forget that 83 yard touchdown pass that I just gave up. I’ve got to be like a kicker, and forget that 37 yard field goal they just blocked.

I’ve got to get back on this horse and ride it.

Tom Brady’s on-field demeanor has received a lot attention this week, but most of it focused on psychoanalyzing the two-time Super Bowl MVP. I don’t care too much to know why he’s ‘upset’. I just want to know if his clearly evident on-field distress might take a toll on his teammates. I want to know if it’s fair to expect more from a seven year veteran and team leader/icon? He says if they all play better, they’ll all enjoy it more. Is it that simple? Don’t the other players look to Brady, and considering how they’ve struggled, isn’t he obligated to project a more positive, confident air?

Greg: I personally think the Brady body language stuff has really gotten out of control.

I have the game on tape. The score after one quarter was 0-0. It was 3-0 until about 1 minute left in the half. There were hardly any close ups of Brady at all the entire first half. I mean, literally virtually none. The only really one was of him arguing with the refs after Faulk got tackled on a third down play.

Most of the shots of Brady, and there really weren’t that many, were once they were down 17-0. I mean, what is he supposed to be doing, cartwheels or something? They were losing 17-0, why would he be happy?

I think this is a perfect example of group think. Someone says it, it becomes fact. I heard a caller on ‘EEI today insisting Brady’s body language was awful. I wonder how much of the actual camera shots he really remembers or he is just assuming it because he has heard it stated numerous times. I was at the game live and have now watched the tape twice. I just don’t know what the hell people are talking about. Its really incredible if you watch it and see how little Brady was actually shown close up when the game was close. To the extent he was upset, I think it was a natural reaction to losing a game or being in the process of losing one. Nothing more than that.

Bruce: My first instinct was to dismiss this question as more of the kind of silly “drama” that the media likes to focus on. (Sorry Scott) However, thinking about it for a moment, there’s a bit of truth to the notion that a QB’s teammates look to him for attitude and confidence. That being said, I actually didn’t see a whole lot of this “on field distress” other than arguing with a couple of calls made by the officials. To a certain extent, his teammates do look to him for leadership and confidence, however, I think they also must draw that from within, and certainly Brady isn’t the only guy on the offense that is capable of instilling confidence in his teammates. I don’t think this is a huge deal.

Scott: Let me get this out of the way – I believe Tom Brady is, at 29 years old, is already the greatest player in the history of the franchise. No one has ever made a bigger impact – it’s not even close.And when he’s really cranking, he’s the best quarterback in the NFL, bar none. Someday there’ll be a statue of him. Nobody is debating that.

I’m not talking about arguing with referees, and I”m not talking about making ‘happy’ and jumping all around and banging shoulder pads. All I can tell you is from the moment he stepped out on the field on Sunday night, I noticed it. I sure as hell wasn’t looking for it, or looking for ‘drama’, but there it was just the same. Not in the second half, but from the first offensive possession. To me, he looks utterly defeated, and completely lacking confidence. It’s the way he heads on the field, just as much as its the way he heads off it. It’s the way he breaks the huddle on 1st and 10 just as much as its the way he breaks the huddle on 3rd and 17. And most of all, its how he forces the ball to certain receivers while, seemingly, not involving others, even though that’s been his calling card since he started. Tell me all you want that I’m not seeing what I’m seeing. I’m seeing it.

He doesn’t mean to do it, and any suggestions to the contrary are silly. I think the guy is frustrated and beat down, because of his own play and that of his offensive unit, and what we’re seeing is a sincere representation of where he is at the moment. I don’t blame him for that, not after thinking about it – it seems like a hard season already, and it hasn’t even been a month.

I think he looks beat, and I think he’s projecting that. I think he lacks confidence, and certainly doesn’t project any. I think it has a negative effect on the whole damn enterprise. We’ve seen how his teammates look to him – Ty Law, reassuring Rodney Harrison – and we’ve seen how the other clubs look at him – the Panthers warning each other than no game was over as long as Brady had a chance. Do not tell me that whatever ‘aura’ this guy projects has no impact.

I noticed that a few jokers on the BSMW board this week had a field day with this issue, pushing the offensive problems off on everyone else while absolving Tom of any wrongdoing whatsover. He’s Tom Freaking Brady, they cried. You guys ought to be Packers fans. You’d fit right in. Meanwhile, mock all you want, smart guys – it doesn’t change the fact that the first thing that needs to be fixed in the Patriots passing game is the guy that throws the ball.

Can I take another moment to weigh in on the Testaverde thing, considering we’re on the subject of quarterbacks? What, do you suppose, would happen if Brady was to go down with an injury? Think they’d cancel the schedule? No, I figure they’d kind of have to carry it out. So that means that young Matt Cassel would be become the starter, and do you think they’d back him up with some guy from the practice squad? Say what you want about the choice of Testaverde, but it couldn’t be anymore obvious at to what these Tuesday tryouts have been about.

Seriously, what happened to the Patriots defense? Over the last year-plus, they have been abysmal in the forced-turnover department, and have given up long touchdowns at an alarming rate. Sometimes, they can’t even get off the field on third down. What the hell happened? Was it the departure of Romeo Crennel? Player attrition? What is it? And do they have any hope of recapturing some playmaking magic?

Bruce: There’s no way you can point to one thing and say “this is the reason”. As much as we want to pinpoint it down to a certain thing, you just can’t. Defenses need to have chemistry as well, they need to be all working in sync and being able to read each other and know where everyone is going to be. Talent is needed too. The losses of Ty Law, Crennel, Willie McGinest, the reduced health of Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi and other factors all contribute. I think if they stay relatively healthy this season they can develop the type of defense they’ve had in the past, but it will take time. Towards the tail end of last season they showed signs of getting there, now they’ve had to readjust to another coordinator. I think by December we’ll have a nice defense in place here.

Greg: I think it will come. They have been very close on several occasions this year. They stripped Losman the first week, but Buffalo recovered. Asante Samuel almost had a pick for a touchdown the game against the Jets but was just a tad late. They had several opportunities that just missed last week. It will come. Sometimes these things run in streaks.

Scott: I think it’s Romeo. It’s a little bit of player attrition, and age, but the Pats had Willie McGinest last year and still got pushed all around the field for a good bit of the season. I think its Romeo. They still employ many of the same systems and whatever, I’m sure, but I really think that’s a case of the right coach for the right players at the right time. They really were perfect for each other. I think they miss him terribly, and I think those days are gone for now. They are simply not as good as they were from 01-04, they haven’t been for awhile, and there’s no telling when they will be again.

Which is OK. Those teams from 01-04 were some of the best in the league history. It’s completely unreasonable for us to think that they’ll be that good – defensively or offensively – every year, or maybe ever again. We really should be reminding oursleves of that from time to time. They’re still good enough to contend, and if they can get to January with a in-stride Belichick and Brady……….they have as much a chance as anyone. It’s a horse race. I’m going to try to appreciate that for what it is from now on, and leave the past where it belongs.

Stephen Gostkowski has now had two consecutive kicks blocked. Not what you’d have wanted for the kicker that followed Adam Vinatieri. Does it get worse for the kid before it gets better?

Greg: I think at some point he’ll have a good game, or some big kick and it will help his confidence and he’ll be fine from that point on. It happened to Adam Vinatieri in 1996 when he had five field goals against Jacksonsonville when it was thought he may be cut. He was special teams player of the week I believe. From that point on, he was excellent, for the most part, that season and went on to have a great career. Gostkowski has the leg, he just needs to find his confidence.

Scott: Yeah, considering the way things are going, it will probably get worse. But let me tell you – he obviously has talent. We saw that in the pre-season. And so far, his kickoffs have been great. It would be a terrible mistake if the Patriots – and especially their fans – didn’t hang with this guy, whatever the hell happens. I think we’ll be glad we did.

Bruce: I don’t think so. He and the Special Teams will make the adjustments. The problem here is that anything he does is magnified a gazillion times because of the whole AV factor. He is not the next incarnation of Scott Sisson. Belichick is not going to put him in positions where he is likely to fail.

Is Bill Belichick arrogant?

Greg: I am sure most successful people are to some degree. But its probably only about things he has a right to be arrogant about, i.e. his football knowledge and success. He seems pretty down to earth and humble at times as well and seems to have a self-deprecating side to him. I don’t think he is particularly arrogant, as near as I can tell, when you look at some of the others in his profession.

Scott: I just think its funny when people who think the entire football world revolves around them, to the extent that they believe their incessant griping (even about ‘covering’ the week-long parties known as the Super Bowl) has any meaning, have the balls to call another guy ‘arrogant’.

Bruce: Oh sure. You listen to the guy and he’s always tooting his own horn and proclaiming himself the greatest coach of our generation. He’s always putting down the opposition. He doesn’t give his team credit for anything, always taking the glory for himself and throwing his team under the bus when they lose. He never takes a share of the blame. Never says he could do a better job coaching the team. You see his press conferences, and it’s all about him him him. He’s the show. The guy does the circuit of the talk shows in the offseason, again touting his own genius.

Wait, you said Bill Belichick, not Brian Billick. My bad.

Let’s take a look at the Big Board of Predictions and see how we’re doing with our weekly six-pack of picks. Bruce threw up another 5-1 week to take the lead with a 14-4 record. I’ve got to start reading his part of the Roundtable. Greg and I both finished 3-3, and so I’m in second with a 12-6 clip, while Greg’s in third, still coming back from a tough first week at 8-10. So what’s on tap this Sunday? Indianapolis visits the New York Jets, the Dolphins travel to Houston, and the Bills host the Vikings. Elsewhere, the Chargers head to Baltimore and the Jags are at Washington. Because the Broncos and Steelers have the bye, we have to head to the NFC to get our final contest. How about the Seahawks at the Bears?

Scott: I’ll take Indy, Miami (bastards), and Minnesota over my darling Bills (when I made them my sweethearts, they headed for the tank). I’m going to hope the Chargers can take the Ravens, because as you know, Baltimore is nothing. I’m going to take the Redskins over the Jags, in a crass attempt to gain a game advantage in this stupid contest (what’s the prize, anyway?). The Bears will beat the Seahawks in Chicago, but I’m may be just hoping for a better first round pick for the Patriots with that one.

Bruce: Tougher week here. The Colts in a tougher-than-expected game with the Jets, the Dolphins survive their meeting with the Texans, the Bills over the Vikings, the Ravens hold off the Chargers, and the Jags take out the Redskins. In the NFC…I’m going to go with Da Bears.

Greg: I got to turn this around at some point. Lets go with Indy to eclipse the Colts, the Dolphins to think beat Houston in their second straight easy game, the Vikings to nip Buffalo. Jacksonville will beat the Redskins, rebounding from their loss to the Colts. I’ve got Baltimore handing the Chargers a loss and, in a good game to round out the picks, lets go with the impressive Bears defense taking out the Shaun Alexander-less Seahawks.

Not surprisingly on the home front, our record in picking Pats games stands at 2-1. I’m pretty sure whatever the team’s record is, that’s what ours will be. Let’s hear it, then…..Patriots at Bengals.

Bruce: I’m torn on this one. At the beginning of the season, I had this one circled as one of the losses on the schedule. Part of me says that the Patriots bounce back in this one. Pittsburgh got to Carson Palmer quite a bit last week, and I can see the Patriots doing that as well. I think Corey Dillon (assuming he plays) is going to be jacked and pumped to be playing in Cincinnati. Brady has something to prove, and the Patriots haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2002. The Bengals are coming off a huge division win on the road and might be prime for a letdown. However, the Patriots clearly are still a work in progress and have a ways to go. This is a tough game on the road against a team with big-play guys on offense, and the Patriots have been giving up big plays thus far. I’m wavering minute by minute here. If asked tomorrow, I might give another answer, but right now I’m taking the Bengals, 27-24.

Greg: I just don’t see the Patriots beating the Bengals at this point. They struggled against them in 2004 at home and that was a better Patriots team at that point. It was also not as good a Bengals team then. With their secondary banged up, I don’t see them stopping Cincinnati much. They should move the ball, the Bengals defense is a bit depleted as well for various reasons, but a late Bengals score will put the game away and they’ll win 30-20.

Scott: I just can’t see it. Not the way they’re playing. They may come out of it eventually, but will it be on week 4 in Cincinnati? Evidently, it’s not like turning on a light. So, Bengals 27-17.

I’m the last guy that ought to be asking about Mediot of the Week.

Greg: Peter King, for saying he “trusts” the Jets more than the Patriots a week after the Patriots beat them on their field and ranks them higher in his personal team rankings. I am not even sure what he means by “trusts”, but no one has ridden shifting prognostications and baseless predictions to financial gain more than Peter King. Its just another one of those throw away things he puts out there that have no basis in reality, probably takes him two seconds to think of as “interesting” column fodder and I’m not sure why we all even bother to read them.

Bruce: I’m going to generalize this week and mention a clear trend that has emerged this season. Every week has to have a “drama”. Week one it was the whole Deion Branch soap, then we had the Mangini teacher/pupil nonhandshake drama, then we had a week of the revenge angle with the Broncos coming in. Now this week we’ve had the Brady body language analysis. Can’t we get a week of just good solid football reporting and commentary without having to resort to the “easy” sensationalist type stories that are latched on to by sports radio and pounded to death by the end of the week? I already know the answer, but I can complain anyway.

Scott: I’ll abstain. Although it seems like Bruce lumped me in with the media on our first question. So I pick him, just for doing that.

Second Look: Denver at Patriots

by Greg Doyle
[email protected]

A second look at Sunday’s game between Denver and the Patriots on tape reveals it to be the definite off-performance it appeared to be initially. Still, I don’t think it was nearly as disastrous as some of the gloom and doom prognostications you heard floating around in the wake of the game. The Patriots played an off game, got beat by a good a team and still could have won if you just change a couple plays, a couple interpretations by the officials or a couple areas of execution by the Patriots just a tad. Or maybe just add in a mistake or two by Denver which, to their credit, they avoided. A few inches here or there and its a 10-6 win for the Patriots and nobody even notices they didn’t play a stellar game. But that’s football.

Its early. The Patriots are going to be alright. They are going to win a lot of games and those who were just frothing at the mouth, media and others, to jump on them at the first opportunity are going to be disappointed if this team can stay healthy. Those who were so looking forward to a bad performance to prove how bright they are, will eventually go silent when they win the division again and have a shot in the playoffs. They’ll probably claim they knew they’d turn it around all along.

Lets look at each unit.

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady wasn’t nearly as bad as is being portrayed by many following the game. Football makes me laugh sometimes. Or at least those who watch it. You see it with all sports to some extent, but it seems football has a unique ability to make people search for the most inane reasons for losses. They didn’t play with fire is a common one. He didn’t want to be there is another. He’s lost his passion. He misses his binky. He’s pissed at management. Whatever. Sometimes the other team is good. Sometimes athletes have off nights. Sometimes the execution isn’t what it can be or will be because of injuries, new personnel, good scheming by the other team. There are lots of legitimate reasons. The most overlooked by tunnel vision fans or media with agenda is good play by professional, skilled opponents. That usually barely gets lip service, at least compared to “he’s pissed about the salary cap so that is why he missed that throw on third and 9.” Its like the opponents are all the Washington Generals to hear some people talk or write.

The soap opera explanations are usually the least valid. Actually, strike least. They’re usually absurd, ridiculous, idiotic and not in the slightest bit valid. Head Coach Bill Belichick actually said today he thought the passing game had its best game so far this season. The reason for the failure was the complete collapse of the running game, in my opinion. For this particular game, I think the loss of Corey Dillon to injury was huge and put a big dent in the Patriots game plan. They clearly came out determined to run the ball and had a few decent runs while Dillon was in there. But it seems to me Dillon’s style was more fitted to play Denver than Laurence Maroney’s. Dillon is a power back and Denver is a smaller, fast defense that is more vulnerable to Dillon’s style than the quicker, more elusive Maroney’s. When Dillon went down, it seemed to me to basically destroy the Patriots game plan. Yet, they stuck with it too long, which has to be a demerit to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. How does this relate to the quarterback? Well, he was in way to many long, less manageable third down situations. And those are hard to convert. I’m not saying Brady didn’t have an off game. He did. I’m not saying there still is a lack of comfort and/or familiarity with his new receivers. There is. But you got a good defense on the other side who managed to stuff the run and take away the Patriots game plan and force difficult situations much of the game. Credit Denver, not blame Brady. He wasn’t that bad. And he’ll be fine as the season goes along. The passing game will continue to improve and according to at least Bill Belichick, it did and had its best game last night. Do we doubt his ability to judge these things? Should we believe Michael Felger over Bill Belichick? Or maybe Bill Burt? Lets be serious, its game three and they were held to 7 points by a pretty good defense. It’ll come around and already is.

RUNNING BACK: As mentioned above, Dillon actually looked pretty good early on. But then he got hurt and the Patriots had to rely almost exclusively on Maroney. He had some decent plays in the passing game, but didn’t have the room to do much in the running game. Again, his style didn’t really fit this game either. At least without some compliment from Dillon. Perhaps, if the Pats were determined to stick with their plan, a dose of the rugged Heath Evans may have been a change up that was suited to try against the quick, but smaller, Denver defense. But alas, they never tried anything different until it was too late. For this reason, Kevin Faulk wasn’t much of a factor until too late, not really thru any fault of his own but due to the lack of early emphasis on passing except on third and longs.

WIDE RECEIVER: Not a horrible day in my opinion. I will say this, if I never see Jonathan Smith in a Patriots uniform again, it won’t be too soon. I think I know what the Patriots were thinking in releasing Bam Childress from the active roster for Smith. Smith looks the part more. Childress basically is a smallish, inside guy who plays the position Troy Brown plays. Since they already have Brown and Childress has practice squad eligibility, they went with Smith since he can play the outside position where they have some new faces and some injuries. That’s just great. But there is only one problem. Childress makes plays and Smith never has, save for one nice punt return he had against the Patriots a few seasons back. That one play seems to have inordinately occupied the Patriots mind a bit in regards to Messr. Smith. The guy played a significant amount as the third receiver last night for two and a half quarters. I think I was more open in the stands surrounded by 68,000 people than he was on the field with only 11 Broncos around. Its no coincidence when they finally said “screw this” and tried Doug Gabriel as the third receiver, it started clicking. Gabriel can actually play. Now that you have figured that out, Patriots, could you please dump Mr. Smith and bring back that other guy who can actually play, no matter how he looks, Bam Childress? Thank you. As for Gabriel, a nice performance. I hope that eases whatever worries the Patriots had and they use him now. And when Chad Jackson comes back, after not playing this week due to injury, this crew can actually be decent. Troy Brown still can be a good possession guy and was last night. Reche Caldwell appears to be what he is, decent and solid most of the time, but not a game breaker. I was a little disappointed in the toughness he showed by hitting the ground after a nice second quarter 23 yard gain on 3rd and 7 without being touched by a Bronco player. C’mon Reche, that was a nice play, but how about a little toughness and fight for 3 or 4 extra yards? But overall, he was open some and could be a solid contributor once they get everyone back and clicking together. It’s just going to continue to take a bit of time.

TIGHT ENDS: Ben Watson had some good plays, but one egregious drop. He is basically in his second year and on a pace to catch 70 balls. That isn’t too shabby and save for those occasional lapses in concentration, he is a growing weapon for the Patriots. Daniel Graham had an off night and wasn’t his usual dominant blocking self.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Good job pass protecting. Horrible job run blocking. That goes for all of them. None of them stood out and most were pushed around in the running game, save for a few plays here and there. This is surprising considering the usual physical, tough nature of the Patriots line. Very surprising.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Ty Warren had a stellar game, which is becoming routine for him. Vince Wilfork seemed to out physical Denver center Tom Nalen and he was forced into several holds which he got called for. Probably a few more he got away with. But a disappointing showing for the rest of the line. Richard Seymour needed to have a Richard Seymour dominant game and he didn’t. The rest were non-descript. They got gashed too much in the running game, couldn’t seem to contain outside when they needed to and only got mediocre pass rush on Denver quarterback Jake Plummer most of the night.

LINEBACKER: Junior Seau had a very nice game. Tedy Bruschi was okay, especially considering his limitations with a cast on his hand. The rest of this unit was horrible. Roosevelt Colvin did nothing, got sucked inside too often and let Broncos running back Tatum Bell get outside on him. Mike Vrabel was unusually invisible. Tully Banta-Cain too. The talk today seemed to be the defense did okay because they only gave up 17 points. By my view, they let Denver stay on the field too often, allowed them to change negative field position into decent field position too often, even if they didn’t score. They allowed them off the hook too often and allowed them to run too much. They generated little pass rush and couldn’t get stops when and where they really needed them. They had some penalties, albeit a couple questionable ones. And they created no turnovers. The linebackers were a big part of that. A very off night for them, again, except for Seau.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: I thought Eugene Wilson was having a good game until he got hurt in the second half with what appeared to be a right hamstring injury as I saw him grabbing at that area on the sidelines. He saved a touchdown early in the game with a nice open field tackle on Bell when Bell broke free up the middle from the front seven. Chad Scott also had a nice game and some good hits in limited action. Rodney Harrison was okay, particularly in the running game. Besides that, not much to like here. Ellis Hobbs got beat for a touchdown. Asante Samuel gave up plays too. James Sanders made some big mistakes, including missing a tackle on Javon Walker’s game break 82 yard touchdown which made it 17-0. Not a good night overall.

KICKING GAME: Stephen Gostkowski again kicked the ball too low after appearing to slip a bit on the wet turf. That is the way the fields are up here and in fact will only get worse. I will say though that the unit as a whole let the guy come in from the right side untouched who got the block and you could sort of see it coming almost immediately from the snap. The snap wasn’t great either. There appears to be issues with this whole operation, not just Gostkowski, that needs to be addressed. Decent night kicking from Josh Miller and some nice coverage from Randall Gay. But too many penalties again and it cost them field position which could have made a major difference in the game several times.

On to Cincinnati. I don’t think the Patriots match up well here, particularly on the road. So it may get worse before it gets better. But I remain convinced it will get better and this team will be fine. Its early, every loss hurts. But I suppose wins sometimes can get blown out of proportion how good they really were. And losses can get blown out of proportion how one sided they really were. A lot of time, a few plays here or there, a few changes and the whole perception is different without really changing much in the level of play. That is what happened here. The Patriots will be fine. They’ll eventually get some turnovers on defense. They have mostly good players and they won’t always have off nights. The passing game will click. They’ll win their division and a lot of games. They’ll be around come playoff time. Its not time to panic, and that will remain true even if they lose this week to the Bengals, which I suspect they will.

Game Day Blog — Another Sunday That Will Live in Ignomy

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

“It’s still a game of passion and emotion. When you’ve lost that, you’ve lost everything,” – John Madden, NBC Sports, 10:45 PM, September 24, 2006

Nuff said.

Another humiliating, debilitating loss to the Denver Broncos, every bit as ridiculous as the 25 that preceded it. It was a rancid, foul performance at every turn. Shocking from a team that had supposedly rededicated itself in the wake of a crushing playoff loss just 8 months ago.

I guess that was before Tom Brady threw up his hands, put on his blinders, and decided that he – like his predecessor – just doesn’t have enough weapons around him. Gone, apparently, are the days when Brady would deign to throw to a talentless oaf like Fred Coleman in an effort to win a game.

Say what you will, but the national audience that tuned in tonight will go to bed tonight fully believing that the Patriots stink.

They have every right to. God help them – and us – next week.

Game Day Blog — Broncos pulling away from failing Pats, 10-0

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

After a tense opening quarter and a half, during which both teams were content to battle simply for field position, this one is suddenly slipping away from the Patriots.

The Denver Broncos scored 10 points in the last five minutes of the first half and for the second straight home game, the Patriots left for halftime to a chorus of boos from their own fans.

The Patriots simply are not a very good football team right now. They look lifeless, and they’ve lost any life they had in the stands.

Denver has been able to move the ball on the ground with Tatum Bell, and once again Patriots fans are subjected to the maddening sight of a Broncos back regularly running free in the Patriots secondary. Jake Plummer, who had been busy stinking up the league before arriving in New England, suddenly is the model of efficiency, hitting several third down conversions to set up the game’s first score, a Jason Elam field goal, and a late touchdown ( a 32 yard Plummer throw to Javon Walker, who muscled through Ellis Hobbs for the score) that warned of further trouble for the reeling Patriots.

New England’s running game has been shut down completely, and Tom Brady looks hopeless whenever he heads back to pass. Fine, the Pats bumbled away his top two receivers; he’s still playing like horseshit, and his hangdog expressions aren’t helping anybody. The rest of the team looks to Brady, and the message he’s giving them right now is the worst possible one.

To add insult to injury, literally, the Patriots have lost Matt Light (a leg injury when Corey Dillon rolled up on him) and Dillon himself (arm). Laurence Maroney can’t get anything started in relief of Dillon, but Wesley Britt held his own while filling in for Light.

The Patriots have to pull one out of their ass now. Unless the quarterback wipes his nose and gets over it, and the defense digs in their heels and takes away Bell, we’re going to end up with an all too familar result.

Game Day Blog – Jackson Out

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Rookie Chad Jackson, who had an impressive debut just one week ago, is back on the shelf tonight with his persistent hamstring problem.

He may be idle in part due to the wet, slippery field at Gillette tonight. According to Mike Reiss, rain fell awhile ago, and footing may be a concern. Combined with the expected wind, this force an emphasis on the ground game, which may be the best thing for both sides anyway.

Rod Smith, who suffered his third concussion in a year last week, is apparently in the Broncos lineup.

Game Day Blog – 1 o’clock games

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Well, the division-favorite, Super Bowl-bound Miami Dolphins have finally broken through this afternoon with a gritty, character-building win over the always tough Tennessee Titans, who have now lost 26 of their last 35 games. It’s no small accomplishment to rattle the usually unflappable Kerry Collins, especially when he’s playing on the road. Today, Miami proved that narrow win over Matt Cassel, Bam Childress and Matt Chatham last January was no mirage.

Crisp, clean game played by the Bengals and Steelers today. A total of 5 interceptions, 3 fumbles and 7 sacks (5 given up by the Bengals). I really thought the Pittsburgh defense was the most impressive unit on the field, yet you look up at the end and they’ve given up four touchdown passes. Huh? To me, Carson Palmer looked slow and indecisive. And doesn’t he feel those pass rushers about to clobber him? Ben Roethlisbeger wasn’t any better, throwing two horrible picks himself. So much for the Young Lions this week.

I like that Cincinnati secondary, though. They hit, and they have a nose for the ball. We’ll need to keep an eye on them.

It was good to see Jeff Triplette working the game. Because it means he’s not in New England.

The CBS post game show switched over the the Bills and the Jets just long enough for me to see an onside kick muffed by Matt Chatham, then recovered by Andre Davis.

Isn’t Deion Branch about to make his Seahawks debut?

Why can’t we get players like that?

Game Day Blog – I’ve Read Your Book!

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

I must be getting soft.

I haven’t been able to work up a bit of hatred for the Broncos this week.

The Patriots long-time nemesis returns tonight for what amounts to the first ‘big game’ of the 2006 campaign. You’d think I’d be beside myself. Yet I cannot summon anything but weary resignation.

My hat goes off to those magnificent bastards. Say what you will about Denver, when it comes to the Patriots, the Broncos have very few regrets.

The Broncos are 25-15 (.625) over the Pats since the two AFL clubs began their rivalry in 1960. And the truth is the Patriots held the series advantage (10-7) prior to the merger, which means New England has dropped 18 of its last 23 (.217) games with Denver.

In that context, Bill Belichick’s 2-4 record (.333) seems robust.

The reason for the futility is clear.

We can instantly think of any number of earth-moving, self-inflicted wounds that the Patriots have suffered in these games – all the way back to Mosi Tatupu and Tony Eason, through Bill Parcells and the eligible Tedy Bruschi, right up to Ellis Hobbs, Troy Brown and yeah, even Tom Brady.

Now do the same drill with the Broncos. Can you think of any? I’m sure there are one or two.
That’s just the point. One or two. Deltha O’Neal muffed a punt once, I think.

You could fill a book (probably by Michael Felger) on the Patriots game-losing miscues at the hands of the Broncos, but you could write Denver’s on one of those microscopic sticky notes and still have enough room to make your grocery list.

Maybe I hate them after all.

****

One theory this week was that the Patriots may be able to run right at Denver’s defense, which is thought to be more quick than strong at the point of attack. I have no idea if that’s true (does Al Wilson, for example, seem meek to you?), but it scratches me where I itch. Controlling the line of scrimmage and bulling straight ahead with Corey Dillon could go a long way towards backing off the Denver blitz that buried the Pats in the playoffs. And putting the egg in the trusty hands of Dillon (just 17 lost fumbles in 2,455 career carries) is one way of keeping it off the ground.

****

Speaking of great running games, Mike Carlson of Cold Hard Football Facts wrote a terrific column this week about the 06 Atlanta Falcons, which led into some great memory lane stuff on the 1978 Patriots, the greatest rushing team in the history of the NFL.

It’s awesome, and for me, it has been YEARS since I have thought of James McAllister.

****

It is going to be one long day. As always, we’ve got Mike Reiss to keep us occupied. He’s sure to be along soon with inactives and the like. As I’ve said before, his blog is an indispensable part of every game day.

Tom Curran ain’t bad either. From Tom, we’ve already learned that today’s track is slick in Pittsburgh.

GDRV Roundtable

by Greg Doyle
[email protected]

Well, here we are for another week of the Roundtable and it comes before a game a lot of Patriots fans have had circled since the schedule came out. This should be a good test of where the Patriots are at. Although it appears both Buffalo and the New York Jets may have been underrated to a certain extent going into the season, neither is a legitimate threat for a championship. Now comes an opponent that many feel should be, even if they are off to a slow start, in Denver. So let’s see what is going on in Patriots-land headed into this big, prime time matchup.

There has been some talk Eugene Wilson is off to a disappointing start this season and is still not back to his 2003-2004 level. Is this true?

Greg: I don’t see it. He may not quite be playing at his 2003-2004 level, but neither is Rodney Harrison yet and that has to make a difference. I will concede he had a somewhat down year, for him, in 05. But not nearly as bad as sometimes portrayed. He is off to a much better start this year and a couple open field tackles he didn’t make (along with others) can exaggerate the volume of some who don’t know what else to say. But how anyone can say he played bad against Buffalo when the defense held them to 10 points and 240 yards is beyond me. And any talk he isn’t an above-average safety, albeit not quite yet at his best level, is pretty ridiculous in my opinion.

Bruce: Well, one of my friends was screaming WILSON!!! in his best Tom Hanks voice for much of the afternoon Sunday, so I don’t think that was a good sign. However, when a player in the secondary doesn’t finish a tackle, the play is usually magnified beyond the scope of where it actually belongs in his overall body of work. Wilson hasn’t made that “leap” to being the great player that many people expected, but he’s still a young guy who brings a lot to the secondary.

Scott: I just wish he could get back to his 03-04 form in terms of picks, being that he IS the centerfielder and all. He’s had just one interception since the start of 2005.

The Jets and Bills gave the Patriots two pretty competitive games, in the final analysis. Did we underrate these two teams? Are they playoff contenders? Should the Patriots be worried about the second time around against these teams?

Scott: I can’t say the Jets have impressed me as much as the Bills (I think we definitely overlooked them, and Dick Jauron, who has put together a good defense or two before), but I’ll say that I think the Patriots have to be worried whenever they play a divisional game. Unless they’re playing the Dolphins, who suck.

Bruce: It’s still too early to tell. Both games had elements which aren’t going to be seen again. With the Bills, it was the first time facing a new regime, and there wasn’t a lot of film that could used for preparation against this specific team. They were also fired up right out of the blocks, in their first game under the new staff. The next time around, there will be a lot more to look at and prepare for. It will be in Buffalo, so I expect another tight game. For the Jets, it was their home opener, and lest we all forgot, the Patriots ran out to a pretty easy 24-0 lead on this club. Whether they got a little complacent, or whether Eric Mangini and the Jets made some adjustments, I’m not sure, but the game was never really in doubt in my mind. I don’t see the Jets as playoff contenders.

Greg: I think we did underrate them to a degree, particularly Buffalo. Buffalo has a good defense and a smart coach who’ll play conservative and knows how to keep games close. I suppose they could make the playoffs with a few breaks. But I still consider them a long shot and with all their young players, they’ll have a down stretch. The Jets we may have underrated, but they’re still not good. They have a couple more players than maybe we first thought, Jerricho Cotchery impressed me the other day and Kerry Rhodes is a good young safety. But they still should be a bad team and if they win six games, I’d say Mangini did a decent job. I’d say the game up in Buffalo could be a tough matchup if Buffalo can sustain their current play, which is questionable, but I don’t see much chance of the Jets coming up to Gillette and even coming very close.

So, can the Patriots keep up this impressive ground game they’ve had through two games?

Greg: Yes, absolutely, as long as they’re in good health. They have a great set of backs. Maroney is a potential game-breaker, Dillon looks healthy and is dishing out serious physical punishment to the opposing defenses and Kevin Faulk is a good draw back and change of pace. The line will only get better and are all pretty young. It looks good and should be great by the second half of the season, again, assuming health.

Scott: I’m at my happiest when the Patriots run the ball they way they have. The chuckleheads that were crowing about Dillon getting old and slowing down should get the hell out there and try to tackle him in the 4th quarter sometime. I suppose they might break a manicured nail, or muss up their Supercuts TV hairstyle. So its probably safer for you to stay in the pressbox and continue being a Yellow Journalist, which is what you do best, ‘Felgy’. Maroney’s been good, too, as has Faulk, and don’t count out Bully Brother Heath Evans, who will make a play or two here and there. Barring unforseen injury (less likely with the way they’re spreading it out), they should keep rolling, and may end up with the best running game in the NFL. I have to pinch myself to make sure this isn’t just a dream.

Bruce: Yes, health is obviously the key here, both for the backs and for the offensive line. I think this is going to continue to be strength of the team all season. If they get the passing game up to speed, I see the running game being even more effective.

Tom Brady has not been on top of his game. What is the reason? Are we seeing a general decline in Brady or do you expect the same old Tom Brady to reappear soon?

Bruce: Well, as we know, two games is AB-SO-LUTELY enough time to pass swift and final judgment on players and teams. I say Brady’s cooked.

Right. Well, I don’t know if we’ll see the Brady of last year on a consistent basis immediately…it’s going to take some time to build up the rapport and trust with the new receivers. It’s been noted that he could just nod or make eye contact with Givens or Branch and then they would both know what the other was thinking. That doesn’t happen overnight. It’s worth noting that in the final drive against the Jets, the guys Brady was throwing to in the key spots were Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk…two guys Brady has been throwing to for years. Brady will be fine. As long as he doesn’t take a blind side hit each week like he has the first two weeks.

Scott: I’m sure there’s been some sort of crisis in confidence here, what with the Branch situation blowing up just before (and after) the opening game. He’s just made some really lousy throws, which is unlike the accurate Brady. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Tom’s proven himself to be THE consummate pro, and given a little time, and repetition, he’ll even out. First step will be to play two good halves of football in one week.

Greg: Well, I think he’s been decent but not great so far. I am not worried. Probably a combination of some pretty good defense, new receivers and early season rustyness has had him a bit off. Look for him to break out soon and pull some of those vintage Tom Brady games we’ve all gotten used to.

Well, a much better week for me at 5-1. Phew, that was embarrassing. My record now stands at 5-7. Bruce also went 5-1 and is now 9-3 and Scott did as well, so his record also stands at 9-3. Lets look at the big Jacksonville at Indy matchup, the Jets visiting Buffalo, Miami trying to get untracked at home versus Tennessee, Baltimore visiting Cleveland a big AFC North matchup with the Bengals visiting the Steelers and we’ll step outside the AFC for one game and look at Monday night’s matchup of Atlanta traveling to New Orleans for the first game in the Superdome and in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina in what should be an emotional game.

Greg: Some good games this week. I like Jacksonville to surprise Indy and knock them off. Jacksonville is playing well right now and always gives Indy tough games. I like Buffalo at home to take out the Jets. Miami got a blessing in Tennessee showing up on their schedule, that should get them untracked and they’ll be the Titans. I will call for Cleveland to upset Baltimore at home and the Bengals to take out the Steelers as well. Finally, lets go with New Orleans as the sentimental pick to win the return to New Orleans Monday night.

Scott: Jacksonville is a plucky bunch off to an impressive start, and everybody wants to go steady with them all of a sudden, which means Indy will win, and steal at least a few of their dates in the process. I’m all about the Buffalo Bills. I’m serious – they finish ahead of the Miami this season. I’m going with it – they’re clearly better anyway. I hope to God the Titans can stick a shiv in those frauds this week, but you know, I can’t pick ‘em, so it’s Miami for me. After all, we are keeping track here, and I’m only four games ahead of Doyle. You know who else I hate? Baltimore. Screw them. One year they’re 10-6, the next year they’re 6-10, the next year they’re 9-7, the year after they’re 7-9. I don’t care if they’re due again, they’re nothing, from their mirror-loving head coach on down. Even if they get to the playoffs by some miracle, they’re one and done, son. Give me the Browns, just out of spite. I’ll take the Steelers at home against the Bengals, because you know what? I’m actually starting to like the Steelers. I can’t explain it. Shoot me. Step outside the AFC? Why would we do that? Since I have to pick, I’ll go strong with the Saints, finally arriving home. This also allows me to pick against Michael Vick, who I dislike so much he ought to be playing for Miami or Baltimore.

Bruce: These are much tougher games to pick than last week. I’m sticking with Indy at home, the Jaguars defense is tough (I have them in my fantasy league) but this is the regular season, and it’s Peyton’s time. If this were a playoff game I’d pick differently. I’m going to go with Buffalo finally getting a home game, and Miami will dispatch the Titans. Baltimore is going to send Romeo Crennel’s squad to 0-3 and I agree that the Bengals will take out the Steelers. I’m also going to take New Orleans.

What about the big Patriots-Denver game? Can the Patriots handle this team they traditionally struggle with? What will happen? All three of us got their game right last week and are 2-0 calling for the Patriots to win.

Greg: This is a tough game, but I’ll call for the Patriots to pull it out. Denver should get a little bit more untracked offensively, but the Pats defense is good. The ground game should help control the clock some. Lets go with Patriots to win 23-17.

Scott: The Broncos can’t score, apparently, but what is equally as apparent is that no one can score on them. One good thing is that the Broncos are towards the back of the pack in run defense so far (allowing averages of 31 attempts and 135 yards a game; the Patriots are almost half that), so, you know…..giddyup. I am going to be seriously pissed if Jake Plummer picks this week to get untracked. I’m going with the Pats (shocker), 13-9.

Bruce: I hate the Broncos. I don’t know if that has been mentioned on these pages at all. I hate them because they beat the Patriots. It’s what they do. Some of the most heartbreaking and ugliest losses in Patriots history have come at the hands of this franchise. Mike Shanahan seems to be able to match moves on the chessboard with Bill Belichick, and strange, never-seen-before things tend to happen when these clubs get together. Usually these things cause the Patriots to lose. (The intentional safety in Denver being the notable exception.) I’m going with the Patriots 27-10.

So who is the mediot of the week this week?

Greg: Lets go collective and go with all the media, local and national, who were fawning over Miami as the flavor of the off-season for months. They ignored that Daunte Culpepper was horrible last year before he got hurt in his first experience without Randy Moss. They ignored the loss of Ricky Williams. They ignore the weak offensive line. They ignored the defensive backfield changes. Miami probably will still get their act together and make something of a run. But they’re clearly not there yet at this very moment. And any thought they’d just open the season on a run because they were on one to end last year against bad and/or disinterested opponents was silly.

Bruce: Well, my first instinct was to go with Steve DeOssie. His sneering was at an all time high this past weekend and it was incredibly annoying. He was condescending, arrogant and patronizing in talking about who Tom Brady is going to throw to now. He did it on the radio and on television, and really bugged the hell out me. However, a couple of out-of-town columnists made a late charge this week. Jason Whitlock on ESPN Page2 named the Patriots as his most-fraudulent 2-0 club and predicted big losses to Denver and the Bengals the next two games. The Patriots could well lose these games, but according to Whitlock, it will be because of Bill Belichick’s arrogance. Then on Thursday Dave Krieger in the Rocky Mountain News ripped Belichick limb-to-limb, and the only explanation seems to be that Belichick actually makes lazy writers like Krieger work to do their jobs and doesn’t fill up their notebooks with great quotes that they can use to make up half their story.

Scott: How about every two-bit, second-rate sportswriter taking the occasion of the Belichick/Mangini matchup to write days worth of out and out fiction about Belichick? Remember when President Bush took over and the first big story was that Clinton staffers had trashed the West Wing and written profanties on the walls, probably with their own feces? Turned out none of it ever happened, which didn’t stop people from writing about it as if it did. I’m pretty sure the jackholes that wrote those stories were assigned to the Jets-Pats game last weekend. God, I hate them all. I cannot imagine a more corrupt, bottom feeding profession. Crack whores have more integrity. If a sportswriter was on fire, I wouldn’t put him out. I’d just wonder why there couldn’t be TEN sportswriters on fire.

Itty Bitty Running Back by Committee

By Bill Barnwell, Football Outsiders – special to BSMW Patriots Game Day

Week 3 brings the Patriot-vanquishing Denver Broncos to Massachusetts on Sunday night. While I’d love to provide some numbers correlating playoff performance to ref-pocketing for the BSMW readers, one playoff game is exactly that: one game. Had the Patriots played more like… the Patriots in that game, they easily could have won it. But I’m sure you already knew that.

What the Broncos mean to me is something entirely different: fantasy football agony. Anyone who plays knows what I’m talking about — the Broncos have essentially made running backs entirely fungible as part of their offense, mixing and matching everyone from Clinton Portis to Ron Dayne into their schemes over the last few years. This is often referred to in the media as a running back by committee, which is a misnomer in much the same sense that the Red Sox didn’t operate (or intend to operate, I would imagine) a “closer by committee” in 2003. The Broncos don’t use a multitude of backs each year for a significant number of carries each; they do, however, not worry about replacing a previously successful back with another one, placing their trust in their scouting abilities and that the pieces surrounding the running back — his offensive line and the quarterback — will remain solid enough to make his life that much easier.

While the Broncos don’t actually run a committee at tailback very often, the concept intrigues me, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Almost every time a running back committee rolls around, they usually get a nickname (most recently “Thunder and Lightning” for either Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne or Warrick Dunn and TJ Duckett; most recent running back combinations seem to be based on “Of Mice and Men”, with the heavier back often ending up like Lenny) and media attention. What I wanted to determine was relatively simple: do teams that use multiple running backs perform better than teams that don’t?

To do this, I employed an old methodology from the Bill James’ Abstract days. Using the criteria I’ll list in a second, I located 41 teams that used what I considered to be a running back committee. For each of those 41 teams, I gave them a buddy. Those “buddy” teams had the most similar rushing statistics to the team employing the running back by committee in the year, but did not operate the running back by committee themselves. For example:

RBmatch.jpg

As you can see, these teams have eerily similar numbers — they’re the closest match between two teams I was able to find. The 49ers employed Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler at halfback that year, each of whom carried the ball 176 times; St. Louis, meanwhile, had Ottis Anderson. Ottis had 296 carries, while no one else on the Rams had more than 75. As you can see, both teams did reasonably well for themselves.

To determine which teams used a running back by committee, I found those 41 teams from 1978 (the advent of the 16 game season) through 2005 that fit these rules:

  • Had two backs who played more than 12 games (to eliminate the strike season as well as situations where a back got hurt and another took over, since that’s not what is being analyzed here)
  • Had those two backs carry over 100 times each
  • Had the second back carry the ball 90% (or more) as often as the starter did

So then, the Dunn and Duckett committee doesn’t make it (since Duckett never had the required percentage of carries to qualify, outside of the one year Dunn was injured and missed several games), but the Kevin Faulk and Antowain Smith pairing from 2003 does.

The results were a little surprising.

results.jpg

Whew, that’s a big ol’ chart. I highlighted that 1986 Patriots’ season solely in amazement as to how awful it was — it’s unfathomable to me that a team couldn’t even average three yards (and the requisite cloud of dust) a carry over an entire season, let alone a team that won eleven games! It wasn’t just one back who held the team down, either; Craig James averaged 2.8 yards per carry, Tony Collins 2.6, Mosi Tatupu 2.4… it was a mess. Really, Stanley Morgan was the 2005 Steve Smith of that team. Eleven games!

The research found that teams who employ a running back committee perform very slightly, but not significantly, better than those teams who get the bulk of their yards from one back. What this means to me, then, is that as long as you can get your rushing yards from somewhere, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s from one running back or two; that’s a very useful data point when determining whether to trade for or sign a star running back (I’m looking in your direction, Arizona).

The next question, then, is whether the running back by committee approach is more cost-effective than going single-back. The USA Today Salary Database has information ranging back to 2000, which means we can look at the compensation paid by the final six teams in the study. I included all the running backs for each team, so we can determine what the overall spending on the position is to achieve the (similar) rushing results.

pricetag.jpg

That really surprised me. Of course, there are a million and one accounting tricks when it comes to NFL teams and the salary cap, but when you judge the players’ compensation based on the total salary they earned in that season (as opposed to their cap hit), the committee was more expensive every year except for one — when the Pats out produced Eddie George & company for over $1.3 million less. While a larger sample might show different results, this is a small data point in favor of foregoing the committee route in order to commit to one back and paying his backups significantly less than, say, the second and third backs in a committee might make.

Unfortunately, this study doesn’t provide any quick and dirty conclusions as to what the better model for building a staff of running backs is. What it does show, though, is that the difference between the two, when it comes to winning, is minute and dependent upon the other factors that make up a team.

Second Look: Patriots at New York Jets

by Greg Doyle
[email protected]

Sunday’s visit to the New York Jets by the Patriots certainly started out for two and a half quarters as the dominating performance fans who have been watching this team grew familiar wih during the Super Bowl seasons. But momentum is a funny thing. A few plays turned the tide and almost got the Jets tied up in the game. Still, you have to credit the Patriots for putting the game away with an impressive, clock killing drive and the one thing that has become apparent about this Patriots squad thru the exhibition season and now into the regular season is they have the ability to put together long, clock killing, methodical drives at times. More so than at any time during the Belichick-era, at least by the early returns. If this offense starts to gell, that could be an ability that separates them from the pack at some point. On to the tape.

QUARTERBACKS: Tom Brady did not have the horrible performance that has been portrayed by some in the media. Really, only two glaring mistakes were evident. The long throw to Doug Gabriel that was picked off was an uncharacteristic forced toss. And the strip sack that resulted in a Jets possession in good field position was Brady’s fault. There were two blitzers coming from the back side, Kevin Faulk could only pick up one and did so, Brady has to account for the other guy and he seemingly didn’t recognize it coming at all. Still, he made some really good throws. The rifle shot on third and long to Ben Watson on the first touchdown drive was a key throw. His methodical completions to ice the game, practically, on their last drive was vintage Tom Brady. He’s working with some new receivers here, its still not finely tuned. But it should get better every week and I see nothing to indicate Tom Brady won’t be Tom Brady very shortly.

RUNNING BACK: Another good performance by all the backs. Corey Dillon actually looked quicker to me this week than last and has now put together two excellent weeks with his highly motivated, punishing running style. One concern to watch is an apparent injury he suffered on his last carry. He walked off okay, but after such a promising start it would be a shame to see him suffer a set back. Laurence Maroney wasn’t quite as good this week, but still very impressive. His quickness really is something to marvel at and you have to think its only a matter of time before he breaks off a 50-plus yard TD run some week. Kevin Faulk made some critical catches down the stretch. And Heath Evans, while he wasn’t in there much, could be seen throwing some nice blocks on several plays when he was in there.

WIDE RECEIVER: A good day for the most part. Troy Brown has played well and is picking up as a more focal point of the offense to the point he reminds one of his best days as a top NFL receiver again. Chad Jackson had a touchdown in his first NFL game and displayed excellent size and quickness, as well as the ability to play physically. He did drop a long pass, but his hands are good and he’ll haul that in most of the time. Reche Caldwell had a couple nice, short catches for first downs and, although not spectacular, has now done a solid job two weeks in a row, though he hasn’t been featured much. Doug Gabriel didn’t show much in his Patriots debut and did look a bit lost out there still.

TIGHT END: A good day for this trio of Ben Watson, Daniel Graham and David Thomas. All had big catches down the field and with the exception of Thomas on one play, all did a good job blocking. This is one of the better tight end units in the league.

OFFENSIVE LINE: An improved performance from the Buffalo game. Ryan O’Callaghan was far better this week than last and had a few dominating blocks which cleared the way for good ground gains. He was also very good in pass protection. Logan Mankins also had a very good game and plays with a mean streak. The rest were solid.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Ty Warren and Jarvis Green had tremendous games. Both made quite an impact and Green seemingly caused disruption on most series he was in there for. Warren was a force all game long and he is, by far, off to his best start as a Patriot. Richard Seymour proved too much to handle in the middle as well, to the point the Jets had to pull their starter at guard and try someone new. No Jets lineman proved much of a match for him. Vince Wilfork also was good and didn’t allow much to happen in the run game, though he did have a stupid double penalty that helped the Jets get untracked. Mike Wright didn’t do much in his first NFL start.

LINEBACKER: A good day for the most part. Rosevelt Colvin was far quieter this week, but Junior Seau picked up the slack and had a fine day filling gaps in the running game. His big stop on third down before the Jets got stopped on a fourth down play was critical and a beautiful play. It helped give the Patriots their final touchdown on their subsequent possession, a score which ended up proving big. Mike Vrabel had a decent day and a sack and Tedy Bruschi was up and down in his first action of the season. He showed enough, however, to make one think he’ll be up to speed quickly. Tully Banta-Cain also did a decent job. The defense on the whole was very good, save for a couple bad plays in the secondary.

SECONDARY: Through two and a half quarters, this unit was very good. Michael Felger pointed out Eugene Wilson as someone who got schooled “all day” by Laverneus Coles. I only saw two plays where Wilson was even in coverage on Coles and could be considered bad plays by him. Other than that, he had a very good day. Ellis Hobbs was not as good this week as last week and got embarassingly run over by Coles, who is deceptively strong and physical, on the Jets last touchdown. Asante Samuel almost jumped a route for a touchdown early in the game and was in general pretty good. Rodney Harrison improved as well and was in on many more plays than the previous week productively, but still is not back to his old form. Chad Scott did a decent job and the flukeish touchdown the Jets receiver Jericho Cotchery got after a very good hit by Scott really can’t be blamed on him. It was just a very good, athletic play by the receiver. Overall, this unit defintely had its scary moments, reminiscent slightly of last year, but the number of plays were fairly limited and not yet an area of concern.

KICKING GAME: Josh Miller was fine again and Willie Andrews showed some good stuff in kick coverage. Stephen Gostkowski seemed to rush his final field goal attempt after a somewhat bad snap. This cost the Patriots a chance to ice the game and was the first display of nerves by Gostkowski I have seen since he joined the team. The result was a low trajectory and a block. Adam Vinatieri was once almost cut early in his rookie season after missing several field goals, but rebounded with a big game in what was likely his make or break game in 1996. This was just one bad kick, the first one Gostkowski has made since July under game conditions. No reason to worry yet, every kicker gets an allotment of those on occasion.

Next week, a big rematch against Denver. The Patriots will be looking to get to 3-0 in the AFC. The media will focus on the bid to avenge last year’s playoff lost the Patriots suffered in Denver, but really its just about getting a leg up on what is likely to be a competitor for playoff seeding come January. I’m sure Belichick will be telling everyone last year is last year and doesn’t matter and will, thus, be accused of stonewalling for not buying into manufactured storylines. But he’s right, last year doesn’t matter. What matters is trying to knock off a team and get two games up on a team that could pose a threat down the line if you don’t get them while you have the chance now at home. It should be a great game.

Game Day Blog – Inconsistent, immature Patriots hold off comebacking Jets, 24-17

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

For the second straight week the Patriots matched a good half of football with a hideously bad one, blowing a 24 point 3rd quarter lead before hanging on at the last second to defeat the New York Jets 24-17.

This is the youngest Patriots team of the Bill Belichick era, and it may be showing. Once again, New England’s apparent immaturity and inconsistency nearly cost the team a devastating divisional loss.

The veterans have hardly been better. Senior members of the defensive backfield allowed two long scores due to a plethora of badly missed tackles, and quarterback Tom Brady went stone cold to the point that he barely cracked a 50% completion percentage. He tried to force an unnecessary long pass downfield to a double-covered Doug Gabriel, and the subsequent interception (by David Barrett) set up a Jets touchdown that suddenly cut the lead to 10 points.

There will be no end of storyliners that will this week blame Brady’s problems on Deion Branch, David Givens, and the allegedly spendthrift New ngland braintrust. One word: bullshit.

Blaming lack of timing or coordination doesn’t account for the open receivers that have been badly missed, especially today. Spare me the crap about a fuming and defenseless Brady forced to make chicken salad from chicken feathers. Make the plays. Only a spin doctor will insist they’re not there.

The second half began promisingly for the Patriots, when the defense stopped two consecutive short yardage runs at midfield (first by Junior Seau, then by Jarvis Green and Ty Warren) to take over on downs from the desperate Jets. A handful of plays later, Laurence Maroney scored his first NFL touchdown on a one-yard plunge, and the 24-0 rout was on.

Not so fast. The Jets had their first score within four plays, thanks to a horrific display of bad tackling by the Patriots. On a 3rd and 13 from his own 29, Pennington hit Jerricho Cotchery on a medium throw to the right sideline. Neither Eugene Wilson nor Chad Scott could tie up Cotchery despite being right on top of him, and he broke away for a 71 yard score that will be portrayed as a heroic effort.

It was a gift.

As was the sequence that followed. Though the Patriots had successfully run the ball all afternoon, they ignored their own 17 point lead and clock killing capabilities to needlessly force the long throw to Gabriel, which handed the ball right back to the Jets.

The gift giving frenzy continued in the next few plays, when Pennington beat a Pats blitz and hit Laveraneus Coles for an underneath route that turned into another Keystone Kops tackling clinic by the New England secondary and linebackers. Wilson, who may have had his worst game as a Patriot today, was the main culprit again, though he had plenty of company. It was suddenly a 24-14 game, and the Patriots looked entirely capable of losing a game they had led comfortably only a few minutes before.

Thanks primarily to these missed tackles, both Coles and Cotchery finished with game with over 100 yards receiving, and Pennington totaled more than 300 yards passing.

Yet there were still more presents waiting underneath the Jets’ tree. On the next New England possession, Brady fumbled after being blasted by an unblocked blitzer for the second consecutive week (I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened if the Pats had only signed Branch, right?), and the Jets had the ball again in Patriots territory. Pennington led them inside the Pats 20, but a Mike Vrabel sack on 3rd and 8 forced a Mike Nugent chip shot that left the Patriots with a 7 point lead.

With the margin down to one score, Brady and Patriots offense took over at their own 30 with 9:20 on the clock, and pulled out an eight-minute drive that appeared to clinch the victory.

But Stephen Gostkowski’s chip shot 29 yard field goal, which would have made it a two-score game with under a minute left, was blocked by Jonathan Vilma on a total breakdown of New England’s special teams, including the rookie kicker, who left it low. Which will no doubt kick off even more bullshit wailing this week. Here’s a news flash for you – even Adam Vinatieri had a few blocked, especially when his line let defenders stream in on simple little chip shots.

Not surprisingly, the Patriots had given Chad Pennington another chance, though admittedly some 90 yards from paydirt.

It was too much to ask, even for New York, who had owned the Patriots through and through for the previous 25 minutes.

Once again the Patriots get the desired result in a most undesirable way. We’ll hear alot about departed receivers and kickers this week, and plenty of talk radio (and print) hysteria.

I wonder if anyone will point out that, most of all, the Patriots need to simply grow up, and stop trying to win games with only 30 minutes of poise and concentration.

Game Day Blog – Pats Handling Jets at Half, 17-0; Rookie Jackson With Impressive Debut

by Scott Benson
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After a sometimes-shaky effort debut last week, the Patriots came out today clicking on virtually all cylinders, taking a 17-0 halftime lead over the Jets at the Meadowlands.

Tom Brady and the Patriots ball-control offense have been sensational, twice driving for more than 80 yards and using nearly ten minutes of clock time, and adding an opportune late first-half touchdown.

Their only misstep has been settling for a field goal on their second drive, depite having first and goal from the Jets seven.

The much-maligned passing game has been solid, and at times spectacular. Brady is 9 for 17 for 125 yards, completing passes to six different receivers, many who were open by a substantial margin.

On the first ball thrown to him as a pro, rookie Chad Jackson reached behind a defender while in mid-air to make a spectacular snare of a 29 yard throw from Brady. The play that helped set up the Pats first score, a 1 yard Corey Dillon punge.

Later, after a terrible Jets punt handed the ball to the Pats at the 50 with a minute left on the clock, Jackson scored his first NFL touchdown with a neat 13 yard grab of a Brady throw along the back line of the end zone.

David Thomas also had his first catch as a pro, working underneath Jet coverage for a wide open pitch and catch that also went for 29 yards. Proving all things come in threes, Dan Graham also grabbed a pretty 29 yard lob from Brady; both plays keyed a 12 play, 87 yard drive for a Stephen Gostkowski….wait for it…… three.

Doug Gabriel has had a few chances – including a close one in the end zone – but has yet to connect with the Patriots quarterback.

The Patriots suddenly fearsome ground game is barreling along with more 80 first half yards. Both Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney have 14 yard runs.

Chad Pennington and the Jets offense hae strung together a few first downs here and there, but have not seriously threatened the Patriots, thanks to New England’s surprise 4-3 alingment (Jarvis Green in for a middle linebacker) that has shut down the running game (about 30 yards) and put consistent pressure on Pennington. The Jets deepest penetration has been to the New England 46. With the return of Tedy Bruschi (who has split time in the middle with Seau), Mike Vrabel has returned to the outside.

Richard Seymour has simply been a dominating beast through the first half.

There’s always room for improvement (two 2nd quater possessions never took flight) but it woiuld have been hard to ask for a better first half by the Patriots. It’s doubly impressive that this performance has come on the road.