September 26, 2016

Game Day Rear View – Patriots Handle Chippy Titans 40-23

gdrv_sm.jpgBy Tim Jordan

For regular readers of Game Day Rear View, you’ve come here expecting to get your weekly game recap from GDRV staple and founder, Scott Benson. I am sorry to be the one to let you know that, in addition to being the proud father of jetsetting children who favor Corsican holidays, Scott is also one of those guys with the New Years Eve anniversary. It was either that or Elvis birthday, but the church was booked. I’ve the pleasure of a swank New Years Eve holiday wedding only once and my wife and I mistakenly spent nearly 90 minutes in the wrong reception at the hotel. After about 60 appetizers, 6 drinks, and, dozens of photos with strangers we finally figured it out. Anyway, that non-sequitor was designed to distract you from the fact that I am here in the place of the esteemed Mr. Benson for the weekly game post.

I am not going to try and mirror his format today, mostly because I couldn’t do even a passable impression of it. Instead, I’ll just post some reactions to the final Patriots game of the 06 regular season and some viewing notes. I’ll start with the obvious. Let’s hope Harrison has a deep bruise and not any structural damage after that questionable hit he took in the first half. I am cautiously optimistic based on the 47 replays I saw, but one never knows and the injury subplot is obviously huge with the playoffs starting next week. Harrison is one of the team’s most important players. Not much more to say about that.

The game itself was entertaining, physical, and very spirited for 4 quarters (even after Brady was pulled in favor of Cassel and, eventually, Testaverde). It seems the team has started to find it’s stride and there were long stretches of the game today that reminded me of the hard hitting, coldly efficient team we saw a few seasons back. It seemed that Tennessee sensed this as well and started getting chippy once they felt the game, and their playoff chances, slipping.

I am giving my 1 lb bag of Double Bubble to Corey Dillon, who played huge today. The Bully Brother accounted for 126 yards of offense and two TD’s in moving past OJ Simpson for 14th on the all-time rushing list. That’s quite an accomplishment and, for some reason, got me wondering about CD’s Hall of Fame credentials. I was using Curtis Martin, in my mind a surefire HOFer, as a comparison and I think another title with Dillon playing a key role could really help his chances. I am a big Dillon fan, if for nothing else, his seething hatred for particular beat writers that look like half the hair dressers on Newbury Street.

As far as the week long debate regarding whether or not the team would try to win or rest starters, it seemed to me that both sides were right. They did exactly that and I am assuming that’s what the plan all week was. It looked like everyone prepared like they would be playing to the final whistle and the coaching staff took it on a situational basis. I think it worked out very well. They played a very physical and well coached football team and answered the bell while not taxing any of the regulars too much (Harrison’s potential injury notwithstanding).

I am going notes format for the rest of my random thoughts because the better half is breathing down my neck to get our New Years Eve rolling. With that:

  • I loved hearing Belichick take responsibility of for the Sauerbrun punt that Pac Man Jones returned for a score, as well as many of Henry’s runs. He went out of his way to do so, I suspect partially because his tirade on Sauerbrun ended up being very public.
  • Penalties are still a problem, but I am hoping it can be attributed to the unique nature of today’s game and opponent.
  • Brady seems like he struggles the most on short passes, particularly the quick outs that used to be his bread and butter on blitzes. Either that, or Troy Brown’s been caught trying to get some rebound action from Bridget Moynihan and Tom takes exception. Poor Troy seems to be the one missing the brunt of those passes.
  • This may be the hardest team in the league to score TDs against right now.
  • Another solid game for Reche Caldwell. The Bug caught 4 passes for 134 yards and a TD, as well as drawing a big 40 yard pass interference penalty in the second quarter. This prompted Metro Micheal Felger to call him a “bottom tier #2 WR” in his post game commentary on the execrable 5th Quarter show. He did this with a straight face and a cashmere sweater on.
  • Seattle finishes the season at 9-7. I was hoping for 8-8, but when that trade was made conventional wisdom was that the pick would be one of the last two in the round. More good news.
  • I am not usually kind to Randy Cross. I think he’s the type of guy that checks his ass out in the mirror, but he and Enberg did a passable job today. If I had to pick nits, I tell Randy that the whole “It’s time to remind people of that!” when the topic of Vinatieri being a good poor weather kicker came up. Otherwise, he didn’t offend me, in fact, I am inclined to agree with him about the final TD. Belichick is on the record many times about his respect for Fisher. I can see his affinity for Testaverde is strong, but I would think restraint may have been the better option in that situation.
  • Wasn’t the open armed tackle that VY made on Samuel after the interception a face mask?
  • There are very few things scarier to me than the visage of Dr. Robert Jarvik. My soul gets a chill as he methodically walks me through Lipitor’s side affects. He looks like this is just an angle towards world domination for him.
  • Speaking off the sinister Aorta specialist: Who is going to stand up and do something about the army of square jawed, 50somethings that the pharmaceutical industry has unleashed upon us each NFL Sunday? I saw more graying temples and plaid shirts than TD passes today. And if Pete Carroll, ever gets sick of coeds and blue chips, I am confident he could be the best pharmaceutical model in the country. Just remember, it may cause diarrhea.

Happy New year, one and all. Have fun whatever you choose to do.

Boogie Chillen’,

tj

Game Day Blog – The Sunday Papers

sunday_links.jpg
by Scott Benson
[email protected]

For more than 60% of the NFL, today is the last day of the 2006 regular season. Game over. Not so for the Patriots, who travel to Tennessee today for a final tune up with the Titans before the league’s second season begins next week. Let’s get the flavor of things with a quick run through the Sunday papers.

One thing I’ve learned by doing these links this season is that Michael Felger sure writes a ton of stuff for every Sunday Herald. I respect that. And typically, Felger writes every Sunday in a snark-free, straight-ahead style that belies his usual synergistic print/broadcast approach. A little bit of Media Mike seeps into today’s coverage, though. He opens by urging the Patriots to play to win today, and put the pressure on the Colts at 4:15. I think Felger’s in the minority here, but its not a position without merit.

For that, we go to Inside the Huddle, where Mike ranks the NFL’s best playoff coaches. Naturally, names like Belichick, Parcells and Shanahan top the list, but can you guess who #6 is? It’s everybody’s fair haired boy, Jets coach Eric Mangini. Some seven spots, for example, ahead of Carolina’s John Fox (5-2). Mangini’s never coached his team TO a playoff game – hell, he hasn’t even clinched it yet – much less WON one, but he’s the NFL’s sixth best playoff coach. Felger is careful to point out that this isn’t a ‘Coach of the Year’ poll – though if it was, he’d pick Mangini. Forgive me if I gag. No question that Mangini has done well to get the Jets to 9-6 and on the playoff brink, but don’t tell me this Mangini=Genius movement isn’t puffed up in great part by the media’s rooting interest in Border War II – The Protege.

Felger follows with some Quick Hits, and naturally gets around to the annual ‘rumors’ of Scott Pioli being targeted for Giants GM and further speculation about Bill Belichick’s contract. I have a low tolerance of this stuff to begin with (let me know when you KNOW something – besides, don’t pretend that ‘Scott Pioli covets the Giants job’ isn’t trotted out every freaking year at this time) but it gets ridiculous when Felger blames the Patriots, not the media, for the speculation. All they have to do is hold a big press conference clarifying everyone’s status for Mike and his friends, and then, the media will have no reason to speculate at all. Yeah. This week I heard from the New York papers that the Krafts would be more likely to let Belichick go than Pioli, because – essentially – Myra doesn’t approve of You Know What. Based on Chistian Peter. If the Krafts had only held a press conference to clarify that. Because the media has NO CHOICE but to speculate unless the team addresses every stinking whacko theory they can think of. What a load of bullshit, Felger.

Lastly, in a historically over-the-top second guess job, Felger suggests that the thrifty Patriots turned their nose up at Titans safety Chris Hope. I’m sure a search of the Herald archives will produce stacks of Felger appeals for Chris Hope while everybody else was screaming about Adam Vinatieri and the receivers. No question Hope is having a solid season for the Titans, but notice Jim Schwartz saying that it took awhile for Hope to get hip to the Titans defense and become a contributor. If that had been here, Felger would have been the first one to blast Hope for ‘not getting it’ and the Patriots for wasting their money on a Steelers retread while better players were ignored. Hindsight indeed, Mike. I’m sure your faithful radio listeners are soaking this up.

Let’s move on. Elsewhere in the Herald, Albert Breer does an extensive piece on how NFL players are surviving sixteen weeks of car wrecks. John Tomase has a Patriots Year in Review, and a list of the highs and lows of the season. I appreciated John’s fair opening to his year in review. Tomase also has today’s notebook, which brings the news that Vince Wilfork, Ben Watson and Kevin Faulk (all coming back from injuries) will be among the missing today.

In the Globe, Mike Reiss’s notebook has his take on the inactives. In his lead piece, Mike wonders which option the Patriots will take today – all in, or all ashore. Or something in between. I honestly have no idea what to expect myself.

Jim McBride thinks the Pats take a flyer – and the Titans take the game – in his scouting report. Amalie Benjamin gets a feature look at David Thomas, author of at least two exceptional plays in the win over Jacksonville. Ron Borges roars through some coaching stories, including Jeff Fisher’s – in this week’s football notes. I’m being careful what I wish for here, but this week’s notes had a little bit of the Borges bite back. Some of his notes entires this year have been sort of bland, but not this week. It’s like he’s getting fired up for the playoffs.

Judging by the headlines, Dan Shaughnessy apparently tells Patriots fans what to expect today. Trust me, you can skip this. Does he really think we believe he knows something about football?

At the ProJo, Shalise Manza Young opens with a Vinny Testaverde appreciation piece, and then gets the twice-comebacking Rodney Harrison for her weekly Who I Am. There’s also an uncredited game analysis.

You know what to do as the morning develops – check Reiss’s Pieces for the latest news. In the meantime, head over to the Patriots News Mashup to see what else is being said about the Pats.

Our friend Tim Jordan will be back later to pinch hit for me on the post game Rear View. Tim’s a great football fan with a hilarious way with words, so it should be a fun read. Enjoy – and by all means, from all of us to all of you – Happy New Year.

GDRV Roundtable

by Scott Benson, Greg Doyle, Tim Jordan and Bruce Allen
[email protected]

The Patriots head to Tennessee this Sunday to end their regular season with a grueling road match at LP Field, home of the surprising Titans. With six straight wins, coach Jeff Fisher and sensational rookie quarterback Vince Young have led a bottomed-out Tennessee squad all the way back from the NFL’s basement (9-23 over the previous two seasons, and 2-7 to start this one) to an outside shot at the AFC playoffs on the last day of the season.

The Titans can get into the playoffs with a win over the Patriots combined with losses by Cincinnati (actually, a tie works here too) and Denver, and a win by the Chiefs. Tennessee would no doubt rather hold their destiny in their own hands, but either way, there’s no denying that the Titans re-emergence is one of the best stories of the NFL season.

In New England, the Patriots seem headed for the fourth seed, yet the possibility for moving up still remains. An Indianapolis home loss to Miami, combined with a Pats win in Music City, would give the Patriots the third seed and a wild card round home game against the sixth and final AFC playoff entrant.

Let’s see what the panel has to say for itself, with the playoff season fast approaching.

Any lingering thoughts about last Sunday’s win over the Jaguars?

Tim: Lingering is right. This is the type of game that really sticks to your ribs as a fan. It was everything you could ever ask for: dramatic without being too cardiac (they were the superior team from start to finish), featuring great plays from new and exciting players (David Thomas most notably, but Gaffney looks pretty damn comfortable out there, doesn’t he?), and it meant the playoff world to the local 11. Just a great way to spend the day as a fan. Hopefully, everybody did so with loved ones who share their passion for great NFL football (I watched while my sonic engineer / patented inventor / Slavic father-in-law looked on like I was watching Faces of Death 7, so be thankful for whoever shared couch space with you). This victory is a great endorsement for this team’s legitimate chance at a prolonged playoff run, although I think the Jaguars are similar to the Steelers (whom the Patriots match up with very well each time they play), a physical and talented team that can be outsmarted. I think that was clearly the case Sunday.

Bruce: Clearly, a lot more positives from this game than from weeks past. Strong play from start to finish. No clusters of turnovers or penalties. Big plays when needed. You’ve got to be encouraged by this performance. A couple of things to nitpick…the defense did give up at least three bug plays, which is a problem they had early in the season, but hopefully they were just a fluke this time around. It was great to have Rodney Harrison and Laurence Maroney back on the field and productive, and David Thomas showed that signs of being that big time receiver at tight end that the Patriots were looking for. I watched this game in the Bay Area with my Grandmother-in-law telling me tales of how great the 1970’s Raiders were and showing me her autographed photos of Jim Plunkett, and snapshots of her taken with Willie Brown and Cliff Branch. She told me that since the Raiders were so bad, she was going to root for the Patriots the rest of the way. I’m still pondering whether that is a good thing.

Greg: Just that it was a pretty good overall performance with the score really not indicative of how much the Patriots outplayed Jacksonville. You had that somewhat flukish run by Jones-Drew and a late TD by Jacksonville, but the Patriots pretty much dominated the play most of the game. That is encouraging.

Scott: I really thought David Garrard was going to run with the ball on that last Jacksonville play. I thought his arm was on the way up for a pump fake when Jarvis Green hit him from behind, which of course caused the ball to come out and his arm to go forward. I’ve since learned I’m the only one who thinks that. Something else I’m probably alone on is Travelin’ Tom Brady, Running Quarterback. I loved the heady sneaks for first downs, and to me, there’s no shame in having to bring it down and go for it once in awhile, especially against a defense that has been allowing nine – I said NINE – points a game at home. I was of course mortified by the shot he took, but I don’t equate that in any way with quick sneaks and something-from-nothing hook slides, which I wholeheartedly endorse. They need to scratch and claw the ball down the field, quite obviously, and it seems to me that’s exactly what he’s doing.

This weekend is bound to remind fans to some extent of last year’s season-ender with Miami. They’ve won their division and clinched a playoff spot, and the odds seem to be against them moving up to the third seed even if they beat Tennessee. What would you like to see Bill Belichick do this weekend? Protect some key starters – maybe even Tom Brady – and let the chips fall where they may, or play it straight up and hope for a break on the third seed?

Bruce: I think they’re going to try and win this game. It’s possible Brady might get some rest, along with some other guys this week, but I think for the most part, the team is going to try and do whatever they can to move in the the # 3 slot in the conference. Indy has to lose, of course, but they’ve been erratic down the stretch, and the Dolphins just might be able to help the Patriots out for once. Anything is possible, I think they might even try to win the game with Matt Cassel getting significant snaps, just to give him some real game experience.

Greg: I’d like to just see them play it out and win the game. What I’d really like is to have a bye, I think that is so huge….last year notwithstanding. But there was no shot at that last year at this point and there is not a shot this year either. Still, I’d like to see them just play the game straight up, win 12 games, possibly get the 3rd seed and keep rolling into the playoffs. But, I don’t expect to see that and I expect to see a heavy dose of Matt Cassel and guys like Marquise Hill and LeKevin Smith. Maybe Willie Andrews will get a pick!

Scott: Playoff permutations aside, I just feel like they’ve worked all season to get into the kind of groove they’ve been in the last two games, as far as cutting turnovers and penalties and just generally clean play, the scrappy offense notwithstanding. I’d hate to see them break that momentum, but I acknowledge the risks associated with that. I’ll still put my chips down on playing my best and trying to beat another good team on the road to keep rolling into the playoffs. They played it coy last year and then played some pretty sloppy football after that.

Tim: I am actually surprised by how much sentiment I’ve read endorsing a scrimmage approach to this game. I was surprised when they did it last year too, but the notable difference was they had full control of their destiny then. A win or a loss determined which opponent they played. They chose the 12 win Jaguars and chose them wisely. They don’t have that luxury this year. Sure, whether they win or lose in Tennessee does factor in, but there are other variables outside of their control this time. For this reason, and the fact that the difference between a 3 and a 4 seed could determine home field should an upset occur to one of the top 2 seeds (ala the AFC Championship game in 1996), tells me that they are playing this one straight. As Brady said earlier this week, “worry about one team instead of 5″. I also think they are equally familiar with each one of their likely first round opponents which could normally be a deciding factor.

In general, do you have any particular preference for a first round playoff matchup? Anybody you’d rather avoid? Do you care?

Greg: In general, I hate these kind of discussions. I guess I’m of the mindset we’ll find out soon enough and I don’t think there is any team the Patriots couldn’t beat or couldn’t lose to. So just discussing it is pointless, it’ll come down to how they play that day against whomever they match up with.

Scott: If the favorites win this weekend, the Patriots will face Denver at Gillette. I know that’s supposed to be a bad match-up and everything (Mike Shanahan has had the better of Bill Belichick), but has any AFC playoff contender had a worse second-half (3-4) than the Broncos? Do the matchups factor in a rookie quarterback that would be starting his sixth NFL game? Do they factor in the 23rd ranked pass defense? Point is, you’d have to put that game at even, at a minimum. I don’t see where Denver is any worse a matchup than any of the other teams in what seems to be a pretty even conference.

Tim: I’ve got this irrational fear of the Jets every year. It’s a deep seeded neurosis with origins from the Tuna Bowls of the nineties and a carryover from that ugly Sunday night game 4 years ago (almost to the day of the Jax game this year). I’d just assume not see them or their turncoat coach again this year (BTW, what are the chances that Charlie Weis has tried to score some referral money from his staple surgeon by giving him Mangini’s address?). I know that I should probably feel the same way about Denver, and to some extent I do, but the odds of losing 4 times in a row to the same team just doesn’t seem likely. I still respect and fear the speed of that Denver defense, especially the linebackers. That type of speed has proven to be very effective against the NE offense. Truth be told, I am more concerned about the divisional round than any of the others. Denver and New York are both tough outs.

Bruce: All playoff opponents are tough. Even though they basically hand-selected their opponent last season, I think that’s not something you can do that often and get away with it. Obviously Denver and the Jets beat the Patriots at Gillette this season, so you’re going to have it in your head that they are capable of knocking the Patriots out. I think we’re familiar with just about all the possible first round foes, and it doesn’t really make difference who they play…it’s going to be a tough game. I guess that’s my long winded way of saying that I don’t care who they play…but I’m glad they’re in.

Let’s dispense with the other games and move right to Pats and Titans. What do you think?

Scott: It seems like the Pats may treat this like any other game, in which case, I think they’ll find a way to outlast the inspired Titans. The Patriots ought to be able to score on the Titans defense (28th in scoring defense, 32nd in yards allowed, 28th against the run, 26th against the pass, though 13th in takeaways), and if the Pats can stop Travis Henry (no sure thing) to consistently force second and longs, I think they’ll handle Young. He’ll never be out of it, though, which makes this feel like last week part two. Pats, by a hair, 20-16. If the Pats end up sitting this one out, Tennessee wins, 21-13.

Tim: I think they win with the under. Vince Young will struggle going against a Belichick defense for the first time and we will all see first hand why the Titan defense should be garnering more attention for their recent winning streak. I think Fisher is a great coach, especially for his dogged persistence with the porn mustache, and he’ll prove a worthier adversary then Del Rio was this past week. I am thinking 10-6 . Something like that.

Bruce: I admire Scott’s approach of picking things both ways. I should’ve been doing that all along! As I said above, I think the Patriots are going to try and win this one, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to risk all their banged-up players. I think Wilfork and Watson, if they play will do so sparingly…just enough to get a taste of being back in action. Brady might not play the whole game. So even though they’re going to try and win, I think Tennessee might try harder, and be jacked up in their home finale. I’m picking the Titans, 24-14.

Greg: I just have the feeling the Patriots will win even without the starters going the whole way and even with the Titans playing it straight up. I’ll go Pats 30-17.

Anybody have a Mediot of the Week?

Tim: I was in Ridgefield, CT (home of the beautiful people with better dressed pets than any person in my family) for the game and had to do some last minute shopping on the boss’s orders. At halftime, I turn on the ignition and, like a cold, scaly hand on my privates, I am greeted by the discordant tones of Andy Gresh admonishing the New England players for the Jones Drew run. “ANY PLAYER, from PEE WEE through the pros knows that you PLAY TO THE WHISTLE! YOU PLAY TO THE WHISTLE!”. It was actually worse than I describe because I also caught the tail end of Tanguay’s voice asking the original question. It’s telling that this was the first thing these two clowns decided to talk about even though the lasting impression from the first half to any fan paying attention was the beautiful 14 play, 7+ minute, 82 yard drive that gave the Patriots the halftime lead. I turned it off instantaneously, it’s the equivalent of listening to a tee-totaling God Squadder while you try and enjoy a few cold ones after all, but it was my only exposure to the local broadcast sports media this week. I have to give them my Mediot of the Week award just on principle for intruding on an otherwise fantastic game experience. You show me a woman Andy Gresh has kissed and I will show you a hairlip you can’t help but stare at.

Bruce: I don’t even want to think about Andy Gresh kissing a woman with a hairlip…nice mental picture, Tim. Thanks. Steve Buckley and Bill Burt put on as annoying a performance as I’ve ever heard on the Big Show Wednesday. They constantly harped on all the negative things that have been around this club all season…the receivers…the team would be better with Deion Branch and David Givens, Corey Dillon is old and slow, they have had a cakewalk schedule etc etc etc. Obviously they did a lot of it to get a rise out of head pom-pom Pete Sheppard, who did his best to defend the club, but Buckley was at his smarmy worst that day, mocking Sheppard all afternoon (Which normally I would be in favor of.) and saying that Pete was going to shout down anyone who said the Patriots have any weaknesses. It’s again the case that this club suffers from comparison to the ’03 and ’04 clubs. But they don’t need to be as good as those teams. But some media types seem to be treating this team like a 4-11 team instead of an 11-4 team.

Greg: With many of the regular idiots in the media on vacation, I think I’ll take a week of vacation from this feature and list some of the guys and gals in the sports media, local and national, I enjoyed the work of this last year. They include Bob Ryan, Mike Reiss, Mike Fine, Mike Lynch, Tom Curran, Jackie MacMullan, Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason, Ron Jaworski, Jerry Remy, Joe Castiglione, Sean McDonough, Dale Arnold, Mike Holley, Shira Springer, Mike Tirico and John Madden, who improved a lot on a new network this year. There are many others, but these are some whose work was top notch off the top of my head.

Second Look: Patriots at Jacksonville

For all the whining, second guessing by armchair experts and half-truths pointed at the Patriots by some media and some fans this season, alls they did in response was win at least 11 games, bettering last season’s record and win their fourth consecutive AFC East title. Some of the fans around here have been spoiled. Still others are just miserable in general and translate that over to all their interests. A lot in the media spend most of their time trying to boost their own profiles, so cherry picking real or imagined weaknesses in the hopes a blind squirell may actually find a nut and they look prescient. That has become pretty much the norm from the Boston sports media and lead to attempts to find negatives in almost everything that happened to an 11-4 team.

And for that miserable section of fans who actually are more negative about the Patriots than idiots like Glenn Ordway, who at least has a perverse incentive of ratings and, consequently, money to provide him motivation for his schtick, well, I think those fans are probably just pretty unhappy about most things, not just the Patriots. Because, really, this team is on an unprecedented run of success. Or at least rarely matched. You don’t always have to win championships to be well run, though they still just may well do that. And you don’t have to be unobjective to see what an excellent system and successful organization they have become that makes the right decision the vast majority of the time.

So lets take a look at how each unit played for the once and present (and probably future) AFC East champs in beating a good Jacksonville team at their home 24-21 Sunday.

QUARTERBACK: A great game by Tom Brady. With the Patriots game plan focused on the pass, he was able to hit a very high percentage of passes on mostly three step drops. He wasn’t perfect, as he missed several open receivers. But he was mostly on target and also found room to scramble for several first downs. Overall, Brady has been much better and consistent and more like himself the second half of the season and that is good news heading into the playoffs.

RUNNING BACK: As I said, the Patriots weren’t focused as much on the run. But Corey Dillon had a couple good, tough runs and a touchdown. And Laurence Maroney made an effective return to the lineup, including a pretty long touchdown run. He showed little rust or injury effects and ran hard and with power. The blitz pickup was good.

WIDE RECEIVER: A fairly effective day. Troy Brown got himself open a number of times and had a few catches, as well as being missed by Brady a couple times despite being open. Jabar Gaffney chipped in some catches and the downfield blocking was good all around.

TIGHTEND: Great day for Dave Thomas. Not only did he show up in the passing game, including a spectacular diving touchdown catch, he blocked extremely well and could be seen involved in some of the big runs the Patriots had as a blocker. Daniel Graham also had a big game as a blocker and with a couple catches. I feel Graham should be the number one priority to get re-signed in the offseason. He is the most complete tightend on the roster.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Very good day overall. The short drops helped in pass protection, but they generally held up well. They did a good job in run blocking in limited opportunities. Nick Kaczur easily had his best day of the year and showed a lot in both the passing and run games at right tackle, rarely getting beat and often times dominating the guys he matched up with. Overall, there were very few breakdowns on the line Sunday.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Good job here. Mike Wright held up well again at nose tackle filling in for the injured Vince Wilfork. Jarvis Green had a good game, including causing the game ending fumble. Ty Warren again was stout and effective.

LINEBACKER: Very encouraging day. Tully Banta-Cain was again outstanding in both the run game and generating some pressure in the pass game. He did have the one glitch where he let Maurice Jones-Drew out of his sights, leading to a 74 yard touchdown run. But that was a fluke play and clearly Banta-Cain just thought Jones-Drew was down. A mistake to be sure, but the rest of the day he was good, particularly against the run. Tedy Bruschi also had a very nice day and seems to have improved his level of play recently. The entire crew was pretty good Sunday and only had the one long run against it.

SECONDARY: Rodney Harrison was back and seemingly didn’t miss a beat. He was active and showed up a lot in run support. Another good day for Artrell Hawkins as well and he has shown himself to be a very good tackler and solid player all year. Ellis Hobbs had a bad moment when he let Jacksonville receiver Matt Jones slip away from him. But Jones is a big, physical, fast receiver and that was a bit of a mismatch to let Hobbs handle him alone on that play. Asante Samuel had one of those moments too, losing a Jacksonville receiver in coverage where it appears Samuel bit on a fake and that led to a long gain. Besides those two plays the coverage was fairly solid.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Good coverage and pretty good returns. Stephen Gostkowski was a little shaky working with new holder Matt Cassell. He missed a kick. And new punter Todd Sauerbraun did his best Ken Walter imitation and had a bad first game. Lets hope he gets into the flow of the things and kicks like he has in the past by the playoffs.

On to Tennessee. It’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots play this. But based on last year, its likely they will play a lot of backups and not see it as a critical difference trying to improve from the #4 seed to the #3 seed. We shall see. Tennessee is an up and coming opponent and it would be great to see these two teams play while both going all out to win. But I just am not sure you’ll see that from the Patriots this week and instead will see them rest a lot of players for most of the game. Until then.

Game Day Rear View – Pats take Jags, AFC East, 24-21

gdrv_sm.jpgby Scott Benson
[email protected]

The New England Patriots clinched a playoff spot today – and their fourth consecutive AFC Eastern Division title – with a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire 24-21 road win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

With a brilliant 27 yard touchdown dash, Laurence Maroney gave the Patriots a 10 point lead with just over four and a half minutes left. But the game came down to a booth replay of a David Garrard fumble with the ball at midfield, the clock at 1:55, and the tying field goal just a first down or two away.

The call went to New England – officials ruled correctly that Garrard had fumbled, not passed (his arm was moving back, not forward), when stripped from behind by Jarvis Green. Rodney Harrison’s recovery stood, and a happy Patriots team celebrated, led by its coaching staff.

The Patriots dominated time of possession all day, and they rolled up more than 350 yards of offense on the NFL’s second best defense (in yards allowed). But one fluke play, and one big pass off a rollout, were all the tenacious Jags needed to keep the game in doubt to the end.

Still, Maroney’s fourth-quarter score should have ended their day, but Jacksonville immediately roared up the field on a suddenly soft Patriots defense. They got the quick score they needed when Garrard hit Matt Jones, and nobody else did. The rangy receiver slipped Ellis Hobbs and others for a 33 yard score.

The Jags then curiously kicked deep, but their gamble paid off when the Pats took a quick three and out (maybe its not a gamble with that defense) and punted the ball back to Jacksonville at their own 45, with a full two minutes left. On the next play, Green scrambled through a gauntlet of lineman for the deciding shot on Garrard, who was struggling to find an open receiver as he was hit. Game (finally) over.

Tom Brady played like an MVP for the Patriots, directing a mostly spread offense that attacked the Jags all-world front with quick, short passes and judicious runs, including TEN by the quarterback himself (most important were a couple of early quarterback sneaks). The Pats used the quick, low-risk passing as an extension of its running game, and they controlled the ball a full fifteen minutes longer than the Jags. And for the second week in a row, Brady was at the center of an offense that did NOT turn the ball over.

For most of the game, Brady was in total command, but as the second half progressed, Jacksonville moved tighter to the line and appeared to take away the short passes the Pats had used to move the chains. Brady was forced to hold on to the ball and look for longer routes, with predictable results, though credit here must go for ball protection. It could have been worse, is my point. The Jacksonville crowd was in a frenzy (the toughest road crowd this year), and the Patriots began to take penalties and move backwards.

But as he so often does, Brady produced one more drive in the face of adversity, a 68 yard fourth quarter march that culminated in Maroney’s touchdown run, and a seemingly secure ten point lead. The rookie returned to the lineup with a bang, including when he went nose to nose with the Jacksonville front to bang out a couple of first downs. But it was his scoring burst – a play that should have ended the game – that brought some much needed excitement back to the Pats buttoned-down offense.

Maroney was sprung on an effective block by fellow rookie David Thomas, who was Burt Ward to Brady’s Adam West today. Thomas made a NFL Films style diving touchdown catch of a perfectly thrown Brady 22 yarder in the third, taking care to cradle the ball away from the ground to prove the catch. The first TD of his career came only three plays after he took a short Brady pass and raced 36 yards, beautifully up the left sideline, to set up his own score.

Sue me if I’m getting kind of excited about some of the Patriots young players, even for this year. Thomas has grabbed a bucket and started bailing serious water these last two weeks. James Sanders is stepping up and making a handful of plays a game. Last week its was Mays and Woods. How about Tully Banta Cain, long a backup and special teamer, flashing a real threat on the edge (five tackles and consistent pressure in the backfield again)?

Unfortunately, Banta Cain will probably be remembered today for a hideous second quarter gaffe that cost the Patriots a few red faces and – even worse – six points. Just after the Patriots had taken an early 3-0 lead on a winding, twisting 48 yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski (nice hold by Matt Cassel on what proved to be the winning margin), the Jags took the ball on their own 26 and handed it to dangerous sparkplug Maurice Jones-Drew.

Ty Warren happened to make good penetration on the play, and kicked his man back into the tiny Drew, who instantly went to the ground. Both Banta Cain and veteran safety Artrell Hawkins assumed the little bastard was down, which of course he wasn’t. They let him up. Next thing you know he’s racing past a diving (and limited) Harrison, all the way to the end zone. 74 yards on what should have been one or two. Shameful.

The Patriots had really outplayed the Jags in every way to that point, and they were behind. But as noted above, it was Brady’s day. He took the ball with eight minutes left in the first half and marched the Pats on a 14 play, 82 yard drive that ate more than 7:20 of game clock. It was one of the best drives of the year, and it was all Brady. The chains just kept moving, five and six yards at a time. One to Graham, one to Faulk, one to Brown, one to Gaffney, and what the hell, here’s one for Bam Childress too. Corey Dillon did the honors with a thrust from the 1, behind the right side of the Pats line. New England had the lead again.

From there out, the teams traded touchdowns. The Pats struck with Thomas on their first drive of the second half (another corker – 78 yards on 7 plays), and suddenly, the Pats had a 10 point lead. The Jags fought back, driving into New England territory, but the Pats defense stiffened and Josh Scobee missed a 53 yard field goal attempt.

The Pats then went on a field goal drive of their own (highlighted by a nice catch by Daniel Graham), but Gostkowski’s 49 yarder (from the left hash) sailed just left of the post, and the chance to extend the lead was lost.

The Jags made it hurt right away, with some help from the Patriots.

Garrard faded back to pass under heavy rush by Banta Cain and Richard Seymour, and the pressured throw sailed straight to Mike Vrabel, who pulled it in for the first turnover of the afternoon. But Seymour laid an unnecessary late shot on Garrard, and the personal foul put the ball back in the mobile quarterback’s hands.

On the next play, Garrard rolled away from the pressure, and found a waiting Ernest Wilford – well behind Asante Samuel – inside the Pats 10 yard line. The 41 yard completion set up a short TD plunge by Drew, and the lead was cut back to three.

But Brady and Maroney took over after a brief flurry of punts, and – after their weakest moments allowed Jones to score – the Patriots defense came back to make a turnover stick and save New England from a last minute disaster.

What does it all mean?

It means that the Pats have another division crown, and another playoff berth. It also means that for all of today’s ups and downs, the Patriots came into a tough road stadium against a desperate team and found a way to win, even after shooting themselves in the foot at least twice. For the second week in a row, they’ve appropriately answered the clarion call of the approaching playoffs.

For all the changes, for all the defections, for all the angst internal and external – they’re 11-4, and a division winner, and a playoff invitee. And they may just be playing their best football of the season.

The Christmas Eve Sunday Papers

sunday_links.jpg
by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Christmas Eve brings one of the biggest games of the 2006 season as the Patriots meet the rugged Jaguars today in Jacksonville. Here’s a quick turn at the links before we head off over the river and through the woods……

In the Globe, beat guy Mike Reiss writes about today’s must-win for both teams, and the Patriots’ desire to wrap it up. The prevailing thought today is that the game will be won in the trenches, which makes the continued absence of Vince Wilfork and Ben Watson unfortunate. Mike’s notebook goes on to preview the returns of Laurence Maroney and Rodney Harrison, who both made the trip to Jacksonville with the intention of playing.

In his weekly scouting report, Jim McBride previews the trench fight and gives the advantage to Jacksonville on both sides of the ball.

Ron Borges writes masterfully on Larry Izzo and his 11 year career as a NFL specialist. Here’s something I didn’t know; Izzo is the second leading special teams tackler in the history of the NFL. Ron also offers his weekly Football Notes, where he takes a crack at year-end NFL awards. Naturally, Peyton Manning and Ladanian Tomlinson take home the major hardware. Note that Eric Mangini, of all people, is Ron’s coach of the year. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

At the Herald, Michael Felger wonders if the Patriots can get on a playoff roll by stringing together complete football games for the first time this season. Felger gives the size matchups to the Jaguars, particularly at the wide receiver position, and also takes a quick peek at the upward trending Willie Andrews, the Pats leading special teams tackler.

John Tomase opens his notebook with the latest inactive updates, and notes the presence of Maroney and Kevin Faulk (who dodged a bullet last week) in the Patriots backfield, which may be called on again to lead the offense.

A couple of ‘Herald wire services’ stories round out the tab’s coverage – a collaborative scouting report again highlights the expected struggle in the trenches, and a zip around the league finds former Pat Deion Branch – much like the Little River Band – reminiscing.

Let’s not forget the Herald’s enemy lines entry for this week – Carl Kotala of Florida Today says David Garrard has already forgotten last Sunday’s four turnover performance against the Titans. Well, Dave, those who cannot learn history are doomed to repeat it. Santayana, bitches!

Lastly, at the ProJo, Shalise Manza Young has a pleasant feature on Terri Terrell, Laurence’s Maroney’s mom. Sounds like a nice family, and Maroney continues to come off as a well-grounded sort. In her weekly ‘Who I Am’, Shalise asks the players about the best gifts they’ve ever gotten, and given.

Joe McDonald is unbelievably optimistic in his weekly game analysis. That’s all right, Joe, I like your spirit.

Jim Donaldson’s got a column on the Patriots playing the ‘disrespect’ card again, except that if you look closely, you’ll see it’s Donaldson playing the disrespect card again, not the Patriots.

It occurs to me that I haven’t really recommended the ProJo Pats blog before, so here it is.

I guess that’s it for this morning, unless you head over to Bruce’s Patriots News Mashup page for further coverage. Naturally, you know where to click for updates throughout the morning – Reiss’s Pieces has always been the first place to check. I’ll be back later with some post game thoughts from our mobile studios in South Paris, Maine. Safe traveling, everyone.

GDRV Roundtable

By Scott Benson, Greg Doyle, Tim Jordan and Bruce Allen
[email protected]

Next Monday, for the first time in my life, I’ll spend Christmas without either of my two now-grown children.

All for good reason, I’m happy to say. Earlier this week my son flew to spend Christmas with his sister, who is living in Corsica while she does some student teaching at a university there.

She’s a world traveler, as far as Bensons go. It’s not the first Christmas she’s spent far away from home, and I suspect, not the last. That’s why her brother is over there this year – she loves Europe, but I guess even jetsetting ameri-euro-hipsters still miss their families at Christmas. The truth is she always ends up a basket case. I don’t feel much better once I’ve gotten off the phone with her.

So he busted his ass on the boat (he’s a fisherman) and saved up enough extra money to buy plane tickets – his first international flight – to places called Orly and Ajaccio, just so his sister didn’t have another gray, lonely holiday.

As kids, they were like any other brother and sister born two years apart. I was always breaking something up, sending someone to their room, telling someone else to wipe that smirk off their face. It was even worse when they learned to walk.

To see them now, in their mid-twenties, devoted to each other as brother and sister, as family, and as friends – to the extent that one would fly 4000 miles to be there for the other – well, it’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever experienced. When he left here the other night, I squeezed him tight and told him how proud I was of him. Of both of them.

What does this have to do with the Patriots? Nothing. It’s just one father’s Christmas story, about one of the best gifts he’s ever gotten. I hope the tree that your family gathers around this Monday will be surrounded by dozens just like it.

Panel, let’s posit.

Did the Patriots do anything last Sunday to make you feel better about their readiness for the playoffs?

Greg: Yes, plenty of things. Save for one drive, the defense was dominant. The offense did what it had to and ddn’t turn the ball over. The special teams were great. Granted, it was against an opponent who isn’t good to begin with and played poorly to boot. But, the Patriots dispatched them 40-7 and played a clean, solid game. What’s not to like?

Bruce: Well, they took care of the ball and didn’t commit penalties. I feel better about both of those things. They weren’t dominant on offense, even though the scoreboard would tell you they were. The defense forced turnovers, which again is a positive. Overall, even if the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league, the Patriots did what they had to do to make sure this wasn’t a competitive game. They didn’t play down to the level of their competition. So all in all, there were a number of things that made this a positive step forward.

Scott: Yeah, the fact that they virtually eliminated turnovers and penalties. If the Patriots don’t kill themselves, they’ll make it damn hard for anybody else to kill them. Elsewhere, I especially liked that Corey Dillon got 20 carries even though some of his runs went nowhere. Sometimes they go away from the running game even when Dillon (or one of the others) is cranking. That they stayed with it on Sunday shows real commitment to making the running game work, and gives hope that common sense still has a place in the Patriots’ offensive gameplan. They’re not going anywhere – literally – without it. One more thing – a couple of rookies (Corey Mays and David Thomas) really contributed to the win.

Tim: They outclassed a 4 win team. As far as playoff readiness, I am glad they don’t start this week. They seem like a team that needs a couple more weeks of gameplanning for, preparing for, and playing an opponent. As a blogger fanboy, I feel like they have as good of a chance as any team come playoff time.

By the same token, what would a win mean for them this week? A loss?

Bruce: A win would probably ensure that next week’s game in Tennessee is their bye week, similar to the Miami game at home last year. A loss with a Jets loss probably means the same thing. A loss with a Jets win would really tighten things up and make next week’s game almost do-or-die. Let’s just be safe and win this one.

Scott: A win on Christmas Eve obviously means they would clinch their fourth straight division title, but just as obviously, its been an extremely trying season for the players on this team. I don’t doubt that they have confidence in themselves; what they don’t have is a ton of empirical evidence to back it up. Not this year’s team, anyway. A win over a playoff contender – in a very tough place to prevail – would have to build a little capital in that regard. A loss? Well, that means the AFC East is still open for debate, and it will all come down to the final weekend in Tennessee. That just doesn’t seem very appealing – or affiirming for the Patriots – at all.

Tim: My first response to this was how this game could be a rare “win-win” one for them. I was thinking that a loss may serve to leave just the right bad taste in their mouths for a passioned, sustained playoff run. Then I read what I wrote and it looked absurd, akin to pleading them to get their swagger back like they left it with the cute coat check girl. A loss would probably be a harbinger for other bad things to come. The December mulligan was already taken in Miami. They need to win this week. They need the offense to really assert themselves. Show themselves that they can execute against a physical and talented defense. They are 3 point dogs so I guess that tells you what the money men think about their chances of answering the bell against a schizophrenic Jacksonville team.

Greg: Well, it would mean the division championship to start. A loss would be discouraging, but hey, Indianapolis lost down there too recently. If they can win, that will tell you a lot more about the ability of the Patriots to go on the road against a team that is pretty good and also needs a win. If they can do it, it will be very encouraging for the playoffs.

The Pro Bowl teams were announced this week, and just one Patriot (Richard Seymour) was selected. Any reaction?

Bruce: I’m sure one or two more Patriots will be added as injury replacements, so that will work itself out. In the immediate present, it might mean a little extra motivation for those who feel snubbed. They could use every little edge they can find at this point.

Scott: I’m a fan of a good many of the players, and I suppose I’d like for them to get the national credit they deserve, and apparently want. But I cannot bring myself to give a shit about the Pro Bowl. Never have. I don’t even watch the effing thing. Who does?

Tim: I was elated when I saw this. Contrived or not, many players on this team have shown that they respond well to perceived slights like this. This year it seems like the pundits are tacitly getting behind them enough to remove that angle. Almost as if they don’t want to be wrong about the Patriots so they will continue to qualify every doubt with the obligatory “they’ve shown that they are a resilient group in the past, can they keep it up?”. Kind of takes the edge off of the whole “no one respects us or any of our family pets” mantra that they used to successfully fuel all three of their championship runs. Getting slighted helps, but getting slighted equally by fans, coaches, and players is even better. Plus, we got to see Seymour snarl at Fancypants Felger, the Preppy Fraud, at Wednesday’s press conference for proclaiming Sey’s pro bowl honor underserving.

Greg: Just that its an absolute snub for Ty Warren. Others who could have been selected include Asante Samuel, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Logan Mankins and VInce Wilfork. It’s too bad at least a few of them didn’t get in and I hope a few are added if injury replacements are needed. Maybe the Patriots can parlay this into extra motivation.

The Patriots defense is currently allowing an average of 13.7 points per game, the second best in the NFL (behind Baltimore, at 13.3). They’ve allowed the fewest touchdowns of any team in the league (19 – actually, the defense has been responsible for only 17). They could better the great 03 defense for the franchise’s all-time PPG mark. Yet, it seems as though they’re rarely evoked in discussions of the best defenses of 06. Why?

Scott: Because they have no depth and the linebackers are old and the secondary is a bunch of second-tier JAG’s. They are the beneficiaries of an easy schedule. To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, I’m not a fan of numbers. Numbers can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the numbers are.

Tim: During the first quarter of the Bears game, many very knowledgeable fans in my section were cussing out this defense vociferously while watching Grossman complete long passes or gains due to interference calls. A fellow ticket holder that I often look to for optimism made me feel better about things by noting that the Bears weren’t going to score on a short field. As we’ve seen in the past, the Patriots defense was going to give yardage between the twenties, but they sure as hell weren’t going to give up long scoring plays. This is obviously anecdotal, but I think it’s a fair representation of what can happen when a team wins by playing sound and smart defense. The scoring statistics have been borderline dominant, but it hasn’t looked that way to the Highlights & Nicknames crowd.

Greg: Not sure. They’ve certainly been very good, which gives them a shot in any game in the playoffs. But in the end, who cares what people talk about? If they go into the playoffs and win a few games with excellent defensive performances, people will start talking. Until then, it’s almost better if they’re under the radar.

Bruce: Great question. Is this a situation where Dan Shaughnessy would say “Screw your stats, I go with what my eyes tell me” or has the defense just flown entirely under the radar? Some might say that the defense isn’t nearly as good as the stats would suggest, but we were told so many times before the season that the club had no depth, and yet they’ve had numerous significant injuries and have still managed to keep up this high level of play. Early on in the season, they seemed to have a problem giving up the big play, and they seemed to have addressed it, but perhaps that early image has stuck with those who are judging this defense. Dean Pees has seemingly done a terrific job with this unit in his first season as DC.

Well, it’s time again for the picks. As Minister of the Big Board of Predictions, I’m declaring wire-to-wire leader Bruce Allen the winner of our inaugural pick ‘em contest. Out of fatigue, mostly, though Bruce has been in command from the start. I’m just sick of keeping track of the W-L records. So now you can just freestyle it, boys. Accountability is for suckers. Here’s our slate for this week: San Diego at Seattle, Indianapolis at Houston, Baltimore at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati at Denver, and on Christmas Night, the Jets at Miami.

Tim: San Diego wins their last game of the season against Seattle (Schottenheimer looks like a lieutenant in the Promise Keepers and Holmgren like that creepy guy that takes the bowling league a little too seriously). Houston shocks the surprisingly punchless Colts (Kubiak wears a satin jacket to car club meetings and Dungy is Sammy Davis Jr. without the interesting sex life). Pittsburgh edges the Ravens (Sgt. Slaughter takes the metal chair to Billick and his Prince Valiant haircut). Denver’s defense rises to the occasion at home (Sphincter Face just too much for Deval Patrick). Miami beats the Jets in another bout of wishful thinking (The lonely substitute science teacher prevails against the fat kid with emotional problems).

Greg: San Diego has been very impressive lately. Seattle hasn’t. So I’ll go with San Diego. Indy beats up on hapless Houston. Pittsburgh is on a roll and takes out Baltimore. Denver beats Cincinnati and severely hurts their playoff shot. Miami beats the Jets as well.

Bruce: I’m humbled. I’m going with San Diego, Indy, Baltimore, Denver and the Jets.

Scott: All hail the Chargers. They look like the NFL’s best team as the year ends. The year’s ending, you say? That’s when Marty Ball is at its best. I’m making a wild-ass pick of the Hawks. The Colts haven’t won on the road since they beat the Patriots. But I just watched the Texans, and I can’t pick ‘em to beat Indy. I’m with Greg, I like the Steelers over the Ravens. Pittsburgh has allowed a total of 13 points in the last three games, all wins. Doesn’t sound like an environment where Steve McNair is going to flourish. Sounds like Carson Palmer could be done early again, but I’d take the Broncos at home anyway, regardless. Way to stay consistent, Miami – one week after shutting out the Pats 21-0, they go on the road to Buffalo and lose by the same score. This must be a week for the ‘good’ Dolphins to show up. I’ll take them over the Jets.

Deep breath, men…….let’s have a pick for the Pats and Jaguars.

Bruce: I think I say this every week, but I’m really conflicted here. The Patriots usually respond to a situation like this, but I thought that in Miami two weeks ago. The Jaguars have been great at home all year, (with an inexplicable loss to the Texans being the notable exception) and have generally played to the level of the competition, meaning that they’ll be stoked on Sunday. I fear how much offense the Patriots are going to be able to muster against the Jaguars defense, hoping Tom Brady manages to stay upright for the afternoon. A defensive battle seems in the cards. I’m going to go with the Jaguars, 17-7.

Scott: The Jags are 6-1 at home, where they’re the league’s best home defense (only 9.1 points allowed per game). They’re the third best defense against the run, and second-best when they’re running it themselves. We’ve already talked about the Pats defense. How about a 9-7 game won by the Patriots?

Greg: Tough game. I’m not sure on this one. I am also not sure if Wilfork will be back to help against the Jacksonville running game. I’m going to go with a tight Jacksonville win 20-16.

Tim: Pats by 4. 17-14. Really big game for them.

If you’ve been bad this year, you can expect Santa has left a Mediot of the Week in your stocking. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Bruce: I’m going with whoever Doug Most is from the Boston Globe Magazine. He slammed Tom Brady and David Ortiz for supposedly “helping” their opponents. Brady talking to Matt Hasselbeck about Deion Branch and Ortiz signaling A-Rod to “breathe” apparently makes them “bad teammates” in Most’s eyes. The fact that both of these athletes have been World Champions and performed at the highest level in clutch situations in leading their teams to victory is secondary to these traitorous acts that both Brady and Ortiz are guilty of. Most comments strike me as coming from some “intellectual” who thinks he has sports all figured out, but in reality has no clue about the relationships between athletes in this modern era.

Scott: Other than scanning the papers every morning, I’m pretty insulated from the local media chatter. The radio broke in my car, which was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I’m thankfully too far away to get things like the Fifth Quarter and that crap. I don’t even listen to the Pats pre-game or post-game on the home radio, because that would involve me getting off the couch and going over there to turn it on, which seems like too much effort to go through just to hear Andy Gresh. So I don’t have a MOW again. One thing, though – have you noticed how Artrell Hawkins has become the media’s go-to guy for the Pats defense? And its not to butter his own carrots either – he seems to have become the spokesman for them all. I always appreciate these guys – Christian Fauria was another – who will answer the questions and run the interference for everybody else, without ever making it about them. There’s a real value to that, I think.

Tim: I’m going in the oppsoite direction this week. I want to thank a guy who’s been swimming upstream in the sewer of local sports figures for years. Tom Curran, please come accept your 1 lb bag of Double Bubble. I was stunned to turn on the radio yesterday to hear a caller offering some great observations on the Patriots, specifically about their options when a safety helps out at the line of scrimmage. It was a thoughtful call and the guy showed that he was really paying attention and interested in talking about football, not some contrived storyline that keeps Gary Tanguay-Glenn Orbway-Greg Dickerson flush in blood money (the blood is from the audience ears). Curran immediately recognized this and lauded the guy’s effort and asked Shephard (guest hosting) to (a) stop interrupting him and (b) start making strong points like he is. The whole sequence was a breath of fresh air. He also handled Buckley well when the Dyed Closet decided to derail discussion with posits about the Umass punter. Well done, Tom. I’ve been a fan of Curran’s for some time, along with many others that follow this team, and I am happy to see someone like him get a national gig. We sure miss him in that locker room, though.

Greg: This was easy for me this week. Lets go with the Big Show crew, Ordway, Smerlas, DeOssie and Sheppard. Their drumbeat of idiocy regarding the naming of Jeff Jagodzinski as head coach of Boston College was almost too nauseating to tolerate. If it wasn’t so stupid and ridiculous.

Let’s consider. The naming of Jagodzinski first leaked Monday afternoon in a Herald web column. The Big Show decided to attack; afterall, they are oh so knowledgeable on college sports, and what’s wrong with declaring a coach a failure in the name of ratings before he is even introduced at his press conference? Typical slime ball tactics, acceptable any day of the week at ‘EEI.

So what were their specific complaints? Well, numero uno was Fred Smerlas wondering how “any coach worth his salt” could accept assistants from the previous staff on his staff. I found that incredibly ironic. For fifteen minutes later they had Patriots Coach Bill Belichick on, and not a one of them, just minutes after ranting how weak Jagodzinski must be for taking previous regime assistants, bothered to ask Belchick if he was worth his salt for taking Dante Scarnecchia, Brad Seely and Jeff Davidson onto his staff from Pete Carroll’s staff. And while Ordway sometimes limited his complaint to taking coordinators from a previous staff (Smerlas, DeOssie and Sheppard didn’t make this caveat), it is irrelevant. Scarnecchia is Assistant Head Coach, the second highest coach rank-wise on Belichick’s staff, and Belichick took him. So why didn’t they grill Bill? Because they’re inconsistent, illogical morons who probably don’t even realize Belichick kept on three members of Carroll’s staff. And they certainly couldn’t make the connection that the decision to do so has zero to do with being successful and plenty of good coaches do just that, if the assistants are good coaches.

Furthermore, their idiocy ignores the possibilty maybe Jagodzinski wanted to keep Frank Spaziani, the current BC defensive coordinator. To hear the Big Show Buffoons spin it, Spaziani was forced down his throat and his willingness to take him was the only reason he got the job. Of course, in the name of faux controversy, they made this decision two minutes after reading a single article on it, before Jagodzinski was even named coach himself. Never mind that (according to the Herald) it was Jagodzinski’s ideas on the coaching staff, HIS ideas, that could lead to the retention of Spaziani. Did the Four Idiots of 850 ever consider the possibility that, oh, maybe Jagodzinski LIKES Spaziani because he coached two years with him at BC a few years back and they like each other? Maybe Jagodzinski knows Spaziani is a good, qualified coach because he SPENT A YEAR UNDER HIM as running backs coach when Jagodzinski was Offensive Coordinator? Or maybe he is impressed by the fact BC had a very good defense this year, ranked 29th out of the hundreds of Division I teams? Naw, that would be too logical. So ‘EEI went the screaming jackasses route instead.

Finally, Sheppard spent days going on and on about Jagodzinski having NO COLLEGE OR PRO HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE!!! Clearly the fat man was outraged because he spent a good portion of relaying his thoughts on this screaming and spitting into the microphone like a bloviated drunkard. Gee, Pete, no college or pro head coaching experience when he takes over a major program and the highest he’d ever been was an NFL offensive coordinator? You mean like Charlie Weis? That certainly has proven a good way to evaluate who is ready, huh? Yeah right.

Here are other guys who have been pretty successful college head coaches without pro or college head coaching experience. Phillip Fulmer who won a National Championship at Tennessee, Mark Richt has top teams at Georgia every year, Lloyd Carr won a National Championship at Michigan in 1997, some guy named Joe Paterno when he took over Penn State and Bob Stoops, who won a National Title at Oklahoma. There are plenty of others and we already mentioned Weis. All these guys were hired to their first jobs as head men at major schools without previous college or NFL head coaching experience and did well. Tom O’Brien and Tom Coughlin were in the same situation when hired at BC. Coughlin hadn’t even been an NFL coordinator as Jagodzinski has. Yet Sheppard rants on and on about it as if its conclusive.

The only thing conclusive are all four of these guys are idiots of proportions that put them atop the list of biggest fools in Boston. When they’re not scalping tickets or taking money from charities as their own, they’re going on the air drunk and making stupid statements about Jagodzinski all in the name of creating something other drunks can call in and talk about, piling up ratings in the same way traffic accidents gather onlookers. And they’re this week’s mediots of the week.

Second Look: Houston at Patriots

Well, this was certainly a more pleasant game to watch over. A 40-7 victory tends to calm football fans down, no matter how inept the opponent. So, lets take a look individually and see if the Patriots really played well Sunday or it was just a function of a weak opponent.

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady did what had to be done. It wasn’t the greatest day to be throwing the ball as, although the weather was fine, it was a bit windy. But he dumped off screens with precisions, hit a few big passes on third down and, although his stats weren’t impressive, he did throw a perfect pass on the Patriots first drive which was dropped well down field and he drew an inteference penalty with another long throw. He avoided mistakes. A pretty good day overall, all things considered.

RUNNING BACK: Corey Dillon ran hard, but without a ton of room. He just lacks that obvious burst he had back in 2004. He is still a powerful back and good contributor, but he just doesn’t have the elusiveness or speed he had in that great first season with the Patriots. Sunday, he had some good runs, particularly early, but appears to be better now in combination with someone else. Kevin Faulk had a great day running the ball, catching screen passes and even in blitz pickup. Probably his best game of the season. Heath Evans chipped in too and had some good runs.

WIDE RECEIVER: A somewhat quiet day. Reche Caldwell did have six catches, but not for a lot of yards. Still, he moved the chains on several occasions and drew a long inteference penalty. Jabaar Gaffney had a long drop which hurt, but he somewhat made up for it with a nice job creating some space on his six yard touchdown reception. Nobody else did much. Newcomer Kelvin Kight had a drop. Not a good first impression.

TIGHT END: Pretty solid day. Daniel Graham didn’t get involved in the passing game, but blocked well all day. David Thomas was the most active he’s been all year and he had three catches. He appears to move well in routes and could be a good weapon in that area with increases opportunities.

OFFENSIVE LINE: A solid day and much improved from the Miami game. They were pretty good in run blocking, did a nice job in protection and showed athleticism getting out in front of some screen passes. Stephen Neal in particular had a nice day and you have to love how he always searches out that extra block he can make, which he has the speed and athleticism to usually get to more than most linemen.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Pretty solid day. Ty Warren again was immense. Richard Seymour had a nice day and had an interception after he nicely batted a pass in the air. Mike Wright did a solid job holding his own at nose tackle while filling in for Vince Wilfork, though he’s not a long term solution versus better lines there.

LINEBACKER: Good day here, one of the better games all season. They chased and bothered Houston quarterback David Carr all day. Tully Banta-Cain again got better and this time the jump was by leaps and bounds. He was all over the field, had two sacks, was good against the run and appears to be coming into his own in his new role as a starter. Tedy Bruschi also had his best game of the year and was solid up the middle and appeared more active and moving around better than he has all year. Roosevelt Colvin also had an active, good day. Very encouraging performance from the ‘backers.

SECONDARY: Very good day. Chad Scott was back in form and had a very nice day in coverage and run support. Asante Samuel had another interception and was a blanket in coverage. James Sanders also was good and Ellis Hobbs had his best day in weeks. I also like what Ray Mickens has shown as a nickle back in the slot in his first two weeks and he has been solid coming in as a street free agent.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Great day here. The coverage was great, including some excellent jobs by Larry Izzo, Corey Mays and even newcomer Kelvin Kight. The returns were great, particularly the 97 yard return for a touchdown by Ellis Hobbs which featured great blocks from Mays, Pierre Woods and Willie Andrews, rookies all. Stephen Gostkowski kicked both kickoffs and field goals with confidence and is doing a nice job and even Ken Walter wasn’t too bad.

Jacksonville is up next, a team Houston has beaten twice this year. But expect a much tougher game against a pretty good opponent who is in the playoff race. Until then.

Game Day Rear View – Patriots handle Houston, 40-7

gdrv_sm.jpgby Scott Benson
[email protected]

It’s unlikely that the Patriots swayed any skeptics with their 40-7 win over the visiting Houston Texans today.

They shouldn’t have, really. The Texans are one of the league’s worst clubs and don’t in any way measure up to the kind of competition the Patriots will face in the upcoming NFL playoffs. Their mistakes virtually assured the Pats of a win in their final home game of the regular season.

Still, today’s complete victory may have showed some incremental gain in New England’s fight to right their listing ship over the final three weeks.

The Patriots neither fumbled nor were intercepted, and penalties were held to a bare minimum. They limited their own errors and jumped all over those made by their opponents’. For once, they executed the playbook instead of executing themselves. The sloppy play and mental mistakes that kept equally-bad Detroit in a game here two weeks ago were virtually eliminated, at least for today.

For one of the few times this season, the Patriots had handled a lesser team the way they are expected to. Naturally, all this really accomplishes is a little better night’s sleep for the Pats tonight. Only several weeks of this kind of play will hold any real meaning for the team and its fans.

Despite missing key players like Vince Wilfork, Ben Watson and Laurence Maroney, New England performed efficiently in all phases of the game, with an uncommonly strong effort coming from the special teams.

The Patriots defense intercepted David Carr four times with athleticism and smarts. They held the NFL’s leading receiver Andre Johnson and noted Patriots killer Eric Moulds to a combined 9 catches for a paltry 52 yards. Without Wilfork, they bent slightly under the sheer girth of Ron Dayne, but never to the extent that Houston threatened competitiveness. Despite being again undermanned, the Patriots defense put up a complete effort against the bumbling Texans. They gained an early advantage in field position and steadfastly held it for the rest of the day.

Kevin Faulk gave the Patriots offense a much needed jolt of electricity, scoring twice on impressive bursts, one a perfectly executed 43 yard screen pass. Reche Caldwell had 6 catches for just 25 yards, but three of them were for first downs that extended scoring drives. The offensive line that struggled so badly against Miami was all over the field today, roaming wide to wall off the screens and often getting to the second level in the running game. Tom Brady managed a relatively close-to-the-vest passing game with little error, and when presented with a short field, he made sure he put points on the board.

Four times those scores came by the foot of rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who ran his season mark to 17 of 21 kicks. He’s now made ten in a row since missing against Indy in early November. The rookie also had his best kickoff day in weeks, even hitting the end zone when he kicked into the wind. Ken Walter dropped 3 of 4 punts inside the 20, and both coverage teams closed off Houston return threat Dexter Wynn. The Patriots special teams answered the bell today. Never more so than when Ellis Hobbs – returning kicks in relief of the injured Maroney – answered the Texans only score with by splitting the Houston coverage behind a Willie Andrews block for a brilliant 93 yard touchdown.

The game, however, was essentially decided before the first quarter was complete.

The Patriots’ first possession off the opening kick yielded nothing, other than a gut wrenching Jabar Gaffney drop of a perfectly thrown Brady bomb. It would have been a sure 55 yard touchdown had Gaffney kept his eyes on the ball, but he didn’t. When Ken Walter followed with a terrible punt, and Wynn answered with a 15 yard return, you had to wonder if more of the same – spotty execution – was on the way.

Houston then quickly gave the stuggling Pats an early opportunity to take the lead. When the Pats turned Houston’s first series aside on a 3rd and short at the Texans 42, Gary Kubiak inexplicably called for a fake punt on a direct snap to short man Jason Simmons. Again New England got penetration (Mike Reiss later reported that Corey Mays made the play) and stopped the fake before Simmons was able to sneak for the first.

After featuring the pass on his first series, Brady then went to the ground, and Corey Dillon ran for 20 yards on two carries, sandwiched around the first of Caldwell’s drive extending catches. Kevin Faulk carried to the left on 1st and 10 from the Houston 11, and the Pats o-line allowed Faulk to burst in untouched for the early touchdown lead.

Richard Seymour immediately set up Brady and the offense again. On the Texans first play, Seymour leapt and tipped a Carr pass to himself at the Houston 24, an athletic and heady play. The Patriots defense was doing everything it could to make life easy for an offensive unit that had been shut out just seven days before.

This time Brady could not move the ball. He didn’t lose it either, which these days qualifies as an accomplishment. Gostkowski at least put points on the board with a 36 yarder for the 10-0 lead.

Back came Carr, and there again was the Patriots defense. Receiver David Anderson made his first pro catch for the longest Houston play of the day, a 27 yarder that moved the ball to midfield. Another first down put the ball into Pats territory, but when Carr faded back on the next play, he didn’t see Tedy Bruschi waiting in the middle of the Pats coverage. Like Seymour, Bruschi leapt and tipped a Carr throw, and an alert James Sanders grabbed the carom for the Patriots second pick in as many series.

Brady would pick up the ball on Houston’s side of the 50 again, and after a short Dillon plunge, Brady pulled off a flawlesss screen to his left, where Faulk waited behind a wall of unoccupied Pats blackers. Faulk raced for the 1st down, then just kept on going until he found the end zone. That he was never seriously challenged by a Houston player is a testament to the design and particularly the execution of the play.

The Patriots led 17-0 with three and a half minutes still to play in the first quarter. The game was for all intents and purposes over. The Patriots added 10 more points before halftime (another Gostkowski kick, followed by a 7 play, 67 yard drive that ended with a sharp Brady throw to Jabar Gaffney at the left rear flag) while a conservative Houston tried to get to the locker room without shooting itself in the foot again.

Asante Samuel added to his league leading interception total with a second half pick that nearly ended up in the end zone. Hobbs, who has frequently taken a back seat to Chad Scott lately, also drifted back in coverage to grab an errant Carr throw for his third interception of the year.

Ty Warren and Richard Seymour held fast at the Patriots line, and mitigated the absence of nose man Wilfork. Stand-in Mike Wright broke up a Texans screen by racing to dump Carr before he could do anything with the ball. Tully Banta Cain had a strip sack (recovered by Houston) and applied consistent pressure all day. Bruschi was steady again in the middle, and Sanders may be developing into a capable backup in the reed-thin Pats secondary.

Corey Dillon turned in 60 yards on a modest 3 yard average, but he led a Pats run game that was at times a steadying influence. The Pats did stick with the run today (34/28 run pass split, not counting four knees taken by Vinny Testaverde at the end), even on those third and shorts that have lately been all pass. The Patriots only rarely went very far upfield today; most of the passes were screens and little short possession routes. They even ran the ball on consecutive downs a few times. Be still my heart. I’m hopeful this was aknowledgement that one way to cut down on the turnovers is to draw the ball a little closer to the vest.

Some may find it worrisome that the Patriots were only 2 of 6 inside the red zone today despite scoring 33 points. The Pats have been among the top teams in red zone efficiency this year, so maybe they missed Watson and Maroney. Or maybe they were still working off the effects of their embarrassment in Miami. I liked their cautious, ball-control approach. I like how none of those scoring opportunities came up dry through a fumble or interception.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about today was the a few of the Patriots younger players saw considerable fourth quarter time with the game out of hand.

On defense, linebackers Pierre Woods and Corey Mays played alongside Tedy Bruschi, and on offense, tight end David Thomas was there as a valuable outlet to Brady throughout, while Kelvin Kight logged a number of snaps at receiver (playing more than Chad Jackson) while flashing a few blocking chops. The Patriots need all they help they can get, and the added experience increases the chance that one of these youngsters might make a play someday, like Mays apparently did today.

Sixty minutes of mistake-free football was a nice relief today, but even a 33 point win over the Texans will do little to quell our deeper fears about the football mortality of these Patriots. At best, today may have been a small step in the right direction.

At least they took it. Consider the alternative.

Game Day Blog – The Sunday Papers

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The Patriots play the Houston Texans today, and I honestly have no idea what to expect. December 17th is no time to be uttering that phrase, but there it is. I’d like to believe something was stirred as a result of their public flogging by the loathsome Dolphins, or by the public upbraiding they got from their quarterback. I’d like to believe there’s been an epiphany. I’d like to believe they’ll suddenly turn on a dime and begin playing mistake-free, been-there-done-that football, just when it’s needed most. Veterans become young again. Fresh faces become wizened.

I’d like to believe all those things are possible. I don’t know. Is the answer in the morning papers?

In the Globe, Mike Reiss leads with an expansive interview with the always proud and defiant Corey Dillon. He’s got an edge to him, as you know. Reiss also looks at a scrappy Tom Brady, who so often follows bad games with good ones. In his Patriots Notebook, Mike confirms John Tomase’s earlier report on Laurence Maroney’s torn rib cartilage, with prognosis by an unusually candid Bill Belichick.

Jim McBride likes the Patriots in his Scouting Report.

Ron Borges has the Football Notes, where he touches base with Bills owner Ralph Wilson, continuing to howl about the latest CBA and the vast single-wing conspiracy of large market owners. Ron also acknowledges the passing of Lamar Hunt, another of the old AFL vanguard. Ron arches an eyebrow in the general direction of the Broncos and their quarterback situation.

At the Herald, Michael Felger offers his look at a tense, terse week for the Pats, and says it remains to be seen if any of it will make a difference. In his Game Within the Game piece, Mike eyeballs the similarities between Gary Kubiak’s Houston offense and the one he ran in Denver. I always hated that goddam bootleg play, and today, it will be the mobile David Carr rolling out. Blecch. Felger also adds a quick look at last week’s stolen line call hoo haa, along with a few Quick Hits (Matt Light on the O-Lines ‘media boycott’, and look for the little shot at Drew Bledsoe at the end), and a look around the league with Inside the Huddle. Mike has Charlie Casserly for further defense of Mario Williams. He also touches on the bizarre happenings in Chicago, with Tank Williams, the New Capone.

Albert Breer has a thorough piece on the nose tackle position and how it functions in New England, which is especially timely given the sore ankle of Vince Wilfork. John Tomase weighs in with what to look for today, and John Lopez of the Houston Chronicle is the latest visitor from the Herald’s exchange program. John’s had it with Carr, I guess.

At the ProJo, Art Martone offers a game analysis, and Shalise Manza Young gives the battered Pats a routine check up. Young also joins the legions praising Artrell Hawkins in her weekly Who I Am segment.

Bob McGarry has his picks for the day, and there’s an uncredited collection of league notes.

As usual, Chef Recommends Reiss’s Pieces for all the latest game day updates, and if you’d like to see what the rest of the Internet is saying about the Pats, there’s BSMW’s Patriots News Mash Up page. I’ll back back tonight with some thoughts about the game, if you’re of a mind to stop by. In any event, let’s hope the folks traveling to the final regular season home game today get a good show for their efforts.

GDRV Roundtable

by Scott Benson, Greg Doyle, Tim Jordan and Bruce Allen
[email protected]

As weeks go, the Patriots have had better.

They started it on Sunday by getting their ass sewed to their face in Miami. Again. On Monday, they heard the Dolphins crow about getting the audio drop on Tom Brady and the Pats offense.

Tuesday, the receiver-less Patriots suddenly and curiously fired receiver Doug Gabriel. Wednesday, a bristling Brady in as much said that a segment of the team doesn’t work hard enough or – even worse – listen enough to its coaches.

Naturally, this cacophony roared over the Patriots usual soundtrack of tearing muscles and cracking bones. Vince Wilfork and Ben Watson joined the chorus.

Even the quarterback’s personal life was making headlines by Friday.

The 4-9 Houston Texans visit Foxboro for the first time on Sunday. It’s unknown what sort of Patriots team will be there to greet them. Maybe the panel knows.

Before we move on to the rest of the season, let’s take a look back for a minute. What did last Sunday’s disappointing shutout loss to the Dolphins say about the 2006 Patriots?

Greg: Well, I think it says a lot about their offense. And that is its just not championship caliber at the present time. Its dangerous to take a game like this and say “what does this tell us about the future…..” Its dangerous to take any single game in the NFL and think you can figure out what’s going to happen down the road. It just doesn’t work like that. Still, if you take last week’s game and add it to everything we’ve seen this year, as well as taking into account the Patriots mounting injuries, and you have to conclude they’re a pretty good team. But yet one of those teams that makes the playoffs but simply can’t advance through them to the Super Bowl. That’s what they appear to be to me now. But, I’ll keep watching because say they play well this week and then go down and handle Jacksonville next week impressively, the Miami game will be forgotten and the story/flavor of the day will be “are the Patriots coming together at the right time…..??” It wouldn’t shock me for that change of events either. So we’ll just have to see.

Tim: It says that they aren’t a good enough to win 13 regular season games. Maybe not good enough to win 12. We’ll see. Judging any football team on one game is always a risk, especially one like this that alters its identity from week to week. I think you compound that risk when you don’t look at other variables. Miami has New England’s number in the southern climes. It’s almost an annual event. Tom Brady’s 3 worst games out of the 100+ he’s played have come against the Fish. In summary I’ll repeat what I told the very hospitable Miami fans at Dolphin Stadium, “I am just glad this is the last time we play the Dolphins this year.”

Bruce: That they’re not much different from other Patriots teams of the last 40 years. They generally stink in Miami. In retrospect, I can’t believe I picked them to win last week. In the context of this year’s club, it says that they still haven’t gotten things figured out. It’s discouraging for sure, as they displayed many of the same flaws and weaknesses that have haunted them in recent weeks, and you’d like to see improvement in that area with the playoffs just over three weeks away.

Scott: It says they’re a lot closer to the 5th and 6th seed than they are the 1st and 2nd seed. It says we can’t take for granted that when nut cutting time comes, they’ll be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Chargers, Ravens and Colts. We can’t take for granted that they have this magical reserve to draw on just because it’s December, and well, just because they’re the Patriots. I think it proves those days are over for the time being.

Naturally, with under 100 yards passing, the team’s paltry wide-receiver group met with renewed scrutiny and further lament. Did Sunday’s result prove something about the Patriots handling of their wide receiver position in the off-season?

Tim: Ahhh, the offseason. This is a tough one because it is blatantly apparent to anyone with one eye following this team that Branch was a tremendous asset to them. He was everything the team needed in a WR and that’s what makes the debacle this summer such a shame, but I really don’t put it all on the Patriots for “bungling” the negotiations or on Branch for “being greedy”. Everybody did what they thought was in their best interest at the time. Gabriel was rented for 10 games for a 5th rounder and Chad Jackson has been seen at the Roxy with Tony Simmons and Bethel Johnson splitting an Orange Whip. With all this as evidence after 13 games, it’s pretty apparent that they did a poor job managing their wide receiver personnel this off-season. I don’t feel that way after just this game, but after the past 13 games. A few big catches from the WR’s we do have would go a long way for this team.

Bruce: Well, it gave the nay-sayers the chance to take a victory lap, we know that. We could debate this subject for hours. I think the part that bothers me the most is when people who really don’t know what happened state that the Patriots just “let” Branch and Givens walk. Somehow the blame is always placed squarely at the feet of the Patriots for those losses, as if the club didn’t even try to retain them. In any event, they HAVE been shorthanded in the receiver department and have had to try and work news guys into the system on the fly. In hindsight (20/20 vision there) yeah, they probably should’ve done things a little bit different. But I’m not going to pronounce them morons and idiots for it.

Scott: The grave dancers like to pretend that they were the only ones who thought it might be a good idea to hang on to David Givens and Deion Branch. I don’t recall anybody who thought the Patriots would be a better team by letting them go. I do recall a few people recognizing that you can’t pay every player what they want. I think virtually everything that could have gone wrong for the Pats this off-season went wrong. They thought they could get Ty Law. They thought they could reach an agreement with Branch. When those things didn’t happen, they had to scramble, with predictable lousy results (like the Doug Gabriel embarrasment). So you can kill them for bad assumptions, though those players DID have something to say about that as well. Does the end result mean they have to change their belief-system as far as how they pay their players? The system that produced unprecedented results? I don’t know — has either Branch or Givens proven yet that they’re worth what they got? Will they ever? Isn’t that a question too?

Greg: I think what happened Sunday was far more a function of the offensive line not playing well. The wide receivers did not have a good game Sunday. But they were far from alone. Guys who have been on the team for years didn’t have a good game. And if Deion Branch had been there in uniform with the Patriots Sunday, they still would have been blown out.

Laurence Maroney is hurt and may miss further action, Patrick Pass left quickly for IR, Gabriel is gone and Chad Jackson might as well be. Watson’s down. The Patriots offense is coming off its first shutout in almost four seasons. Time is running out – where do they go from here?

Scott: As Tim likes to say, I’m not qualified to answer this question. But if I had a turn on the XBox controller, I would hunker down. Protect the ball first, and try to score second. Patience, patience, patience. If everybody and their brother thinks they can send 5 and 6 guys at you with no fear of retribution, freaking hell, stop playing right into their hands. I would love to see the Patriots bring Brady back under center, and singlemindedly run the ball again and again. Mix in the lowest risk passes you can. Be cool with punting and living to see another series. Naturally, even I can see the weaknesses in my own theory – first, their punter is terrible, and second, they’re getting thin at RB. Third, its no better to be predictable with the run than it is the pass. But I don’t see how you get more consistent and efficient by getting your quarterback killed every play by trying to throw the ball all over the lot to people that are covered.

Greg: Well, at least Houston is here. Of all those things you mentioned, only Watson being missing is a concern. Hopefully he’ll be back soon.

Tim: Back to basics, they still have plenty enough to win this week. How they respond will give us a very good indication of what type of team this is. The injuries aren’t insurmountable, hell maybe they help the team focus more and start playing smarter, more mistake free football. They are still a dangerous team that will be in the mix come playoff time.

Bruce: I’m waiting for what we saw in the MINNESOTA GAME. The spread offense, quick strikes and long bombs, mixed in with some punishing runs from Corey Dillon. I think they can still function on offense, they just need to find a rhythm, which they’ve been unable to do since that game really, with a brief exception being the fourth quarter of the Lions game. I suspect Graham will be a bigger part of the passing game with Watson out, and Santiago will be used where Graham did his blocking.

Three weeks to go. Where do you put the Patriots in the field of AFC playoff hopefuls?

Bruce: They are what they are. I’ve got to put them fourth. San Diego, Baltimore and Indy have all been better this season. However, none of those teams put the fear of God into me. San Diego comes closest, but they’ve got the Marty factor. The Patriots have a couple weeks here to try and get healthy and put things together, but as things stand now, they’re looking at about the same fate as they had last year.

Scott: As I said above, the Pats are there with the inconsistent and incomplete Jaguars, the Bengals, the Chiefs and Broncos at the middle to bottom of the seedings. Hell, they may not even be as good as the Jags. I’m with Bruce – I can’t see how we can expect that this year is much different than last year. They may get lucky with a matchup here and there as the playoffs develop, but if they’re left to stand on their own merits, its all uphill.

Greg: Again, right now, they don’t look to be championship caliber. That could change, but we can only go based on what we see. They appear to be behind at a minimum San Diego. And Jacksonville has been impressive lately as well, but we’ll see how the Patriots match up against them next week. No one else really impresses me in the AFC.

Tim: They’ll qualify for the playoffs, but I can’t endorse them for a bye at this point. It doesn’t look possible the way Baltimore/San Diego are playing and Indy’s fast start and better AFC record. It’s looking like a home playoff game, which a wise man once told me is the only thing we can reasonably hope for as fans.

What did you think of Brady’s comments at his press conference Wednesday?

Greg: I didn’t see the big deal. He was trying to send a message a bit, I would think. But he probably does the same thing in private with his teammates all the time. I never understood why press conference comments took on the weight they do when they don’t even represent 1/10th of 1 percent of the verbal interaction between teammates or within a team.

Tim: I’ve never heard anything like that from him. It gave me pause. Coupled with the results of the game, Brady’s comments lead me to believe that these are intense times in the New England locker room. There is alot going on behind those closed doors, but I’d be guessing if I could tell you what it is. My hope is they adopt a more upstart approach to this season and rely on toughness and intelligence to win and not their God-given talent, which the players seem to be overrating.

Bruce: Perhaps they’re what the team needed. We’ll see. It kind of made me think of when Larry Bird called his teammates “a bunch of sissies” during the 1984 playoffs. That occasion had the desired effect as the came out fighting in the next game. I think Brady sees that perhaps some of the new guys aren’t doing all that they can to win each week, and the competitor in him is really bothered by that. Either that, or he’s just a bad mood since breaking up with Bridget.

Scott: I was taken aback. It’s one thing to say some people aren’t working hard enough, but when he told us certain players don’t listen to the coach, all the wind went out of my sails. He seemed to direct most of it towards players who are new to the team. I’m not surprised that Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli brought in players that weren’t a good on-field fit. It happens. I AM surprised they brought in players that apparently don’t listen to them. I’m under the impression THAT doesn’t happen very often.

Preeeeeeeediction time. Check your credibility at the door, boys. Let’s pick ‘em. New York Jets at Minnesota, Cleveland at Baltimore, Jacksonville at Tennessee, Denver at Arizona, Kansas City at San Diego, and on Monday, Cincinnati at Indianapolis.

Tim (1-4 last week, 6-10 overall): NY (I hope Eric Mangini drops his wallet in the hopper) beats Minnesota. Baltimore (I hope Brian Billick gets an oral infection licking a mirror) beats Cleveland. Tennessee (I hope Jeff Fisher continues to get the respect he deserves) beats Jax. Denver (I hope Shanahan keeps a salt lick with him on the sideline) beats Arizona. Kansas City (I hope Herm Edwards gets his fly stuck on the fence the next time he climbs one for the camera) falls to San Diego. Indianapolis (I hope Tony Dungy returns to his home planet someday soon) falls to Cincinnati.

Bruce (2-3 last week, 48-27 overall): Jets. Ravens. Jacksonville. Denver. San Diego. Indianapolis. Any questions?

Scott (2-3 last week, 50-31 overall): I expect the Jets will beat the Vikes, even on the road, because the Jets insist on being a pain in the ass. Baltimore wins over the failing Browns, and I’ll take Jacksonville on the road over the improving Titans (great timing, Jeff, thanks). To continue the pessimism, the Broncos will find a way to win in Arizona, the Chargers will beat the visiting Chiefs, and on Monday night I’ll take the Colts at home.

Greg (3-2 last week, 46-35 overall): The Jets were exposed last week, Minnesota beats them at home to send them back to .500. Baltimore takes out the reeling Browns, Jacksonville slows down the Vince Young express, Arizona beats Denver, San Diego beats KC and the Bengals continue the Colts woes by running it down their throats again and sending them to their fourth loss in five games.

Okay, let’s really strain credulity here. Pats picks! Let’s ask this group of lifelong Patriots fans and season ticket holders for their objective opinion about this Sunday’s game. Remember, men – these picks count!

Bruce: Undermanned Patriots come out with a little fire. They win 24-7.

Scott: The Patriots can’t win here no matter what they do. Neither can I. I’ll take the Pats 16-13.

Greg: The Pats are banged up. This might be closer than we expect. But I can’t see Houston running the ball much, even with Vince Wilfork out. And they should be able to get pressure on David Carr, everyone else does. Of course Andre Johnson is a great receiver and they need to shut him down. They should move the ball some on offense. I’ll say Patriots 23-13.

Tim: I see 14-10 Patriots. The Texans are playing competitive football and Kubiak may have stolen some of Shanahan’s kryptonite on his way out of Colorado.

Bring out your Mediots of the Week! Bring out your Mediots of the Week!

Scott: I don’t have one, but I have a mea culpa – not that many people read it, but last Sunday I got all over Albert Breer of the Herald for his nagging Sunday morning column that insisted on reminding me of all the things that are wong with my football team. My response (“they ARE 9-3″) was as weak as the Patriots effort on Sunday. You had it right Albert, and I had it all wrong.

Greg: Lets go with Dennis and Callahan for their absurd four hours on a alleged sports show about “the war on Christmas”….probably the most laughable, paranoid delusional concept I have ever heard of. Christmas is everywhere. Like everyone else, I love Christmas. But I saw displays in stores this year before Halloween. I heard songs on the radio before Thanksgiving. The Wrentham Outlets opened at midnight Thanksgiving evening. You can’t walk 5 feet down the street without some reminder of how commercialized the Holiday has become. And its more hyped and commercialized and fatiguing, at times, from the commercials to over decorated houses to shopping every year. Certainly more than when I was a kid and it was commercialized then. Where is this war these morons speak of? Invented in their little heads I suppose. Well, that’s it for this week. See you next week, I have to go finish my shopping.

Tim: I avoided the local coverage partially due to travel back from Miami and partially because I had no interest in a thorough accounting of that game from the usual suspects, but for fun let’s just highlight one and give him some recognition for his body of work. I give you, Steve Burton. Steve’s done nothing egregious in Patriots coverage since he asked Tom Brady to “talk about” his locker room hijinks with Cassel, sounding like a special needs 5th grader talking to an honor student 8th grader, but that doesn’t mean we can’t salute him for being the dimmest, most inept broadcast personality in our fair region for years now. A Steve Burton interview makes the viewer’s brain cells quake in fear and his only peer in that department that I can think of is Butch Stearns. Three cheers to double digit IQ’s and Daddy’s reputation! Three cheers for Steve Burton!

Bruce: Gotta go with Borges and Felger just trying to stir stuff up by suggesting Belichick could bolt for Houston after the season. Borges made the suggestion, saying that he had “friends” who told him this. Felger said Belichick’s contract was due to expire after this season and that no one from the Patriots has said otherwise. He forgot that Robert Kraft said right in the aftermath of the playoff loss last winter that this season would not be the last year on Belichick’s deal.

The David Carr Conundrum

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

The David Carr Conundrum

It’s hard to write a column about the Houston Texans without taking a look at the decision they made with regards to this year’s draft. Everyone who’s going to read this knows the story: they passed up Vince Young and Reggie Bush to stick with David Carr and Domanick Davis, and selected Mario Williams. At the time of the decision, I mostly agreed with this — running backs are fungible properties and I felt that Carr hadn’t been given a chance to shine. The only difference between the Texans’ decision and my own would have been the selection of D’Brickashaw Ferguson instead of Mario Williams. Both have struggled in their first year. Davis was placed on IR before the season with a knee injury that failed to heal; even so, the Texans rush attack is the 17th best in the league according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, which measures their performance in each down, distance, and opponent situation versus that of the rest of the league. Perhaps more interestingly, their pass offense grades out as 13th — above-average! When you consider that Houston’s rush offense was 13th last year and its passing attack 31st, that appears to be a huge step forward.

Still, though, DVOA is just a metric and should be used in combination with observation and other data. If you’ve followed the Texans this season, what you’ve heard are increased rumblings, much like last season, about David Carr’s job security. Several weeks ago, he was benched halfway through a game after turning the ball over twice for Sage Rosenfels. Now, I don’t mean to disparage Mr. Rosenfels, but it’s Sage Rosenfels. This was not Gary Kubiak benching Carr so that he could get a rookie some game experience; he was benching his starting quarterback for his older, veteran backup. Speculation as to whether Kubiak was just living out some bizarre punitive fantasy involving a benching of John Elway is ridiculous, but Kubiak was clearly unhappy with the play of Carr. Further discussion of Carr’s impending dismissal has come out since then — do a Google News Search for Carr and most, if not all, of the articles will point the Texans “mistake” out.

The thing is, looking at Carr’s statistical line, it’s hard to reconcile that with what people are saying. He leads the NFL in completion percentage at 69.4%; Drew Brees, in second at 66.4%, is closer to eighth than first. While you can make a case that this is due to Houston’s offensive style, it’s some evidence that Carr is at least doing a decent job of performing within the system he plays in; it’s not as if he’s wildly inaccurate. Let’s then look at his yards per attempt, to see if he’s actually getting the ball anywhere:

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As you can see, his numbers were going up from year-to-year at a pretty steady rate (the average yards per attempt for a starting QB, since the merger, is 6.88) — until last year, when his numbers went down to the levels of his rookie season. When I was compiling this data, I began to notice that Carr was one of the few quarterbacks that had this happen to him, and that this might say something about a quarterback’s professional feasibility.

I took every quarterback since the merger and eliminated all seasons where they didn’t throw at least fifteen passes a game and/or played fewer than eight games — since we’re looking at a rate stat, it’s okay if we include the strike years in this. From there, I simply subtracted their yards per attempt in their first season from their fourth, getting rid of the quarterbacks who hadn’t had four starting seasons in the process. Here are the quarterbacks who saw little to no change in their Yards per Attempt over those four seasons:

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As you can see, it’s not a terribly impressive group — the names that you would find impressive, the Dan Marino, Mark Rypien, and Warren Moon’s, for example, all have significantly superior levels of yards per attempt than Carr to begin with. It’s simply hard to improve when you are already averaging 8+ yards per attempt. Terry Bradshaw looms as someone who improved significantly in his sixth year as a starter, but he appears to be one of the exceptions to the rule.

Here’s a list of the ten most and least improved quarterbacks when it comes to yards per attempt:

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A player like Steve Young is a little misleading because he was playing in a different offense by the time he had his fourth season, but there’s nothing stopping the players on the bottom half of the list from going to a different offense and improving, either.

See that column to the right that I added? That’s the number of games each player played after his fourth starting season in the NFL. The players on the top of the list played 573 games after their fourth seasons; the players at the bottom of the list, 333. (The + symbols are for Donovan McNabb, Jake Plummer, Kurt Warner, and Aaron Brooks, all of whom are still playing in the NFL; if anyone wants to make a nifty prop bet with me, I’ll take Donovan McNabb having more starts than the other three combined for the rest of their respective NFL careers.)

The 20 guys most similar to and David Carr? Their games played numbers after starting season #4 are below.

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They averaged 63 games played after their fourth season, nearly seven more than the players whose yards per attempt improved dramatically, but 30 more than those who saw their numbers decline dramatically.

So, then, it’s really hard to make a case that Carr’s yards per attempt stagnating after last season would be a dramatic point against him being a NFL-caliber quarterback.

What then, do we say about David Carr’s chances? Why is he so maligned? Interceptions? Can’t be. Starting quarterbacks since the merger throw an interception, on average, once every 30.93 throws. Carr threw an interception every 38.46 throws in 2005. Fumbles? Maybe, but is that Carr’s fault or the shellacking he takes? His offensive line, according to Football Outsiders Adjusted Line Yards metric, has ranked 32nd, 25th, 30th, 32nd, and this year 27th in protecting Carr from harmful DL waves. With that in mind, it’s hard to point out anything that Carr really does too incorrectly, and points even further to the benefits of having selected D’Brickashaw Ferguson in this year’s draft — even if Ferguson would’ve struggled in a similar manner in Houston, it would at least give David Carr a chance.

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As you can see, Houston’s had the worst offensive line in football over the last five years for pass blocking. Note that the teams around them have also struggled to throw the ball effectively. Is that a coincidence? It might take a Pro Bowl performance by David Carr in Miami for the Texans to find out.