December 19, 2014

SECOND LOOK: Patriots at Miami

This was obviously an absolute abysmal performace by the Patriots on the whole. I will say the Patriots were decent for most of the game on defense, but their offense was so inept and punter so pathetic, it made little difference. I actually had to slog through the tape of this disaster again to write this article. I can watch a replay of a decent, close, competitive loss. But this was just torture. They were that bad. And to be fair, Miami was that good. It wasn’t as close as the final score.

QUARTERBACK: I have a hard time blaming Tom Brady too much for the horrendous offensive performance. Sure, he didn’t do much to lift the team’s performance. But he had little time. Hammered, harrassed and hurried all game, there was not much he could do. Surprisingly he avoided any interceptions, though he did lose one fumble. It was hard to even really evaluate his performance, he was that under badly under pressure all game.

RUNNING BACK: This was actually a pretty decent performance. Corey Dillon ran well and, had it been a closer game, probably would have piled up even more impressive stats. Kevin Faulk did a pretty good job in blitz pickup on a number of occasions. He’s gotten pretty good at that. And Patrick Pass filled in without any major errors. Probably the best unit amongst the offense were the backs on Sunday.

WIDE RECEIVER: Not good. Reche Caldwell had his worst day in weeks and could not get open. Admittedly, the Dolphins were doubling the outside receivers. This should have created chances for Troy Brown, but he only managed a bit of production. He did have one nice play where he barrelled into a Dolphin defender and showed nice attitude, as he always does. But overall, the unit was ineffective and it didn’t appear they were making adjustments to blitz calls nor getting open when they were one on one.

TIGHT ENDS: Another terrible performance. Daniel Graham had a big fumble that hurt. Ben Watson had a big drop on what could have been a big play over the middle. David Thomas did nothing. The blocking, with maybe a couple of exceptions from Graham, was non-descript. Bad job from this unit.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Now this was where we really saw some putrid play. The run blocking actually wasn’t bad. We’ll give them a thumbs up there. But the pass blocking was so bad, and inconsistent with what we know of the Patriots—confused looking, Brady never had a chance. As a consequence, neither did the Patriots. Matt Light is a pretty good player. He is tough. He has good technique. He works hard. He is a powerful run blocker. But he is simply not athletic enough to match up against top speed rushers. They kill him every time. Jason Taylor did it again Sunday. Aaron Schobel from Buffalo reguarly does it to him. John Abraham used to as well. They simply have to find a way to give Light more help against teams with speed rushers such as these and its been too often a problem for them not to any longer. The rest of the line was also horrendous, especially Nick Kaczur. Watching this unit stumble, bumble and get overpowered on tape nearly made me want to puke. Its just not what we’re used to seeing. Sure, guys get beat sometimes. But to watch them bump into each other trying to slide over to pick up a blitz and then miss the guy, getting Brady killed, well it was a particularly bad day at the office one might say.

DEFENSIVE LNE: Its a broken record, but Ty Warren is having an outstanding season. The line was pretty good Sunday, at least until Vince Wilfork got hurt and an out-of-position Mike Wright had to fill in. But overall, this wasn’t really the problem Sunday.

LINEBACKER: Again, a decent day here. Tully Banta-Cain was more active than the week before and showed progress. The new middle of Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrable seemed more comfortable. Only Roosevelt Colvin was a little disappointing as he has been off and on this year.

SECONDARY: Not bad, except Chad Scott. I had loved Scott’s play this year. He really was playing outstanding. But then he got hurt and has now been back a couple games and hasn’t been the same. Sunday, he was beat pretty consistently and it costs the Patriots on numerous occasions. He looks a step slower than earlier in the year. One wonders if he is still injured. James Sanders continued his improvement, however, and seems to be coming more confident and a factor in both coverage and run support. That’s encouraging.

SPECIAL TEAMS: We all know Bill Belichick is a great football coach. He has made few errors since he’s been here. But he isn’t perfect and makes them occasionally. One of the most Herm Edwards-esque things Belichick has done, and believe me its a rare day when he does anything as awful as to be put in Herm’s category, is his strange devotion to Ken Walter, a punter unqualified to punt for Foxboro High, nevermind in the NFL. Here’s the thing that gets me about Belichick’s infatuation with Walter, it goes against the grain of one of the core philosophies he believes in. And that is consistency. See, here is the thing with Water. He had a pretty good year in 2001. He had a unique ability to place the ball inside the opponents twenty and did a great job at that. In general, his punts were high and he didn’t give up many returns. We saw the first slight slippage of his performance late that year, but overall, a pretty good year. And a Super Bowl winning year at that. Thank you Mr. Walter.

But here is the rub. He has sucked since then. I mean monumentally. He was terrible in 2002. Even worse in 2003 and then finally the team cut ties with him in 2004. Only to see him reappear like a bad memory you just can’t shake. The man is a menace. I maintain it is some type of football miracle that should be studied by Franciscan Monks to see if some type of divine intervention occurred that they won the Super Bowl in 2003 with Ken Walter as their punter. I mean he repeatedly kicked the team into trouble and, somehow, the defense would bail him out time and time again. I remember the Houston regular season game in 2003 when Walter just kept shanking them off the side of his foot and the defense would actually gain yardage back when put into this awful field position caused by Walter.

And what leaves me scratching my head is this. I am not saying Walter never gets off a good kick. I’ll even acknowledge the strength he has that Belichick seems so enamored of and that is, when he kicks it how he wants, he gets nice height and avoids big returns. The guy has a BB gun of a leg compared to the bazookas other NFL punters have. But occasionally he gets one nice and high and forces fair catches. And, oh yeah, he’s a hell of a holder and a terrific guy as well. Great.

But he’s inconsistent. For every high punt you get, you’re just as likely to get some low liner that causes trouble or a straight up in the air 23 yarder or one of the side of his foot. He doesn’t give you straight line performance. And that is the thing that puzzles me about Belichick’s decision to keep him around. Usually he values consistency. You don’t have to be an All-Pro to be a Belichick player. You can just be a solid guy who does his job and he’ll find a place for you. But under any other circumstances, he at least demands some type of consistent result. You can’t grade out at a 9 one opportunity and 3 the next all the time. Yet that is exactly what you get from Walter. A crap shoot. Sure, he gets those nice high ones that seems to fascinate Belichick. But you get more 24 yarders than I see at half time of the pass, punt and kick competition, 12 year old division, as well. Its pathetic. And Sunday, Walter killed the Patriots kick after horrible kick. It was ridiculous. And its time to end the Walter era in Foxboro once and for all. Mr. Belichick and Mr. Pioli, do everyone a favor. Do Ken Walter a favor. End his football career. He couldn’t kick for King Philip Regional. Get him off the new sod at Gillette. Do it now. And don’t let him come back without a ticket. Because I’m sorry, its killing you. And it’ll continue to kill you because its all he’s displayed since 2002.

Next week Houston. They better play well for a change.

Game Day Rear View — Dolphins Outposition Punchless, Pitiful Pats, 21-0

gdrv_sm.jpgby Scott Benson
[email protected]

Spare me the stories about Super Bowl 39. I don’t want to hear them. They don’t have a damn thing to do with that ridiculous display at Dolphins Stadium this afternoon.

This pitiful Patriots team isn’t 12-1 and victims of a late game nightmare hiccup. This Patriots team put up a embarrassingly futile effort from the opening gun, particularly on offense, throwing up (metaphorically, but it might as well have been literally) an inexcuseably weak 21-0 loss to the Dolphins in a game where they could have clinched the AFC East championship. This was a sixty-minute nightmare.

Tom Brady sucked so bad he was benched with five minutes to go in favor of a second year player who’s started but a handful of high school games. And he thoroughly deserved it.

Oh, I forget. Tom doesn’t play well in Dolphins Stadium. The Patriots never win in Miami. Well, why the hell not? How was it that the Packers put up 34 on these guys on this same turf? The Jaguars 24 last week? This Dolphins defense isn’t the 85 Bears, though they might as well be when the Patriots need to win a December game in Miami.

I’m thoroughly disgusted, and so should you be. You want to spin a few SB 39 yarns and downplay this, go ahead. They blew giant chunks, they’re a damn weak looking lot, and you know it. This is December, and this team has responded with two lousy efforts against two lousy teams. They’re no better than the Denver Broncos, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Jets, three other mediocre squirrels trying against all hope to get a nut, and for what? An early January playoff exit?

The details aren’t worth going through. Brady and the offense couldn’t throw a pass without looking like the proverbial monkey. They ran the ball with some success (usually with Corey Dillon, right at Jason Taylor) but they could not make a play, especially when they had to depend on the quarterback to do it. The Patriots offensive line, and its pass protection in general, was as bad as its ever been. The wide receivers and tight ends couldn’t have found an open area with a freaking GPS. I’m sick of hearing how ‘tough’ the Dolphin defense is; how about you guys start explaining why you can’t make a freaking first down against a sub .500 team? How about you guys start explaining how you have ended up with a tight-end based offense where neither of the first round tight ends can be trusted to handle the ball?

Seriously, aside from the mini-drive they had with Dillon running left for several gains, did you ever get the sense the Patriots had a real plan today? Did you ever get the feeling they could make adjustments and exploit a hole in the Dolphins defense?

One moment defined the afternoon for me. Trailing 13-0 early in the 4th quarter, the Patriots defense forced a Miami punt from deep in Dolphin territory. The Patriots took the punt at midfield – rare good field position – and prepared to break the log jam and cut the Dolphins lead in half.

Naturally, they went nowhere, even with a 3rd down roughing the passer call that extended the drive. On the next play after the penalty, the Patriots tried some ludicrous Music City Miracle throwback play involving Kevin Faulk and Brady, and the resulting double forward pass (which went for a touchdown to Daniel Graham, but was of course called back for the obvious infraction) was nothing short of a public embarrassment for New England.

The Pats defense shouldn’t be assaulted for eventually buckling under the weight of carrying their dead-ass offense up and down the field. They lost a field position battle that began with the opening gun, and with no help from the other side of the ball, they wilted. The 3rd quarter touchdown they allowed – a 32 yard Joey Harrington pass to Marty Booker, when Atrell Hawkins could not make a play on either the ball or the man – was the death knell for New England.

If you want to nickel and dime the severely undermanned defense for that relatively modest transgression – as compared to the relentless incompetence of their offensive teammates, which left the defense on its own side of the field all day – have at it. They did their level best to forestall it, but it was inevitable. If you’re dogging the defense today, and people like Chad Scott (who was abused all day in relief of Ellis Hobbs), I think you’re missing the forest for the trees.

Punter Ken Walter should be invited to seek another line of work before morning. His lifeless, limp punts – not high nor long enough – continually put the Pats defense on, well, the defensive. I don’t care how well he holds for field goals, he worked himself out of a job today.

We’ll certainly spend the next several days rationalizing this, and by Friday, we’ll have convinced ourselves that this was a minor blip in the road. Just like 2004. Onward and upward from here!

But come on. You know better. You know better.

Game Day Blog – The Sunday Papers

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The Patriots will try to stay undefeated on the road – and maybe clinch the AFC East – when they take on Miami in their final division game of the season this afternoon. Let’s open up the Sunday papers for a look at what they’ve prepared for the occasion.

In his Globe notebook, Mike Reiss confirms that Laurence Maroney will indeed be sidelined this afternoon with the mysterious back injury that he suffered last week. Reiss also reports that special teams ace (and sometime ILB fill in) Don Davis has been lost for the season; another blow to the Pats linebacking depth. With his contract up, this may be the end in New England for the valuable puzzle piece. Let’s hope not.

Mike also lays out what’s at stake today for the Road Raging Pats (his nifty phrase, not mine), who will try to set a franchise record for road wins (8) this afternoon. Mike reminds us that the Pats have won their last four road games by a minimum of 22 points, the first team in league history to do so.

Jim McBride likes the Pats over Miami by 10 in his scouting report. Ron Borges is back on the weekly Football Notes, where he takes a look at Vince Young’s rookie season. Let’s see – a freelancing running quarterback who has yet to prove himself as a passer. Look out! It’s revolutionary! I’m shaking!

The Globe rolls out a couple of neat feature pieces this morning – first, Amalie Benjamin writes about the longstanding friendship – on and off the field – between Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, the club’s resident pain in the ass (in a good way). This one is highlighted by Bruschi’s hilarious admission that “sometimes I feel like punching him in the face.” Awwwww, Tedy. That’s sweet.

Jim McCabe reaches back for a look at the 1930’s era Boston Redskins, the city’s first pro football team, which of course went on to institutional status in Washington after being unable to get anyone’s attention here. McCabe also has a sidebar on owner George Preston Marshall, who took his team and got the hell out of Dodge in a fit of pique. Probably just as well – I prefer Bob Kraft to Dan Snyder anyway. Marshall, of course, was a horrible racist, but he wasn’t all bad – he was jealous of the Red Sox too! I’ll bet you a buck this shows up in a Shaughnessy column soon.

At the Herald, John Tomase has the news on Maroney and Davis, and notes that rookie Chad Jackson will miss another game with a leg injury. Kelvin Kight has been activated from the practice squad to fill the fifth receiver role for the Pats.

Mike Felger again does most of the heavy lifting for the Herald football staff, starting with a Patriots Beat look at Tom Brady’s recent hot streak, and the open question of whether he can continue it today, against a team that has always given him fits. Mike adds his scouting report, and throws in a couple of sidebar nuggets — warning us to watch That Effing Wes Welker in the slot today, while breaking down Corey Dillon’s 2nd quarter TD against the Lions for a sense of why the Patriots are so good in short yardage situations.

Mike also takes his weekly look around the league, where he compares the drug policies of the NFL and MLB.

I really don’t know what to make of Albert Breer. I’m always ready to welcome new blood to the Pats beat, but Breer sometimes comes off as one of those guys that will tell you one hundred times what’s wrong with the Patriots while never once mentioning what’s right about them. They ARE 9-3, Albert. How about a little perspective? And the Pats defense “got killed” by the Bears? Really? They gave up 13 freaking points to a 9-1 team despite five turnovers by the offense. Revisionist history at work. Put this piece of crap in the round file, folks.

The Herald wraps up with another one of those three-day-old Behind Enemy Lines columns – this one from Boston native Dave Joseph, writer for the South Flrida Sun Sentinal – who’s ready to pitch Joey Harrington over the side. Thanks for those four straight wins Joey – now get out.

The Projo appears targeted towards people who will be watching their first professional football game this afternoon. Shalise Manza Young reveals that – gasp – Bill Belichick and Nick Saban are friends. Actual friends! Two rival coaches! Friends! I can’t get my head around that. Thankfully, here’s Bill Reynolds to help. Bill’s taken a look at the situation and has decided that Pats playoff success will really depend on – hold on to your hats – the play of quarterback Tom Brady. See, I was going to say Nick Kaczur. Thanks Bill! I’ll keep an eye on Brady from now on.

Joe McDonald says ‘advantage, Pats’ in his weekly scouting report. Jim Donaldson says that the struggles of the defending champ Steelers should make you appreciate the Pats more than ever. Seriously, no offense Projo, but I could have skipped this whole section today. But if I had, I would have missed Kevin Faulk answer ‘drug dealer’ when Shalise asked him to name the job he wouldn’t want in her weekly Who I Am segment. I would have said ‘contract killer’, because of the travel.

A couple of weeks ago, the blogs mentioned that Belichick had particularly enjoyed fielding the questions of a USA Today reporter, who was in town to write a feature on the Pats organization. The paper ran the story this week, and here it is. I noticed it was also the cover story of their weekly sports paper too.

Criminy, did Bill Barnwell ever strike a nerve over at the finheaven.com message board this week. A (last time I checked) SIXTEEN page thread prompted by Bill’s column that pegged Chris Chambers as football’s worst WR (based on productivity rankings developed at Bill’s mothership, footballoutsiders.com).

Honestly. Posting all day on a message board just because someone says something derogatory about your football team. I just don’t understand some people.

Thanks for stopping by. If you’re looking for more, there’s the Patriots News Mashup page, and as always, Mike Reiss has all the latest at his priceless Reiss’s Pieces blog. See you after the game.

GDRV Roundtable

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The 9-3 Patriots can clinch their fourth straight division title this Sunday if they beat the Miami Dolphins and get a little help in the Meadowlands.

A Patriots victory combined with a Buffalo Bills upset of the Jets in Jersey would give New England a playoff berth at no worse than the fourth seed.

They’re still in the ballgame with 10-2 San Diego and 9-3 Baltimore for the second seed and a first round bye. Things tightened up last week with Baltimore’s loss to the Bengals, and both the Chargers and Ravens face playoff contenders this week. The Pats could still pass them both, with some luck.

In the event of a tie, the first hurdle is conference record, where the Pats 5-3 record trails San Diego’s 8-2 and Baltimore’s 6-2. The Chargers have the edge here (they play just two more conference games, KC and Denver, hosting both), while the Pats and the Ravens still have four conference games apiece to sort things out.

If they don’t, they move on to record vs. common opponents (Buffalo, Cincinnati, Denver and Tennessee), where the 3-1 Pats win out over the 2-2 Ravens, but still trail the 4-0 Chargers. They each have a common game left (NE at TEN, DEN at SD, and BUF at BAL).

After that you have something called Strength of Victory, and if you can find that on the Internet, let me know.

Maybe it’s presumptuous to be talking about playoffs that don’t begin for a month when the Patriots are just a few days beyond an unimpressive win over the Lions. Though the Patriots are a 9-3 team with a chance to clinch this Sunday. Your call, I guess. Let’s see what the Panel thinks.

Bill Belichick reportedly ran one of his toughest weeks of practice before last Sunday’s narrow win over the Lions. Yet his players came out listlessly, nearly losing at home to one of the worst teams in football. Does this say anything to you about the team and its prospects for the rest of the season?

Bruce: I almost think that some sort of letdown was inevitable, no matter what the staff did. A letdown doesn’t explain the turnovers though. I really don’t see that game as an indictment of their chances the rest of the way. Let’s not forget, the Patriots are still regarded around the league as the “gold standard” of the NFL. Every week they’re going to get the top effort of the opponent. The Lions would’ve made their season with a win in Foxboro.

Scott: I’m wondering if that wasn’t a respectable coaching job by the staff last week. Maybe it wasn’t a question of if the team would let down, but how much. Maybe they mitigated it just enough to get the win. Just a thought. No, I don’t suppose the mental egg laid last week makes any meaningful statement about the rest of the season; their problem isn’t motivation. It’s execution.

Tim: It’s been proven many times that it just doesn’t work that way. The best example being the 04 Miami game where the team uncharacteristically unraveled in the final 8 minutes to lose to a 2 win team. It was such a harbinger of doom that all they did subesquently is go on and win their 3rd Super Bowl in four years. My pet theory is that the players busted their asses during the week on orders, but still had a hard time getting up for the game against a team like the Lions that has some talent, but no idea how to finish a game. If that’s the case, they were exactly right, weren’t they? Win or lose, they’ll be plenty fired up for Miami this weekend. I don’t see any lethargy carrying over.

Greg: I don’t think so. It happens. They have had a few of these late season blips to bad teams and gone on to win a Super Bowl before. Buffalo in 2001, Houston in 2003, Miami in 2004. So why would the fact it happened this year be conclusive proof of anything? Its the NFL, there are going to be close games between a good team and a bad team occasionally.

Tom Brady completed 14 of 15 fourth quarter passes Sunday to lead a Patriots comeback. Why isn’t anyone talking about it?

Scott: This is probably heresy, but its probably because it was a bunch of dump offs to Kevin Faulk. It wasn’t exactly gunslinger-esque. The most memorable throw for me was a 6 yard, 3rd down pass to Reche Caldwell on the winning touchdown drive. Let’s face it, the guy’s been a central figure in some pretty memorable games. Its going to be tough to slide a sharp fourth quarter against 2-10 Detroit in there alongside the Super Bowl winning drives. He was great in that 4th quarter, though (as well as at the end of the first half). We’ve indeed been blessed.

Tim: I am not exactly sure, but my guess is that it’s a story that’s been told before and the “opinion makers” were looking for a fresh angle. That was a pretty sweet last 8 minutes to that game, huh? Lots of great plays, but two stand out: Pass’s 16 yard screen play and Brown’s nifty slant to tie the game with a two point conversion. Contrary to most written accounts, that was actually a really entertaining 4th quarter for New England fans.

Greg: It was overhadowed by almost losing to a horrible team. A blowout win was expected. The fact they needed Brady to stand on his head in the fourth quarter is not going to calm the masses.

Bruce: Because we and the media are a collection of spoiled dolts. Scott, you didn’t quite commit heresy, but you just can’t minimize what Brady did because it was the Detroit Lions or because the passes weren’t all 30 yard lasers across the field. The very fact that we’re sitting here at 9-3 coming off a fourth quarter comeback and people are too busy telling us how flawed the team is just shows how spoiled we’ve become. Think about Brady’s first year as starter when he led the club back in the San Diego game. That was huge. Now, it’s no biggie, or even worse, expected. I’m not looking forward to feeling about these Patriots the way I feel about the 1980’s Celtics.

How much does the loss of Eugene Wilson set back the team’s title hopes?

Tim: Wilson wasn’t having the best year before the injury, but he will be missed and the depth in the defensive backfield is once again a concern. Every freakin year we are counting DB’s like change in the couch cushions. I am baffled by this. All I can say is “Artrell!” (God bless you). Hawkins has been perhaps their most valuable member of that unit this year and he’ll need to continue his strong play for the team to have a chance at a deep playoff run. If only we knew more about his singing voice……

Greg: Well, it doesn’t help, but he has only played in a handful of games now anyways. And Artrell Hawkins and James Sanders are playing pretty well. Once Rodney Harrison gets back, Wilson won’t be missed too much.

Bruce: To be honest, I’m so pleased with Artrell Hawkins, I thought it was possible that Wilson wouldn’t even get his starting job back. He would’ve been a great “flex” piece to have in the defensive backfield though, as I think he would’ve been swung between corner and safety the rest of the year depending on matchups. His skills and experience are going to be missed, but Hawkins might’ve taken his job at the safety position. James Sanders has also been decent since he started playing in the regular defense again. The Broncos game and subsequent benching might’ve been a wake up to him. If the rest of the guys can stay healthy and we can get Rodney back, I think there’s the makings of a strong secondary in place for a January run. I like the pickup of Mickens, it probably means Troy Brown can concentrate more on receiver and let Mickens take the nickel back duties.

Scott: I can’t see it would have a big effect now, since Wilson’s been out for most of the last two months. Think of when Ty Law went out for the season against Pittsburgh in 04; there was enough time afterwards for the team to adapt to, and cover for, the loss. The Pats have adapted again. Credit for that goes squarely to Artrell Hawkins, and the front office that brought him in a year ago. God forbid anything else happen though.

How did the first game with the new linebacker lineup look to you?

Greg: Not too bad. Mike Vrabel had a good game. Tully Banta-Cain was quiet outside, but let’s give that another week. I didn’t see any immediate causes for alarm, however. Like big gaping holes in the middle during runs or anything.

Bruce: It was a game of adjustment, but I think there were encouraging signs. Banta-Cain is going to need to get used to playing every down, but Colvin was strong on the strong side and Vrabel and Bruschi were fine inside. I think we all held our breath though when Vrabel took the hit after the interception. He’s one of the guys on defense that they cannot lose.

Scott: This group certainly gets it share of scrutiny. I wonder how much of it gets blown out of proportion. This defense is at the top of the league in fewest points and yards allowed. These guys represent more than a third of that defense. How big of a problem can linebacker be, really? Banta Cain’s play was a disappointment; he was easily pushed away from the quarterback for most of the afternoon. He’s been good in spots so far this year, so I was surprised he didn’t do more with his starting opportunity. That will be something to keep an eye on.

Tim: I am going to just throw my cards on the table here. I am woefully unqualified to evaluate linebacker play, especially in a Belichick defense. I was screaming at Bruschi for being too slow in the last Super Bowl win about 30 ticks before he made a game changing interception. I think others were doing the same to Vrabel this past Sunday too. With this in mind, I’ll take a pragmatic approach: it’s all about repetitions and how comfortable everyone is in their new roles. Vrabel shouldn’t need much time getting acclimated to the inside, but TBC will probably need more to get adjusted to his increased workload on the outside. He’s shown flashes in situational duty in the past and I am comforted by the fact that he’s been in the system for four years.

Let’s hit the Big Board for another week. This time, we’re packed with direct matchups between AFC playoff contenders – along with the Pats and the Dolphins, there’s Baltimore at Kansas City, Indianapolis at Jacksonville, and Denver at San Diego. Let’s fill it out with teams at the back of the Wild Card race: Buffalo at the Jets, and Oakland at Cincinnati.

Bruce (2-4 last week, 46-24 overall, .657): I like the Chiefs being able to hand the Ravens their second straight loss. Indianapolis will bounce back in Jacksonville, though that’s a place where they’ve had troubles the last few years. San Diego will take out the fast fading Broncos at home. The Jets will handle the Bills and the Bengals will run it up on the Raiders.

Scott (5-1 last week, 48-28 overall, .631): It feels like a playoff week, which means I’m probably going to choke. It’s why I’ve developed this empathy for Peyton Manning, I think. Anyway, I’m hopeful that Baltimore will continue to fade in Kansas City, who gave one away last week. I feel good about the Chiefs here. Is this a meaningful game for the Colts this weekend? They could be dropping out of the first seed, so I guess the answer’s yes. I’ll take the Colts on the road – besides, I just don’t like the Jaguars. Give me the Chargers over Denver – how will history judge the decision to go to Jay Cutler the first week of December? Not well, I suspect. The Jets will stave off division elimination with a win over the Bills, and I can’t see myself ever picking the Raiders.

Greg (2-4 last week, 43-33 overall, .565): Kansas City will beat the overrated Baltimore, I’ll call for Jacksonville to hand Indianapolis its third loss (and they could have much more than that), San Diego beats a reeling Denver, the Jets take out Buffalo at home and the Bengals beat up on hapless Oakland.

Tim (3-3 last week, 5-7 overall, .416): Hold on. We are keeping track of the picks and aggregating them? Nobody told me my answers would be part of my permanent record. Let it be known, that the following picks are being made under protest and that I will be picking my winners based on the physical demeanor of each head coach. First up, it’s Edwards versus Billick. This one is close, but I am going with Edwards even though he looks like an aging Alvin Ailey dancer. Billick’s just got too much middle school administrator in that hair style for me to endorse the Ravens this week. Next we’ve got Dungy, whose voice reminds me of the elderly pedopohile that lusted after Chris Griffin in the first season of Family Guy versus Del Rio whose piercing eyes both frighten and excite me all at the same time. Let’s go with Dungy here so I don’t have to explore these feelings any further. This next one’s a classic match-up, Sphincter-Face Shanahan versus Mary Schottenheimer who reminds me of a WorldComm executive at a fantasy camp. I am givng the nod to the man with anus features and the defense that may be fast enough to contain LT2. Dick Jauron is pretty non-descipt once you get past the sickly skin color and he’s a big favorite over Eric Mangini, who conjures up images of the fat troubled kid that likes to stuff bottlerockets up frog’s asses. Shell versus Lewis is a tough one. Neither one has any glaring weaknesses physically. I have to go with Shell in a tight one because the man just looks like a football coach while Lewis looks like he could do corporate if he needed to.

The Patriots have certainly had their troubles in South Florida. This week they face an improved Dolphins team, who lost last week but have won four of the last five. What do you make of this game?

Scott: The Patriots are 2-11 lifetime in games played in Miami in December. Tom Brady is 2-3 at Dolphins Stadium. The Pats are coming off a down effort. I don’t care. The Dolphins are just doing what they did last year – staging a furious ‘rally’ after playing themselves out of any reasonable contention before the season is half over. It’s like a salary drive. Pats win 23-13.

Tim: I’ll be at this game in Miami and I am really excited to go. At the same time, I am nervous, mindful of the challenges this team faces whwnever they travel south to the sunshine state. I think this game is a coin flip that will be decided by one or two defining plays late in the game. With that in mind, the fact that the Dolphins don’t have Brown and they do have a coach rumored to be leaving for Alabama may proive to be the slight advantage the Patriots need. They will be sky high for this one, that’s a definite. I am going with a 1 point win, say 10-9 or 14-13.

Greg: My initial instinct was the Patriots would be in for a tough game. And some credence has to be given to the fact they generally don’t play well down there. But on the other hand, I think they are a better team. Particularly with Miami probably without Ronnie Brown. And the old Miami defense isn’t what it once was. I’ll go with Patriots 27-13.

Bruce: I feel good about the Patriots in this one, which scares me to death. I’m going 24-13, Patriots.

Are there candidates for Mediot of the Week?

Tim: I am enthusiastically endorsing the Chinless Chia, Dan Shaughnessy, this week for his typical tripe. Two terrible, terrible football columns in the space of 48 hours seals it for everyone’s favorite Curly Haired Boyfriend. How about this gem from his 12/4/06 column?

“The savvy media throng immediately recognized Bill was not in the mood to reveal any truths and with Belichick still at the podium — just getting started taking questions — the room emptied more quickly than the Laugh Factory during a Michael Richards standup routine.”

I am just going to ignore the Laugh Factory line. It’s typical Dan Shaughnessy trying too hard to be topical and funny, but how about that opener, huh? The media is too SAVVY to sit through another press conference devoid of spoonfed storylines and sensational bunk. They can’t be duped, especially by the likes of Belichick. I am going to try this at work to see if it works across industries. “Yeah, boss, I went to the meeting, but I was way too savvy to sit through that nonsense. I left during the guy’s opening comments to get my swerve on and clean the pecker tracks off my trousers.”

By the way, if this is how the local media is going to deal with Belichick and his guarded answers, then who wins? I’d say this is exactly what Belichick would want. Walk out so he doesn’t have to waste his time telling you to leave.

Greg: Let’s go with Fred Smerlas and Glen Ordway for their idiotic statements in trying to explain away their reselling of Patriots tickets. If you didn’t hear, the Patriots took away Smerlas’ season tickets, upwards of 40 of them, because they have deemed he is basically reselling them for a profit. You heard every twist and turn in the book from these guys in the wake of the scandal. Smerlas claimed there was a “gray area” in much the same way someone would argue “it depends what the definition of is is”. Ordway twisted and turned claiming he had no “ownership interest” but would simultaneously go into detailed explanation of the business and the inner workings of it. Meanwhile, one has to scratch their heads at the Patriots who gave the duo special treatment in not taking their tickets away immediately and waiting until next year. If this was just some average Joe Fan, they’d have their tickets gone immediately. Why the special treatment from the Patriots? It hardly seems fair.

Bruce: On Wednesday old friend Ron Borges was on the radio with Felger saying words to the effect of when Belichick does things that work out (an example being practicing the team in pads last week), everyone says “Bill Belichick the genius” and when he does something and it doesn’t work out it’s somebody else’s fault. He’s been beating this drum for quite awhile now, usually lumping Scott Pioli in with Belichick. I’ll agree that Belichick does get tons of credit. However, Borges seems to imply that Belichick is the one spinning things one way or another. My question is this: where is the evidence? Where, exactly, is Belichick spinning? Who does Borges actually think is doing this public spin job to slant everything in Belichick’s favor? Nobody is doing it, (unless it is Borges’ colleagues in the media) it is a by-product of championships. When Brady makes a mistake, everyone rushes to blame the receivers or the offensive line. It’s the same thing with Belichick.

Scott: I don’t know how many articles I read this week that said “they won’t beat a good team playing like that” just seven days after they beat a good team playing like that.

Chris Chambers, The Worst WR In Football

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

Chris Chambers, for some reason, has developed a reputation that he is a elite wide receiver waiting to break out, a player held back solely by poor quarterbacks and lack of support across from him. Brandon Funston, when talking about the Daunte Culpepper trade, wrote, “First and foremost, [Culpepper] inherits one of the most talented receivers in the league in Chris Chambers, a player that can make tough, acrobatic catches in traffic and has a knack for the goal line. His skills work well in a vertical passing game and he’s never played with a QB that can throw the deep ball like Culpepper. Chambers had his best fantasy season in ‘05, but a healthy Culpepper would make him even better. Their connection could very well be reminiscent of the hay days of Culpepper and Randy Moss in Minnesota.” Let’s just save ourselves the time with that last statement and talk about Chambers the player, in and of himself. There are some clear trends to be seen with Chambers when you look at his DPAR and DVOA:

chambers

There is no doubt that, particularly after 2003, there was a good amount of evidence pointing towards Chris Chambers’ becoming a star WR; since then, though, he has basically fallen off of a cliff.

What’s really interesting is the catch percentage on the right – despite the dramatic variance in Chambers’ play according to DPAR and DVOA, he is essentially catching the same percentage of balls regardless.

Simply put, regardless of how ugly a quarterback or how decrepit a team a WR is surrounded by, elite WRs simply catch a higher percentage of the balls thrown to them than Chris Chambers does. Take a look at last year’s WR numbers. Steve Smith was a one-man offensive machine for Carolina with limited, at best, help from the rest of his team, in addition to being a much more dynamic deep threat than Chambers. He caught 69 percent of the passes thrown to him. Santana Moss, in much the same vein as Smith, caught 63 percent of the passes thrown to him. Some of those were screens, of course, but that’s not an issue with Hines Ward, who had almost nonexistent help from the wide receivers opposite him during the regular season and was at 61 percent. And this wasn’t a single-season thing; going back to 2004 and beyond, those WRs that are consistently defined as the elite of the game, or even those who are a step below them – the Joe Horns of the world – catch right around 60 percent or higher of the balls thrown to them. Chris Chambers has yet to have a single year like that.

Of course, in 2006, the old Daunte Culpepper hasn’t shown up, but Joey Harrington has replaced him and been, at least, marginally competent; he ranks 21st in the league by both DVOA and DPAR. Chris Chambers, on the other hand, is another story altogether.

Even after his 8 catch, 121 card game against Jacksonville last week, Chris Chambers rates out as the worst wide receiver in the NFL this season. Out of 80 wide receivers who have had 39 passes thrown in their direction, Chambers is ranked 80th in DPAR and 77th in DVOA. He’s had 122 passes thrown in his direction and caught 52 of them – that’s 43%. It really stands out when you look at the wide receiver page and you see that the players who are around his level are all marginal WRs (Brandon Lloyd, Alvis Whitted, Marcus Robinson), guys at the end of their careers (Rod Smith), or young players who are stuck playing with Michael Vick (every Atlanta wide receiver). None of those guys have seen the ball very often — the 10 guys above Chambers in DPAR, on average, have had 53 passes thrown in their direction. Chambers, again, has been the target of 122 passes. Other people who have seen that number of balls in their direction: Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Donald Driver, Torry Holt. To a man, each of those wide receivers have numbers that make Chambers’ look shambolic. None have caught fewer than 52% of the balls thrown towards them, and they’ve had to play with Drew Bledsoe, David Carr, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart and the poorly-calibrated JUGS machine that is Brett Favre.

So, I guess, you could argue that Joey Harrington is worse than all those quarterbacks this season. Well, let’s take a look at those WRs who are, in fact, stuck with QBs as crummy as the ones Chambers has been stuck with. I’ve linked the quarterbacks that Chambers has played with with their closest comparable quarterback over the last five years with similarity scores for those quarterbacks. Using this information, I’m going to take the QB whose numbers were most comparable to the Dolphins’ QB that year, and then find out how his top WR fared that year, comparing him to Chambers’ numbers for the same year in the process. (Since we only have catch data on the website from 2000 on, I will be dealing strictly with comparable quarterbacks from that time period.) You may notice that there’s one quarterback who shares, well, a certain kinship with another.

quarterbacks

It seems absolutely unfathomable to me that anyone who watches him on a regular basis could make a case that Chris Chambers is a star receiver. Chambers has had to deal with some poor quarterbacks, indeed, but if he were really a stud stuck with mediocre talent all around him, he wouldn’t be this bad. There simply is not a wide receiver in our database (looking back to 1997) who has played this poorly in what should be the prime of his career and recovered to be an elite wide receiver. When Gregg Easterbrook was railing against the evils of SportsCenter several weeks ago, he didn’t point out one of the real flaws that SportsCenter’s introduced: false perception. You can watch a highlight package of Chris Chambers plays and think he’s amazing. If you watched him for a season, you might be able to forget about the drops or the mistakes. You’d have to watch that highlight package quite a few times, though. Chris Chambers has a better chance of being out of football in three years than he does of appearing in a Pro Bowl. If that seems absurd to you, I’d reply by saying that nominating the worst wide receiver in the league to go to the Pro Bowl would be an equally absurd proposition.

Second Look: Detroit at Patriots

by Greg Doyle
[email protected]

In 2001, the Patriots had to go into overtime in week 14 to beat Buffalo 12-9. Buffalo finished 3-13 that year. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. In 2003, the Patriots had to go into overtime against Houston in week 12 before winning 23-20. Houston finished 5-11 that year. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. In 2004, the Patriots played a very sloppy game, barely sneaking by 35-28, against a pre-playoff caliber Cincinnati team in week 14 and then went on to lose the following week against a bad Miami team that finished 4-12. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.

The point is, Sunday’s game did not bother me too much. They played poor, got the win against a bad opponent, but were pretty much in control at the end. Had that game gone a bit longer, it wouldn’t have been close. Sure, you’d like to see a superior team like the Patriots blow out an inferior team like the Lions. Call it human nature, the way the NFL is, whatever. It just happens sometimes. It doesn’t mean the Patriots didn’t care. It doesn’t mean they’re doomed the rest of the year. They just did what they had to do, and no more, and got the W. On to Miami. Lets take a look at each unit.

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady played his third top-notch game in a row. He seems to finally found his rhythm this year. There was one bad throw that Dre Bly intecepted. But Bly is one of the top corners in the NFL at jumping routes and he got Brady. Not a big deal. Otherwise, Brady was on top of his game, completing 14 of 15 in the fourth quarter when the game was in the balance and spreading the ball around like a magician. He seems to be getting better and better as the season progresses, after a slow start, and that could be very good news if that trend continues into the playoffs.

RUNNING BACK: A so-so day. Laurence Maroney got injured early after a somewhat promising start. Corey Dillon didn’t produce much yardage, but did display good, hard running in the red zone and racked up three touchdowns. Kevin Faulk had his best game of the year, doing yeoman’s work catching the ball out of the backfield. Patrick Pass got back involved, but had a costly fumble. He did make a nice play on a screen pass that went for sixteen yards.

WIDE RECEIVER: A great day for Reche Caldwell once again. This guy is getting better and better as well, almost in sync with Brady in their progression. It seems humorous at this point to look back at how this signing was ridiculed by some in the preseason when he has turned out to be one of the best signings of last off-season in the entire NFL. None of the other receiver did too much, though Jabar Gaffney chipped in a nice 28 yard reception and Troy Brown did good work on a reverse.

TIGHT END: A good day for Daniel Graham. Ben Watson had a lost fumble and holding onto the ball has become an issue with him. If he could only correct that, you’d have a top tight end in the NFL. But until he corrects that, you can’t consider him that way. It is important to remember this is really his second season in the NFL when one considers he lost his rookie year to injury, so he’ll continue to improve. But being sure handed is an issue he needs to work on.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Decent protection for most of the day from this group. Nick Kaczur did have a holding penalty which wiped out a nice gain. And the run game was stagnant against a defensive line missing their best run stuffer. This group hasn’t played quite as well recently as they did early in the year and you’d like to see them do a better job, particularly in run blocking, heading into the playoffs.

DEFENSIVE LINE: A great day once again for Ty Warren. I may have said this several times this year, but if he doesn’t make the Pro Bowl its a crime. He hasn’t just been one of the best Patriots players, he has been one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL this year as far as I can see. Richard Seymour also had a nice day and managed to tip a couple balls. Mike Wright came in and caused some disruption and also recovered a fumble.

LINEBACKER: Pretty solid, overall, with a few hiccups. Roosevelt Colvin was hit or miss. He caused some pressure rushing the passer, but got sucked inside several times on run plays and also missed some plays on screen passes. So his day overall wasn’t great. Mike Vrabel looked comfortable inside at linebacker and had two interceptions, but his replacement outside Tully Banta-Cain didn’t do much. We’ll chalk Banta-Cain’s invisible day to unfamiliarity with his now every-down role. Give it time. He’s got ability and should improve.

DEFENSIVE BACK: A good day once again for Asante Samuel. Chad Scott replaced Ellis Hobbs frequently and was back from injury, but looked rusty and had a bad day. Hobbs wasn’t great either when he came back in. Both of which may help explain the signing of Ray Mickens at corner this week. Artrell Hawkins had a nice day. And James Sanders was again active in run support and had a decent day. When Hawkins got banged up and Rashard Baker came in briefly for him at safety, it was a disaster and Baker was confused and out of position, allowing for a couple decent gains. Safety depth could be an issue until Rodney Harrison gets back.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Good day for the coverage teams and Ken Walter did not allow any return yardage himself.

Miami is up next. Should be a tough game even though Miami isn’t a great team. The Patriots have traditionally struggled there and Miami always gets up to play them and play them physically. Until then.

Game Day Rear View – Pats Get Away With One, 28-21

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The Patriots avoided an embarrassing and hurtful loss tonight with a late 15 point surge that gave them a narrow 28-21 win over the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium.

New England overcame three more turnovers – all soft – and another fumble that turned into a safety to walk away with a much needed win after arguably being outplayed – by a 2-10 team – for most of the day.

Tom Brady and the offense twice pulled off late half flurries to account for 25 of their 28 points, but spent the rest of the day handing the ball over to the Lions 29th ranked defense. Brady threw a horrible 3rd quarter interception and later fumbled into his own end zone for a safety that gave the Lions an eight-point, 4th quarter lead. Ben Watson and Patrick Pass each – on separate occasions, mind you – fumbled the ball right back to Detroit immediately after the Patriots defense had forced a Lions turnover. In neither case was the fumble so much forced as it was offered up.

Jon Kitna passed for more than 300 yards on the Patriots 2nd ranked defense, which allowed 22 first downs to a Detroit squad that hadn’t been scoring on some of the league’s worst defenses. Lions receiver Mike Furrey shredded the Pats secondary for 130 yards and a touchdown, and Kevin Jones ran up 140 yards of total offense with some potentially crippling third down runs and catches.

But Kitna is Kitna, and he turned the ball over twice in the last eight minutes (four times overall) to give the Patriots enough room to wriggle out of the mess they’d made.

Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Wright combined for a strip-sack-and-fumble-recovery that set up the winning touchdown, a four yard run by Corey Dillon with just over two minutes left. Any Detroit hopes for a last minute tie were dashed by the second of Mike Vrabel’s two interceptions, an uncontested jump ball on a Kitna floater gone awry.

Dillon had three rushing scores on just nine carries after Laurence Maroney – who was effectively featured early on – was forced from the game with an undecipherable first quarter injury. Maroney was reported to have the wind knocked out of him, but he was not seen again, calling into question whether it was something worse.

Vrabel also went down with what appeared to be a head injury after being tackled on his game clinching pick. The veteran linebacker – even more indispendable to the Patriots now that Junior Seau has been lost for the season – seemed to shake off the blow as he watched the game’s final plays from the bench.

Artrell Hawkins forced a 2nd quarter Jones fumble inside the Patriots 10 that took Detroit points off the board, and finished a strong game with eight solo tackles and two assists. Ty Warren continued his breakout season with eight solos and two sacks, and Tedy Bruschi led all Pats tacklers with nine solos and two assists.

Yet even with the turnover heroics, and despite Reche Caldwell’s 112 yards on eight catches, the Patriots nearly handed a game to a team that had no business beating them, much less on New England’s own turf. Exactly why will no doubt be debated throughout this week. A good place to start the discussion would be the Patriots ten penalties, most of them mental, which wiped out a handful of positive plays at the most inopportune times.

After a couple of early exchanges between the sides, the Patriots drew first blood with a 17 play, 81 yard drive that led to a Stephen Gostokowski field goal and a 3-0 lead for New England. Caldwell began to emerge here, working to Brady’s right for nearly 40 yards on consecutive catches. The Patriots eschewed a Gostkowski attempt earlier in the drive, with Brady converting a 4th and 1 from the Lions 13. It struck me that these gambles don’t show a lack of faith in the rookie kicker as much as they show a lot of faith in a fourth-down unit that converts at an 80% rate.

But the Lions came right back with a drive of their own, an 85 yarder that ended with Kitna and Furrey badly beating Asante Samuel for an easy 5 yard touchdown catch. The score was set up by a 17 yard Jones swing pass on 3rd and 10, which would not be the last time the Patriots would be stung on 3rd and long.

The momentum went completely to Detroit as Brady and the offense then went backward in a hail of penalty flags and sloppy play. Not excusing the Patriots or anything, but at this point the Patriots had been flagged five times, while Detroit, one of the league’s most penalized teams, was spotless (despite Rosevelt Colvin being held frequently). Jeff Triplette had evidently been sent to Foxboro to even things out a bit between the haves and the have nots. Talk about activist judges.

Detroit continued their roll behind Jones, who carried five times on the next possession and once again brought the Lions inside New England’s 10 yard line. But Hawkins slammed him on a first and goal, sending a pop up over the scrum, and Vrabel picked up the loose ball to dodge the bullet. Lucky for the Patriots – aided by Jones, Kitna continued to move the ball on the Pats with short drops and underneath routes.

Patrick Pass had come on to replace Maroney as Dillon’s relief, and – after a Patriots first down to start the drive – he took a promising second down carry and fumbled the ball right back to the Lions. There was nothing remarkable about the hit that took the ball away. Unlike last week, this time it wasn’t a jarring hit – it was just another sloppy play by the Patriots.

The Lions had been given a reprieve, but the Pats defense stiffened and Jason Hansen – who is about 130 years old – stretched the Detroit lead to seven. The Patriots were headed to halftime trailing one of the worst teams in the league – AT HOME – by a touchdown.

The offense had three minutes, and a heretofore unseen urgency. The Pats started with a reverse to Troy Brown, who just eluded a Lion lineman to break into the secondary for a 16 yard gain. Now near midfield, Brady faded to his left and found Jabar Gaffney alone for a 28 yard gain inside the Lion 30. Next it was a strike to Ben Watson, angling up the left hash to the Lions 6. Dillon pounded in from there, and just like that, the Pats had gone 70 yards in five plays for the tie.

If anyting, they scored too quickly, as Kitna would get the ball again with 1:10 left in the half. He worked with Furrey for a 20 yard gain near midfield, but the drive was stopped when Asante Samuel stepped in front of Corey Bradford for an interception near the Patriots 30. Once again Samuel, the league leader in picks in the final year of his contract, appeared right on the hip of an intended receiver just as the ball arrived. He cut off a potential tie, or go ahead score, with his seventh interception.

With 47 seconds left, Brady wasn’t finished. Caldwell continued to come up big, grabbing a 28 yarder from Brady that put the ball across midfield. Kevin Faulk took a swing pass left for 20 yards, and a quick hitter to Doug Gabriel (back from the dead) gained 12. But the Patriots could go no further (thanks in part to a bonehead Brady scramble that nearly drained the clock) and Gostkowski settled for a three that at least gave the rallying Pats a 13-10 halftime lead.

It wouldn’t last. Detroit took the second half kickoff and again began to march on the Patriots defense that had been headed to a team mark for fewest points allowed in a season. Kevin Jones continued to grind away on the Pats, but it was a marginal third down illegal use of hands penalty on Samuel that set up the tying Jason Hansen field goal.

Things went from bad to worse, as Brady immediately followed with a terrible interception right to Dre Bly, who grabbed it at the New England 47. The pass was intended for Caldwell, but only Bly was anywhere near the ball. The Patriots were now doing everything they could to earn a humiliating loss.

Naturally, Detroit turned the turnover into more points, though they were rocked back by two penalties of their own. But Furrey worked his way open for a 17 yard gain on 3rd and 22, which was just enough for Hansen, who gave the Lions the lead with a 49 yard bomb midway through the third.

The whole thing could have been avoided had not Samuel knocked a sure interception away from Hawkins on a tipped ball.

If you were at home at this point, figuring the Patriots to regain their composure and stop the bleeding, you might have been a little pissed when the kickoff return team took a penalty that started New England inside its own ten. You hadn’t seen anything yet.

After Dillon had been stuffed on 1st down, Brady dropped back to throw from his own 9. The Patriots offensive line sprang leaks in every direction (they had protection problems all day despite allowing just two sacks) and Brady was struck from behind, the ball springing loose. Heath Evans did the best he could with it, recovering it in the end zone, but Detroit had the safety and a sudden five point lead.

After the free kick, the Lions continued their second half roar. They ate up the rest of the quarter by driving deep inside New England territory, despite committing two penalties that nearly stopped them. But Kitna hit Jones for a maddening 25 dump off on 3rd and 22 (aided by a badly blown tackle by Colvin), and then found Furrey, Roy Williams and Jones again to put the ball inside the Pats 10. The Pats defense stiffened here, and Detroit coach Rod Marinelli took a pass on a 4th and 1 from the Patriots 8. Hansen’s field goal made it an eight point game, but it could have been worse.

Still, eight points down to a 2-9 team on a three game losing streak was bad enough. The Patriots were only minutes away from their worst loss in recent memory.

But as he had in the waning moments of the first half, Brady led his team back. An unnecessary roughness call on Detroit on the kickoff return placed the ball at the Patriots 42, and Brady began working underneath to Kevin Faulk (four catches on the drive) and Patrick Pass (a 16 yard swing pass) to move the ball quickly to the Lions 10. Pass and Evans took shots, but again it was Dillon with the scoring run on 2nd down from the Detroit two.

The touchdown left the Patriots down 21-19 with 8:35 remaining, so New England went for the two, and the tie. Brady surveyed a crowded end zone for a good while before sliding left and patiently hitting a wide open Troy Brown for the conversion that tied the game after eleven unanswered Lion points.

Kitna took the ball with plenty of time left for a chance to still beat the heavily favored Patriots. But what’s that they say about water finding its own level? One play after ominously starting the drive by hitting Dan Campbell at midfield, Kitna was intercepted by Mike Vrabel, and the Patriots had the ball again.

Not for long. After Brady hit him with a 9 yard pass on 1st down, Ben Watson fumbled after taking a pretty pedestrian hit. Watson may be a physical freak and Brady’s go-to receiver, but plays like this make him more trouble than he’s than he’s worth. In the last two weeks, the tight end has handed the ball over three times.

So Detroit had their second reprieve of the day, and again Kitna got the Lions rolling with another pass (this one an 18 yarder to Kevin Jones) that brought the Lions to midfield. They held the ball at their own 47 with 6:03 left and a chance to take the lead.

Again with the water thing. On the next play, Kitna was stripped by Rosevelt Colvin, who blew through the left side of the Detroit line to blindside the quarterback. The fumble was covered by Mike Wright at the Detroit 32, and after doing everything they could to hand the underdog the game, the Patriots were in position to escape with their hides intact.

The Patriots ate up the next 3:24 working the ball towards the Lion goal, with a six yard completion to Caldwell on 3rd and 5 a drive-saver. Brady then hit Troy Brown twice to take it down inside the Detroit 10, and Dillon capped the comeback with a 4 yard TD – his third – on a prototypical Bully Brother lead play to his left. Gostkowski added the PAT and the Pats were up seven. New England had rallied for 15 points in a little over eight minutes.

This time Kitna held it three whole plays before floating one into the arms of a waiting Vrabel. After tormenting the Patriots for much of the afternoon, the journeyman had twice in the waning minutes handed the ball – and the game – to New England. Which, for all his passing yards, would explain why he’s currently playing football in Detroit, and not someplace nicer.

Brady finished the game taking three knees from the Detroit 35. He had completed an incredible 14 of 15 passes in the fourth quarter (27 of 38 overall, for 305 yards) to once again save the day for the Patriots. A game that seemed at times out of control ended pretty peacefully for New England.

Let the post-game autopsies begin, for there’s precious little time for them. With Miami on the horizon, the Patriots must now turn their attention to the Dolphins, and a huge divisional game on the road.

Come to think of it, they may have already done that. That would explain a lot.

GDRV Game Day Blog – The Sunday Papers

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The Patriots will try to go to 9-3 this afternoon when they entertain the oft-beleaguered Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium. The Sunday Papers have responded with some pretty decent stuff to help us get ready.

At the Globe, columnist Jackie MacMullen leads with the backstory on Pats defensive end Ty Warren. Jackie’s a craftsman, as usual, as she takes us back to Warren’s roots in Bryan, Texas. Read this article and then tell me how the hell Warren – who has become one of the finest defensive linemen in the league in his fourth year with the Patriots – ever got the reputation as a dog.

Mike Reiss sets the stage for this afternoon’s action, recounting Bill Belichick’s Wednesday pep talk, which might have melted a few faces in the Pats locker room. Mike also looks at Troy Brown, defensive back, in his always-read-it-first Patriots Notebook.

Jim McBride likes the Patriots, big, in his weekly scouting report.

Ron Borges is back on the Football Notes beat, where he reviews the disasterous season of Eli Manning and the Giants. Hey, it turns out a Manning boy tends to fade at the end of the season. Who saw that coming? Ron also looks at Art Shell’s paranoid meltdown from earlier in the week, and Friend of Art Borges fingers personnel guy Mike Lombardi as the supposed underminer. Of course, the fact that Lombardi is an old Bill Belichick ally had nothing to do with his Globe indictment this morning. At all.

Shell said this week that this same backbiting marred his first coaching run in Oakland, but at later stops in Kansas City and Atlanta, “everybody was on the same page.” Well, Art, THAT’S PROBABLY BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T THE EFFING HEAD COACH. He’s nuts. Naturally, Ron lines right up with him.

Fans of the BSMW message board will be delighted to see that Borges has also has a Tom Flores update at the end of the Notes (is this the Oakland Globe?). Jay Roach, however, is conspicuously absent. I wonder if Ron checked the Charlestown 99.

Over at the Herald, Mike Felger racks his brain for an innovative angle and finally settles on “TRAP GAME!!!!” To his credit, Felger quickly decides that sort of thing rarely happens to the Patriots. Felger moves on to his weekly tour of the league, where he looks at the troubles of our dear friend Romeo Crennel in Cleveland. Seriously – did you ever think it would get this bad for Crennel? It’s just sad. Speaking of sad, check out the bit on a possibly disgruntled Marvin Harrison, which sets off a clearly-impaired Bill Polian. No word on whether the media took a Breathalyzer reading from Polian before his latest wacky remarks.

Felger also has his Quick Hits, with some complaints about the league’s emphasis on (and over the top support of) the passing game, and he adds a nice bit about a productive pass play featuring the Patriots running backs.

Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press has the Herald’s weekly rival column. All I got from this piece was, basically, it sucks to be the Lions. Hey, didn’t this guy play ‘Coach’ on Cheers?

Steve Buckley takes a closer look at Pats safety Artrell Hawkins. I really liked this story, especially the first time the Herald ran it, on Friday’s Point After blog. Albert Breer must be wondering if Buck has him on block. You know where I come down on the whole blog thing (I fall to Pieces), but the weekly Foxboro Faces, posted every Friday, is by a mile the best thing on the PA.

It’s not that I don’t dig the Projo and consider them a major too, but for some reason, I can never keep a password functioning over there. Well, like Frank Costanza, I’m back, baby! This morning, Shalise Manza Young goes heavy on the human interest, and to great effect with the story of Our Bully Brother Heath Evans, his wife BethAnn, and new daughter Naomi, who thankfully seems to be doing much better after a rather difficult few days. Shalise also asks Rosevelt Colvin to explain Who I Am.

Joe McDonald gives the Pats the edge in his weekly scouting report.

For more from the four corners of the Net, punch up Bruce Allen’s Patriots News Mash Up. Hey, are those Game Day Rear View links I see there? Shucks, that’s sweet of you to do, Mash Up. And naturally, you know what to do as the morning develops – check our friend Mike’s Reiss’s Pieces for all the game day news.

I’ll be back afterwards, unless I have a heart attack watching Jeff Triplette’s crew referee this game. It’s not so much the flags they throw – it’s the conferences they hold AFTER EVERY SINGLE FREAKING ONE! They redefine ‘tedious’.

UPDATE: First time through this morning, I totally missed the Globe’s story on the tailgating scam operations of various WEEI personalities, which has led to the Pats pulling the FORTY-FOUR season tickets owned by Fred Smerlas (were they giving them away as free prizes for jumping offsides?). Get a load of the crap sprewed in this piece by slimy Glenn Ordway, who must crawl on his ample belly like a reptile. I need a shower.