October 1, 2016

Mercy Killing

logoby Dan Snapp
[email protected]

So what’s the big deal? Brady sat out the entire second half.

Oh, right. Not that Brady.

“Runningupthescore-gate” is my favorite gate yet. It’s got all the classics: irrational speculation, righteous indignation, even body language interpreters. I can’t wait to see how the Patriots are going to top it.

At the heart of it is a desire to have some measure of control over the Pats. Nobody can do it on the field, so they wag the disapproving finger instead.

“For shame that you defeated us by more than what we determine is the proper amount.”

Everyone cites these unwritten rules the Patriots are supposedly breaking. It’s an unwritten rule that you let up with a big lead in the fourth quarter. It’s an unwritten rule that you must sit the starting QB. It’s an unwritten rule that you don’t attempt a drop-kick, or execute a fake field goal, or have your third string quarterback throw a last-second touchdown pass.

What we need is an actual written, Unwritten Rulebook. As it stands, nobody knows what the true rules are; just whatever sounds convenient after the fact, after the alleged offense.

So where are the lines drawn? How much of a lead do you need to have, and at what point into the second half, before you take out the starters? And by “starters”, who are we talking about? Is it just the quarterback, or all the skill players? What of the line? What of the defense?

Ironically, only pass plays count as “running it up” in the Unwritten Rulebook. Tom Brady handing off to Heath Evans for a 10-yard-run with 13:34 to go in the fourth is perfectly acceptable, says the UR, but throwing 35 yards to Randy Moss a minute later is strictly verboten. Apparently, running the ball up the gut on fourth down is OK, too, so long as it’s not the quarterback.

Hopefully, the Unwritten Rulebook will give some suggestions on what to do instead. Up 38-0 into the fourth, should the winning team kneel the remainder of their offensive plays? Apparently they’re not supposed to try anymore, so why continue the charade? After receiving punts, maybe they should just punt it back. I suspect that would be even more of a slap in the face than, you know, actually trying.

The winning team just can’t win.

Teams in the past had unique ways of handling blowouts. My father tells the story of Giants squads so dominating, they switched up sides at halftime, with the offensive players playing defense and vice versa. Yet when Bill Belichick puts linebackers at tight end,  receivers at cornerback, or defensive starters on special teams, he’s criticized for either putting his players at risk of injury, or “making a mockery of the game.” The unwrittens must have been re-written somewhere between eras.

Risk of injury is the one legitimate argument against what the Patriots are doing. With the game sealed away, why risk injuring Brady? It’s a good question. And really, Brady is what this whole thing is about. If Matt Cassel started the fourth quarter, nobody would care what plays they ran, or who else was in there running them with him.

There are three plausible reasons for the Patriots’ sudden aggressiveness: 1. Prepping for the Colts; 2. Looking out for legacy; or 3. Actually running up the score to stick it to the league. It could be a combination of all three.

They may very well be running it up on purpose. In week one, they broke a rule and were punished heavily. The subsequent overkill – by the league, the players, and the media – gave the Patriots their “us against them” talking point for the season.

They’re very protective of their legacy, so once the legitimacy of their three titles was questioned, the die was cast. A common refrain was “They only won each by three points.” If that’s the factor that caused the doubt, they were going to make certain there would be no room for doubt this time around. If an opponent’s dignity was a residual casualty, so be it.

Maybe this team wants to be remembered as the best ever. To do that, they have to go undefeated (to match the ’72 Dolphins’ feat) and they have to dominate games. Anything less and history drops them a notch.

Which brings us to the Colts, the real reason for the run-up. No offense to the rest of the league (well actually, plenty of offense), but the Colts are the only team the Pats have played all season. Ignore the disparate uniform colors and patterns. Those weren’t the Jets or Bills, Bengals or Cowboys. They were Colts.

Not in person, of course. But plenty in spirit.

The Patriots have lost three straight to the Colts, giving up 40, 27 and 38 points, respectively. They used to be the team that shut down such big, high-scoring offenses, but no more. The Colts passed them by, so they had work to do. Everything they did in the offseason, and every game along the way has been with an eye toward this meeting, and their eventual playoff matchup.

This game is worth two to the winner. The Pats knew they’d probably have to win every game up to it just to keep pace, and they’d have to learn to score points in bunches. The team never looked past an opponent, of course, but each game also served as a testing ground. The defense tinkered with unique lineups, like the one lineman formation they tried against Dallas and the offense tested all scenarios, all formations, and all weapons in their arsenal.

Win or lose, the philosophy will stay the same: keep winning, because the Colts will surely keep winning, and keep dominating, because the Colts will surely keep dominating. The records, the honors, the marks – they’re all nice if they come, but there’s only one real goal, and only one team in the way.

In the meantime, the league will keep begging for mercy, and the Pats will keep putting teams out of their misery.

It’s kinder that way.

Inside Gillette

logoby Christopher Price
[email protected]

With the Patriots’ offense on the goal line, everyone seems to know what’s going to happen when Mike Vrabel enters the game. Everyone can hear over the public address system when the referee announces, “No. 50 is reporting as eligible.” And everyone knows that when the converted linebacker lines up at tight end, the chances are pretty good he’s going to get the football.

So why does Vrabel have so many touchdown catches?

The Ohio State grad has made a career as a part-time tight end — he caught his eighth regular-season touchdown pass and his 10th overall TD pass (including two in the playoffs) on a 2-yard scoring catch from quarterback Tom Brady in the second quarter. It was his second of the season — Vrabel also caught a touchdown pass on Oct. 1 at Cincinnati.

Each of Vrabel’s 10 career receptions have been for touchdowns — including one in Super Bowl XXXVIII and one in Super Bowl XXXIX. Including his one career interception return for a touchdown, Vrabel now has totaled nine career regular-season touchdowns, the fifth-highest total in a New England uniform by a current Patriot (trailing only Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk, Randy Moss and Benjamin Watson).

Each touchdown looks relatively similar — Vrabel slips unnoticed past the defensive line on a short little down and out or down and in play. But each of his touchdown catches has its own wrinkle. There’s the occasional element of surprise — like his catch against the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, as well as his first career TD catch against the Chargers back in 2002. Sometimes, he simply beats the coverage — like his effort against Philadelphia and Jevon Kearse in Super Bowl XXXIX.

But many times, he gets help from his teammates. That appeared to be the case Sunday against the Redskins, when Vrabel was able to get so wide open in the right corner of the end zone was thanks in large part to some trickeration along the offensive line, which made it look like New England was going to run the ball.

“I think it was a good sell by the offensive line,” said Brady of the play, which culminated with a two-yard catch by Vrabel that put the Patriots up 14-0 and served as the latest example of the fact that Ohio State and Michigan guys really can co-exist in peace.

“If they’re playing the pass and you run it then they’re screwed, and if you try to make it look like a run and Vrabel slips out for a pass, then you leave him open.”

Head Coach Bill Belichick said Sunday, the Redskins were doing their due diligence and playing to stop the run first in that situation. But when you get into that sort of situation, you’re forced to pick your poison — Belichick recalled a play earlier in the season against the Chargers when San Diego used the same sort of formation — with ex-New England offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski at tight end — and ended up scoring on a short pass from Philip Rivers to Lorenzo Neal.

“It’s tough on the goal line. You’re trying to stop the run, play-action passes. You’re only defending a yard, so it’s tough,” Belichick said. “We gave one up earlier in the year to San Diego, right? Standing out there, it looks like he’s out to practice early. That’s tough.”

In the end, it doesn’t matter which position you play. If you’ve got a good set of hands and can get open, Brady’s going to find you — even if you did go to Ohio State.

“He’s very good at evading defenders and getting off the line of scrimmage,” Brady said of Vrabel. “He’s very quick [and] he uses his hands well. He’s got good hands when he catches it.”

FIVE THINGS TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK

1. How the New England defense goes about trying to stop Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark. The Patriots were tormented by Clark in last year’s AFC Championship Game — he finished with six catches for 137 yards. Safety Rodney Harrison struggled at times when faced with Dallas tight end Jason Witten earlier in the season, a good tight end. It remains to be seen how they will go about stopping Clark.

2. How the Indy defense goes about trying to stop Randy Moss. If the Patriots are worried about stopping Clark, the Colts are just as concerned about Moss. Historically, they’ve done OK, but that might only be because they’ve faced Moss just once — Dec. 24, 2000, when the Vikings played at the RCA Dome and lost, 31-10. In that one, Moss finished with one catch — a touchdown pass from Daunte Culpepper — for 42 yards.

3. If the Patriots try and run a lot of play-action. According to the 2007 Pro Football Prospectus, the Colts allowed an astounding 7.6 net yards per pass on play-action fakes last season. Laurence Maroney appears to be nearly back to full strength — he was on the field for 24 of the 76 offensive snaps the Patriots had against the Redskins. If he’s anywhere near healthy, a resurgent Maroney will provide some depth in the running game and force the Colts to respect the possibility of play-action.

4. The continued assimilation of Richard Seymour into the No. 1 defense. The results of our highly unscientific data — we may have missed him for a play or two in the fourth quarter — show Seymour on the field for 18 of the 53 defensive snaps Sunday against the Redskins. After missing the first seven weeks of the season, the Pro Bowl defensive lineman had some rust against Washington, but will likely play a larger role in the defensive game plan this week against Indianapolis.

5. If the Patriots and Colts can break the scoring record for the RCA Dome. According to the Indianapolis media guide, the record for most points scored in a game by two teams at the RCA Dome is 79, when the Colts beat the Packers on Nov. 16, 1997, 41-38. There’s a pretty good chance that the Patriots and Colts will come close to shattering that mark on Sunday.

STAT OF THE WEEK

164. With 38 interception-free passes Sunday against the Redskins, Tom Brady has now thrown 164 straight passes without an interception, tying the longest such streak of his career.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“It’s our job to keep them off the board. This is football, it’s a competitive sport. They are a good team. We just have to do what we need to do to keep them out of the end zone.”— Washington safety Pierson Prioleau, speaking with reporters about whether or not the Patriots ran up the score on the Redskins.

Christopher Price is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Patriots since 2001 for Boston Metro. He’s served a contributor to ESPN.com, SI.com, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. He’s written “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower,” and can be reached at [email protected].

This and That Involving the Patriots

Here are a few more links and some reaction to yesterday’s dismantling of the Redskins.

John Clayton was leading the “running up the score” brigade yesterday, saying the Belichick kicked Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs while he was down. One can only wonder what Gregg Easterbrook is going to come up with tomorrow.

Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback looks ahead to Patriots/Colts this weekend, but warns the Patriots to watch out for the Ravens because “No team gets up for a prime time, national TV game like the Ravens.”

Sort of like the Monday night game to open the season this year, Pete?

Michael Silver focuses mainly on Dolphins/Giants, (because he was there) but does look ahead to Patriots/Colts.

John Czarnecki makes a couple of good points:

1) The Redskins were running their mouths all last week about how the Patriots hadn’t seen defensive backs like theirs, and how they wouldn’t get blown out like other teams.

2) How do you to tell professional players to quit playing and just run the ball on every play?

Jason Cole says that even if the Patriots are running up the score, it seems no one can do anything about it.

Len Pasquarelli has the Colts finally being able to turn their attention to the Patriots.

Tom Curran has the Redskins’ Randall Godfrey confronting Belichick after the game to tell him to show some respect, then bragging to reporters afterwards.

Mike Freeman has a lonely nation turning its eyes to the Colts to put an end to the Patriots reign of terror over the NFL.

———————————
In Post-Game Comments yesterday, “THE NFL TODAY” analysts weighed in on this Sunday’s Patriots/Colts game:

Shannon Sharpe: Two heavyweights knocking heads, just like we wanted. They both held serve. We have the match-up of the century.

Bill Cowher: These two teams are playing at a different level than everybody else in the National Football League. They play each other next week and it can’t get any better than that at the midway-point of the football season.

Dan Marino: Peyton Manning is going to have to play keep-away from Tom Brady, believe it or not. Usually teams play keep away from Peyton Manning, but they’re going to have to run the football, be good on third downs and keep that offense (New England) off the field.

Boomer Esiason: They (New England) are unstoppable. This is the best offense the NFL has ever seen.

(On allegations that New England ran up score last week against Miami)

Bill Cowher: If you watched the game last week, Houston-Tennessee, Tennessee was up 32-7 before Houston came back. In the National Football League, you can’t score enough points. There is no way. He’s going to keep scoring, and it’s the onus on them to get off the field.

Shannon Sharpe: He did run up the score. They were trying to score. Why shouldn’t you try and score? It’s not Bill Belichick’s job to keep the score down. That’s what the Miami Dolphins’ defensive coordinator – Dom Capers, that’s what he makes $2 million for. He did run the score up because they were trying to run the score. You try and run the score up.

——————————
Here are a few thoughts from Deion Sanders on NFL Network yesterday:

“This is a huge game, a lot like Cowboys-49ers in 1994.”

Deion Sanders on upcoming Patriots-Colts game. San Francisco (7-2 entering game) defeated defending Super Bowl champion Dallas (8-1 entering game) 21-14. Sanders had an interception in that game for San Francisco as the 49ers earned home field advantage and beat Dallas in NFC Championship Game before winning Super Bowl XXIX.

“When they get the running game going with [Laurence] Maroney, they are going to be impossible to beat.”

Deion Sanders on New England Patriots

“Moss is one of the best receivers in traffic because he focuses on the football.”

Deion Sanders on New England WR Randy Moss, who leads the NFL with 732 receiving yards

————————————-

And now, a couple of videos, first Jim Fassel looks ahead to Colts/Patriots:

Then Mark Schlereth says that the Patriots were out of line passing on fourth down, and that it will be that much more sweeter when someone knocks them off:

The Monday Links, October 29, 2007

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Kind of a busy morning over at the Mothership (not sure why – what happened?) so I’ve been assigned to handle the links for the Patriots’ 52-7 hammering of the putrid Washington Redskins yesterday, which has set up an epic showdown between 8-0 New England and the 7-0 Colts next Sunday in Indianapolis.

Christopher Gaspar has the Globe game story this morning, and it’s evident right away where he comes down on the whole “running up the score” business, with a snarky “Maybe, Belichick just thought the points against Washington carried over next week to the Colts game” thrown in for good measure. Oh, clever. Can I get you a tissue, Chris? 

When the friggin’ Redskins let Mike Vrabel (now with 10 catches for 10 touchdowns in his career) predictably go out for a touchdown pass uncovered while The Great Sean Taylor bites so badly on a play action that he tackled Heath Evans instead, they’ve got no business pleading for mercy from anybody. Until their minor league  quarterback can see rushers approaching from his right well enough to simply protect the football – job one for any quarterback – they’ve got no business conveniently making the story about poor sportsmanship on the other side. They were bar none the worst team the Patriots have played yet, and that’s saying something, because the Patriots play in the same division as the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. People, the Redskins are so horrible, you could hardly avoid scoring 52 points on them, especially when their allegedly tough defense refused to come out of the locker room at halftime.

Mike Reiss looks at the rebounding Pats defense, which has essentially been facing two offenses every week – their opponents, and their own. As we suspected, the defense had gotten a little too wrapped up in watching the fireworks put up by their offensive mates, but as Reiss points out, they refocused and made a statement of their own with a dominating performance yesterday.

In the Herald, Karen Guregian says the Pats threw another carcass on the pile yesterday, in full view of their NFL rivals, especially the ones in Indiana. Michael Felger says the Pats have become a methodical, unapologetic machine. Pretty easy when the other side sucks as bad as the Redskins.

Speaking of, Felger reports that linebacker Randall Godfrey confronted Bill Belichick at midfield after the game, demanding that the coach “respect the game.” Uh, Randall, I was going to say the same thing to you and the rest of the quitters on the Washington defense after your disgraceful display yesterday. The Miami Dolphins, who have yet to win a game this season, fought for the full sixty last week. You guys, who are supposed by a playoff team with the best pass defense in football, just flat gave up when you knew you couldn’t win yesterday. Who’s disrespecting the game here?

There’s a grab bag of other Herald stories this morning, including Gurgeian’s post-game visit with the returning Richard Seymour, yesterday’s best and worst from Felger (starring Mike Vrabel), Dan Ventura’s plays of the game (starring Mike Vrabel), and a look at Kevin Faulk, whose work on screens yesterday made him the sixth leading pass catcher in the history of the team.

In the ProJo, Shalise Manza Young says the superior Pats defense keyed the rout yesterday. SMY also has looks at Seymour, Laurence Maroney (who got things rolling with some effective running and receiving), and lastly, Jason Campbell, who sniffed that the Redskins “tend to back off a little bit” when they get ahead 38-0. When was that, exactly, Jason, and who the hell were you playing? And about backing off – that’s exactly what your defense did yesterday, when they still had 30 minutes to play.

Bill Reynolds says these are the Glory Days for the Pats, though as we’ve seen this morning, there will always be dinks like Randall Godfrey and Phillip Daniels crying foul. Robert Lee finishes off the links this morning with game analysis and a tribute to star of the day Mike Vrabel.

So, who do the Pats play next week, again? I forget at the moment. I’ll get back to you on it.

The Sunday Links, October 28, 2007

logoby Scott Benson
[email protected]

The Pats are 7-0, we’re about to Seymour of Richard, and one of the great coaches in pro football history brings his 4-2 team to Foxboro this afternoon. Let’s see what’s in the papers on Game Day, Week Eight.

One of the busiest days in the young life of Patriots Daily came when our columnist Dan Snapp found an obscure Drew Bledsoe article in, of all places, a literary review based on Whitefish, Montana, and turned it into Drew Colors, still the most heavily trafficked post we’ve had yet. In it, Dan asserted that Bledsoe’s comments to the Whitefish Review revealed a certain ambivilence to the business of professional football, and his responsibilities as a highly paid principal in that pursuit.

People went nuts. On one side were those who felt Bledsoe was an unimpeachable figure in Patriots history, responsible for everything from franchise legitimacy to the construction of Gillette Stadium to the team’s first world championship. On the other were those who continue to feel that the placid Bledsoe did little to ever improve his game and ended up squandering more than he ever accomplished in New England.

Well, Dan nearly broke our comments feature with that column, and within in a couple of days, the debate had spilled over to the message board at patsfans.com (where it still rages from time to time, I hear), and the column was picked up nationally at places like ESPN and Deadspin.

We immediately hoisted Dan on our shoulders and toted him around the luxurious Patriots Daily offices, as we dreamed of buying expensive whiskey, jet skis and crested blazers for the whole staff with the receipts from our suddenly busy Google Ads. For all the traffic we got, it didn’t quite work out that way, but whatever – they were heady times.

Nobody asked though – what kind of freak is Dan Snapp that he gets the Whitefish Review? He may be right about Bledsoe, but who gets the effing Whitefish Review? The important questions rarely get asked at times like these. Anyway, it was a lot of fun while it lasted, and we’ve since moved on to other things, like Eric Mangini and Gregg Easterbrook. Until today.

The Globe’s Mike Reiss visits with Drew himself in this week’s Football Notes, where they discuss the many inquiries the retired Bledsoe has had from teams desperate for quarterback help in 2007. Drew’s not biting, as you know, because he’s busy and happy after moving on to the next stage of his life. You know, the same stuff he’s been telling everyone else for the past few weeks.

But this is where Reiss is so great – he actually asks Bledsoe about the Whitefish Review, and by extension, Drew Colors. Mercy.

“To say I didn’t love football, that’s way, way crazy,” he responded. “Those were friends of mine who were putting together a literary journal and they asked if I would share my affection for a place that means a lot to me. I said it was the best time of year when I could be there, and it was very tough to leave it. It was purely about my affection for Montana. I guess some people twisted it and spun it, and felt that meant I didn’t love to play football.

“I don’t know where somebody gets that from. I love the game of football. My dream, for as long as I can remember, was to play in the NFL. I got to do that for 14 years and I loved most every minute of it.”

Ol’ Twisting and Spinning Dan Snapp! He’s not only twisting and spinning, he’s way, way crazy too! I am sitting right now in my darkened dining room, where my laptop has grown roots, its about 6 o’clock in the morning, and I am laughing so hard that tears are streaming down my face. Thing is, Snapp is probably still in bed out there in the Midwest, where he lives, and I am just thinking of him grabbing his coffee in a couple of hours, groggily shuffling over to his computer, clicking on the morning Globe……

Life is always a little more worth living when you have something to hassle your friends with. Believe me, I’ve got my e-mail open already, and I’m just sitting on that first message from Dan. Hee. Thanks, Mike!

All right, enough about us.

Elsewhere, Reiss goes on to track down former Raven Ed Hartwell for his thoughts on the Adalius Thomas-Ray Lewis feud that erupted this week. Ed’s out of fooball, so he could give a fig about upsetting Ray-Ray, and his comments here on Lewis are nearly as priceless as Drew Bledsoe having to address the goddam Whitefish Review story.

Also priceless are Mike’s thoughts, gleaned from rival coaches and scouts, about changes to the Indianapolis Colts offensive approach this year, due in large part to rookie Tony Ugoh at left tackle for Tarik Glenn. We’ll no doubt come back to this segment again and again this week. Just an epic effort from Reiss in every respect.

Christopher Gaspar offers a solid piece on former Pat Reche Caldwell, who’s having a frustrating year in Washington after being a last minute cut by the Pats. He comes across as a thoroughly decent guy whose biggest fault is that he’s not Randy Moss, Dante Stallworth or Wes Welker. And how is it, exactly, that Caldwell can’t get snaps ahead of Brandon Friggin’ Lloyd?

Jim McBride closes out the Globe’s coverage this morning with his weekly scouting report, in which he says the Pats will cover the 16 point spread against the Redskins today.

Over in the Herald, John Tomase says this will be no trap game for the Pats, despite Joe Gibbs’s efforts to wave the white flag this week. Karen Gurgeian has the Pats notebook, where she looks at the returning Richard Seymour. Tomase returns with five things to look for today, including the Redskins offense against the worst red zone defense in the league.

John counters Reiss’s brilliant league notes effort today with one of his own, a think-piece with Bill Belichick on playing defense inside your own ten yard line. The coach talks in general terms, but he could be describing the task facing Washington today, as they face off against a Patriots team that has been lethal when they get close to their opponent’s goal line. Great work here by Tomase.

In the ProJo, Shalise Manza Young has more on Seymour’s return to the lineup after missing nearly two months. In her weekly game analysis, SMY gives the edge to the Pats, and she finishes by going close up with Bam Childress, who eats like Elvis, apparently. No fried banana sandwiches, Brandon?

David Heuschkel of the Courant says the Redskins’ only hope is to run the ball and control the clock in classic Gibbs style, keeping the Pats offense on the sidelines for as long as possible. David also hits on something that I’d missed this week – the Pats have not beaten the Redskins since 1972. I remember that game – the 11-3 Redskins kicker (I forget who it was) missed a sure chip shot at the end, giving the 3-11 Pats an improbable win. I won something like two bucks from my baseball coach at the time, which was a big deal in 1972 dollars.

Lastly, Mike Lowe of the Maine Sunday Telegram has a look at unsung hero Kyle Brady, who has (in Drew’s words) way, way exceeded expectations this year.

It is a home game, so be sure to check out The Patriots Daily Buffet Table for this weekend.

For more, check patriotslinks.com, and I’ll be back later with a post-game look at the Pats and Redskins. I already know it will not rise to the level of being mentioned in the Globe, but what are you going to do.

College Scout, October 27, 2007

logoby Greg Doyle
[email protected]

The two big games this weekend are #1 Ohio State visiting #22 Penn State and #5 USC visiting #8 Oregon. These two games will have major implications for the National Championship and, of course, a local tie in with Boston College sitting at #2 having already defeated Virginia Tech Thursday night. An upset by Penn State over Ohio State (and really it wouldn’t be that big an upset) would put Boston College at #1 into November. Big doings.

USC at Oregon (Fox Sports Networks 3PM): USC conceivably could get back into the National Championship discussion with a win here, as could Oregon. USC has been very banged up and mildly disappointing this year, despite only one loss. Oregon is very tough to beat at home, so this should be an excellent match up. We’ve looked at USC before in the September 29th College Scout and Oregon in the September 8th College Scout, so we’ll spotlight some of the top underclassmen in this review.

USC RB Hershel Dennis (#34): Dennis is one of the more interesting players in the country, as far as the draft is concerned, because he is extremely talented yet doesn’t play much at all. That hasn’t always been the case. Dennis came to USC as one of the top recruited backs out of high school and did get a lot of playing time early on. As a freshman, he ran for nearly 200 yards and returned kicks for the Trojans as well. In 2003, he was the starter and ran for 661 yards. In 2004, however, he started the year suspended for rules violations, came back and played in a backup role, running for 109 yards before blowing out his knee prior to the Trojans’ bowl game. He has sat out the last two years recovering from that injury and was granted a rare extra year of eligibility by the NCAA this season. In his return to a limited role, he has run for 57 yards. Dennis was headed for a great career when things got sidetracked in 2004. But the talent remains there. He was a fast, not overly big, but shifty and at times powerful runner prior to his injury. This is a late round to free agent type diamond in the rough who could move up slightly in the draft if he tests well in the spring with his knee. An interesting case, because there is a ton of talent there, but given his limited role with USC now its hard to know exactly what toll the injury and layoff took on his skills.

USC T Sam Baker (#79): Perhaps the best lineman in the country, Baker is a solid rock at left tackle and is headed for his third straight 1st Team All-American placement. Surprisingly athletic for his size, he’ll anchor the left side of someone’s line in the NFL for years to come.

Oregon WE Jaison Williams (#4): Oregon’s leading receiver with 31 catches, he is only a junior. He may come out as he is headed for his second consecutive productive year. Very big receiver (6’5″ 240) who may be converted to tight end in the NFL. Has so-so speed but great hands. Not a burner, but effective and would be fast as a tight end. Good in the red zone and leads Oregon in receiving touchdowns. Very strong for a receiver. From LA, so he’ll be very motivated for this game.
 
Oregon DE Nick Reed (#49): Also a junior, Reed leads the Ducks in sacks with 7.5. This is a particularly interesting player for the Patriots because at 6’2″ 255 he has the size and quickness to convert to outside linebacker for them. Spends very little time in coverage for Oregon, however, and would be a complete project as a linebacker. Probably needs to stay in another year, this is his first big season. Great pass rush skills.

Oregon QB Brady Leaf (#16): Yes, this is Ryan’s brother. He does not start for Oregon and has never been a full-time starter. Has thrown for over 1,400 career yards, but has always been the #2 guy. This year, he has attempted only 11 passses in limited action. Still, like his brother, there is a lot of talent there. He is big at 6’5″ 225 and has his brother’s strong arm. Won’t be drafted, but could get an invite to camp and with talent and pro coaching, could wind up on a practice squad with a chance to develop over time.
 
Ohio State at Penn State (8:00 PM ABC): Airing against the World Series, I suspect there won’t be too many people in Boston tuned in. Still, it is a big game and important to BC as well. It may be worth tivo-ing if you have that capablity. Ohio State is replete with underclassmen and starts only two seniors, which suggests they’ll be dominant for a few years here. Check out the September 22nd College Scout for more on Ohio State.

Ohio State WR Brian Robiskie (#80): At a school known for producing top wide receivers, Robiskie is helping to carry on that tradition. He is only a junior and is the son of long-time NFL player and coach Terry Robiskie. At 6’3″ 195 he has NFL size and is also displaying separation speed and good hands this year. Has 37 catches for a 19.8 ypc avg along with 7 touchdowns coming into this game. Probably won’t come out, but would be a first day pick if he does.
 
Ohio State LB Marcus Freeman (#1): Overshadowed by fellow junior linebacker James Laurinaitis, Freeman is also a great player, but underrated. Second on the team in tackles, he has good size at 6’2″ 242 and would fit nicely in the Patriots 3-4 system. Plays the “Sam” linebacker for Ohio State and has played special teams as well. Probably won’t come out this year, but will be a first day pick when he does enter the draft.

Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins (#2): Yet another Ohio State junior, he is already one of the best corners in the country if not the best. Great size (6’1″ 202) and speed, he is a solid tackler and good in coverage. Can make plays on the ball. Reminds of Nate Clements, another good Ohio State corner. Will be a first round pick if he comes out this year. Has picked off 2 passes this season and had 4 last year. Very sound, technically solid and polished corner. Should be a shut down NFL corner and a Pro Bowler if he stays healthy. The Patriots will look at him closely if he comes out.

Penn State RB Rodney Kinlaw (#20): Has been overshadowed most of his career by the more highly-touted and flashy Austin Scott. Now that Scott has been suspended and is facing serious legal difficulties in a rape case, Kinlaw has gotten his chance to be the guy. Has not disapponted as he has run for over 700 yards and has shown so much he has put himself into consideration to be a fairly high draft pick. He is not the biggest guy in the world, but he runs hard and has had a productive career, particularly this year. Some speed and shiftiness. Can return kicks. Hasn’t been used too much in the passing game. He is probably a mid-round pick but his outstanding season so far has really turned some heads and moved him into the draft from a place where he probably would have had to beg just to get a free agent tryout. Has had a past ACL injury.
 
Penn State LB Dan Connor (#40): There is a rumor going around that Penn State has produced an NFL linebacker or two in the past. Connor will be the latest to continue that tradition. He is currently the second leading tackler for the Nittany Lions. Has good NFL size at 6’3 233 and can get bigger. Good toughness and leadership ability and a solid tackler. Finished only 2 tackles behind Paul Posluszny last season and Posluszny was drafted in the second round of this year’s draft. Has shown an ability to blitz this year with 5 sacks, but has also gotten out in coverage and can do that. Just a solid, smart all-around player and will be a first day draft pick.

Patriots Buffet Table – 10/28/07

Patriots Buffet Table 10/28/07 Patriots vs. Redskins
by Patriots Daily Kitchen Staff
[email protected]

This week the Pats are taking on the Redskins. They may claim to be from Washington but they really play in Landover, Maryland. Their regional dish is the ‘half smoke’, it’s basically a hot dog. Hot dogs aren’t bad off the grill, but most people learn to cook them around age 2.

A 4:15 game just days before November needs more than a hot dog. On the Buffet Table we’ll take that ‘half smoke’ and make a D.C. inspired chili, pour it over a dog and you’ve got the top of D.C. cuisine.

Half Smoke Chili
1.5# course ground beef
1# course ground pork

Get a london broil or some tips, and boneless pork chops or country style boneless ribs and have the butcher at your grocery store grind them for you. If you’re at a store that won’t do this find another store.

2 large cans (15-18 oz each) crushed tomatoes
2 large cans kidney beans (15-18 oz each)
1 can chipotle pepper, chipotle’s are smoked jalapenos, they have a great smoky taste with little heat, you can get them in either a jar or can, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt (kosher is best)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper

1 bottle beer, a lager or a dark ale, do not use a hoppy beer. Cooking concentrates the bitterness.

Chop the onion and add to a pot with the olive oil. Saute the onions until they are clear. Add the garlic, cook 1 minute. Add the beef and pork. Once the beef is browned add the bottle of beer and use a spoon to mix it up. Make sure to scrape all the stuck on bits from the bottom of the pot and into the chili. Add your other ingredients and reduce the heat to a simmer. Stirring occasionally, cook for at least one hour.

Preparing the chili the day before game day will allow the flavors to meld. Chili is always better the second day. As it’s fully cooked, you can heat the chili in it’s pot right on a grill, even if you don’t have a side burner. Just be sure to stir so it doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pot.

You can thicken the chili with masa flour or by adding shredded cheddar cheese.

Time for a drink!

Chili goes well with pale ale. The malt and hop balance in a pale handle the spices of the chili and the carbonation is able to stand up to the fat and thickness of the dish. Pale ales aren’t actually pale. The name was relative to the brown ales popular at the time. Popular in England for many years, pale ale one of the styles that American craft brewers took hold of and made their own. There are not many craft brewers in the U.S. that do not put out a pale ale. We will concentrate on the English styled pale ales here.

English pale ales are made with English ingredients, American pale ales with American ingredients. English malt is fuller flavored than American. English hops tend towards earthy, while American tend towards citrus and pine flavors. American hops usually contain more aromatic and bittering oils. English yeasts produce more esters. The most widely used American yeast aka “Chico” is one of the cleanest of all ale yeasts.

Totaling it up: English pale ales are usually malty, full of fruity esters from the yeast, and have a balanced hop flavor and bitterness. American pale ales will be on tap later in the season.

There are no distributing breweries in D.C., however close by is the Clipper City Brewing Company. Clipper City puts out a few lines, and under the brewery name is Clipper City Pale Ale. At 4.9% ABV and brewed with pale and crystal malts with Fuggles and East Kent Goldings hops, this is an English style pale ale.

Locally there are many examples of the English Pale Ale. Maine in particular, boasts many pales. Based on the Ringwood yeast and Pugsley/Austin brewing system, these can be love’em or hate’em beers. Geary’s pale ale is still an English style pale but adds American Cascade hops. Shipyard Old Thumper and Export ale could both be seen as either English pale ales
or bitters (a minor distinction at their ABV). They can also be found at Federal Jack’s brewpub in Kennebunkport. Federal Jack’s adds their own ‘Taint Town Pale.

From Massachusetts we have Paper City Brewing’s Holyoke Dam ale, Ipswich Original Ale and People’s Pint Provider Pale Ale.

If you’re looking for a little variety from the D.C. area, Clipper City also has a high test line ‘Heavy Seas’. They put out a variety 12 pack that is available in Mass. This ‘sunken sampler’ includes their excellent Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale, Small Craft Warning Uber Pils, Peg Leg Imperial Stout, and depending on the season either Winter Storm Category 5 Ale, or Below Decks Barley Wine. Any of these will match with the chili hitting on different tastes. Don’t overdo it, at a minimum of 7% ABV these pack a punch.

Patriots Roundtable, October 26, 2007

logoby the Patriots Daily Staff
[email protected]

(Note- The Patriots Daily Buffet Table for this weekend is also posted.)

As is their custom on Fridays, the Lords of the Table have gathered again to chat about all things Pats. This week, they look at the team’s defense, Adalius Thomas opening up to Sports Illustrated, and of course, this Sunday’s home game with the 4-2 Washington Redskins.

Has the historic production of the New England offense had an adverse effect on the development of the team’s defense?

Greg Doyle: Yes, it has. And here is a concrete example. Last week the Patriots led 42-7 at halftime. So they come out in the second half and go mostly nickel and dime defenses. What do the Dolphins do? They just run their regular offense, including running the ball a lot. That is why you see big rushing stats last week. That is why you see a 19 yard run on 4th and 1 (the Patriots stayed in nickel). I heard Belichick say that in retrospect, they should have just run their regular defense the second half last week. I expect you’ll see some close games eventually and the defense mesh a bit better as the season goes on.

Scott Benson: I’m trying not to look an offensive gift horse in the mouth, but I just think the defense looks kind of sloppy and lethargic, and I attribute it to them playing the equivilent of the prevent defense for sixty minutes a week. It’s all about defending the big play. The overall numbers look okay, but have we seen anything yet to suggest this is a championship defense?

Dan Snapp: I never trust the numbers. Didn’t the Rams have the top-rated defense going into one of their Super Bowls? It’s totally reflective of the situation. If an opponent’s down three scores, their offense is going to be one-dimensional. They’re not going to win every game by three scores. Somewhere down the road, this defense is going to have to make some big stops.

Tim Jordan: I see the concern and don’t think it’s unfounded, but I think it’s too early to indict them. It is a stone-cold lock that the unit will improve – there is too much evidence to support this from past seasons. They have also had some flashes this year of being able to get key stops, unfortunately the last two games have been their least impressive defensive efforts.

Kevin Thomas: The stunning point differential the Patriots have put up suggest this is a championship-level team, regardless of how they’ve gotten there. I agree there is something missing from this year’s defense compared to some of the great defenses we’ve seen in recent years. The one major knock on this team coming into the season was the age of defense, and how they would hold up over a full season. They haven’t exactly dispelled those questions thus far. Bruschi appears significantly slowed for the second straight year, and now Harrison seems to be joining him. Adalius Thomas has not been the monster defensive presence we were all hoping for, and the short-handed D-line seems to be getting exposed a bit as the season progresses. The good news is that Seymour is practicing this weak, and hopefully the return of arguably the team’s best defensive player will add some stability to the unit going forward.

Bruce Allen: For some reason I have confidence that the defense can and will be a lot better. I think we saw glimpses of what they can be in the San Diego game, but really at no point this season has the defense been put into a “must-stop” position. At times during the Miami game, it seemed like they were actually working on situational stuff that they wouldn’t have if the game were closer. I remember seeing a few exotic formations such as one down lineman while the linebackers roamed around. As far as the notion that they’re playing 60 minutes of prevent defense…I think there might be something to that…by design. If their offense is potent enough that they can still blow out teams while playing a vanilla defense, then why should they show future opponents their formations and schemes? The problem with that is of course that they don’t get any practice in the defense that they’re actually going to need to play the tougher opponents (like the Colts) with.

This week’s opponent, the Washington Redskins, have a pretty good defense, if the NFL stats are any indication. The Redskins rank 3rd in points allowed and 4th in yards per game. As Chris Price told us this week, Washington’s secondary has limited opposing quarterbacks to just a 67.7 passer rating, the best in the league. They’ve limited their opponents to just five passing touchdowns, tied for second-best. Will the Pats continue to score at will this weekend, or will the Redskins slow them down?

Travis Graham: This will be an interesting test for the Pats. The stats say that this is the best defense they have faced this year. The Skins’ opponents weren’t offensive chopped liver, either. All of their opponents this year rank between 10th and 17th in yards per play (Miami being the 10th?!?).

Kevin: I disagree. I think the Redskins are a classic NFC fraud, and the Patriots will stomp them on Sunday. There’s nothing much impressive to what they’ve done so far this year: 6 games against middling-to-bad opponents, 4 at home, with 2 losses to the only halfway decent (by NFC standards) teams they’ve played: Green Bay and the Giants. (Yes, the ‘Skins did beat up on Detroit–at home, coming off the bye–and the Lions do currently have a winning record–but Detroit also has a -31 point differential this year and should not be considered a good team). The Redskins strength is supposedly in their secondary–I fear that much less than a ferocious pass rush. The Patriots may need to mix up their playcalling a little bit, but at home, on the turf, they will be able to move the ball and score on these guys with regularity.

Tim: Something worth looking for is how our WR’s respond to a physical defensive backfield. How will the Moss-Welker-Stallworth threesome fair if they are allowed to make the catch so that Landry and Taylor can get their hits in and try to wear them out. All have been pretty adept at avoiding any substantive contact after the catch this year. It will be interesting to see how they respond to some hard tackles. The schedule works out here, I think this Redskins team is a good one to play before Indy.

Did anyone happen to catch Joe Gibbs conference call with the NE media this week? He is either a brilliant actor and he’s playing possum or he’s senile and shouldn’t be handling sharp objects. Did you know the redskins have three Assistant Head Coaches? Joe Bugel (Assistant HC, Offense), Al Saunders (ditto), and Gregg Williams (Assistant Head Coach, Defense). Is there any work left for Gibbs to do or is he just there as a wrinkled and shrunken reminder of the glory days of Redskins football? Also, gotta be frustrating for Gibbs to go out and give the old “we don’t have a chance” routine, then respond to Brady saying that he is sure that Gibbs isn’t saying that to his team – only to have Clinton Portis ruin the whole skit by claiming they believe that they are just as talented as NE. I heard that this week after an early meeting many players were coming out quoting Denny Green (“We are who we thought they were!”). If true, I am guessing the message is the Skins are playing the role of Arizona going up against the undefeated Bears last year. BB is brilliant. He doesn’t try and manufacture ways to prepare, he spells it out with cautionary tales that everyone will understand. It’s comforting to know that this team has a very slight chance of an emotional letdown each week, despite the otherworldly numbers they’ve recorded thus far.

Greg: You know, I’m not really sure on this one. On the one hand, I do think the Redskins are pretty good on defense. They have a lot of talent there. And Gregg Williams has the reputation as a pretty good coordinator. But then I think back to when Williams was in Buffalo as head coach and how easily the Patriots dealt with his defense the vast majority of the time, even as it did pretty well against other opponents. My suspicion is the Patriots may be slowed down a bit, but still move the ball pretty effectively against Washington.

The Redskins offense, however, is just 17th in points scored and 25th in yards per game. They favor the run, ranking 16th in rushing and 26th in passing. Similar challenge to the one the Patriots faced in Miami last week. Can the Pats D tighten it up against the Redskins?

Greg: The Washington offense is a mystery to me. I look at their offensive line and I see Chris Samuels, Pete Kendall, Casey Rabach, Todd Wade and even a non-starter like Randy Thomas and that is a lot of talent. They did lose Jon Jansen for the season to injury, but still, that is some quality talent on the line. They even have former Colts starter Rick DeMulling backing up. I wonder if Clinton Portis just isn’t fit for this type pound it running game Joe Gibbs prefers. I think Ladell Betts may be more effective in it and actually the type of bruising back that gives the Pats problems, so its a good thing for them Betts is getting limited chances. They have some capable receivers and their quarterback Jason Campbell has talent, though he is inexperienced and inconsistent. I just think overall they haven’t come together, Campbell’s inconsistency hurts them and they will continue to have to try to win games 17-13 or 20-16 behind the defense. They just aren’t explosive and what they need to hope for is competence and avoiding turnovers. So I don’t expect them to do much more than that against the Patriots.

Wes Welker has 2 fair catches in 17 attempts this year, meaning 88% of the time, he’s bringing it back, regardless of the circumstances. Yet the Pats rank only 13th in punt return average, and Welker was limited to 9 yards on 3 returns last Sunday. Is Welker pushing it by so often risking returns with coverage close by?

Dan: Is Welker pushing it, or is it by design? Seems he’s pretty sure-handed, and always tough to bring down. I’d say this isn’t an issue until he muffs one.

Kevin: I don’t see this as a problem area, really. In fact, it may be to their benefit that they are being relatively aggressive in the return game. They are 13th in return average, but there’s not a lot of variance in those stats (the Pats are within +/- 2 yrds of about 12 other teams). And the sample size is pretty small–some of the teams ahead of them have less than 10 returns total all year–so one moderately good return could probably leap them into the top 10. When you factor in the number of fair catches for each team (the Patriots have 6 fair catches to 17 returns), then the Patriots are netting about 7.5 yards per opponent’s punt, which would put them 10th overall. It’s clear that they have faith in Welker’s ability to safely handle the ball, and want him to try to make plays. So far, he’s been pretty sure handed and it hasn’t cost them yet.

What did you think of Adalius Thomas’s comments in SI last week? Will these words come back to bite the Pats when they play the Ravens later on?

“You’ve got to remember, I’m coming in from Baltimore,” says Thomas. “People there wanted the limelight, people sought out the limelight, starting with the head coach. It was a star-studded system. Here it’s about as different as you can get. Everybody here shies away from being the star guy. Nobody on this team beats his chest. They just all go about their business. And win.”

Bruce: I strongly believe that in some quarters within the Patriots organization, these comments were applauded, as I don’t think Brian Billick is held in very high esteem in these parts.

Travis: I don’t think anyone in the Patriots organization likes a controversy that the Patriots started. I bet they are pretty upset with AD. We often hear that there is a “Patriots Way” of doing things (acquiring “good guys”), which we’ve seen isn’t the case by some of the free agents they’ve picked up the past couple of years. I do feel that there is an unwritten code of conduct that they are required to uphold and the first rule is not to disrespect the opponent. Also, I’m not so sure that Brian Billick is hated as much as you think because he was one of the lone coaches that called out Mangini after Spygate, which I took as his way of supporting Belichick.

Dan: I don’t understand the bulletin board argument. I get that a good coach will try to come up with whatever he can to motivate the team, but I have a hard time believing Thomas’s comments will work the Ravens up into a lather any more than taking on the league’s top team would. Same goes for the rematch against the Dolphins. Does Gregg Easterbrook really think this manufactured “running up the score” issue will be enough to close the gap between the two teams?

Travis: If the Patriots can make “Get your popcorn ready” into a rallying cry, then another team could easily make an opposing player that calls out their players and head coach into bulletin board material. As for Miami, I doubt there are any hard feelings because anyone who knows football knew they weren’t running it up.

Kevin: I don’t think AT quite “gets it” yet. The Patriots are usually very good about expressing opinions like this but without specifically calling out a particular player or team, or otherwise providing the proverbial “bulletin board material.” The Patriots “beat their chests” as much as anyone in the league, in my opinion, but in their own unique way. It’s part of what separates them from the Billicks and Ray Lewises of the league, and by his comments this week, I think Thomas showed that he still has more in common with his former teammates than he’d like us to believe. I don’t think it’s a big problem, and hopefully it will be a learning experience for Thomas.

Tim: No better evidence of this then the way he handled it. It’s fine that you slip-up early in your tenure and give a disparaging quote unwittingly to SI. What’s inexcusable is responding to Ray Lewis, on his radio show no less, with “I don’t want to get into a ‘he said-she said’….” and then spending five minutes doing just that. The response there is ‘I am going to take Ray’s advice and give him a call. He’s a great player and he plays with many other great players.” Then you let it die. On that same note, anyone notice Maroney with that stupid “I knew I was playing all week. I gotta keep you guys in the media guessing” quote? Laurence – you don’t have to do anything but keep your trap shut. If you go by games played you’re still a rookie. Get with the program, “Kool-Aid”. You still haven’t done anything in this league.

Okay, let’s get back to this Sunday’s game. Anybody care to venture a final score?

Dan: I think the Redskins do slow them down a little. Nice game for the defense to show their mettle. 24-10, Pats.

Travis: Pats 24, Skins 3.The Pats offense lays an egg, while the defense steps up to Belichick’s challenge.

Greg: Patriots 27-13.

Kevin: Pats 35, Washington 13. Big day for Maroney (who is notably missing from the injury report this week).

Tim: 27-10, and Clinton Portis still maintains that they have more talent than the Patriots after the game.

Outside Foxborough – Scoring and Possession Trends

fo.jpgBy Bill Barnwell
[email protected]

42 points in a half is a lot, even for these Patriots. It’s not an unbeatable total if you’re Bill Belichick, apparently, but it’s enough to inspire thoughts of record totals. It leads announcers to point out that the Patriots, against the Dolphins, were on pace to score 84 points.

The thing is, of course, teams who are “on pace” to score 42 points don’t score at the same pace in the second half. Both teams see their game plan change: The leading team runs the ball more to kill clock, while the trailing team throws the ball almost exclusively to make some attempt to catch up, as unrealistic as it might be. The leading team generally has fewer possessions because, inherently, teams that score 42 points in a half need some luck to get there — namely, an extra possession or two from turnovers. If we look at all drives from 1998-2006, we can see that teams would find it extremely hard to get to 42:

trends1.jpg

With six possessions on average in each half, teams would need to score a touchdown on every drive. The Patriots are good, but not that good — they benefited from a Cleo Lemon fumble that gave them a short field, and picked up seven points on a Willie Andrews kickoff return.

What we also see in that breakdown is that both scoring and possessions are seemingly consistent — an average performance from a team sees them score about five points a quarter on three possessions.

Of course, describing the Patriots offense as “average” is nonsensical at this point. Let’s split the data by points per quarter and see how many points, for example, a team that goes scoreless in the first quarter scores on average in that game:

So, then, a team that goes scoreless in the first quarter averages 14 points per game — slightly less than the 5-point-per-quarter pace that we’d expect.

The issue with looking at data towards the realm of scoring the Patriots approached is sample size; while 15 teams have scored 38 points in a half, only one has scored 41, 44, or 47 points. That being said, none of them have significantly increased their total, so it’s a pretty safe bet to say that we shouldn’t really expect the Patriots to double their point total in the second half.

If we break point totals down by possessions per quarter and half, there are some interesting trends:

The Patriots, for reference, had two possessions in the first quarter (for 14 points), five in the second (28 points, with the Andrews kickoff return counting as a possession), but only one in the third and three in the fourth — that’s eleven possessions, actually one below average.

It’s interesting that there’s only really a slight upwards trend in the first half for points compared to possessions — you would assume that more possessions would yield more points and a shootout, but it’s also the case when teams just can’t move the ball and are punting at each other all game. In the third quarter, actually, there’s no relationship whatsoever between possessions and points, as it begins to blur together.

Do teams that have a lot of possessions in the first half continue to have them in the second half, though?

Not really. The small increases at the margins aren’t enough to say that possessions in the first half have any predicative value for possessions in the second half.

Next time an announcer says that a team is on pace for a certain amount of points, you can safely ignore him or her. Whether it be due to luck running out, changes in the game plan, a lack of possessions, or combination of the three, most teams’ scoring totals regress to the average over the course of a full game.

Karen Guregian, Quote Machine

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Bill Barnwell’s Football Outsiders column will be along later today, but while we’re waiting, let’s spend a minute with the Herald’s Karen Guregian, who filled up her notebook yesterday with some quotes from a couple of newsworthy Patriots.

First, Guregian asks Tom Brady to explain exactly what’s wrong with ESPN’s Gregg Easterbrook:

“Usually, when it comes back the other way, you have to think there’s something behind it, or some motivation from somebody, but I think ultimately in life, you can only control what you can control. You can’t really control what people say or think. You just have to go about your business and work hard and say whatever your goals are, and (stick to) whatever priorities this team has for what we feel is most important to us. That’s how we make our decisions.”

Some motivation from somebody? I wonder what the motivation of the man my friend Ozzy calls “Lord Easterbrook of the Cliveden Set” might be? Hmmmm.

“We represent our ownership. We represent Mr. (Robert) Kraft and Jonathan and everything they put forth,” Brady said. “We’re not perfect people. We never claimed that. We never say that. We just say we like playing. We try to listen to our coach. We try to do the right thing, and at the end of the day, you’re judged by wins and losses.”

Honestly, I’m not trying to tie those last two paragraphs together. I’m really not.

“I think when they talk about a Patriot-type player, or a Patriot-type attitude, it’s someone who’s selfless, it’s someone who does their job, who’s attentive, who works hard,” Brady said. “It’s someone who’s on time, who’s dependable, who loves playing football. I think that’s what (being a Patriot) stands for, for us.”

Yeah, all right, Cheney. Just wipe that smirk off your face.

Elsewhere, KG caught up with Adalius Thomas, who has done the unthinkable and insulted Ray Lewis.

“The only problem I have is the coward comment. To call me a coward, you have my phone number. You can call me. I will call Ray, personally myself. I don’t want to sit here and throw (things) back and forth, and make this a media frenzy. I’m bigger than that. I’m better than that,” he added. “As far as calling me a coward I think that goes to something personal. I don’t like it. I will address that with him personally myself. To attack my integrity . . . and say you had to make a scheme up for me, I didn’t know they made up outside linebacker for me.

“Ray Lewis means nothing to me, as far as his comments or anything else that he says. I love him like a brother,” Thomas said. “Other than that, as far as me being a coward, I felt like that was a personal shot. That’s the only problem I have with it.”

When Sports Illustrated came calling, Adalius probably would have been better off saying, “Ravens? Oh, yeah, Stevie Bisciotti’s outfit down in Baltimore. Great, great guy, Stevie. Founded the Allegis Group.”

But, he didn’t. Still, unless you’re hanging around Buckhead, feuding with Ray Lewis isn’t exactly newsworthy. Lewis throws fits like Brett Favre throws interceptions. I’m just surprised he had time to fit AD in.

Lastly, Karen checks in with Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, on the new guy wearing #93 at Pats practice yesterday.

Asked during his teleconference for his thoughts on the prospect of having to face a Pats defense with Seymour in it, Gibbs said: “I don’t like it, I can tell you that. I’ve got great respect for him. I think their whole defense, they have a great scheme, great personnel. They do a great job. Coach Belichick has always been gifted when it comes to defense. Look across the board, you hate to see them get somebody back, and some high quality guy to add to it. Not a pretty picture.”

Joe, really, you need to get out and smell the roses. Your fatalistic world view is depressing everybody this week. “They’re gonna KILL us!” Yeah, they probably are, Joe, but you don’t have to be such a Gloomy Gus about it.

Check back later for Bill.

They Complete Us

logoby Dan Snapp
[email protected]

I know what you’re thinking: “How good could Peyton Manning be if he had Tom Brady’s weapons?”

It’s gotten that ridiculous.

Suddenly the Patriots offense is the Colts of 2004, the Rams of 2001, the Vikings of 1998. They’re perched to set new standards of achievement, both individually and team-wise. Along the way, let’s hope they keep in mind what else those teams had in common.

The Patriots and the Colts need each other. With the rest of the league unwilling to offer up some real competition, the two squads are all there is to keep the season from devolving into some bad joke.

The Jets were supposed to be the AFC East challenger to the throne, but they punted that title away long ago (and they can’t even do that right, if Ben Graham’s 20-yard shank Sunday is any indication). The Cowboys were played up, complete with “The Next Favre” billing for quarterback Tony Romo, but the Pats dispatched that empty threat in short order. The Chargers relinquished their “elite” status when they fired Marty Schottenheimer.

So that leaves just the Patriots and the Colts. Like the Red Sox and the Yankees perennially, like the Celtics and 76ers of the early ’80s, they’ll feed off each other, always aware of the other’s spot in the standings, and always having the prospects of future meetings haunting some passage in the back of their minds.

It’s a matchup we should root for.

We should want both to be undefeated going into their November 4th matchup, and for both to win out after the meeting, in anticipation of their eventual playoffs tilt. With home-field advantage in the balance, every game would have meaning.

Of course, that would mean one achieves the coveted 16-0 record. All the more motivation for the other to try to knock them off in the playoffs. Imagine the thrill of denying a team that just completed a perfect season their shot at the title?

Sports memories linger longest and age best when marked by some adversity overcome, some threat averted. With the passing of years, the details of the blowout get lost, but the tiniest minutia of the last-second win gets stored away forever.

Quick, which of the Pats’ Super Bowls do you remember best? Likely the first, with the surprise of the early lead, the powerhouse Rams clawing back, and then that sublime final drive. The next one was memorable in its own right, what with the surprising resiliency of the Panthers right to the end.  

Yet somehow, it’s toughest recalling the details of the most recent title, the win over Philly in 2005. There was the 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, and the Eagles taking their own sweet time driving with time running out, but none of the vivid-like-it-was-yesterday snapshots the first two titles offered.
 
How about this one: do you remember better the finer details of the Red Sox’ 2004 championship series win over the Yankees, or their subsequent sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series? Pretty easy call there.

For the truly memorable events, you have to confront the monsters: The “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams; Derek Jeter’s Yankees;  Magic Johnson’s Lakers. The bigger and badder, the better.

Fortunately, the Colts are as big and bad as you can get. They have the most accurate quarterback in the game, killer receivers, a dangerous tight end, a shifty back and a line that seemingly can guarantee seven yards every time they run that damn stretch play. Their defense is quick to the ball, and apparently no longer a running game patsy.

Most importantly, they’re not the old Colts, the ones you could count on to run up the score in the regular season and then choke it away in the playoffs. They finally got smart, starting to take what defenses were giving them at the expense of their personal stats. In essence, they became the Patriots and won a title.

So now the tables have turned, with the Pats offense making a Manningish run on the record books. They’re even looking Colt-like on defense of late, with the three-score victories allowing for a little lax play.

That’ll be the best result of facing Peyton Manning in two weeks. The Pats need it to sharpen their senses again, to be reminded just how good they need to be to get past these guys.

The Colts being great is a good thing. Beating their asses just wouldn’t be as much fun, otherwise.

Inside Gillette

logoby Christopher Price
[email protected]

When it comes to watching Tom Brady, Joe Theismann is just like the rest of us.

“We’ve run out of adjectives to describe him,” Theismann said earlier this week after watching Brady throw six touchdowns in a 49-28 win over the Dolphins. “He is what every quarterback should aspire to be.”

Through seven games, Brady is enjoying a storybook season. The 30-year-old tops in the league in most every statistical category, including touchdown passes (27), total passing yards (2,096), completion percentage (73.3) and quarterback rating (137.9), all while leading New England to its first 7-0 start in franchise history.

Theismann has always held Brady in high regard, but this year, the former Redskins quarterback and “Monday Night Football” analyst said Brady’s game has gone to another level because he has so many dependable offensive options around him.

“His numbers in the previous couple of years were only reflected by what I think was a suspect receiving corps,” Theismann said. “What they’ve done this year is upgrade the receiving corps tremendously.”

And while Theismann has an affinity for Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker, it’s Randy Moss who has really made the biggest difference. Theismann cites several of his team-high 10 touchdown catches this season — including his two scores against the Dolphins — as plays that only someone like Moss could make.

“It’s speed to run away from people, athletic ability and ball presence to be able to take the ball from anyone, anytime, anywhere,” said Theismann in explaining what makes Moss special. “There hasn’t been a more dangerous football player in the National Football League than Randy Moss, except that he hasn’t had the compliment to go with him.”

The Patriots are on pace to break several offensive records, including touchdown passes, touchdown receptions and total points scored. But for all of the offensive pyrotechnics, Theismann believes the unsung heroes of the 2007 Patriots are the offensive linemen.

“The offensive line has done a wonderful job — they’ve allowed Tom to be able to step into his throws,” he said. “I’ve seen the film, and I’ve seen six or seven times where Brady has upwards of four seconds to be able to let Randy Moss get down the field and get the ball. … As compared to Notre Dame. I just watched Notre Dame-USC, and [Fighting Irish quarterback] Evan Sharpley had a half-second.

“It’s so great to see so many elements of a football team come together like this.”

According to Theismann, when it comes to going undefeated, there are two main points to consider. You need to keep your key players healthy. And it always helps to have some company at the head of the pack — in this case, Indianapolis, which appears to be doing everything it can to stay stride for stride with New England in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC Playoffs.

“When it comes to going undefeated, the most important thing to happen for New England is to have somebody close enough where all 16 weeks matter,” Theismann said. “Then, Bill will have the toughest decision when it comes to how much he wants to play these guys and how much he wants to rest them.

“But this is the best football team that’s been put together in the last 15 or 20 years. They really are.”

FIVE THINGS TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK

1. If Jason Campbell can have any more success against the Patriots than any of the other first-timers have had this season. Campbell marks the fifth quarterback who will be going up against the Patriots for the first time in his career in 2007. He follows in the footsteps of Buffalo’s Trent Edwards (10-for-20, 50 yards, one interception vs. the Patriots), Cleveland’s Derek Anderson (22-for-43, 287 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions), Dallas’ Tony Romo (18-for-29, 199 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) and Miami’s Cleo Lemon (24-for-37, 236 passing yards, one interception).

2. If New England’s second-half struggles in stopping the run against Miami were simply attributable to the Patriots spending much of the time in a prevent defense, or is it symptomatic of a larger problem? The Dolphins had little trouble piling up 179 rushing yards against New England. Much of that was when the game was well out of reach — and so the Patriots spent much of the time defending the pass instead of the run — but regardless of the numbers, the tackling was still poor at times. With plenty of above-average running backs just over the horizon (Clinton Portis, Joseph Addai and Marshawn Lynch), it’s a situation that bears watching.

3. If the Redskins secondary — probably the best the Patriots’ passing game has faced all season — can slow down the New England wide receivers. Led by four first-round draft picks (LaRon Landry and Sean Taylor at safety, Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers at cornerback), Washington’s starting secondary has limited opposing quarterbacks to just a 67.7 passer rating, the best in the league. In addition, they’ve allowed just five passing touchdowns all season, tied for second-best in the NFL. If there’s any team who can truly manage single coverage against Moss, Welker and Stallworth, it might be this group.

4. How many carries Laurence Maroney gets. After missing three games because of injury, the second-year running back had six carries for 31 yards in the win over the Dolphins. With Sammy Morris likely sidelined for another few weeks — and the Colts’ game drawing closer — the Patriots need to start working Maroney back to 100 percent.

5. If the clock starts on Richard Seymour and Troy Brown this week. Head Coach Bill Belichick didn’t offer any sort of insight as to the status of the two veterans at Monday’s press conference. Once they come off the physically unable to perform list, the Patriots have 21 days to activate them, release them or place them on season-ending injured reserve. “I think we’re getting close to that point,” Belichick said of the guys on the PUP list. “Whether that will happen this week or Wednesday or not, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

STAT OF THE WEEK

8. The combined number of Super Bowl rings that Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick and Redskins Head Coach Joe Gibbs have.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK (tie)

“Guys really liked playing for Herm [Edwards], but I don’t know if I can say the same for Eric [Mangini]. Guys played hard for Herm because they liked him. Guys now are scared. … Eric knows his Xs and Os, but he’s not a motivator. It’s just his way or you’re out of here. Some guys already know they won’t be here next year.” — Unnamed Jets player, speaking with the Newark Star Ledger on Sunday.

“We can’t win in America. Maybe we can win overseas.”—Miami defensive end Jason Taylor, answering a question about the winless Dolphins’ game next week in London against the Giants.

Christopher Price is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Patriots since 2001 for Boston Metro. He’s served a contributor to ESPN.com, SI.com, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. He’s written “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower,” and can be reached at [email protected].