by Scott Benson
Well, I guess we’re about to find out just how “tired” the Patriots really are.
No small order here today. The Pats have to come off three-straight prime-time games directly into a short week war with their long-time AFC rival, and current third-seed leader, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After tearing through the league like the big kids in gym class for most of the season, the Patriots have found themselves scrambling to protect their perfect record three times in the last four weeks, the last two against teams that were no better than .500 at the time they nearly went Buster Douglas on the Pats.
This has led some to conclude New England is “tired” and feeling the “pressure” of its run at immortality. Of course, the same people have concluded that everything is on track in Pittsburgh, even though the Steelers just completed a three-game string where they lost to the 3-9 Jets and needed a last second field goal to get past the 0-12 Dolphins. It’s okay, though – they just beat the Bengals. Look out, NFL!
Please. First, “tired”? A tired team doesn’t come back and win in the fourth quarter three-times in the last month. Second, feeling the “pressure”? This is the New England Patriots, bub. Winners of three world championships, all of them down to the wire. This isn’t some one-year wonder on its first trip through the minefield. Now they’re going to get queasy? For crying out loud, they just tied a record for earliest division clinch, and theoretically, could clinch home field advantage through the AFC playoffs by midnight. How much “pressure” is there, really?
Like I said, we’re about to find out. In the meantime, though, I thought we’d kick off the Sunday Links by spotlighting some of the metro and regional writers that are consistently turning in good work in coverage of the perfect Pats.
Douglas Flynn of the MetroWest Daily News sets the stage for today’s game, focusing on what for many is the key matchup – Pittsburgh’s physical, hyper-aggressive defense against Randy Moss and the rest of Team Brady.
David Heuschkel of the Hartford Courant worries that the Pats have become too pass-heavy in their offensive approach, a concern with some resonance at this address (surprise!). I looked it up this week, and since they lost Sammy Morris in the Dallas game, the Pats have thrown the ball on 62% of their offensive plays.
Our pal Chris Price at the Boston Metro says that unlike in boastful Pittsburgh, there is an absence of sound and fury in New England, which signifies…..well, I’ll leave that to you.
Eric McHugh of the Quincy Patriot Ledger says the Pats will need to fight toughness with toughness if they don’t want to end up black and blue tomorrow. Mike Lowe of the Maine Sunday Telegram says the Steelers could be a perfect roadblock. Hey, get the Health Evans quotes at the end of this one – I swear he was about to launch into a Sgt. Hulka/Big Toe testimonial.
In the Globe, Christopher Gasper wonders what Mike Vrabel has to do to make the Pro Bowl. In his Pats notebook, Gasper looks at Anthony Smith’s big week (he’s famous now, so mission accomplished) and notes that a Pats win and a Colts loss today clinches New England the AFC’s number one seed in the season’s fourteenth week.
Richard McSweeney has the scouting report, where he likes the Pats by 10. Mike Reiss offers an expansive version of his league notes, where he looks at the recent success of a couple of Massachusetts kids, Todd Collins and Lofa Tatupu. Oh, yeah, Jeff Fisher’s in here fretting about a rule change too, which is never a good thing.
Warning: Dan Shaughnessy seems to have written another football column today. Before I could turn away, I saw a reference to Bobby Orr and Don Larsen, so kids, it’s written in that contemporary style that Dan is so well known for.
In the Herald, John Tomase has decided that if the Pats get by the Steelers today, they’re going 16-0. Whatever. I mean, I know these guys have to write about it, but this claim of inevitability is as off-putting as the talk of the Pats being “tired” and feeling “pressure.” Tomase moves on to his Quick Hits, where we have more ridiculous conjecture about commanding Stephen Gostkowski to kick the ball out of bounds inside the 5 yard line (you guys want to talk about probability? What’s the probability of that?). I did like Tomase’s take on the Pats running game, or lack of it. John also has five things to look for tonight, not the least of which is whether Willie Parker can take over the game for the Steelers.
Tomase adds an enjoyable piece on the Pats draft options if the Forty-Niners’ ship continues to list. I’ve been reading with interest about Heisman finalist Darren McFadden, but this Chris Long just sounds too perfect for the Patriots. Sometimes I’m so anxious to see what the Pats do with that pick that I tend to look beyond the team they happen to have on the field right now. Which is undefeated and the odds-on Super Bowl favorite. Stupid, but that’s the draft for you.
Karen Gurgeian has the daily Pats notebook, where she reminds us of Bill Belichick’s specialty – winning in December. So far so good this year. Steve Buckley inexplicably writes about Mark Henderson on the occasion of a Steelers game, but you know, I enjoyed it anyway. Did Robert Kraft really say “dude”?
In the ProJo, Shalise Manza Young says the 12-0 Patriots and the 0-12 Dolphins are screwing up the legacy of the late Pete Rozelle. In her scouting report, SMY thinks the Steelers D and the Pats O is a ‘push’ today. Shalise also visits up close with Brandon Meriweather, who says his favorite movie is ‘How to be a Player’. I’ve never seen it, but I think you should watch it as often as possible, Brandon.
Jim Donaldson rounds out the links this morning with a column that seems to be about Anthony Smith and guarantees, but ends up being about next year’s draft. See what I mean about the intoxicating properties of the draft? Jim just up and lost it right in the middle of a column.
Back later to sum up this little ballgame we have today. In the meantime, in case you missed it, the PD Kitchen Staff has whipped up a little tailgate just for the Steelers, and you.