September 29, 2016

Inside Gillette

logoby Christopher Price
[email protected]

Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin are two examples of why people shouldn’t always make a snap judgment on the abilities of a first-time head coach, especially if they came of age as an assistant under Bill Parcells.

Both Belichick and Coughlin have taken similar routes to Super Bowl XLII: in their initial experience as a head coach in the NFL, the two former Parcells’ assistants both had a dogmatic approach that yielded minimal return, not unlike Parcells himself. In their second go-round as NFL head coaches, they’ve slightly softened their hard-line approach, and that new style has yielded considerable results.

In Jacksonville, Coughlin made his bones as an uber-disciplinarian. The early returns were favorable, as the Jags became the most successful expansion team in NFL history, making two trips to the AFC Championship Game in his first four years in Jacksonville. But the good times soon faded, and Coughlin’s approach soon wore thin.

He was soon hired by the Giants, but the baggage followed him to New York — Giants defensive end Michael Strahan thought to himself “this man is crazy” soon after his first meeting with Coughlin, and described his personality as “robotic.” And in his first three seasons in New York, there was just one season where they finished better than .500, and zero playoff wins.

But somewhere along the way, Coughlin loosened up. During training camp this year, he called off practice and took the whole team bowling. He let the players vote on captains instead of choosing them himself. And he held weekly meetings with an 11-player council to stay abreast of what the players were thinking.

“Instead of just telling these guys, ‘This is how it is,’ you have to say, ‘How’s that working for you?’ “ Giants running back coach Jerald Ingram told reporters. “He hasn’t changed totally. But he’s been able to see that you can do things differently and still be yourself.”

In the end, the new style paid off with Coughlin’s first trip to the Super Bowl as a head coach.

“There are times that I go, ‘Are you going back on us?’” Strahan said with a smile yesterday. “He has really changed. He is smiling, he uses the word ‘fun’ and ‘enjoyment’ and it blows my mind every time he uses it.

“He has come around,” Strahan added. “I think he’s definitely changed – it’s for real and it’s for the better.”

The situation was the same for Belichick, who was frosty with players, fans and media in his time in Cleveland. Tales of his overbearing approach were the stuff of legend, and his micromanaging spread him way to thin, distracting him from the things he needed to focus on as a head coach.

Now, like Coughlin, his approach has paid off. He’s more attuned to the needs of his players. He meets regularly with his captains. He places his full faith in his assistants. He’s still not the warm and fuzzy type, but, like Coughlin, a softer approach with players and staff has paid dividends.

“He’s still consistent about as far as being strict about things and wanting guys to do things right,” Anthony Pleasant, who played for Belichick at multiple stops, said a few years ago when asked about his former head coach. “But he’s not as dogmatic as he was in Cleveland. He’s more willing to give now than he was back then.”

“You learn something every game you coach, every practice, every year,” Belichick said. “Certainly the five years in Cleveland taught me a lot about managing a team.

“I took those experiences and tried to build off of them and improve them through the years — both how to handle the team and probably delegate more responsibility than I did in Cleveland to my assistants and other people in the organization that are involved in the operational and support ends of the game.”

FIVE THINGS TO LOOK FOR 

1. How the Giants try and defend Randy Moss. The Jaguars and Chargers were able to take away the outside deep threat that Moss brings to the game by jamming him right off the line, playing physical with him and forcing him inside. Expect the Giants to at least try and do the same thing. If they do, expect the Patriots to try and be creative in their use of Moss — maybe some more reverse plays, or putting him in motion.

2. Ellis Hobbs. The diminutive cornerback had some issues against Plaxico Burress when the Patriots faced the Giants in December — including a 52-yard pass play from Eli Manning to Burress on the Giants’ second play from scrimmage — and New York will likely stay far away from cornerback Asante Samuel. Because the Patriots usually don’t match their cornerbacks man for man, but to either left or right side of the field, it’ll be interesting to see if the Giants make it a priority for Burress to find Hobbs. (Of course, that all goes out the window if Belichick shakes things up. As we know, the Patriots’ head coach has a knack for making some surprising decisions in big games, like the debut of the 2-5 defense in Super Bowl XXIX.)

3. Kevin Faulk. The veteran defensive back has become an invaluable part of the New England offense in this year’s playoffs, particularly in the passing game. We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: this postseason, Brady has thrown 13 passes in his direction, and he’s caught all 13, the best ratio on the team among the regulars. With an aggressive New York front four, he should be called upon to run the screen pass on a few occasions Sunday.

4. The Patriots offensive line against the Giants defensive line. This is where the real battle of Super Bowl XLII will be fought. New York was able to get pressure on Brady in their first meeting, but only finished with one sack on the night. The Giants did hold New England to just 44 rushing yards, and New England had nine plays in the running game where they posted either no gain or negative yardage. However, this time will likely be different. The Patriots have their entire offensive line — plus No. 1 blocking tight end Kyle Brady — healthy. In December, the Patriots were without Brady, as well as Stephen Neal (their best run blocker) and Nick Kaczur.

5. Tom Petty. What’ll he play at halftime? My guess is that he and the Heartbreakers play these three songs, in no particular order: Runnin’ Down A Dream, Free Fallin’ and American Girl.

STAT OF THE WEEK

17,000. As of Wednesday night, the number of results you get if you Google the phrase “How to beat the Patriots.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
 
“There’s a couple guys who can’t grow hair. Their [bleeps] still haven’t dropped, I guessed.” — Patriots right tackle Nick Kaczur, speaking with the Washington Post about New England’s bearded offensive line.

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].

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

logoby Dan Snapp
[email protected]

As plights go, it’s not a bad one to have.

Our team’s in the Super Bowl, at the threshold of completing the most historic season in the  sport’s existence. We should be grateful, humbled and in reverent awe of what’s occurring, and for the most part, we are. But allow us this one minor cavil:

Can’t we please just play the damn game already?

It’s a bit of predicament for Patriots fans. You want the game to be here, yet you hope the moment lingers. After Sunday, after all, it’s over. Nothing left to look forward to, but also nothing left to worry over.

So which is it, then? The journey or the destination? It’s tough, though possible, to enjoy both, as they seem at odds with one another.

It feels like waiting for your kid to be born. You’re excited in the anticipation, but want it to be over with and for everything to just turn out OK. And you know nothing’s going to be the same ever again.

(I can hear my wife now: “Childbirth and the Super Bowl. Right. Perfectly analogous.”)

So to amplify that anxiety – and exploit your consumerism – the NFL decided to invent the two-week waiting period. If the Super Bowl is the league’s Heaven, this then is their own little Purgatory, where no point goes underanalyzed, no shot’s considered gratuitous, and no dead horse is unbeaten.

It’s great for the media. They spent all last week talking themselves into a Giants upset, so they’ve still got a week to sober up.

But mostly, it’s an opportunity to discuss their favorite topics: themselves. This “Broadcast News” line seems apt:

TOM GRUNICK: The latest message seems to indicate that the Libyan pilot was acting on his own without authority from anyone else. (into camera directly) In other words, I think we’re okay.

ERNIE MERRIMAN: Who cares what you think?

One of the first questions off the plane for Bill Belichick was how much disdain does he hold for the media. Essentially, “Bill, let’s talk about the game. How come you don’t like us?”

Dan Shaughnessy had a good get last week, interviewing Bill Parcells on his old Giants staffers Belichick and Coughlin. Dan’s signature question:

What about Belichick’s astonishing ability to remain obtuse about the most benign of topics?

So Shaughnessy gets what he wants, a more open, friendly Belichick in Arizona, and what does he do with it?

Who kidnapped Bill Belichick? Who invaded his body? Where is the ogre?

That must have come out of Dan’s “Plan B” drawer.

Thank God for the NFL Network, or for my purposes, the NFL Films Network. Rewatching the Patriots Super Bowls is a great time-killer. They never get old, and you always pick up something new. Like this exchange in SB XXXVI, mere seconds before Tom Brady connects with David Patten for a TD:

Pat Summerall, on Belichick: “Talk about a guy that’s become easier to converse with, and loosened up.”

John Madden: “Yeah, he’s a good guy. He’s a good guy and a great coach.”

My favorite in the first Super Bowl remains Rams reserve running back Justin Watson, aka the “I like our chances!” guy. You remember him:

“I told you, I like our chances! We are the number one offense in the league. I like our chances!”

I wanna see Watson in some commercial spots during the Super Bowl. Have him suited as different Pats opponents from this season, with a mock interview prior to each game.

REPORTER:  “How do you feel about the game today, Justin? Your chances of beating the Patriots?”

JETS WATSON: “I like our chances!  I like our chances!”

Each game, he’s a little less enthusiastic.

STEELERS WATSON: “Well … we’re the number four offense in the league. …. I like our chances. They’re, um, you know, good chances.”

DOLPHINS WATSON: “Man, we don’t have a chance.”

Finally, with the Giants:

GIANTS WATSON: “I’m in the Super Bowl, baby!”

Might be tough to locate him. Nobody in the NFL’s seen him since Super Bowl XXXVI.

Re-watching the Patriots/Packers from ’97, you couldn’t help but think, “Winnable game.” The Patriots had a good plan to offset the Packers rush, if Drew Bledsoe could only throw a damn screen pass. He had two tipped, threw another at Bob Kratch’s back (causing a penalty), and threw one in the only conceivable manner that would allow “Curtis Martin vs. Gilbert Brown” to be a mismatch in Brown’s favor. 

What was forgotten was the seven- and eight-DB formations the Pats threw at Brett Favre in that game. What was seen as groundbreaking in Super Bowl XXXVI was taken from this game. Madden was the one who called it out; you’d think he’d have made the connection five years later.

The simpler, more innocent days of the NFL are long gone (at least they seemed simple and innocent in John Facenda’s booming voice backed by Sam Spence’s soundtrack), but I want ‘em back.

Give me back Super Bowl day games and Hank Stram telling his boys to matriculate. Give me back unextended halftime shows, be it college marching bands, Al Hirt or even “Up With People”. OK. Don’t really give me “Up With People.” But the others, yeah, sure.

Mostly, give me back the one-week wait.

Loose Threads

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Tuesday thoughts left hanging like loose threads on an old ‘Super Bowl Champions’ t-shirt:

*Our Own Chris Price – there on the Metro’s dime, we hope – is as we speak getting acclimated to the Arizona environs (it’s a dry heat, Chris), so stay tuned for the latest Inside Gillette later this week.

*The Giants have landed somewhere in the desert (Phoenix, Chandler, Scottsdale, Glendale, Tempe, take your pick), and according to the Cold Hard Football Facts, trouble awaits. As a Pats fan, you’d like to stick this in your hip pocket and call it a week, but as long as the possibility of an upset exists, even slightly, you can’t. And by ‘you’, I mean ‘me’.

*I’m watching the local news and they have film on the Patriots Monday practice, and to paraphrase Robert Deniro in those SNL Joe Pesci skits, I gotta say I saw a limp. There was definitely a limp there. I’m a little surprised, actually. I didn’t expect to see anything, I guess? I’m glad it’s Tuesday. I worry about a hit during the game, which is probably not necessary. On Tuesday.

*Though it does mean the rest of the Pats can possibly fly under the radar if they so choose. Though it seems that everyone’s getting their own press conference (12 in two days). Let me know when they get to Ray Ventrone, will you? 

*It can be easy to sometimes forget that there’s an actual game at the end of all this. Think of all you’ve read, heard and seen over the past week. Now think how much more is left before kickoff. Yeesh. Word came yesterday that the league has issued a record number of credentials for the game.

*Rodney Harrison says the Patriots defense could not have played any worse when New England beat the Giants in late December, and he guarantees they’ll play better this time. I think it will be a long wait before a Giant defender says the same thing about his team, considering the three-point loss seems to be their signature game of the season.

*The New York Post continued its descent into full-on madness on Monday with this charming warning to the citizens of the Greater Phoenix Region. Check out the graphic. I’m amazed that they didn’t put Bill Belichick in there. Really, the Post is having a dream season of its own. Every day a new low.

*God love the guy that asked Belichick about Tom Petty the other night. I’m big on Petty and the Heartbreakers, so it’s a kick to see them play any Super Bowl, much less one involving the Patriots. The coach’s seal of approval (“Free Fallin!”) was an early highlight.

Touch-Down

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The Pats have landed in Arizona and Super Bowl week has started.

The day began with a Gillette Stadium rally straight out of Currier and Ives, as lightly falling snow and a boisterous crowd evoked memories of some of the team’s signature victories. It ended with the team negotiating a slick airport runway as an unexpected rain fell on Pheonix.

From there, team principals met with the press. Thanks to the NFL Network, we were able to watch.

*Tom Brady bounded down the steps of the airplane with little sign of The Limp. Later, he told questioners that the injury occured in the third quarter of the Jacksonville game (I think we all remember that quick camera shot of Brady getting attention on the sideline, which the CBS announcers talked right over) and that – despite missing practice last week – he tried some footwork drills and threw a few passes anyway. As expected, he pronounced himself fit for the game.

*I don’t know what it costs to send a media member for a week in Scottsdale, but whatever it is, if the question he’s going to ask is “Will Giselle be coming to the game?”, it isn’t worth it. Probably some dink from the New York Post.

*Bill Belichick is having a great time. He must be, because he sat with the press for what seemed like forever. He even told a questioner he respected the job the media has to do. Who is this guy? Actually, followers of the team know that the coach will always engage a thoughtful question – which leaves you out, Bob Lobel. But Alice Cook of WBZ got things off to a good start with a question on pacing a team during Super Bowl week, and Belichick was off, pausing only on a question about Brady’s personal life. Look, if you Post people are going to be in here, you have to take off those Bridget masks.

*I don’t know who came off worse in that session, Lobel or the New York writers who oozed entitlement with every question. On the plus side, both Mike Reiss and Michael Holley acquitted themselves well in on camera apprearences with the NFLN’s Adam Schefter.

*My dad, who we’ve spoken about before, worked for the Hood milk company in the 60’s, and his job included some community relations work that often brought him into contact with the sports celebrities of the day. For example, Dad thought Bob Cousy was one of the nicest people he’d ever met, but he thought coach Mike Holovak of the Patriots hung the moon. I’m pretty sure we’re Pats fans today because of the team’s second winningest coach, who passed yesterday at the age of 88. Gino Cappeletti, another guy that Dad thought was pretty special, reflects on the loss of one of the Patriots founding fathers.

The Sunday Links

logoby Scott Benson
[email protected]

One week to go.

Pats fans have hit the halfway point in the grueling 14-day gauntlet that leads to the Super Bowl. This morning, the papers take one final deep breath before full deployment to Arizona. Let’s see what they have to say.

In the Globe, Jim McCabe wonders where the Pats fit in “the greatest evah!” debates. Bob Hohler looks at the Giants’ slow start and super finish. Jackie MacMullan considers Jabar Gaffney, an 06 holdover who has become a key player for the Pats. Michael Vega is one of many this morning to laud Tedy Bruschi, the heart and soul (and logo) of the organization. Also playing his best football of the season at the best possible time.

Ben Collins is in search of locals who would like you to know THERE ARE STILL A LOT OF GIANTS FANS IN NEW ENGLAND. Really? Hadn’t heard that. Anyway, Ben finds them. First guy he talks to pulls out old Shaughnessy columns lauding New England’s ‘other’ pro football team. That guy’s got two strikes on him already. Let’s move on.

Mike Reiss has the weekly league notes, with a look at Andre Tippett’s Hall of Fame chances (about the same, it seems), and the possibility of labor strife ahead.

In the Herald, Rob Bradford visits Open Mike Vrabel, who in 35 years in football has never seen that. Vrabel has a screw loose, which is even funnier when you consider that he may be the smartest player the Patriots have. He’s at least 1A. I insist that he be named a member of the Patriots coaching staff the minute he retires. Anyway, Bradford continues on the theme by saying their experience is what sets the Patriots linebackers apart.   

Karen Gurgeian has the notebook, where the Pats are considering Eli Manning’s improvements as a quarterback, and as a leader. In his Quick Hits, John Tomase says today’s Pats recordbreaking offense recalls the old school version, led by a coach who would be fired a season later. Ron Erhardt survived and went on to become one of the best coordinators in football. Tony Massarotti says Wes Welker’s world has been turned upside down in one season. Paul Schwartz of the New York Post could say the same about Tom Coughlin.

A couple of guys I’ve never heard of have assigned “a noticeable limp” to Tom Brady, back from New York. If I understand this correctly, one or both of these gentlemen have been hanging around Brady’s place in Boston, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. There’s even a pic! They should totally start their own web site.

Jay Fitzgerald says that CNBC will air the hour-long documentary “Touchdown! The Patriots and the Business of Winning” at 10 tonight. Maybe next week, they can do a follow up at about the same time.

In the ProJo, Joe McDonald looks at the underdog Giants through the eyes of a few guys who were once dogs themselves.  Are the Giants still the underdog? Didn’t seem like it at times this week. Anyway, in case you missed it yesterday, Shalise Manza Young started a three-part series on how the Pats have built an NFL dynasty.

The Courant is the Mason-Dixon line of yet another Boston-NY throwdown this week, so this morning they offer not only David Heuschkel’s feature on Pats icon Bruschi, but Dom Amore’s look at 41 year old Jeff Feagles, who, it can’t be said enough, kicked for the Patriots in NINTEEN EIGHTY-EIGHT. Lastly, Jeff Goldberg realizes that not everybody who wants to go to the Super Bowl gets to go.

Elsewhere, Douglas Flynn of the MetroWest Daily News digs deep on Bill Belichick, the man at the center of a historic season. On Friday, Chris Price confronted the dirty Pats on their low-down ways.

One week to go. Warning: it’s all uphill from here.

Breer Blogs Big Blue

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

When Albert Breer left the Patriots beat in September, Patriots fans lost one of the best football writers they’ve ever – briefly – had. Hard copy or blog, especially blog, Breer was an ace.

As you know, Breer is now working at the Dallas Morning News, maybe the best sports section in the country when it comes to covering football. And he’s blogging like mad on the paper’s website, which brings us to the subject of today’s post.

Breer always had a technician’s eye for football, and his popular Tale of the Tape feature, with its richly detailed analysis, amounted to a weekly clinic for even the savviest X’s and O’s fan. He’s continued that practice in the Big D, and expanded it to include varied breakdowns of how teams utilize their offensive and defensive personnel.

John Tomase gave us Breer’s Pats-Chargers Tale of the Tape the other day, and afterwards it occured to us (actually, it was suggested to us) that we ought to gather up Albert’s analysis of the Giants playoff games (for it surely exists) as a fan’s primer to the Patriots’ Super Bowl opponents.

So, with regards to Breer, is a collection of his works, grouped by each game the Giants have played since THEY LOST to the Patriots.

GIANTS AT BUCCANEERS

Tale of the Tape
On Target (Where the passes went)
Bucs Rush Analysis (defensive alignments)
Giants Rush Analysis
Personnel Breakdown (offensive alignments)

GIANTS AT COWBOYS

Tale of the Tape
Cowboys On Target
Giants On Target
Cowboys Rush Analysis

Giants Rush Analysis
Cowboys Personnel Breakdown
Giants Personnel Breakdown

GIANTS AT PACKERS

Tale of the Tape
Giants On Target
Packers On Target
Giants Rush Analysis
Packers Rush Analysis
Giants Personnel Breakdown
Packers Personnel Breakdown
  
Enjoy.

Kevin-Sent

logoby Dan Snapp
[email protected]

Prior to the start of the 2000 season, the Patriots played in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. The game marked Bill Belichick’s Patriots head coaching debut, Tom Brady’s first action (he went 3-for-4 for 28 yards), Dennis Miller’s Monday Night Football premiere, and Miller’s lone instance of being funny (“It’s surprisingly hard to find good Cantonese here,” he quipped) in his entire MNF run.

Kevin Faulk was a footnote then, an “undersized” second-year back fighting for playing time against free agent Raymont Harris and rookie J.R. Redmond.

Back then, the yearly running back question was “Who will replace Curtis Martin?” There was Robert Edwards in ’98 (before his sad beach volleyball injury), Terry Allen in ’99, and this game appeared to be Harris’s audition for the role, with nine carries for 58 yards.

But Faulk showed the first signs of his future role with the team, taking a pass from Michael Bishop for a 25-yard TD, and returning a punt 22 yards to set up another score. This prompted Miller to suggest Faulk might be the answer to the Martin question. It was a throwaway line, one of those designed to fete the players in front of him in an otherwise dull game.

Nobody could have imagined then that Faulk would come to mean more to the team than Martin ever did, nor entertain us more than Miller ever could.

Kevin Faulk is the most important running back in Patriots history. Others were more athletic, more talented, more accomplished. Certainly he’s been outrushed by a slew of them. But no back has been more pivotal to the Patriots’ success.

Sunday’s performance – laying out for 11-yard third down conversion and reaching behind and down for a fingertip grab three plays later – only punctuated that importance. As Christopher Price noted here yesterday, Faulk’s been 13-for-13 on passes thrown to him the past two games. What does it say about him that that stat’s not the least bit surprising?

Just about every Patriots fan has underrated Faulk at some point in his career. It was obvious he wasn’t a lead back in this league, and his six fumbles in 2000 led to a probably undeserved charge that he was “fumble-prone.” It wasn’t until the 2003 season, when he helped save games against Denver and Houston (just about singlehandedly in that one), that he cemented his role on the team and in our hearts.

In CBS’s post-game wrapup Sunday, Boomer Esiason said someday Gillette Stadium would see a “Kevin Faulk Day.” It was a nice sentiment, and an inevitable honor. But it’s not enough.

There’s no worthy place of honor for a player like Faulk: passing game specialist, productive punt returner, and blitz picker-upper extraordinaire. He has nowhere near the rushing nor receiving stats for the Hall of Fame, of course. There will be a “Kevin Faulk Day” and he’ll own a spot in the Patriots “Ring of Honor”, or whatever the Patriots will call it.

Perhaps we could call him the “best third-down back of all time”, although probably a dubious honor, connoting an inability to be a lead back. Plus, somebody like Joe Washington might be the holder of that title.

It may be left to honor him in our memories. Tell us your favorite Kevin Faulk moments here.

Inside Gillette

logoby Christopher Price
[email protected]

The last time the Patriots faced the Giants — in that famous Week 17 clash at the Meadowlands — the right side of the New England offensive line consisted of second-year Ryan O’Callaghan at right tackle and all-purpose utilityman Russ Hochstein at right guard. New England rushed for just 44 yards and barely came away with a 38-35 win.

This time around, starting right guard Stephen Neal and starting right tackle Nick Kaczur are expected to be healthy enough to play. If their recent performance is any indication, the Giants’ defense — particularly their run stoppers — could be in for a long night a week from Sunday in Super Bowl XLII.

“Russ and Ryan came in and stepped in there when they needed to; they’ve done a great job for us,” said center Dan Koppen. “But Steve and Nick, they’re our guys,”

Back in that December matchup, O’Callaghan and Hochstein did a great job of helping blunt the Giants’ vaunted pass rush, as the Patriots’ offensive line held the likes of Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck to just one sack on the night. But with its starting offensive line in place for both playoff games, New England has averaged 147 rushing yards in the postseason, grinding out 145 against Jacksonville and 149 against San Diego.

This postseason, the Patriots have been able to dominate on the ground for several reasons. Bad weather has placed a renewed emphasis on the running game. In addition, favorable matchups have allowed the backs to flourish — the Jags were playing nickel and dime coverage much of the night in the divisional playoffs, concentrating on stopping the New England passing game as opposed to the running backs. There was also the move from three- and four-wides to a two- and three-tight end set against the Chargers that paid dividends down the stretch in the form of big yards on the ground.

But a large part of it can also be found in the fact that New England has had its starting offensive line — Kaczur, Neal, Koppen, left guard Logan Mankins and left tackle Matt Light — together for back-to-back games for the first time since early December.

“We expect that from them — they consistently do it,” said fullback Heath Evans after Sunday’s win over the Chargers. “Those guys have played together for a long time.” 

It’s not just lately — the last six times the Patriots had their starting offensive line on the field as a group, they rushed for less than 90 yards only once when they had 48 yards in a Nov. 18 win over the Bills in Buffalo.

According to Koppen, it’s not an accident that continuity has bred a successful offensive line. When you play alongside someone for an extended period of time, you develop a level of trust that isn’t there if you’re constantly shuffling guys in and out of the lineup.

“It’s important,” he said recently. “We’ve got guys that have been around here for a number of years, and we know what’s expected of each of those guys, and we know what they’re going to do and what their role on our offense is.

“When you’re rolling the same five guys out there — or six, or seven, for that matter, which we’ve had over the course of this year — it’s important to know what they do. It’s important to have trust in them, and really just build on that each week and try to get better.”

STAT OF THE WEEK

13. The number of passes that have been thrown in the direction of Patriots’ running back Kevin Faulk since the start of the postseason. He’s caught all 13.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Just give an old man a chance.” —Patriots linebacker Junior Seau, 39, answering a question about his mindset when he decided to come to New England before the start of last season.

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].

Super-men

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The still-perfect Patriots are going to their fourth Super Bowl in seven years.

And they did it with defense and the running game – after a season in which Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and others took their fast-break, spread-em-out passing game to dizzying new heights with a high-tech offense straight out of the Jetsons, it was old fashioned, frozen-field grit with a balled fist that finally put them over the top.

New England will move on to Glendale, AZ for Super Bowl XLII, where they will meet again the surprising New York Giants, who nearly ended New England’s undefeated season in December, and who yesterday became the first NFC team ever win three road games to advance to the league championship.

Another Manning standing between the Patriots and a championship. You CANNOT make this stuff up. Some thoughts:

*Three times the limping San Diego Chargers took the ball inside New England’s ten yard line and three times they were turned away without a touchdown (a fourth drive inside the Patriots 25 yielded the same result). Ballgame.

*They allowed San Diego to move the ball freely at times, largely through mid-range completions to Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson, as the Chargers nearly matched the Patriots in total yardage though both Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates were gimpy, and LaDainian Tomlinson was relegated to the sidelines.

*But the old guard held fast – Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau both made critical plays in the red zone (and elsewhere) and Mike Vrabel helped crumble the pocket with an edge rush that put him in the Chargers backfield as often as Tomlinson stand-in Michael Turner. Richard Seymour, Jarvis Green and mates caused a ruckus whenever their backs were pinned to the wall. This one was won with defense, a welcome reminder of Foxboroughs Past.

*Bruschi has evidently traveled back in time, regaining the mastery of his youth for this championship run. Each game he gets stronger.

*Laurence Maroney had just thrown himself violently into, and through, a pile defending the San Diego end zone, scoring a touchdown in his fifth straight game, most in exactly this same manner. “Better than Dillon!” I blurted to my wife. I don’t know where that came from, but now that it’s out there, Maroney’s performance over the last month is as good as any Belichick team has gotten. I happily acknowledge vis a vis Maroney that I have never been more horribly wrong about anything.

*He’s got a real notch on his belt now. With nearly five yards a carry (25-122), he and his blockers won an AFC Championship Game for the Patriots. When New England finally decided that its own downfield passing game had become perhaps the greatest threat to its perfect record, it was up to Maroney and Kevin Faulk to give the Pats enough offense to win. When the Patriots, stupified alternately by wind and the Chargers secondary, decided to contract their spread formations and go with two and three tight ends, and Maroney began to spring into the Chargers secondary, New England finally had the right offense to compliment what deserved to be a championship defensive effort.

*And Faulk – how about the guy once known for his fumbles winning the game with his hands? Eight catches as the go-to-guy, some of which demanded last-second dexterity from Faulk’s digits, and various other body parts (always seemed to be on third down too). His biggest was a diving third down catch and roll on the clinching drive. In his post-game remarks, Boomer Esiason imagined a future “Kevin Faulk Day” at Gillette. I thought those were most appropriate remarks, given the day’s – and the career’s – events.  

*Maybe the highest point of the season was a nine minute, eighteen second, 66 yard drive that yielded no points. They just happened to be the final nine minutes and eighteen seconds of the game, with the Chargers trailing by nine and desperate for two more possessions. Yet first down after first down after first down rained down on their gradually slumping shoulders. The Pats barely concealed their sh**-eating grins in the huddle.  

*Three interceptions in a championship game for Tom Brady. The worst was when he threw a meek red zone floater that was easily grabbed by Antonio Cromartie. The MVP was a most vexed person whenever he tried to go upfield to Moss and Donte Stallworth, thanks to Cromartie (who was rarely challenged) and Quentin Jammer (who was, but survived and prospered). If the defense and/or running game had not stepped forward exactly as they did yesterday, there’s no telling what would have happened.

*But as his performance is discussed in the days ahead, and it will be, note the pitch to Jabar Gaffney that converted an Asante Samuel interception and gave the Pats a halftime lead. Note the connection with Welker for the touchdown that gave the Patriots a two-score, fourth quarter lead. Note the symbiosis with Faulk throughout. The Patriots eventually had too many playmakers for the Chargers to cover, and Brady eventually converted, even on one of his toughest days.

*A hellified week for Randy Moss got no better yesterday, at least as far as the stat sheet says. But he did make first downs on his only two touches of the day, and he is going to the first Super Bowl of his always controversial career.  Get ready for two weeks of wall-to-wall Moss as the media looks to fill time before the game. They’ll probably start with his playoff ‘slump’ (2 catches for 32 yards in two games) but God knows they won’t end there.

*To me, I’m not as shocked by Brady’s and Moss’s muted performances as I am by the fact that Philip Rivers leaves town as a respected rival. He didn’t get the Chargers in the end zone, and he did throw two picks, but that was still a pretty ballsy game. All the way around, really, by the entire San Diego team. They lost, but I bet they took a big step forward as a team yesterday.

*Tomlinson? Easiest thing in the world to sit back here and question something like this, with nobody hitting me as I type. But I’ll say this – yesterday just seems like the kind of thing that lingers around a guy for awhile. He’s got bigger problems now than what the other team’s coach is or isn’t teaching his players.

*The Patriots have to find a way to keep Kelley Washington around, I think. The Pats special teams have a handful of players – like Washington, Pierre Woods, veterans Eric Alexander and Larry Izzo – that make a big difference every week to little or no notice.

*Until now. In about a week, none of these guys will be able to move an inch without a camera in their mug, a leading question in the air, and a fourth world championship and NFL immortality within their still-perfect reach.

The Sunday Links

logoby Scott Benson
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Well, here we are again.

A journey that began approximately 12 months ago with the shocking finality of a game ending Tom Brady interception and the first AFC Championship Game loss in team history has brought the New England Patriots right back to the place where they left off last year – sixty minutes from the Super Bowl.

The wound suffered that day was so deep that the team hasn’t dared lose a game since. Can they take the final step today?

Let’s see what the papers think.

In the Globe, Jim McCabe says the business-like Pats and the heart-on-their-sleeve Chargers are polar opposites. Christopher Gasper says for the Patriots, their experience eases the pressure of the Big Moment. McCabe has the San Diego morning notebook, where the Chargers claim no hard feelings for sack dance copyright violation. In the New England camp, Gasper notebooks some thoughts from understudy Matt Cassel, as he and his fellow Pats prepare for a possible Billy Volek appearance today. Jim McBride likes the Pats to be air traffic controllers in his weekly scouting reports.

The Pats safeties get a closer look from Michael Vega, who profiles the studious James Sanders, and Gasper again, who notes that this time, Rodney Harrison is healthy for the AFCCG.

I admit to a sinking feeling when I saw a Jackie MacMullan column on Randy Moss this morning, but after further review, it could have been worse. The thing even ends up being functional; it lists every brush with the law that Moss has ever had, so if you’re keeping track, you could stick this to your refrigerator or something.

As you know, it is the longstanding policy of this space never to link a Dan Shaughnessy “column”. So you won’t be getting one for today’s “effort”, which candidly, I didn’t read. All I needed to see was the little slug that runs underneath the link on the Globe’s sports webpage. “They are the San Diego Chargers and they have no chance to win today.”

Sigh. Despite several decades as a lead columnist for one of the country’s preeminent sports sections, Dan evidently still does not understand team sports. Hey Curly, if it’s so easy, why don’t YOU get out there and do it? Not that I don’t notice that you’ve set yourself up nicely for a Bill Buckner reference tomorrow if the “no chance” Chargers beat the Pats a week after taking care of your Colts. Because that’s exactly the kind of “writer” you are.

To cleanse our palate, let’s visit with a true sportsman, Mike Reiss, who looks at Tom Dimitroff, who became the Atlanta Falcons GM this week. By the way, Mike killed it with his blog this week. He was hitting line drives all over the ballpark, day in, day out.

Another top blogger, John Tomase, got taken out of the game this week while dad attended to an under-the-weather child, so we hope things are back on track in the Tomase household this morning. JT leads the Herald coverage with a look at Randy Moss in the playoffs. Steve Buckley says the Chargers will face some cold, hard football facts (hmmmm….) in chilly Foxborough today. AP says expect low 20’s.

Karen Guregian has the notebook, where the Pats prepare for anything from the Chargers quarterbacks today. Tomase has his weekly five things to watch, leading with the pass rush of Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips. Visiting columnist Nick Canepa is in the corner, curled in the fetal position, sucking his thumb and mumbling something about the Patriots being “vulnerable.”

At the ProJo, Shalise Manza Young says Tom Brady’s no wide-eyed kid anymore, as he prepares for the fifth championship game of his eight year career, while his defensive teammates contemplate Philip Rivers and Volek. All things considered, SMY is leaning Pats with her analysis. Jim Donaldson is in playoff form with two more columns today – a  visit with Rhode Island native (and Chargers GM) A.J. Smith, and in case nobody had already stated the obvious, JD opines that it would be a shame if the perfect Pats lost now.

Elsewhere, the Courant’s David Heuschkel asks which Chargers are standing in the way of the Pats. Douglas Flynn of the MetroWest Daily News details the extreme makeovers of both teams since their last playoff meeting.

From earlier this weekend, Eric McHugh of the Quincy Patriot Ledger recalls another chilly championship game for San Diego, and looks at Randy Moss’s 0-2 record in conference title games. Christopher Price of the Metro has Junior Seau’s old team as the last hurdle to the Super Bowl, and ponders the always intriguing Laurence Maroney.

Speaking of price, you can’t put one on this decade, at least for Patriots fans. And yet another chapter in the story of this most improbable of football dynasties will be written today. Enjoy. In case you missed it yesterday, here’s a Patriots Buffet Table to enhance your championship day experience.

Patriots Buffet Table – AFC Championship – 1/20/08 Patriots vs. Chargers

Patriots Buffet Table 1/20/08 Patriots vs. Chargers
by Patriots Daily Kitchen Staff
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Well it’s time for Classy Bowl III. The Pats beat the Chargers in San Diego last year in the playoffs. The Bolts weren’t that concerned with the loss. They were just mad that the Patriots danced Shawne Merriman’s dance! They sure showed us this year, as the Pats crushed them. That game that led to the first ‘Can you go undefeated’ questions for Belichick.

Somehow the Chargers managed to win in Indy last week. Classy LT missed time with a bruise. Phillip Rivers hurt himself jumping 8 inches into the air. Those two along with Antonio Gates represent two thirds of San Diego’s offense. Gates played despite injury but Thomlinson and Rivers decided to inspire the Buffet Table. It’s time for our first Beer Can Chicken recipe. This one will be the classiest. MMM Classy Chicken.

Buffet Table Beer Can Chicken.

I’m sure you’ve seen these, a chicken perched on a beer can with it’s legs folded out. The beer steams the chicken from the inside while the rest of the chicken cooks from the outside. It reduces cooking time and keeps the bird moist and juicy.

A chicken this tender and classy is a great tribute to LaDanian. Plus it’s a homage to all those ducks that Phillip Rivers throws around.

We’ll be using Broiler-Fryer chickens. These are young chickens, ranging from 1.5 to 4 pounds. The next size up is the Roaster, they can weigh up to 7 pounds. You can grill a roaster, but obviously it’s meant for roasting. Roasting is a lower temperature method than grilling, so the outside of the bird won’t burn while the inside is still raw.

What we’re doing is grilling. Broiling and grilling are basically the same cooking method. A high temperature heat source close to the meat being cooked. Stick with the Broiler-Fryer, if you need more bird, just buy 2 or 3 Broiler-Fryers.

Ingredients:

  • Roaster-Fryer chickens, 2 pounds per person, this may be a bit too much but when it comes to meat on the bone you can never be sure how much you’ll get.
  • 1 can beer per chicken, plus one per chicken for the cook
  • BBQ rub
  • vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons per chicken

First we need to make a BBQ rub. If you have a favorite version, commercial or homemade, go ahead and use it. Otherwise follow this recipe or tailor it to your taste. This should be enough for 2 chickens, you can always make more and save it for future use.

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

Allow the chicken to reach room temperature. As we’ve said before, any time you are grilling you want to start with room temperature meat. Otherwise the outside will burn before the inside even starts to warm up.

Heat the grill up to 350 degrees. Only fire up one side of the grill. We will be cooking the chicken over indirect heat.

Coat chicken in oil. Cover with dry rub on inside and outside. Make sure you took out any gizzards left inside the bird.

Prepare the beer can by opening and drinking half of it. Take an old style can opener and punch 2 more holes in the top. Add a couple of teaspoons of the rub to the can. Shove that can up in that chicken.

Take advantage of any nearby Bolts fans, this is a good action for taunting people with. Prop out the drumsticks to form a tripod shape. Fold the chicken wings under themselves and behind the chicken. This will keep the ends from burning. Put a pan under the whole thing, to collect the drippings, and to contain any spills if bird topples over. You can buy special metal wire stands to hold up the chicken, but they’re not necessary if you follow these steps.

Cook the chicken for 75 to 90 minutes. If you have a thermometer the breast should be 165 and the thighs should be 180. If you don’t have a thermometer then stab one of the thighs with a knife or fork. If the juice runs clear it’s done.

With the indirect cooking method, and the time we’ll be cooking, this is a great chance to add some smoke. You can buy a cast iron smoke pan at most places that sell grill supplies. It’s just a small, maybe 7″ by 4″ box that you can add wood chips to. If you have an old kitchen pan that you don’t care about ruining that would work as well.

Any of the common wood chips will work fine with our chicken. You should be able to find mesquite, apple or cherry easily.

Soak the wood chips in beer, water or apple juice. Add to the pan, and place it over the direct heat side of the grill. You’ll need to change the wood chips a few times while you cook. Apart from those times try to keep the grill lid closed as much as possible.

Time for a drink!

So far on the Buffet Table we’ve featured a particular style of beer each week. We’re doing something different this week. The Pats aren’t getting the opponent we expected, and the Buffet Table is following suit.

Chicken can go with pretty much anything. Instead of picking a particular beer we’ll be going over the options you have for canned beer. Over the past few years these options have multiplied. We’re no longer limited to the same 3 copies of a light colored, light flavored lager.

Nothing against the big guys. Every beer style has it’s place. I just don’t see the logic of spending premium dollars on a non-premium product. If I’m in the mood for an American Industrial style lager then I’m buying Narragansett, Schlitz or Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Any of those have the same flavor of the big boys with a much lower pricetag. I’m not saying to go out and buy the cheapest thing you can find. Friends don’t let friends drink the Beast, Mickey’s, or Busch. We don’t give links to them either.

So besides those big guys that everyone already knows from their omnipresent commercials, what is available in cans?

For a number of years, Ballantine (no website) was the only alternative to the industrial lagers. This was the only ale made in America from the mid 20th century up to the birth of the microbreweries.

Ballantine still claims to be America’s largest selling ale. Don’t laugh. If you like craft beer, then most of the beers you drink are made with the Sierra Nevada or “Chico” yeast strain. Sierra Nevada got their yeast from the Ballantine strain.

That yeast is essential to the clean, neutral fermentations of American style ales. American ales wouldn’t exist without Ballantine. The breweries that don’t use ‘Chico’ are probably either using a derivative of ‘Chico’ or they’re English style breweries.

Within the past few years, more and more breweries are making the switch to cans. This is a very good thing. Cans are a far better container than bottles for beer. Canned beer doesn’t skunk. Cans cannot shatter like glass. For the environmentally inclined cans are highly recyclable.

The canning pioneer was Oskar Blues Brewery. I recommended their Dale’s Pale Ale to people in the past and some haven’t liked it. I tried it again and I have to wonder if the first time I had it was a Peyton Manning in the 2006 playoffs experience. For some reason it was better then than it really is. Luckily this isn’t their only beer.

They have a Scotch style ale Old Chub. This is a good scotch ale, but a strong beer that you won’t want to drink more than one of. The best beer they offer is Gordon. Gordon is a double IPA, full of pine flavors from the hops. It’s even bigger than the Old Chub at 8.7% alcohol by volume but it is far more drinkable.

Many English breweries ship their beer to the US in cans. The low weight and easy packability make it a far cheaper option than bottles. Two that I like are Boddingtons Pub Style Ale and Hobgoblin. Hobgoblin is the darker and stronger of the two. Boddingtons is a Bitter and Hobgoblin is an English Brown ale.

Any British canned beer will be a good option. They’re all quite drinkable, balanced, and usually low in alcohol.

New England Brewing Company from Woodbridge, CT is the canned beer leader in New England. Their Atlantic Amber is in the Amber or Red ale style. The Elm City Lager is a pilsner. Sea Hag is an India Pale Ale. All are good, drinkable beers.

Patriots Roundtable, Championship Edition

logoby the Patriots Daily Staff
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First, a little housekeeping: we’re having some technical difficulties this morning in posting this week’s Patriots Buffet Table. But please, stay tuned later today for another winning entry from the PD Kitchen Staff.

Edit: And just like that, here it is. With beer cans! Thanks, Kitchen Staff!

The Patriots are poised to entertain the Chargers in the third AFC Championship game to be played in Foxborough, so the Roundtable guys have gathered again for another confab. Let’s listen in.

You are a Patriots fan. Tony Masserotti says you were disappointed that the Colts lost last Sunday. Were you?

Dan Snapp: A little, so it’s sad to say maybe Masserotti speaks for me here. I’ve enjoyed the rivalry, and I’ve always looked ahead to the Colts game on the schedule each year. Plus, I think the way the Patriots played in that November 4th tilt has been vastly underrated. They were gonna kill the Colts in a rematch, so we were deprived of the Peyton face.

Travis Graham: No. It was actually quite the opposite. I don’t know if this is a sign of an “unhealthy” sports fan, but I got more enjoyment out of watching the Colts lose than watching the Patriots win. The path to the Superbowl is a little easier for the Patriots now, but that wasn’t the only reason why I was so happy. I just enjoy watching the Colts lose, especially at home. I have no rational explanation for this.

Bruce Allen: Tony Massarotti (or Dan Shaughnessy) does not speak for me. I also enjoyed seeing the Colts lose, and have no disappointment that they’re not coming to town on Sunday. I think the columnists are upset because they had all their “storylines” lined up in advance and now the Chargers have come and upset the apple cart on them. Happily for the lazy media types, they were handed quite a gift with the Randy Moss story this week. Now they can break out all the character columns and thoughts they had stored up all season without a chance to use.

Greg Doyle: Absolutely not. That is so silly. Why would I care? As a fan, I’m not looking for storylines, I am looking for championships. If the Patriots go on to win one, think anyone will remember they didn’t beat the Colts? Most of these idiots in the media never can seem to keep straight what years they beat the Colts in the divisional round (2004) or AFC Championship (2003) or any of the details accurately of their championship runs and they are going to try to tell us its important now? Too funny.

Dan: A distinction should be made between media reasons and fan reasons. I don’t care about storylines; I want championships, regardless of whom they have to go through to get it. And if they win it without meeting the Colts in the playoffs, there’s no luster lost from the achievement. But fans are gonna feel what they’re gonna feel. I was a little disappointed it wasn’t the Colts because beating them always has an extra oomph to it.

Kevin Thomas: I don’t really buy the idea that it would be a lesser accomplishment to beat the team that was good enough to KO the champs, because frankly, I didn’t think there was any team out there up to that challenge. We knew going in that whoever was coming to Foxborough this weekend was going to be a damn good football team. It will be a moot point after the opening kickoff on Sunday.

In September, the Chargers and Pats had a rematch of their bitter, emotional playoff game last January, and New England won decisively. Is there a difference between the Chargers then and today?

Dan: Adjusting to the coaching changes, the emergence of Antonio Cromartie, the Chris Chambers pickup, and I like Eric Weddle a lot. The team can’t be overlooked, as they have a load of talent on both sides of the ball.

Scott Benson: The first thing that comes to my mind is Cromartie. He was a backup then and now he’s one of their best players. I shudder to think of him with the ball in his hands on Sunday.

Bruce: I think there’s no question that the Chargers have gotten their act together over the course of the season. They’ve gotten stronger as the season has gone along – always a bad thing for playoff opponents. In some ways they’re still the same over-emotional club that explodes at each other as much as at the opposition, and this could be their Achilles heel.

Do the Chargers have a chance to beat the Pats if Phillip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson don’t play?

Scott: Oddly, I can’t imagine any scenario where Tomlinson beats the Patriots. Is he going to run for 150 or hit 200 in total yardage against the Pats? I don’t see it. So Turner (4.2 a carry Sunday) and Sproles (where are these short people coming from?) can cover there. Rivers is freaking me out. How is this sidearm loudmouth completing these passes? So I’m going to say yes, they can beat them without Tomlinson, and no, Billy Volek may not hold up for four quarters against the Pats.

Travis: I’ve been critical of Rivers in the past, but his three quarters of play on Sunday was some of the best passing I’ve ever seen from him. I’d be much happier with Volek taking the snaps and not have to worry about a repeat performance.

Bruce: After last week, you certainly can’t count them out in any situation. While the offense put together some good drives, it was really the defense that won that game for them. With the defense healthy, they can hang in this game.

The Patriots defense gave up 350 yards to the Jaguars, including 270 through the air. The Jaguars possessed the ball for nearly as long as New England did. This performance came on the heels of giving up 35 points to the NY Giants in the final regular season game. Is the Patriots defense good enough to go to the Super Bowl, and win it?

Bruce: Of course it is. They took away the vaunted Jaguars running game, which is what they wanted to do. When they needed to make plays late, they made them. It might’ve been frustrating watching the Garrard throw the ball all over the field on Saturday, but Taylor and Jones-Drew were mostly ineffective. That’s pretty impressive.

Dan: They’re not asked to dominate. They’re asked to take away what teams do best. I think they do that well enough to win.

Scott: I’m resigned to the idea that every single game will be the exact same thing. Get run up and down the field a few times and then dodge a bullet by a sixteenth of a inch. I’m thinking of Dennis Northcutt from last week, as one example. But I do think that they’ll continue to summon the key stops, particularly in the second half, to hold up their end. I do think ahead to the off-season, and wonder about the changes to come. I don’t think the front seven is a particular strength of this team anymore, and it’s no wonder, as some of the most essential members are now 10+ year vets. If they go on to win the Super Bowl, the Patriots will have seemingly gotten everything they could out of this core group. Will they try to wring more, or will this be the off-season they step into the next era?

Dan: There will be a time when we’ll have to face the sober reality of “next year”, and the sadness of the handful of longtime friends who’ll no longer be part of our autumns (an expected retirement or two, I suspect a surprise one, and possibly one with the choice of retirement or a lesser role forced upon him). For now, let’s just drink this up and enjoy it while it lasts.

The Patriots employed their usual spread-shotgun offense on Saturday night, but they also hunkered down for a very productive running game featuring Laurence Maroney. What do you expect to see against the Chargers?

Dan: I can’t imagine seeing much of Maroney up the middle, but I hope we see him in the flat catching screens. I think the Chargers are susceptible to overpursuit.

Travis: I figure we’ll see more of the same. The Pats had a balanced offense working to perfection last week. I think they could have easily put up 50 if they needed to. One of the key contributors for the success of the running game was the (bizarro) Marvin-esque return of Stephen Neal. Neal and Mankins neutralized the Jaguars’ DTs, which let Maroney get a few steps in forward before he had to start making cuts.

A lot will be made of the coaching “mismatch” this week. But the Chargers just got their first two playoff wins in thirteen years, including one that knocked out the defending champs. Is Norv Turner being underestimated?

Dan: They had a great gameplan against the Colts, so good for Norv. He’s got a tough rep to overcome. I still can’t get over what he said back in week two, that he kept the first series script hidden from the team until Sunday morning. Belichick was that much in his head. But he and his coaches beat the defending champs in their own building, despite getting raped by the refs, with key plays from their second string quarterback and third string running back. Norv must be doing something right.

Bruce: Turner is actually getting some criticism for being too conservative after the Colts lost the ball on downs just before the two minute warning, which gave the Colts another shot with the ball. Overall, offense is his strength and he seemed to have a pretty good plan for the Colts defense for most of the afternoon. That being said, he’s a little out of his league in this coaching matchup. The players are a different story, but I don’t think we need to worry about the Patriots being outcoached this week.

Greg: I suppose he is being underestimated, in so far as I do not think Turner is the complete buffoon of a coach he is sometimes portrayed as. He is a decent coach and knows offense. He is not Belichick or anywhere near his level though. I am somewhat more concerned about the weather, truthfully. The cold forecast makes it hard to execute perfectly on offense, so I see that keeping the game close more than the coaching matchups.

Kevin: Do you think there is anything to the idea that the cold weather will negatively affect the warm-weather Chargers? I’m not sure if anyone has ever looked into that question statisticly, but my guess is it would be near impossible to isolate the impact of cold weather over other factors. I do remember that Tampa was winless in cold weather games over a ridiculously long stretch, but of course they almost always stunk until St. Tony arrived. Quickly scanning the box scores, it looks like the last time the Chargers played a game where the game-time temperature was below 32 degrees was in 2004 at Clevelend (a 21-0 win). Before that was at Kansas City in 2001 (a 20-17 loss). So, during the entire Tomlinson era, that’s only two games played in freezing weather. Obviously, not enough to predict one way or the other how it might affect them on Sunday. At the very least, though, it would be a ready-made excuse should things start to turn against them on the field.

Greg: Yes, I expect a lower scoring game than the Patriots have generally played this year. I don’t expect either of the offenses to roll up and down the field. Not to say they’ll be completely ineffective, but I just don’t think the conditions will be condusive to a shoot-out in the thirties. But who knows.

Adding to what I said about Turner, I went back and checked Bill Belichick’s record against Norv Turner. I included any game where Belichick was either head coach or defensive coordinator and any game where Turner was either head coach or offensive coordinator. Their history dates back to when Belichick was head coach in Cleveland and Turner was the offensive coordinator of the Cowboys.

It’s interesting. Belichick initially struggled against Turner’s offenses. Belichick’s team’s lost 3 of the first 4 matchups with Turner’s offenses averaging 26.25 points per game.However, Belichick has turned that around to win 5 straight games against Turner offenses, giving up an average of only 14.2 points per game. Overall, Belichick is 6-3 versus Turner offenses and has given up an average of 19.55 points per game.