September 30, 2016

Things That Make You Sad To Be A Fan

logoby Scott Benson
[email protected]

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been doing a little vacation traveling this week. So when I returned home yesterday I had received a few e-mails from readers who said that a former Pats employee had posted an alleged tell-all parting gift on a God-forsaken gambling blog located somewhere on the seedy underbelly of the Internet.

I admit, I clicked the link they sent, though I won’t repeat it here. What was written, if you can call it that, was so meanspirited and flat-out crazy that it demeans everything and everyone who comes in contact with it. Much like the individual who wrote it.

Thing is, by all appearances, he was a former Pats employee, one whose self-congratulatory wise-guy conduct and twisted life view (and public profile afforded by his employment) had already several times over made him quite notorious among web-savvy Pats fans. Meaning he worked for Patriots Football Weekly, the team’s in-house publication, despite the fact that he’s been crawling on his belly like a snake since birth. You can only imagine the sunshine this awful prick has been spreading in Foxborough and other NFL cities in recent seasons.

All on the team’s dime. All in the employ of the freaking house organ.

It’s a perverted, out of control enterprise that would even think of issuing a single paycheck to the likes of this vermin. Its a juvenile, hostile operation whose employees loudly and proudly claim “objectivity” even though they couldn’t accurately define the word if you spotted them a copy of Merriam-Webster. Because M-W doesn’t define objective as being “a pathological need to prove one’s independence by continually acting out like catty, miserable 15 year old girls.”

I don’t blame the individuals themselves for this untenable situation. After all, if your aim in life is to curry the favor of preening, look-at-me clowns like Ron Borges, if your aspirations are limited to simply aping their corrosive, worthless careers, then you deserve my pity, not my contempt. 

No, the people who are ultimately responsible for this insanity are the Krafts themselves. They’ve been right about a lot of things since the late 80’s, when they first secured the rights to the land surrounding the old Foxboro Stadium. But they have been as woefully wrong about this as they were about Bobby Grier and Pete Carroll. Worse, when you consider that was a bumbling, wrongheaded misjudgement. This….this almost seems calculated.

Why this contempt for your customers, after all the support they’ve given you on every step of your journey to here? Why do you mistrust us so? Why you believe the only way you can turn a profit on this paper and its website is to turn a gaggle of needledicked Perez Hilton wannabees against the players and coaches who have done more than anyone to afford you the internationally-celebrated status you enjoy today? How can you believe this is what will motivate us to buy your products? How can you believe this is the way to treat the people who care the most about those products? By thinking they’re nothing but vapid moths who will only be attracted by the most garish light?

Like the man whose name adorns the gleaming trophies that now line your still new trophy cases used to say – what the hell is going on out there?

I will grant you that by ridding themselves of this lowlife, the Krafts have shown that all hope is not necessarily lost. I will grant you that what this creep did yesterday was entirely outside their control. Thing is, it isn’t the first time he’s done it. in fact, the team used to pay him to do it. Ask Chad Jackson about that sometime. Ask the other players he whispered about in his muckraking radio and podcast appearances. Ask the legitimate media members he used to slime under the cowardly protection of several different anonymous message board monikers. Ask the fans he so often gleefully dismissed as gullible yokels, as a means of underlining the ‘sophistication’ of his perverted observations and his ‘importance’ as a team employee?

All on the team’s dime. All in the employ of the freaking house organ.

What should an enterprise like Patriots Football Weekly be? I admit, the term ‘house organ’ isn’t a positive one, even for a publication that is by definition a team-sanctioned marketing effort. I think if I worked at PFW, I wouldn’t want to be perceived as a house boy either. I wouldn’t want to write articles about Kelley Washington’s coin collection or A Day In The Life Of Pat Patriot. I’d want to be able to say I thought the head coach made a tactical error or the quarterback threw an awful interception. I’d want to be able to say they whiffed on a draft pick or missed on a vet free agent.

In other words, I’d want to be able to tell the truth as I saw it, regardless of whether that truth happened to be favorable to the team at that point in time. No reasonable person could begrudge the PFW staff for wanting that. No reasonable person could begrudge the Krafts for thinking their fans wouldn’t buy a paper filled with pap about Dean Pees’ piano favorites. Because they’re right.

So, it is a fine line we’re walking here, in the pursuit of a publication that promotes the team while also critically assessing its efforts. I can’t rightfully condemn them for this episode without acknowledging that what they’re trying to do with PFW isn’t an easy thing at all. I wouldn’t want that job, even if I was qualified for it. I don’t have the sort of professional judgement that would be needed to make something out of that minefield.

But exactly how much professional judgement do you really need to know that whispers about your head coach’s personal life or his professional tactics isn’t the way to do it? How much professional judgement is required for you to know that pissing on the reputation of your team’s most admired players is never a legitimate way to line your own pockets? How much professional judgement is needed to know that you never – NEVER – hand a desk and a key to the office to the kind of guy who would end up doing you and everyone else this way?

On the whole, I consider myself football blessed that the Krafts came along when they did, saving this region’s professional football team and leading it to heretofore unimagineable heights. I’m secure in the belief that job one remains fielding the most competitive team possible, year in and year out, and I’m equally secure in the belief they have more than proven their capacity to effectively do that job. None of what we’re discussing today is disruptive in any way to that, as much as contemptable bottom feeders like Tom Casale wish that were so. They would die happy if only they could ruin everyone else’s life as much as they’ve ruined their own.

But the fact is, the Krafts have taken a benign team-issued marketing piece and turned it into an attack dog against the very thing they have worked so hard to build. Even worse, the mess they should have seen coming has now gotten all over innocent bystanders, including players and coaches who have done nothing but give you everything you could have ever asked for, media members who have done nothing but treat you fairly and honestly, and fans who have done nothing but support the whole lot of you through thick and thin.

The fact is that the final accountability for this whole sorry episode – and everything that preceeded it – rests with the Krafts. The fact is they’ve failed spectacularly with this initiative, and since they’ve taken it upon themselves to foist this crap on us, the responsbility for cleaning it up should fall squarely to them.

As noted above, the job of putting out a team publication that holds some value to consumers is a challenging one. There may be intrinsic barriers in place that make such a task quite impossible after all. There’s a certain segment of society that will forever dismiss your efforts no matter how “objective” you strive to be.

That’s no excuse for aiming squarely at the lowest common denominator, and trying to sell us a subscription to it. That just shows us no respect at all.

Gee Whiz

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

I’m vacation traveling today, but before I head out, I wanted to mention a Sunday morning blog entry from former Herald sportswriter Michael Gee.

These days, I find myself checking his Homegame blog more often than I ever did his Herald writings. Whether that says more about me, or Gee’s time with the Herald, I don’t care. Point is, he’s doing good work with the blog and it deserves a larger audience.

Exhibit 1 is this clear-eyed tone-setter that seems in part to be in response to the ‘Super Bowl Hangover?’ storyline that has reared its head in the early days of camp. As Gee says, that question would be better asked next January than today.

My recommendation is that you bookmark Homegame and pop by at your leisure to see what Gee has cooking, whether your interest lies in the Pats, Sox, Celts or whatever. With this blog, Gee’s putting out far better stuff than the tiresome, hackneyed columnists working the traditional beat these days.

Final note: if you haven’t yet read Chris Warner’s A Letter From Camp, a recount of his pilgrimage to Foxborough last Friday, please do. See if it doesn’t inspire you to make the trip yourself.

A Letter From Camp

logoby Chris Warner
[email protected]

In 2002, with the team fresh off of their first Super Bowl win, my best friend and I attended our first Patriots training camp session at Bryant College in Smithfield, RI. We had many questions: could the team repeat? Would Tom Brady thrive for a full season? Would seventh-round receiver David Givens win the roster battle over NFL Europe standout Scott McCready? (Okay, some questions were less pertinent than others.)

My clearest memory of that afternoon involved standing in the hot sun, polishing off a Del’s frozen lemonade. Let’s just say that the venue switch has changed the experience.

Because most fans never get a chance to attend camp, we here at PD have taken it upon ourselves to give a blow-by-blow account of Friday, July 25 (oh, the things we do for our readers). The skies finally cleared to allow fans to watch the first open practice of the 2008 season. Both the stands and the hill beyond the southwest end zone were packed. On the team’s site map, the fields sit southeast of the stadium. Fans sit in bleachers along the southwest sideline (between the fields and the Dana Farber practice bubble) and on the aforementioned hill close to the stadium.

Here’s a rundown of the day.

2:30 p.m. – Arrival. My best friend and I have nephews Johnny and Owen in tow. One of the first things I notice is how far away we have to park due to construction (I’m almost 40; it’s 86 degrees. Distance means something to me). No big deal, though: we’re off and walking (and walking), passing a fan wearing a Logan Mankins jersey. When you see offensive lineman represented, you know you’re headed where the fans are. 

We walk past The Patriots Experience located in the parking lot southwest of the stadium. The Experience (a name that makes me wonder what Jimi Hendrix’s band is up to) contains about a half-dozen versions of the old carnival moonwalk. You can jump over inflatable defensive lines, run through inflatable linebackers, or slide down inflatable slides. And by “you,” I mean the young people with you. As with every area, refreshments are available. On a day like today, that’s a very good thing.

In order to get up on the hill, we have to go through the same giant inflatable helmet that the Patriots emerge from on game day. This always makes me smile. I resist the urge to raise both index fingers and shout, “Number one!” like the last time I came here. We take our post on the top of the hill (there’s really nowhere else to sit) and absorb the football action.

2:35 p.m. – Special teams. Coach Brad Seely puts his players in position for a kickoff return. He has a certain tone in his voice, a mix of encouragement and urgency, where even I want to get out there and do right by him. Rookie Terrence Wheatley looks like the returner with the most potential: he seems on the brink of breaking a run, even at half speed.

On the far field (or “northeast” for those of you blessed with a sense of direction), quarterbacks take shotgun snaps from Dan Koppen, Mankins and an assistant coach. This, I would imagine, is why some players resent QBs.

2:42 p.m. – A horn sounds. Offense stays on the near field while the defense moves to the other. During full team offensive drills, Brady hands off to Laurence Maroney against a scout team defense to give the linemen a look. Rookie QB Kevin O’Connell plays safety. I hope this is the only situation where that’s true, for everyone’s sake.

On the far field, Vince Wilfork gets instruction on technique and has a question (I can tell because he’s pointing at certain spots and the coach is answering). Even from 75 yards away, that dude looks big. In the defensive drills, rookie linebacker Vince Redd plays running back and goes in motion. From pros to preschool, everyone wants to play halfback. Meanwhile, in the narrow space between sidelines, Lonnie Paxton snaps to punter Chris Hanson.

I get that “Oh, I recognize him!” mind flash and, as a reflex, wave to NBC’s Tom Curran like we’re old pals. Here’s what a nice guy Curran is: he waves back. Could have left me hanging in front of my nephews, but even though he had no idea who I was, he gave a little return recognition. Remind me to bookmark his blog.

AC-DC’s “Hell’s Bells” is playing on the stadium P.A. Not sure if that’s the proper warm-up for the Country Music Festival, but fine.

2:52 p.m. – Horn. The entire team meets on the sideline between the fields.

2:54 p.m. – Sprints on the far field, sideline-to-sideline.

2:55 p.m. – Stretching. Players call this calisthenics, from the Greek “kallos,” or beauty, and “sthenos,” strength. Watching this for a few minutes, I don’t see much resembling either one. From now on, I’m just calling it stretching.

I make an effort to find Belichick in the crowd. I know he’s wearing a blue shirt and blue shorts, but only because everyone is. From my perch on the hill, I might as well be watching from Norwood.

Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” comes on the P.A. If I use my imagination, the players’ back stretches look like slow-motion breakdancing. (Ah, 1983. You really had to be there.)

3:03 p.m. – Position drills. Backs show off their footwork running over pads. At the end zone of the far field, the O-line sprints out of three-point stances. The D line works on technique. I realize that within one month these same types of drills will be happening in just about every town in the country.

3:06 p.m. – Horn. More position drills, on the technique side. Quarterbacks gather midfield and toss medicine balls to each other to warm up. The crowd cheers because the QBs are close enough to hear. Once loose, they throw five-yard spirals to each other. I wonder if Damon Huard dreaded catching those passes from Drew Bledsoe. I mean, I dig Drew, but he didn’t show a ton of touch on the close ones, you know?

On the far field, Seely works with special teamers (of course) in one-on-one drills where one blocker drops back to take on an onrushing defender. Some cool collisions over there. Defensive backs practice three-step drops and reacting to passes. Linemen go against various pads. The pads do not fare well.

Linebackers simulate pass rushes, trying to get to a phantom QB. Rookie OLB Shawn Crable avoids his “blocker” (an assistant coach) with a swift move to the outside.

3:12 p.m. – Horn. Position drills, with some matchups. The crowd cheers for one-on-one blitz drills, with pass-rushing linebackers vs. pass-blocking running backs. Tedy Bruschi has some success, to much fanfare. At this point, Bruschi’s following is such that he could get applause sipping Powerade. O’Connell plays the scout QB. It’s surprising to see Eric Alexander shuffle past Kevin Faulk. Larry Izzo busts through rookie RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis like an action-movie hero through a door. As Rookie Jarod Mayo gets blocked, a fan yells, “Come on, rookie!” in a tone that makes me wonder how much leeway the first-rounder will get. Not sure if rookie Gary Guyton will be around long, but his quickness makes him tough to block one-on-one.

The wide receivers have been warming up in the other half of the field. Robert Ortiz makes a nice catch. Who is Robert Ortiz?  Someone who looks good on Youtube. Be prepared for an O’Connell/Ortiz San Diego State reunion this preseason. (Editor’s Note: Um, well. Heh, heh. This is awkward, isn’t it? Ortiz was waived Saturday to make room for Lamont Jordan. The way things go around here, though, he could be back ten times over before the season starts. The clip stays!)

3:19 p.m. – Horn. Position drills, with more one-on-one. Outside linebackers take on tight ends. Defensive backs work on press coverage vs. each other. QBs throw to running backs, while wide receivers try blocking downfield during so-called bubble screens (those quick passes along the line of scrimmage that helped make Brady a star).

The offensive line has been as far away as possible (the other field’s distant end zone) for a long time. Makes me wonder if the team likes to keep Coach Dante Scarnecchia’s colorful language away from the fans. Given what I’ve seen on various “Three Games to Glory” DVDs, that’s understandable.

3:25 p.m. – Horn. Linemen/backer scrimmage. The offensive linemen, on their best behavior, join the offensive backs. The defensive line joins the linebackers. We’ve got a running game, my friends! The crowd cheers Maroney’s solid scoot up the middle.

On the far field, DBs compete with WRs. Brady zips a pass to Chris Dunlap who makes a nice catch, or at least I think it’s nice until I compare it to Randy Moss’ reception over Antwain Spann. Remember when Moss first practiced last year and certain members of the media thought he was dogging it? Think of a gazelle among wildebeests. A pack of wildebeests has speed, but you see the effort required for them to lumber along. A gazelle glides by, taking what look like impossible strides. Is the gazelle “dogging it,” or is he just a different type of animal?

I think 2007 answered that one.

3:31 p.m. – Horn. Full team scrimmage. The offense’s running plays have some success, but it’s hard to tell without full contact. This reminds me of the lettuce in my fridge: not the most crisp in the world.

3:39 p.m. – Horn. Passing drills in groups. LBs team up with DBs to practice dropping into a zone. RBs and WRs take passes from QBs. Once again in the far corner, the OL and DL go through drills together.

3:45 p.m. – Horn. Seven-on-seven drills. Two linebackers and five defensive backs (the ol’ nickel package, which had an entirely different meaning in high school) defend against backs and receivers. Jabar Gaffney catches several passes, mostly underneath. Rookie DB Jonathan Wilhite knocks a Brady pass away from Kelly Washington. Not exactly oracle-worthy, but a pleasant sign nonetheless.

3:53 p.m. – Horn. Special teams revisited. The crowd rises and moves to the rope, but they’re jumping the autograph gun by over 30 minutes. Chad Jackson runs back some kicks. So does C. J. Jones. Rookie Matt Slater makes a sharp cut to the right side for a potential TD. You go, fifth-round pick!

What I’m saying is, I have no idea what any of these returns mean, personnel-wise.

4:00 p.m. – Horn. The players take a water break. Bunch of pansies.

4:02 p.m. – Full scrimmage. Brady takes command, hitting Faulk and Moss in succession. He tries a fake end-around bomb that glances off Moss’ fingers. When Moss eventually gets back to the line of scrimmage, Belichick take a few seconds to talk to him alone. I’d give all the money in my wallet to hear that conversation. Of course, that’s about $21 right now.

A fan in front of me notes that “the defense doesn’t look so good.” They’d look better if they could touch the QB.

4:10 p.m. – Whistle (What? No horn?). The offense moves to the far end zone and works their way toward the hill. Slater has a tumbling catch along the sideline. Green-Ellis makes a strong cut to find space and gain about 30 yards. Wilhite almost picks off an O’Connell sideline pass.

4:18 p.m. – Whistle. Two minute drills. Brady moves the offense along with help from Moss, Jackson and Benjamin Watson. Everything stops as Jackson fails to run a route. Sounds like a miscommunication, with which the coaches are not pleased. Gaffney converts a fourth down with a catch along the sideline. Time runs out. On the way back to the opposite 20-yard line, Brady walks with Jackson and talks to him. I’m going to assume that’s a positive sign.

Cassell’s turn at the helm. Completes three (two to Sammy Morris, one to Jones), misses one, then Jones, Sam Aiken and David Thomas move the ball to the five before time runs out. Gutierrez takes over and revels in the fact that QBs go untouched, taking a couple of extra seconds and stepping up in the pocket to complete a pass even though Redd had him sacked. When O’Connell takes the field, rookies and players less familiar with the Pats’ system keep scrimmaging in seven-on-sevens as the rest of the team takes the far field to run sprints. Wheatley knocks down one pass and intercepts another.

4:35 p.m. – Horn. Extra-point kicks. I can’t reveal details about the fake field goal because I don’t want to provide a scouting report for future opponents, but let’s just say it involves a trampoline, the Pat Patriot mascot, and six tubs of ice water. And it’s amazing.

4:39 p.m. – Whistle. Players huddle in the middle of the field. After a couple of minutes, they take their spots with fellow position members and stretch (or, hey, do calisthenics. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Slater receives kickoffs from Stephen Gostkowski. The defensive linemen head toward the stands to sign autographs. Randy Moss does, too, which comes as a pleasant surprise to everyone. I just hope he doesn’t dog it this year.

The Sunday Links

sunday_links.jpgby Scott Benson
[email protected]

If recent history is any indication, discarded Oakland Raider Lamont Jordan is about to set the NFL’s single season rushing record for the Patriots.

This story and more as we pull the curtain back on the first Sunday Links of the new season. Let’s get started.

In the Globe notebook, Christopher Gasper has Jordan hooking up with the Pats yesterday after being released by the confused Raiders on Friday. My recollection is that Jordan got fat and lost his way with the Raiders after showing early promise as a Jet, but he’s an experienced back who’s produced as a pro. It’s not surprising that the Patriots have added a runner as they have seemed to make the position a post-June 1 priority. You have to wonder how the Pats will handle their final roster building if Jordan fits in AND Sammy Morris makes a complete comeback from the chest injury that ended his first season in New England.

The Jordan signing was entirely in keeping with the theme for yesterday; RUNNING GAME! Gasper chats with the Pats offensive line, who seem intent on rebounding from their disasterous Super Bowl by working towards a more balanced attack in 2008. Am I dreaming? If you guys are just putting me on with all this running game stuff, I will totally be so pissed. Gasper points out that the Pats did, in fact, rush for more than four yards a carry in 07, but the decision to pass 57% of the time seemed to set the offensive tone that was so severely rebuked in the Super Bowl.

In the Football Notes, the unmatched Mike Reiss catches up with former Pat David Patten, who put up a nice season for the disappointing 07 Saints. Patten is something else – one of those guys that fans are always looking to upgrade from, yet on he goes. By the way, don’t you think Reiss’s Pieces had a spectacular first week of camp?

Over in the Herald, Karen Guregian has a confidant and talkative Laurence Maroney, who can fill up dozens of notebooks when he gets going. In more recent developments, he can also carry a team when he gets going – a recent NFL Network replay of last year’s Jacksonville playoff game had me out of my seat. No doubt to Maroney’s delight, Guregian also hits the Super Bowl Hangover/RUNNING GAME! storyline with her look at the contrite yet determined offensive line. KG also files a Jordan story before ending her busy day.

John Tomase’s also in the trenches, with looks at Wesley Britt, current starter at right tackle, and Vince Wilfork, who may be the Patriots best player after Tom Brady.

In the ProJo, Shalise Manza Young visits with the reclusive Maroney, and notes Jordan’s one-year deal with the Pats. Robert Lee considers Fernando Bryant, who says money isn’t everything.

Elsewhere, Douglas Flynn of the MetroWest Daily News has a healthy and optimistic Richard Seymour. Flynn offers a second piece on yesterday’s player movement, which included the retirement of veteran center-guard Gene Mruczkowski.

They say the buzzword for this year’s team is FINISH. So I will. See you next week.

Where There’s A Will, There’s Also a Mike

logoby Dan Snapp
[email protected]

The New England Patriots may be the first 18-1 rebuilding team in league history.

OK, not rebuilding in the traditional sense. They’re still Super Bowl favorites after all, even after the shocking loss to the Giants.

No, the Pats will be rebuilding their egos, their pride, hopefully rebuilding their reputation (“Never!” sez the collective punditry). On a happier note, they’ll also be rebuilding their linebacker corps.

We’ve heard the refrain so often it’s become a mantra bouncing around our skulls: the Patriots don’t draft linebackers high; their scheme is too complex for young players; only vets start at LB.

That theorem will be put to the test this season, as the team drafted not one but two linebackers high in the draft, and one may even start. The defense’s premier position is undergoing a youth movement, and it will be the position to watch when Patriots training camp starts today.

Camp is rife with many compelling stories (How will the secondary fare absent Asante? Will the line suffer Super Bowl aftershocks? What calamities can Capers conjure? And will Chad Jackson break out or bust out?), but the new order at linebacker – like last year’s onslaught of new receivers – is the Big Change, the biggest departure from Patriots standard operating procedure.

Patriots starting linebacker was one of the country’s most exclusive clubs: no one under 30 allowed. A couple under-aged kids (Monty Beisel and Eric Alexander) snuck into the club briefly, but were quickly bounced. At center stage were the most grizzled of veterans: Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, the ageless Junior Seau, Adalius Thomas and Rosevelt Colvin; before them, Willie McGinest, Ted Johnson and the medical wonder that was Roman Phifer.

However, the position also demanded a delicate balancing act be performed: gain experience, but lose speed; gain mental precision, but lose explosion; gain confidence, lose steps.

So long as Coach Bill Belichick could replenish the field with prize free agents (Colvin at 28, Thomas at 30), under-utilized stars in the making (Vrabel at 27) or old vets with some legs left (Phifer at 33, Seau at 37), draft-day decisions could be focused elsewhere.

But when supposed diamonds in the rough (Beisel again) flamed out, and when new vets were just old (Chad Brown), Belichick had to place more on the old vets – more reps, more minutes, more hits – and then hope he had a couple more years before the law of diminishing returns came to call. After all, unlike Brett Favre’s ego, Tedy Bruschi can’t go on forever.

So with linebackers the key to New England’s 3-4 defense, a scheme so Labyrinthine only the wiliest of vets can ably navigate it, surely a rookie’s head will swim – no matter his pedigree – trying to absorb the idiosyncrasies, let alone apply them in real time.

Still, Belichick invested a first and third round pick, respectively, in Jerod Mayo and Shawn Crable, and signed relative youngster Victor Hobson (from the fellow 3-4 defense of the New York Jets) to compete for a starting job at inside linebacker.

It’s the boon for which many have prayed for years. Watching highly acclaimed LBs make it to the Pats draft pick and then slip on past was particularly painful. There should have been some bylaw in place, for instance, mandating the Patriots draft Mosi Tatupu’s kid. But had they done that, we’d never have seen the monster that is Logan Mankins. Such are the tradeoffs of the draft.

So now what can we expect of the young LBs? Hobson’s got the 3-4 experience and physique, but didn’t play inside in New York and lacks speed. Still, he’s favored to start next to Bruschi inside.

Unlike a lot of rookies projected to play linebacker in the 3-4, Mayo and Crable were both college linebackers, and so won’t experience quite the growing pains college defensive ends face in the transition.

Crable’s an amazing physical specimen (I hope everyone’s seen the hurdle picture) who needs to develop pass coverage skills and gain some bulk.

Mayo is the wildcard who will really put the old linebacker philosophy to the test. He’s athletic, productive, and smart, and so hopefully the exception to the old Patriots rule.

The past two seasons have witnessed painful playoff endings for the Patriots. Their subsequent offseason actions wrote the epitaphs for those losses. In 2007, after cobbling together just enough of a receiver squad to make it to the AFC Championship, the Pats went wideout shopping in the offseason, and then broke scoring records.

This year, despite the line’s catastrophic Super Bowl, the Patriots went for mostly defense both in the draft and free agency.

Holding the Giants to 17 points is entirely respectable, until you note the two long drives given up at the tail end of the game. Factor in the defense’s late breakdown the previous playoff loss, and a pattern forms. One that explains this year’s linebacker haul.

We’ll soon see if it bears the same fruit as last year’s harvest.

Five Questions

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Last day of the off-season. The NFL fan’s version of the last day of school. Inquiring minds want to know…..

1. Will the Patriots have all of their draft choices signed before the start of camp? It sure looks possible, with second round choice Terrence Wheatley inking his pact yesterday. Jerod Mayo’s the sole focus now, and it’s hard to see where this could end up as a protracted holdout. The way I see it, the 10th player (or the 29th or the 163rd) in the draft is going to fall somewhere in an indiginous (to the 10th pick) salary/bonus range, isn’t he? In that case, you can’t help but refer to what the previous 10th pick got. Last year, DT Amobi Okoye of the Texans signed a six-year deal worth $17.7M, with $12.8 in guarantees. Will an inside linebacker’s maiden contract just a year later be appreciably different? So there’s a jumping off point, with appropriate cost of living adjustments. How long could this take? 

2. What’s the deal with Nick Kaczur, anyway? He got a sweetheart deal from the Oneida County District Attorney’s office that will see the drug charges against him dropped if he stays out of trouble for six months. Well, that’s good, I guess, but…..huh? This is the lightest sentence since Judge Smails awarded the Caddy Scholarship to Danny Noonan even after he found Noonan trying to nail his skanky niece. It looks like the job of dealing with Kaczur’s demons goes to the Pats, who have been smuggling in right tackles since June (Oliver Ross, and now Jets vet Anthony Clement on Monday), which may give you some indication of where they’re going with it. “I’ve sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber, Nicky.”

3. Will Chad Jackson’s professional career ever amount to much? I see Chris Gasper of the Globe recently had Jackson “finally healthy and focused” as the 13-career-catch receiver looks to get back on the field for the team that drafted him 36th in 2006. I’m not optimistic about this one. As Parcells instructs, you are what you are, and what Jackson is…is a non-factor as his third NFL season begins. Now, this may yet change – he’s only 23, he has flashed a certain skill at times, and he has had inuries, and after all, this is America, home of the third chance – but the passion with some Pats fans argue the certainty of this change is well beyond me. They cite his size and speed and alleged playmaking as evidence this change will be so, as if the NFL landscape isn’t already littered with the corpses of eleventy million bust receivers with the exact same characteristics. It just doesn’t come together for some people. The Patriots aren’t immune to that.

4. Has anybody ever written a more Fact-ually based assessment of Brett Favre?  Shoot, I wish I wrote that. Before you get carried away, let’s just skip the debate over whether I have or have ever had a post like that in me and simply bow in the presence of the masters at Cold Hard Football Facts. Just click the link. A job this important – putting this duplicitous bastard and his unctuous followers in their place – had to go to our best men. Speaking of our best men, congratulations to Aaron and the staff at Football Outsiders (including our pal Bill Barnwell) on the site’s fifth anniversary.

5. Are you ready for some football? Seriously, this is the last day of this year that the Patriots won’t be in the daily sports headlines. Something’s going to be happening every day from here. In the words of Chris Farley, host of the Chris Farley Show …..awesome.

Drawn, and Quartered (Part Two)

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Last time on our show, we previewed the first quarter of the Patriots 2008 schedule, in which they will match up with four of the worst teams in football last year. In today’s installment, we’ll run through the schedule’s second leg, which begins with the Patriots playing their second straight game on the other side of the country.

Game Five, Sunday, October 12
Patriots at San Diego Chargers
8:15 PM, NBC

Back end of a virtual day-night doubleheader on the coast, after last week’s game with the Niners. And who do the Patriots find at this point in the schedule but the San Diego Chargers, who would beat New England nine times out of ten, according to star running back LaDanian Favre Tomlinson.

Maybe they ought to concentrate on beating them just once, for their much ballyhooed playoff team has failed brilliantly at that in each of the last two seasons. So much so that their GM acknowledges a particular focus on the team that has sent his allegedly more talented club to the showers two years running.

“For Christmas, I got ‘The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Super Power’ by Christopher Price,” Smith said. “I’ve read all the books put out on the New England Patriots organization. There aren’t trade secrets, but just general thoughts on why they’ve been successful.”

PD’s (and the Metro’s and Thomas Dunne Books’) own Chris Price! Ka-ching! This could work to the Pats advantage. In his next book, Chris can throw in some stuff about how the Pats train underwater and insist their players speak a minimum of four languages.

Anyway, I’m banking on the idea that, despite Smith’s humility, a few too many of the Chargers still think it’s Monday morning, October 3rd, 2005, and they’ve just this minute beaten the tar out of the Pats, 41-17. Which goes to further buttress my theory that the Chargers are knuckleheads, even when you don’t count Phillip Rivers (who actually turned in a gutty AFCCG performance, to his credit). They may straighten out long enough to beat the Pats here, though, even if they don’t prove to be any more of a post season threat that their previous entries. I think we have to allow for that possibility. After all, Chris gave them the damn blueprint.

San Diego last entertained the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Divisional playoff, the last in a long line of times that Troy Brown saved the Patriots’ bacon. Before that? September of 2002, when the Chargers prevailed over the only Tom Brady-led team to miss the playoffs.

Oh, and we have John Madden on Brett LaDainian Tomlinson to look forward to. There isn’t any way you can synch up with HD, WBCN?

Game Six, Monday, October 20
Denver Broncos at Patriots
8:30 PM, ESPN

Denver is just 16-16 in its last thirty-two games but there isn’t a Patriots fan alive who (if they’re being honest) doesn’t fear them a little, anyway. Mainly because Mike Shanahan is still Denver’s coach, and even though he may be the worst personnel guy on the planet, he’s still 5-2 (including a playoff win) over Bill Belichick as coach of the Patriots, and New England hasn’t beaten Denver since 2003.

Not to mention a football childhood scarred by decades of Mile High fumbles and last minute safeties and every damn thing else you can think of, including NFL Films lowlights that will live forever in infamy (“We’re killing the Patriots!”). Denver’s just bad mojo, man.

They’re a train wreck at the moment, though. Denver was 21st in scoring and 28th in defense last year, and with Shanny at the helm, the NFL’s worst personnel department did little in the off-season to give their supporters hope for 08. And for once, the NFL is going to make the Broncos travel to Foxborough for just the third time in the last eight games between the teams.

Denver’s last appearance at Gillette was a 17-7 win over the Pats in September of 06, their second straight win in Foxborough (02). In fact, their last road loss to the Pats came in 1999.

Game Seven, Sunday, October 26
St. Louis Rams at Patriots
1:00 PM, FOX

At times last season, the Rams were neck and neck with Miami for the right to pick first in the 08 Draft, then they won three out of four in late November and that was that. But the mini-streak was simply an anomoly for the Rams, who promptly dropped their final four to close the season. St. Louis is 25-39 since they went 12-4 in 2004.

I ask you; will that turn around to the extent that they will go on the road and beat the Patriots in week eight? Players like Stephen Jackson and Torry Holt present a challenge, but collectively, they’re firmly in the bottom third of the league.

I’m pretty sure the majority of Patriots fans can recite chapter and verse on the last Rams visit to Foxborough; the frustrating 01 loss when a third quarter goal-line fumble by Antowain Smith let the air out of the emerging Pats, shooting for a prime-time upset of the then-“best team in football”.

Game Eight, Sunday, November 2
Patriots at Indianapolis Colts
8:15 PM, NBC

The NFL knows what side its bread is buttered on, so even if the final standings didn’t dictate this near-annual matchup, somebody would. Pats and Colts is big business.

However, since we last saw Indy (a dramatic come from behind road win by New England that kept the Pats perfect through 9 games), they lost to the Chargers twice (the second made them one and done for their championship-defending playoff), they had a generally blah free agency period, Marvin Harrison took a shot at some guy apparently (it’s always the quiet ones), and Peyton Manning lost part of his training camp and the pre-season to knee surgery. That puts Manning, Harrison (knee) and pass rusher Dwight Freeney (foot) at the top of the “who knows?” list, at least as we speak.

Still, you know they’ll be right there when this game comes along, even if Jim Sorgi has to play more than just a few pre-season games. Their defense is intact and at times over the past couple of years, they’ve been the Colts best unit. And Manning’s gaudy stats belie his toughness, so I’m sure his rehab will only extend so far as the games that don’t count.

This will be the Pats first visit to Lucas Oil Stadium, which really would have been a much better stadium for the Houston Oilers. Hopefully by week nine, Colts fans would have already started in with the “this place isn’t as loud as the old place” and “the old place didn’t have these giant f**king PILLARS right in front of my seat” stuff.

2nd Quarter Outlook

San Diego on the back end of two West Coast games sounds like it could be trouble, and the Colts in Indy doesn’t sound like a picnic either. At least they have the two-game home stretch in between, but it’s fair to say that this sgement of the schedule is a bit more taxing than the last. Predictably, I believe the Pats will prove in the long run to be better than either the Chargers or Colts, but New England will reach the halfway point of the season only after they’ve endured two of the most difficult road trips in the AFC.

Drawn, and Quartered (Part One)

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Well, we’re under two weeks before they don the pads on Route 1 in anticipation of another season of Patriots football. Even the midst of another lovely summer, the Pats thoughts begin to flood now, from roster machinations to rookie contracts to position battles all the way to the Great Unknown; how quickly do teams who lose an undefeated season in the last minute of play rebound, usually?

Then there’s the schedule. When they release these things in April, I can’t relate to them. Pittsburgh in November? That’s seven months from now! But when the troops are finally gathering for the battle, the whole thing becomes more urgent, somehow. Now we’re only two months from the opening game.

Thus, the following. I thought we’d look at the Pats regular season draw for 08, crack a few jokes, stumble upon an observation maybe, and kill some time before camp. Even better, I thought I’d break that up into quarters, in order to get four posts instead of just one. That way, the average person (who’s not reading this right now) will check the page and think, “hey, this guy really tries to keep the page updated” when in all actuality, I’ve really just broken one column into four pieces to make myself look more prolific.

A little Behind The Music: Patriots Daily action for you there. Now. Let’s get started, shall we?

Game One: Sunday, September 7
Kansas City Chiefs at Patriots
1:00 PM, CBS

A 1:00 PM home opener with the Chiefs? What is this, 1974? Will the late Charlie Jones and Johnny Morris be calling the game? One word: awesome. If every game was played on Sunday at 1, this would be a much better world. This seems like a made-to-order draw for the Pats; Kansas City is coming off a 4-12 season with Brodie Croyle (0-6 lifetime) at quarterback. They also traded their best player. Heard enough? By the way, I like to think this is a picture of Herm Edwards sharing life lessons with a group of restless Chiefs season ticket holders. Probably in the conference room of the closest Quality Inn to the Interstate. It’s cramped and stuffy and as usual, Herm’s running long.

Annnnnd that’s what you have to look forward to if you’re a Chiefs fan.

The Pats and Chiefs last met in 2005, when Kansas City rolled up 400 yards on the Patriots defense on their way to a 26-16 win in Arrowhead. Man, 2005 sucked.

Game Two: Sunday, September 14
Patriots at New York Jets
4:15 PM, CBS

The Patriots in New Jersey? Sounds pleasant. The second of four straight cupcakes to start the season, though. The Little Fellas will tell you they’re much improved because they signed everything that moved in March, but you and I both know that since 1968, they’ve been nothing but hot air.

I guess that was a gas, actually. Anyway, speaking of gas, under coach Eric Mangini, the Little Fellas are 1-4 against the Pats.

Game Three: Sunday, September 21
Miami Dolphins at Patriots
1:00 PM, CBS

After a benign opener, the storyliners will be at full tilt by Week Three. A return to the Scene of the Crime followed by Tuna Returns IV! Or is it III, V or VI? Don’t you find that fascinating, Craig? I do. No, really. Here’s the thing, though. Bringing Bill Parcells to town generally works, doesn’t it? Eventually, you end up in the playoff mix. Hard to argue that. The good news is that he’s never done it in just three weeks.

Miami is 7-9 against the Belichick Patriots, which is actually a hell of a record for an AFC East team during that time. In six of the eight seasons played in this decade, the Dolphins have won at least one game against New England.

Sunday, September 28
Bye Week

Everybody sees all the Niners and Rams and Dolphins on the schedule and figures the Pats have it easy this year, but this is the first reminder that – in the words of Jackson Browne – nobody rides for free. Who wants a bye week in Week Four? That’s freaking thirteen straight weeks of football before the playoffs. What? That ought to be enough incentive to have one of the two best records in the conference, and the accompanying first week playoff bye. They’ll need it. The fans even get stiffed here – honest to God, the rest of the league’s schedule this week might be the worst slate of games I’ve ever seen. Cleveland at Cincinnati might be the most compelling. The Bengals, is what I’m saying! That Cincinnati!

Game Four: Sunday, October 5
Patriots at San Francisco 49’ers
4:15 PM, CBS

Okay, combined 2007 winning percentage of the Patriots’ first four opponents? .218. The Niners are the iron of that group with 5 wins last year, but the biggest concern here might be the distance the Patriots will have to travel in order to cream them. The first leg of TWO two-game West Coast swings this year. I don’t care if it IS four games with the AFC and NFC West (like Ted Williams, they batted .406 last season). Thirteen straight games and two doubleheaders on the left coast ain’t pie. At the very least, we should get a breakout performance by would-be Niners draft pick Jerod Mayo in exchange.

Some have suggested that the Pats will opt to stay out west after the Niners game, as they are due in San Diego the following Sunday. In other words, typical California: they can check out anytime they like, but they can never leave.

The Niners and Pats last met in January of 2005, as the Pats were headed to their second straight world title (New England handled the Dennis Erickson-led 2-13 Niners, 21-7). It was the only time the two teams have played in the Belichick Era.

1st Quarter Outlook

Best Case Scenario: 4-0 (duh).
Reasonable Alternative: None.
Worst Case Scenario: Even if they ended this stretch 3-1, you’d still have to kick. Like you wouldn’t be bitching if they lost to the Jets? Granted, a team evolves over a season, but combined, their opponents were winning two of ten last year while the Pats were setting records. Will New England stumble that badly out of the gate so as to make these early games truly competitive?
Progress of NFC Schedule: One down, three to go.
Progress of AFC Schedule: Three down, nine to go.
Progress of AFC East Schedule: Two down, four to go.

Next: How about later this week, we take on the next four games of the schedule?

Missed Opportunity

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Ben Coates was never a favorite at this address, but even I won’t dispute that the tight end fully earned a place in the Patriots Hall of Fame, as the team announced today.

It just shouldn’t have come at the expense of Jim Nance.

“I guess it was just my time,” said Coates in a statement released by the Pats. Was it?

I’m all for the fan balloting idea here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t bitch about the results anyway. It’s easy enough to see where this one was decided. The majority that ruled were fans that first arrived on Route 1 in the wake of the Parcells-Bledsoe-Kraft harmonic covergence. 

Make no mistake about it, I completely appreciate the fans that have come to Foxboro over the last fifteen years; by investing in the Patriots the way they did, at the time they did, they helped save the team for everyone. That should not be forgotten. Especially by those of us whose dollars never seemed to make the difference before.

I just don’t think many of them have any respect for Patriots football played before 1993. Too often we hear too many sum up the team’s ancient history in one word: “laughingstock.”

That’s not true. There were teams and players that we could be proud of all along. Like the team’s all-time leading touchdown scorer (still) and the only Patriot to be named league MVP twice (consecutively).

People are entitled to their own version of events as they see them, just as I am. But it would be wrong to callously overlook the contributions of the guys that laid the bedrock here, and diminish their still-great accomplishments as a joke, just because we weren’t personally there to see it.

That history should be important to us. That history of the team, warts and all, should be the touchstone to which we return on occasion, if only to ensure we never completely take for granted the bountiful feast that lies before us now. We might also choose, while there, to honor the men that helped make the Patriots a part of all of our lives.

I think it came down to this for the average voter: I saw Coates, myself, when the Patriots were ‘legitimate’, and I never saw Nance, who played when they ‘weren’t’.

That’s cold, man. There’s no question Coates should be in the Pats Hall, but right now, this minute? And what of the players who came before, like Nance, and others, who are no less qualified? Will a big part of Patriots history fall victim to fading memories?

That’s what would have been so great about a Nance induction. It would have been validation of a sort, for that period of the team’s history. It would have not only been a knowing nod to Nance, who performed above and beyond, but to his teammates as well. It would have been a full embrace from the team to which they gave their careers, and which now stands as one of the preeminent franchises in sports. It would have been an acknowledgement of their too-often forgotten part in making it so.

It’s a missed opportunity that Nance will not be posthumously honored as the first Hall member to be inducted at the new Hall at Patriot Place when it opens this fall.

Five Questions

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Five random questions while trying to think of an angle for a new post:

1. Where did the summer go?  This week we learned that the Patriots will open their 49th training camp on Thursday, July 24th in Foxborough. All due respect to the calendar and everything, but that means it’s almost fall. This weekend I’ll be putting away the lawn furniture and winterizing my lawnmower. Do I seem overanxious to you?

2. Did you do everything you could to elect Jim Nance to the Patriots Hall of Fame?  Voting closes today, July 4.

3. Have the Patriots signed their best veteran free agent class since 2001?  Wishful thinking, of course. Few teams will match the success they had in ’01, when they added fourteen starters (including all-time FA’s Mike Vrabel and Roman Phifer, not to mention still-standing Larry Izzo) at backup money and went on to win the Super Bowl. Still, it being July and all, hopes are high for (relatively) under-the-radar signings like Victor Hobson, Tank Williams, and Fernando Bryant. Each of them has reached a career plateau of sorts, much as players like Antowain Smith, David Patten, and even established vets like Anthony Pleasant and Brian Cox had in 2001. And like that group, this year’s class now finds itself under the employ of a cerebral, methodical coaching staff with a specific task for each of them in mind, and a convincing way of articulating it. Might the results be the same, or at least a rough approximation? Add corner Jason Webster, swingman Lewis Sanders, special teamer Sam Aiken, lineman Oliver Ross and even former foil Marcus Pollard to the group, and I’m at least arguing the possibility that they, like Mike Compton, Marc Edwards and Terrell Buckley before them, will each find a role to play or a hole to fill, if even for just a moment. I’m thinking that the additions of Hobson, Williams and Bryant, along with rookies Jerod Mayo and Terrence Wheatley, have already given the Patriots a better defense than they had with Asante Samuel over the last couple of years.

4. Is the utter predictablity and sheer Onion-like mockability of Brett Favre’s looming un-retirement worth the inevitable pain of the weekly wax and buff from the likes of Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and ESPN for another season?  Ouch. That’s a tough call. Hey, when the rumors first surfaced, I immediately tuned into the NFL Network, where they had suspended the Football Follies Marathon for live coverage of Brett: A Nation Waits. Adam Schefter was brought in for a discussion of what teams, if not the Packers, would want a how-can-we-miss-you-when-you-won’t-go-away Favre, and he says the only team that makes sense to him is…….wait for it……the New York Jets. Saints alive! I don’t care if Schefter knows what he’s talking about here; I want to believe him. I want to believe its even possible to be so blessed as to have Brett Favre quarterbacking a team in the Patriots division. Never mind having that team be the New York Jets. This could be the greatest season ever.  

5. How did Willie Andrews manage to hold it together for two whole years without launching a crime spree?  I guess we’ll never know.

Bonus Question: How’s new fatherhood treating you, Tall Man?