by Chris Warner
With just over six minutes left in the Patriots’ 16-15 loss to the Ravens Thursday night, Coach Belichick decided to go for two when an extra-point kick would have tied it. As many starters from both teams looked on from the beginning, no one was forced to stumble into overtime.
It felt great to watch live football again, but we’ll look forward to August 17 when players like Brady and Moss hit the field. (They will, right? Oh please, please, pleeeez).
As with every preseason game – what the NFL refuses to call a “scrimmage” – many questions dogged the Pats coming into the matchup. Like a series of Zen riddles, their answers just resulted in more questions. With that in mind, we look at what we learned and what we need to figure out after Scrimmage One.
Yes, the young linebackers can play. Speaking of Zen riddles, I’m not sure what one hand clapping sounds like, but it can’t be the same noise as Jerod Mayo’s dehelmeting of Ravens running back Ray Rice (no, “dehelmeting” isn’t a word, but it should be). Mayo smacked down runners, mucked up a screen pass, and caused general mayhem. Meanwhile, rookie Shawn Crable and third-year player Pierre Woods each showed a consistent pass rush and a surprising ability to fix the edge on the outside. Rookies Gary Guyton and Vince Redd vied for the near-annual Undrafted Patriot Seizing Immediate Defensive Employment (aka UPSIDE) Award, showing speed in pursuit. I’m sure close viewing would reveal enough blemishes to make a high school freshman nod in sympathy, but the play from afar looked strong.
Questions: With all this potential amongst the kiddoes, which of the non-starting vets are in danger? Why haven’t I mentioned free agent pickup Victor Hobson until now? Would Guyton or Redd make it through the waiver wire to reach the Pats’ practice squad? Did anyone else notice Mayo cleaning up a tackle that Bruschi missed?
We can keep that last one to ourselves. And, no, I don’t have any answers for you. Talk to me on August 18.
If Tom Brady couldn’t play for some reason… Nope. Won’t complete that sentence. Let’s just call this the “Number One’s Deputy Evokes Anxiety Law,” (or NO DEAL – last acronym, I promise). Our answer after Scrimmage One: Yes, rookie Kevin O’Connell can play. He showed the ability to run, and he did so selectively (two for 22 yards) unlike most young quarterbacks who seem to do impressions of startled deer. At first glance – and as fans, aren’t we entitled to listen to our gut instincts instead of making well-thought-out decisions? – O’Connell seemed in command as much as any New England QB. He moved the offense, he scrambled well, and if not for a couple of oopsies by C. J. Jones, he may have pulled off a come-from-behind win. (Hate to say it, but C. J. now stands for Catch-Juggle.)
Of course, in terms of projecting future performance, O’Connell’s successful debut-that-doesn’t-count puts him somewhere between Tom Brady and Michael Bishop. That’s the entire spectrum, folks.
Questions: Was Matt Cassel as bad as his stats (one of four passing, one INT), or did his offensive line and receivers fail him? Has Matt Gutierrez passed Cassel on the depth chart? Is anyone comfortable with any of these guys stepping in?
Actually, I’ll answer that last one: good God, no.
Yes, LaMont Jordan is a keeper. Not a huge surprise, but nice to see the new guy knocking heads for an average of four yards a carry (19 for 76). After the game, Jordan insisted he could do better. Considering he’s only been in New England about two weeks, I tend to believe him. Looking forward to future games and watching him improve.
Questions: Does this mean five running backs (Maroney, Morris, Faulk, Evans and Jordan)? If so, what position gets trimmed? Does this mean the end of Kyle Eckel’s run with the Pats? Can Benjarvus Green-Ellis make the practice squad?
I’m guessing yes, tight end, yes, yes. But don’t quote me.
No, Chad Jackson hasn’t grasped the offense yet. This one stings a bit. When BB and Scott Pioli finagled a trade for Jackson in the early second round two years ago, I made noises like I was eating a Bailey’s sundae (remember those? Like heaven, if heaven were covered in hot fudge). I’d seen Jackson’s pre-draft workouts and enjoyed every second of them. When he got hurt, I figured he’d come back ready to go in 2007. When he got hurt again, I figured he’d come back this year with a vengeance. Then he went out and got outperformed by every other receiver on the field, including a guy nicknamed Bubba (Ray Ventrone, two catches, 35 yards).
Does anyone doubt that Cassel’s interception was Jackson’s fault? By itself, that’s fine, because everyone makes mistakes (it’s true: just watch my game predictions sometime). Three aspects of Jackson’s overall play bothered me. One, he appeared to argue with Cassel after the interception. It would have been nice to see him listening and nodding rather than signaling what he thought was the proper route. Two, he couldn’t come up with either of the slant passes thrown his way (yes, I have high expectations, but not unreachable). Three – and here’s the biggie – while trying to block downfield on one play, Jackson a) missed his man and b) didn’t help Maroney up after his run. As far as Jackson went, I was ready – even eager – to be impressed, and I wasn’t.
Questions: If the lightbulb doesn’t turn on for a while, when do you consider replacing it? How can five players new to New England end up with better numbers than Jackson? And shouldn’t rookie Matt Slater get more looks at receiver?
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was sounding bitter.
No, the Patriots won’t go undefeated. Too many questions with the offensive line (right now they couldn’t block a high school play) and with new players on defense (Ravens QB Kyle Boller looked like, well, someone a heckuva lot better than Kyle Boller). As with great teams of the past, this squad could stumble early and improve, getting in synch over the second half of the season.
Questions: Why, in the name of Alka-Seltzer and personal well-being, would any Patriots fan want them to go undefeated? In 2007, did you enjoy hearing from Mercury Morris before every game? Was it fun to have national announcers openly rooting for each week’s underdog opponent? Do you miss the accompanying nausea of last year’s Eagles and Ravens games?
As my two-year-old nephew Evan likes to say, “Ahh … no.”
Let’s take this season as it comes, one scrimmage at a time, one game at a time, and eventually, one win at a time. The 2008 Patriots roster will contain the most talented group of athletes on the squad in years. I don’t think anyone doubts the potential of this season; it begins to unfold now, during the scrimmages.