October 21, 2014

Tampa Tantrum

logoby Chris Warner
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For Patriots fans, watching Sunday’s preseason 27-10 loss against the Buccaneers was like getting tickets to see Michael Phelps swim, only Phelps got replaced with a junior lifeguard from the community pool whose relay teammates tripped off the diving block.

How best to describe this debacle? Try this: in the first half, Tampa had 114 yards rushing, 120 yards passing. Meanwhile, New England had 174 yards total for the entire game.

Sure, sure: it’s only a preseason scrimmage. Someone just forgot to tell the Bucs.

On the opening possession, Brian “My Dad is Famous!” Griese drove Tampa Bay through the New England defense like a duck boat over the Charles, hitting all eight of his passes for 39 yards on a 17-play, 80-yard drive that took almost 10 minutes off the clock. The Buccaneers added to the misery late in the second half on a drive led by Luke “My Brother is Famous!” McCown, who finished up with two dump passes in a row to get the ball into the end zone.

Tampa Bay’s backs ran through more stops than a driver with a foggy windshield. Throughout the half, a variety of running backs (Ernest Graham? Say who?) squeezed through openings that were there and juked defenders who weren’t. Watching this first half felt like calling 911 and listening to the operator tell you what a lousy day he’s had. The Pats showed zero urgency. No one even seemed to care.

Then, of course, came the offense. Should we talk about the offense?

Are you sure?

Matt Cassel started with a three-and-out series that looked about as inspiring as a glass of lukewarm milk. A decent Pats drive into Buccaneer territory ended in a Kevin Faulk fumble. Behind McCown, Tampa Bay drove for a field goal with 7:25 left in the half; the Patriots went three-and-out; afterwards, Tampa scored a touchdown. Cassel utilized the services of Randy Moss (two passes, two first downs) to get the Pats their lone score of the half, a 53-yard boot by Stephen Gostkowski as time ran out to make the halftime score a slightly less nauseating 17-3.

Any sense of respectability was lost within the first 14 seconds of the second half, when Dan Connolly’s snap bounced off Cassel’s outstretched hand for a perfect pick-it-up-and-run fumble and touchdown by Buc safety Sabby Piscatelli (which may or may not be the new special at Olive Garden). Rookie Kevin O’Connell came in ahead of Matt Gutierrez, a fact that happened to be noticed by just about every Patriots fan with the ability to translate T. V. images into real-life concepts. He immediately threw an interception.

To say the ugliness ended there is like saying the Flood stopped after forty days. The damage was done.

Am I overreacting? Could be. Maybe this was one of those “Thanks for Nothing” games, where John Lynch’s return gave the home team a kind of spark that failed to touch the visitors. It’s reminiscent of Corey Dillon going back to Cincinnati in the 2004 preseason, a stomping by the Bengals that gave their fan base a certain sense of revenge. (The blowout failed to translate to the regular season for Cincy, but it must have been fun at the time.)

Offensive woes make sense when the leader has yet to take his place. When screens resemble open windows and the running game looks more like trudging, well, much of that can improve with practice. On defense, it feels different. Missed tackles and loose coverage can be expected during the preseason, yet to see them on a consistent basis with the first team has to give fans pause. Next week will give a better idea whether or not Sunday’s performance was an aberration. If New England dog paddles while Philadelphia freestyles, this could turn into a long preseason (though some might say it has already).

Time to attempt optimism. Herewith, five positives from a rough night:

Richard Seymour. Yes, New England’s rushing defense left something to be desired (like the design of the Edsel, say, or the planning for the Donner party. I could go on). Seymour was seen forcing double-teams and pressuring the quarterback on a few occasions. Again, let’s watch next week, but this could provide a preview as to how his improved health will better his performance this year.

Remember: optimism. Smiles, everyone, smiles.

O’Connell. After his opening interception, O’Connell kept his head and led the Patriots for their only touchdown of the game, setting up Heath Evans’ one-yard plunge with a 17-yard completion to C. J. Jones. O’Connell converted a fourth down on the drive and used his feet to positive effect. With the scarcity of Gutierrez’s playing time, and the iffy performance of Cassel (hold on: is “iffy” an expletive? I think I meant something else), O’Connell has shown the awareness and poise of a solid rookie prospect. Of course, he hopes to develop at the rate of a summer movie protagonist in a montage, but so far he shows as much promise as any Patriots rookie QB.

And don’t go giving me that “I-knew-Tom-Brady-was-going-to-be-great” stuff. Get in line behind the “Start-Bledsoe-now” crowd and the “We-should-use-Michael-Bishop-more” group. You know who you are.

Matthew Slater. Let’s see: Ellis Hobbs returned two kicks for just over 20 yards each. Ho, hum. Slater returned his first kick for 27 yards. He appeared on the edge of breaking a long gain each time. Add to that the fact that he’s first on the scene during most kicks (eliciting a penalty on punt coverage), and the special teams ace has come as advertised. My only request to special teams coach Brad Seely: let Slater be the starting kick returner. Get your foot off the brake. Put some nitrous in the tank. Use another car metaphor; whatever, just put in Slater.

Gostkowski. A 53-yarder right down the chute! Kickoffs into the end zone! What’s not to like?

It’s still preseason. Yeah, I’m reaching. I was thinking of submitting the rookie linebackers again for your consideration (Jarod Mayo had a couple of nice stops in coverage; Vince Redd had a sack late), but Shawn Crable and Gary Guyton looked as if they missed assignments (Crable on the edge, Guyton in coverage) while Mayo seemed a little off. I wanted to talk about the running of Laurence Maroney, but it appeared that after every scamper for decent yards he got swarmed for a loss on the next play.

Moss and Welker? They’re still Moss and Welker. A positive fact, to be sure, but they shouldn’t have had anything to do with this eyesore in the first place.

No, the best aspects of this game are that it ended and it didn’t count. The Pats will look to regroup and play at home vs. the Eagles. Keep watch to see whether the players approach Preseason Game Three as if it actually means something. We can only hope. In the meantime, stay positive.

Comments

  1. I had the feeling watching the game that one team was amped up because they were playing the 18-1 Patriots, and the other team looked like they just wanted to get their work in and get out of the heat.

  2. Don’t fret Chris. I’m not. Consider: we limped through the late schedule last year. Our 1st 4 games this year are layups. Our bye week comes way early. What does that tell You? Don’t peak in Sept. It’s a long year and we need to be fresh for the playoffs. Oh and did I mention–the AFC East sucks.

  3. Chris Warner says:

    Bob D, I’m keeping a positive attitude, tempered (or Tampa’d) as it may be. If the Pats get trounced by Philly at home on Friday, then I might let true worry start to seep in. Overall, I think they’ll be fine, but I won’t be surprised if they lose one of those “easy” games as they figure out their identity the first half of the year.

    And believe me, I find nothing wrong with losing a game during the regular season.

  4. Hindsight is always 20/20 but I guess I’m glad I missed this game. I have it on DVR but after reading this post and seeing the “highlights” I’m in no rush to watch it.

    I lucked out with some sweet company seats for this Friday’s game. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for some things.

  5. First thing – worst announcers ever for a sporting event – and that includes high school games for a town of 1,000 people. As bad as Cassel was, the NFL Network has more work to do.

    Cassel’s been in this system how many days? Oh 4 years – well he needs to find his calling in life and it’s clear it’s not wearing the Flying Elvis. His high throw to Moss in the middle of the field should get him arrested. Gutierrez is/was injured so no surprise he didn’t play. M.G. makes mistakes but at least he can move the offense. At least we know who the QB’s are going to be.

    Great to have a lemon game this early in preseason – it gets everyone in the organization just worried enough to truly forget about the great year last year. They’ve been humbled in a meaningless game.

  6. Positive #6:
    Matt Cassel may have finally played his way out of town.

  7. Well, at least now we’ll finally find out what kind of coach Bill Belichick really is.

  8. agreed with Lance on the announcers, wow they were bad, Collinsworth is in China so NFLN had to turn to their own Matt Cassels

  9. So when Chad Jackson finally makes it onto the field in the 4th quarter, and the announcers spend the next 5 minutes talking about how much the Pats like him, should I be more concerned about stubborness of the coaching staff or the incompetence of the announcing crew?

  10. Well, let’s see. Considering he didn’t make it to the field on offense until the 4th quarter of a pre-season game in which everything under the sun went wrong, what do you think?

    I’m pretty sure the first time Wes (112 catches) Welker touched the ball, Sterling Sharpe said “he’s a great returner, and he’s GOING to be a great receiver.”

    I figure Sterling hasn’t seen a Patriots game since 1990.

    Faulk…..bitter much?

  11. Great work on this Chris… probably the only thing enjoyable about the game is this post.

    I’m glad you brought up that game in Cincinnati four years ago because that was the last time I the Pats look so uninspired in any contest.

    I wonder how little we should be surprised that the younger members of the roster struggled against the Bucs. BB talked this week about how different TB is from what they usually see, so the rookies may have been even less prepared for this than someone else. And it should help in preparation for Philly, who also uses the West Coast offense.

  12. jamesgarnerisgod says:

    The best thing about this game was DeOssie making excuses for Cassel afterward. What, are they fraternity brothers or something? Does Cassel have incriminating photos of DeOss?

    There is no backup but Matt Gutierrez.

  13. Just Kidding says:

    I watched the game.
    I thought – yeah – I know these guys…
    Its 1982 – right?
    I ran to the mirror.
    krap
    My hair is still gone but…
    the Patsies are back

  14. Pull the plug on Matt Casell. It’s obvious BB got lucky with Brady all the other guys he has had attempted to back him up are has beens, never haves, or never will bes. I expect the same for the new guy. They are lucky the have an easy schedule this season.

  15. Chris Warner says:

    John – I think it’s too early to call Gutierrez or O’Connell “never will bes”. Cassel, however…

  16. If you watch the game again, Cassel did suffer some drops. While still unimpressive, I think he did improve from the previous outing.

    Here is something worth talking about… Felger and his dork squad complaining about how fans, expecially season ticket holders, get ripped off in the preseason because they’re treated to backup performances… then Comcast showing repeats of the preseason games four times over. What a bunch of hypocrites.

  17. Thankfully it is only preseason, lets just hope when the season starts that Brady’s fit is figured out cuz we are going to have some depressed pats fans for many Mondays to come.

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