September 20, 2017

Chief, We Got a Problem

logoby Chris Warner
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Sunday morning felt like Christmas: a little festive, yet a little nerve-wracking in that we didn’t know what we were going to get.

Sure, Christmas. Except the moment we stepped back to admire our gifts, safety Bernard Pollard scuttled out from under the tree and tackled us. And just like that – halfway through the first quarter of Game One – the shiny ten-speed bicycle we’d been asking for since last winter turned into one rusty rollerskate.

The Patriots won the game. (Good news, Achilles! It’s just a flesh wound!) Time to cater to those of us with small attention spans who want to focus on New England’s 17-10 victory, however Pyrrhic it might have been.

Brady came out firing in all his empty-backfield glory, hitting his first two passes and appearing invincible. (Sigh.) But Welker fumbled, and after New England’s defense got the ball back, the Patriots lined up in a running formation to showcase Laurence Maroney, who responded with 13 yards in two carries. After a Brady completion to Moss, Maroney shot ahead for another nine. Heath Evans ground out a first down on third-and-one. Pats on the Chiefs’ 42.

Then you-know-what happened. I’m moving on.

After Matt Cassel’s preseason work, Patriots fans had considered nicknaming him “Nine Iron” for his short drives. He put that wariness to rest on his first possession, leading New England for 98 yards. Randy Moss got the Pats out of the rough, gathering in a key 51-yard bomb from his own one. Seven plays later, Moss glided along the end line for a pretty, go-up-and-get-it touchdown.

Cassel’s second TD drive gave the home team a seemingly insurmountable 14-3 lead (when will I learn?) with 3:05 left in the third. The home team’s running game capped it, with Maroney’s 17-yard jaunt followed by Sammy Morris’12-yard cutback and five-yard TD. Cassel completed all four passes to four different targets: Moss, tight end David Thomas, Welker and Morris.

So, pretty good, right? An 11-play, 80-yard drive that took over six minutes? But, as the  rustler said to the rancher, “Better hold your horses.”

Damon Huard (Yep, still in the league. Who knew?) replaced Brodie Croyle and proved efficient, taking less than five minutes to bring some dread into the proceedings. The big play had Larry Johnson skirting around left end for 22 yards to NE’s 26, making Rodney Harrison resemble flailing roadkill along the way. Five plays later, Huard lobbed a 13-yarder to Dwayne Bowe, who won the jump ball over Ellis Hobbs.

I don’t consider myself a Hobbs basher, but that last play almost seemed unfair, like a teenager playing keep-away with his kid brother.

Up by seven with only 2:26 left, New England’s defense made a concerted effort to give up the small stuff. That worked for three plays, until they gave up the humongous stuff in the form of a 68-yard pass to Devard Darling. I won’t say Pats safeties James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather fouled up, but I will note that I’ve seen better angles in a circle.

On New England’s five with under a minute remaining, Kansas City failed to close the deal, throwing incomplete to Bowe, running Johnson for no gain, throwing incomplete to Gonzalez and, for the last time, Bowe.

The passes toward Bowe told the story of the Patriots’ defense. On the first, Bowe reached over Hobbs in the end zone but allowed the ball to squirt through his hands. On the last, Bowe ran an out pattern but got shrouded by Deltha O’Neil as the ball sailed past them. The home team looked strong on some plays (getting four sacks, holding Johnson to 3.4 yards per rush, intercepting Huard), not so much on others (failing to cover Gonzalez and Bowe, allowing Huard’s 67 percent completion rate, missed tackles).  In the end, KC matriculated the ball down the field one fewer time than New England. Good enough for this week, not next.

Ah, next week. At the time of this writing, no one outside of Foxboro knows what really happened to Brady. If the prognosis remains bleak, fans will have to steel themselves against the Dark Brigade, those in the media who will take their shots at Brady and the Patriots while they appear down. During Fox’s broadcast, Michael “Walrus” Strahan said something like, “They say Bill Belichick is a good coach; well, now we’re going to find out.”

So … that’s an issue now? The guy who replaced his Pro Bowl quarterback with a young unknown seven years ago has to prove it all over again? Ah, well. At least my mute button still works.

The optimist within sees continuing greatness from Moss (six catches for 116 yards), an intriguing skill set from the Patriots running backs (4.5 yards/rush, Morris five catches for 34 yards), a promising rookie (linebacker Jerod Mayo, six tackles) and a defense that will allow yardage but keep the other team off the board (accompanied by some angina along the way). Let’s pledge to keep that optimist in a container and dispense him at strategic points throughout the rest of the season. We’re going to need him.


  1. Chris,
    What’s your comment on all the guys who were supposedly being “contrarian” (key word) and “looking for stoooooorylines” (key phrase) by daring to ask what would happen if Brady ever got hurt?

    Is it okay to ask that question now or will we all still get shouted down by the jackboots? Isn’t an organization’s job to put itself into the best position to win a title? I expect Ironhead’s angry post about the arrogance of going into the season w/Matt Cassell as the backup any minute now…

  2. Can we go get Bledsoe out of retirement? The ironies would be endless!

  3. Here’s an idea, Hass: if you want to debate the BSMW board, go to the BSMW board. You’re apparently under the mistaken impression that you’re there now. You’re not.

  4. Chris Warner says:

    Hass, I have no comment. As Scott said, this isn’t the BSMW board. I’m going to play optimist here and say that I’m looking forward to watching this season on a “student of the NFL” level: how do the Patriots respond? Does the offense go more vanilla, or do they start to take chances? Does Chris Simms come in to save the day? Will the defense take a ticket to Capersville and get blitz-happy?

    Stay tuned. I know I will.

  5. Chris Warner says:

    Munroe: yes, the ironies would be endless; unfortunately, so would the interceptions.

    Thank you! I’m here all week!

  6. I was at the game yesterday and it was pretty surreal… and not in a good way. On “the play” the fans at first were reacting to the fumble… then I saw it. Brady lying in the middle of the field about 20 yards away from everyone else. First there was a collective gasp followed by silence and then the “Oh My God” moment. I’m not sure what to say or feel. I hope Cassel can come through and lead this team. I hope we beat the Jets (already 3 point underdogs). It’s been a while since the Pats have been on this side of the fence.

  7. Favre is good for 2 Pats defensive touchdowns. Cassel just can’t turn the ball over and the Pats win.

  8. Now that we’re past the “THAT’S IT, IT’S OVER!” defense mechanism, I’m with you this morning Marty. Just looking forward to the next game and all the positive stuff that could happen next Sunday.

  9. The parallels aren’t exact, but I guess Brady being gone for the season is about the only event with the *potential* to eclipse last year’s video-drone as a rallying point. Obviously the specifics are a bit different, but at least we know that motivation won’t be an issue as the blabbering shifts from “they can’t win without cheating” to “they can’t win without Brady.”

    At this point, however, predictions are stupid. Yeah, Brady is better than Cassel (and remember folks its CASSEL; the guy with two “ls” plays hoops and is from another planet).

  10. Was it just me, or was the ESPN ticker of “projected statistics” for every game, before they acutally played on Sunday, the 2nd most annoying thing that happened yesterday?

    Since when has “totally guessing on specific stats” replaced actual research and reporting as a viable reporting job? NE, SD, and Indy, I wonder how all those guesses worked out? At least we won.

    I still love the football game and the anticipation and intrigue. It’s the increasing mindless banter and speculation that makes me throw up a little in my mouth …

  11. Scott, it just forced me to switch my goal from ‘win the Super Bowl’ to ‘win the AFC East’.

    They’re still the best team in the division, the guy playing QB now is the guy BB and Pioli wanted as a backup, they know more than me, 2 weeks ago I wanted Cassel shipped out of town, now I’m heading down to Patriots Place to get his game day authentic jersey and have lunch at Davios then maybe stop into Christmas Tree Shoppe to get some lawn gnomes.

    They’ll carry on, Cassel just needs to not screw up and they’ll be an 11-5 instead of a 14-2 team.

    Or we could pick up an awesome QB thats just sitting on the street. I think we should fit Cooper Manning with a space age backbrace and send him out there.

  12. When the “contrarians” starts sincerely asking questions instead of just making statements with question marks, and when they drop this insufferable Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis routine anytime the response is something other than praise for their “courage”, I’ll take them seriously. Until then, they can screw.

  13. Of course I’d rather they win 19 and shut out the memories of last year. But until the playoffs roll around to really determine what’s what, I’ll have much more fun rooting for a team to improve and rally around the guy(s) stepping into big shoes rather than debating whether a margin of victory is impressive enough or constitutes running up the score.

    The geniuses throwing spitballs about the pats’ supposed neglect of the backup QB position should wait a week or five before declaring themselves right. Cassel got a win yesterday in a game where he was required to make a few key plays in a tough situation. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine this coaching staff game planning in a way that makes him even more effective in games going forward.

    And if Simms or someone else does come in to solidify the position then it shows me that the team’s calculated gamble in using the roster and salary space on other positions wasn’t as far off base as many of the self-back-patters would have you believe.

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