by Chris Warner
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.