by Dan Snapp
Crisis, they say, breeds opportunity.
When the NFL schedule makers posted the ’08 season, the timing of the Patriots’ bye seemed pointless. Now it looks provident.
If the Pats are to make a real season out of it, this would be the week to plant the seeds. That could mean radical changes, with new players brought in and old ones losing their starting jobs. It could mean new schemes and focuses. Or it could simply be a matter of returning to fundamentals. Stopping the single wing might be a good start.
Perhaps that’s too much to be made of one measly defeat, but man, what a wretched stink bomb of a loss. The Belichick era has seen its share of calamitous results, notably against Tennessee in ’02, San Diego in ’05, and the Dolphins seemingly every other year. But this one seemed worse, conjuring up dark memories of the pre-Parcells Pats, replete with a record day for the opposing running back and a QB who seemingly couldn’t complete anything past five yards.
Was this the rule or the exception? Reality or an anomaly? Patriots players hinted at the latter, with Richard Seymour citing that old football chestnut, “Any given Sunday.”
Speaking of Seymour, where was he on this given Sunday? Or Vince Wilfork? Or Ty Warren? It has become standard fare for each announcing team to label them the “best defensive line in football” when naming the defensive starters. Maybe this is like the Pro Bowl, where something true once before isn’t so much anymore; you know, like how you’d see Larry Allen starting every year long after you thought the guy had retired.
You can’t exaggerate how bad this defense looked Sunday. After all, they were fooled by one of football’s most rudimentary plays. Repeatedly.
In proper NFL context, the single wing is a punchline, usually in reference to a coach who’s not long for the job. It’s supposed to be a putdown, not some blessed new innovation taking the league by storm. Bill Belichick just got outwitted by Pop Warner. Chew on that a while.
Maybe it was just the novelty of it that took them by surprise. “Ain’t no way he’s gonna run the ball out of this a fifth time! Well shoot, whattya know?”
Then there’s the quarterback play. To be sure, Matt Cassel didn’t lose this game. But even had Ronnie Brown merely a great game with two touchdowns rather than a career one with five, the Pats still didn’t put up enough points. There needs to be a change.
Here’s where it’s provident Belichick is in charge and not the fans. Were we to have our way, who knows the damage we could cause. Jeff Garcia, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Bledsoe for God’s sakes? Probably some quick calls to Junior Seau and John Lynch as well. No more draw plays on third-and-long, no more Maroney runs up the middle on first down, and please, no mas to Moss running a reverse. It’s the privilege of fickle fandom to think we’ve got it all figured out.
But then, were we in charge, David Givens might not have made it out of camp in ’03, Kevin Faulk would never touch the ball again after six fumbles in 2000, and Troy Brown might not ever have lasted long enough to reach his breakout eighth year. And who knows? We might have benched Tom Brady for Damon Huard after that Miami stinker in ’01.
It’s good having somebody else to make the tough decisions, leaving us only the responsibility of condemning said decisions after the fact. The way it’s supposed to be.
So who knows what to expect at quarterback? Again looking back at the ’99 Jets season (A heads up: this analogy will likely draw breath a few more times yet this year), Bill Parcells wasted a good third of the season trying to make chicken salad out of Rick Mirer. Belichick seemingly learned from that lesson when he didn’t even work out Chris Simms or Tim Rattay two weeks ago.
But perhaps Cassel is the Mirer in this scenario, with somebody else as yet unrevealed to play the Ray Lucas role (well, hopefully better than Lucas, but you get the gist). Maybe it’s Matt Gutierrez, whom many of us thought outplayed Cassel in the preseason anyway. It’s tough to believe it would be Kevin O’Connell, who as a rookie has a steep learning curve.
Hence the importance of this bye week. Belichick has a week and a half to determine the real shape of this team for the season. If the quarterback answer is outside the current roster, now’s the time to strike so that he’s got the most time to learn the system. If it’s Gutierrez or O’Connell, that card too would be best played now.
For the defense, Belichick may have to make some of the same tough realizations as he did in ’02, when he realized he didn’t have the team speed to compete. Some of those inactive rookies may be thrust into the limelight soon.
The toughest thing to reconcile is the notion that Tom Brady alone accounted for nearly three touchdowns a game more than what the current group is producing, or that the loss of Asante Samuel and Rosevelt Colvin suddenly made the Pats’ defense a sieve.
Seymour might be right, that it was all just a freak occurrence. Belichick has an extra week to find out.