September 28, 2016

Oh, Domino(es)

logoAs this improbable Patriots season moves towards its conclusion, few games will hold as much significance as today’s 4:15 p.m. showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It’s true – of the seventy-seven regular season games remaining on the 2008 NFL schedule, just five will feature a head-to-head matchup between two of the six AFC playoff contenders currently ahead of, or tied with, the Patriots.

Needless to say, in order to make the playoffs the Patriots will need to continue their winning ways (if you want to call two of their last four winning ways) while hoping that a few dominoes (a tile quite familiar to several of their players) fall their way in the process.

Of particular interest is the AFC North, where 8-3 Pittsburgh and 7-4 Baltimore both maintain a playoff pace. One team will win the division and the other will undoubtedly be a leading contender for one of the two available wild card spots. Hence the interest by the 7-4 Patriots, who still trail the Eastern division by a game thanks to their 34-31 home loss to the leading Jets.

The good news for the Patriots is that the Steelers will be involved in three of those five AFC direct matchups, counting today’s game. After hosting the Dallas Cowboys next weekend, Pittsburgh hits the road for Baltimore (currently 6th seed) and Tennessee (1st) before finishing at home with Cleveland. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Steelers and the Patriots (7th seed, presently) will end up vying for the last empty chair when the regular season music comes to a stop.

New England would do well to have a head-to-head victory chip (the first tiebreaker in nearly every eventuality) in their pocket for just such an occasion. They’ve been unable to secure the same from the Colts or the Jets in recent weeks, which only heightens the anxiety over today’s outcome. A loss to conference rival Pittsburgh would assuredly tie another anchor to their already weighted playoff ship (another lost head-to-head advantage, and a crippling fifth conference loss).

A win, though, could vault them back into a playoff seeding as early as tonight, provided lightning strikes in Cleveland or Cincinnati this afternoon. If the Patriots beat the Steelers and the Browns surprise the Colts, the Pats would take possession of the sixth seed after thirteen weeks; the same would be true with a New England win and a Cincinnati upset of the Ravens.

The Trifecta (Patriots win and the Colts and Ravens lose) would result in New England’s ascension to the fifth spot at the conclusion of today’s action. If they get no help, however, the picture will remain static even if New England wins. Though Pittsburgh and Baltimore would be tied with four losses, the Steelers would maintain the division lead by virtue of their 23-30 win over the Ravens in Week Four. The Ravens would then bump the Pats from the sixth spot with their superior conference record (6-3 to 5-4 as we speak).

It’s not like that current advantage is set in stone, though; the Ravens have the second-toughest remaining schedule of all the teams currently seeded ahead of the Pats, trailing only the Steelers (.500 to .636). They will entertain the 7-4 Redskins next week with the back half of the season doubleheader with Pittsburgh looming, followed by a trip to Dallas and a finale with the Jaguars at home.

Seemingly, the aforementioned dominoes will be there, teetering in the AFC North, as the regular season draws to a close next month. The Patriots can give them a much needed nudge by turning the Steelers away today.

Oh, by the way – the Pats can also draw back to a ‘tie’ with the Jets today, if Denver beats New York while New England disposes of Pittsburgh, but the tie is quickly broken by the Jets’ superior division record (3-1 to 3-2).

One thing to keep in mind, though; the third division tiebreaker (after H2H and division record) is W/L percentage in common games. Beyond their AFCE divisional games, the Patriots and Jets will play eight common opponents this season; Denver, San Diego, Oakland and Kansas City from the AFCW, and Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis from the NFCW.

To date, the Jets are 3-2 against that slate (beating Arizona, Kansas City and St. Louis while losing to San Diego and Oakland). The Patriots? 4-1 (beating Denver, Kansas City, the Niners and the Rams while losing to San Diego).

A rare (and perhaps temporary) tiebreaker advantage for the Pats that could grow even greater with a Broncos upset in the Meadowlands today, and it could very well enliven the AFCE race should the Jets (winners of their last five) suddenly hit turbulence as they attempt to land their first division title in six years.

Even if the Pats lose today, they could vault back to the top of their division by Week Fifteen with New England wins in Oakland and Seattle and Jets losses to Denver and division rival Buffalo (sandwiched around a win in San Francisco). That would draw both teams even in head to head and division tiebreakers, and bring the common game tiebreaker into play.

The possibility, however remote, places yet another intriguing domino on the table for the Patriots.

Scott Benson is the Editor and Co-Founder of Patriots Daily. He can be reached at [email protected].

College Scout, November 29, 2008

logoThe season moves along with more rivalry games and games that will decide who goes to the conference championships.

Auburn vs. Alabama (3:30 PM EST CBS)

Another year, another Iron Bowl. They say throw out the records when these two meet, but one wonders how the very mediocre 5-6 Auburn Tigers can keep up with #1 in the nation Alabama. If they can, it would be the upset of the year.

Auburn DT Tez Doolittle (#99)

Doolittle is a 294 lb. defensive tackle who is remarkably back starting for Auburn after snapping his Achilles in August of 2007. Doolittle was a highly-recruited defensive end who hasn’t played much until this year, along with suffering the major injury. He plays inside for Auburn. This year, in his first extended time, he has held up well. He has 7 tackles for loss. He has some potential and is a hard-worker who overcame a lot to come back from injury. He has talent. He just lacks experience and in a Patriots system, would be better suited as a defensive end. Still, in the last round or as an undrafted free agent would make a good project for the Pats.

Alabama C Antoine Caldwell (#59)

As far as evaluating a center, the one thing that can jump to the eye watching Caldwell is he is the clear leader of the line. You have to focus on him to see it, but you can just tell this 4-year starter is a special lineman and the type of smart, tough technician you need at center. He’ll likely be a first day pick and with Dan Koppen’s inconsistent play this year as well as Bill Belichick’s ties to Alabama coach Nick Saban, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Patriots take a run at the All-American candidate Caldwell.

[Read more…]

Steeling A Win At Home

logoThis Week – Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3; Against AFC East 0-0)

Here’s a “Happy Black Friday” to all of the Patriots Daily readers.  It will also be a “Black Sunday” as the Blade will be host to the Steelers when they come out of the tunnel for the 4:15 PM EST kickoff.  Before we get into how the Pats will try to win the game, let’s start this off with some of the things everyone should know about the visitors.

Pittsburgh has the NFL’s Number 1 overall defense.  They are also #1 in the following defensive categories – Points Allowed (14.5), Total Yards per Game Allowed (235.4), Passing Yards per Game Allowed (168.8), and Rushing Yards per Game Allowed (66.5).  They are 3rd in the NFL in Sacks Recorded (37), 3rd in Rushing TDs allowed (4), 5th in Passing TDs allowed (10) and tied for 7th in Passes Defensed (71).  For a team is tied for 12th in scoring offense, this type of defense is not only daunting but down right scary. 

Outside of the normal offensive mantra (control the ball, get manageable third downs and no turnovers), how do you score against this team?  Would you believe the old cliché – “A best offense is a good defense”?  In this game, that’s just what the Pats need to do to win.

The weakest link in the Steelers’ offensive game is actually the man behind center, otherwise known as Madden’s other QB man-love crush.  The singular-named Ben (since Old Man John can’t correctly pronounce his last name more than twice a game) has thrown eight interceptions, lost 2 fumbles, sacked 15 times and had an average QB Rating of 49.7.  Daunte Culpepper laughs at those stats, which is good because he needs a reason to smile right now.

It doesn’t help Crash the QB that the guys who are supposed to be his backfield are better at getting tackled than running.  They’re 25th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (a shade over 100 yds), 24th in yards per rush (3.6) and are tied for 27th in rushes longer than 20 yards (4).  I don’t expect these stats to dramatically rise against the Pats; even if Wee Willie Parker makes it back from a hobbled knee.

To have a chance to win against the Steelers, the Pats have to be aggressive with their defense.  If there is anything left in Capers tank, he needs to help Pees come up with some crazy blitzing schemes; both run and pass.  The Pats need to take away any kind of running game to force the issue with Roethlisberger and his accuracy issues. 

[Read more…]

Patriots Daily Buffet Table – Steelers at Patriots

logoWell, here we are again. Another year, another game against the Steelers. So grab a terrible towel and use it to wipe off your grill – hey, there is a use for those things after all. I thought they were only good for drying the tears of Steelers fans and players.

Oh crap, I think I just hurt Hines Ward’s feelings. He’s crying now, but I’ll probably get blindsided later. Hines is tough that way. The Steelers haven’t been to Foxborough since the Patriot Place Mall opened. I hope for Hines’ sake he stays away. The Bass Pro is full of taxidermy – Hines wouldn’t be able to take the sight of those deer, foxes and wolves stuffed as decorations. Ben Roethlisbledsoe, on the other hand, should take a trip over – they have all sorts of four wheelers, power boats and other things he could drive fast and crash into something.

C’mon, Ben, what are you chicken? Dare you to drive that ATV through the Christmas Tree Shoppe.

Speaking of chicken. We’ll be making our take on a Pittsburgh favorite this weekend, a Cambodian chicken shish kebab. Invented by the owners of Cambod-Ican Kitchen, an American-Cambodian fusion restaurant, this dish drove their business from a single truck to a full fledged restaurant.

Innovation from Pittsburgh? I’m glad it hasn’t made its way onto the football field.

Cambodian Chicken Shish Kebab

3-4 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks
2 green peppers, cut into slices
2 onions, sliced
1 tbs. sweet curry powder
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbs. sugar, Cambodian palm sugar would be the most authentic choice, brown sugar will work
1 tbs. sesame oil
1 tbs. rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
Peel from 1 lime
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 loaves pita bread

[Read more…]

One Small Step

logoIt was a big win on Sunday, but just one small step to the playoffs for the Patriots.

New England’s emotional victory over Miami pushed the Patriots past the Dolphins into second place in the AFC East and seventh place in the conference if the playoffs started today.

That will have to do for now. The Patriots can’t expect to overcome their shoddy divisional and conference records in just one week.

Big computer problems here at PDHQ this morning, so flip to the Globe for a quick rundown on what the Patriots are up against with five games remaining.

You can get the rest of your Patriots news at BSMW or PatriotsLinks.com.

Pats Fight Off Fins

logoWow. Who would have thought?

Who would have thought that, ten weeks after Tom Brady went down for the 2008 season, the quarterback position would have become the least of New England’s worries? Somewhere along the way, Mr. Matt Cassel has become a big-time professional.

Don’t be confused by your memories of the wide-eyed ninny running around the backfield during preseason games. What we have here, dear readers, is a bona fide NFL starter who passed for three touchdowns (30 of 43, 415 yards) and ran for another to propel his team to a 48-28 victory in a donnybrook with the Dolphins.

From an offensive standpoint, the holidays came early to New England. While Wes Welker (eight catches, 120 yards) and Jabar Gaffney (five, for 88) got open often, Randy Moss took advantage of single coverage throughout the afternoon, catching eight passes for 125 yards and three TDs.

Cassel began on a high note and kept singing, hitting Kevin Faulk (six grabs, 52 yards), Welker and Moss in succession to reach Miami’s 31. On first down from the 20, guard Stephen Neal was called for holding, putting New England back to the 30. (I, for one, am getting sick of the “least penalized team” graphic that shows up whenever the Pats commit a foul. For the record, they had six on Sunday.) Cassel hit Welker and Faulk to gain 18 of the necessary yards but couldn’t connect with Gaffney for the final two. Still, Gostkowski’s field goal at 10:13 told fans that the Pats had come to play.

After Cassel’s tipped-ball interception, Miami’s Chad Pennington (24 of 41, 341 yards, three TDs) made short work of a short field with a four-play, 42-yard touchdown drive to give the home team a 7-3 lead with 5:29 left in the first. New England’s defense failed to stop the Dolphins in the red zone all day, and even gave up 50 percent of third-down conversions.

[Read more…]

Exit Interview

logoWe all know by now that times are tough in the newspaper business, but I was still surprised and disappointed to learn recently that staff cutbacks by GateHouse Media, the Fairport, NY-based owner of several Massachusetts dailies, had stilled the keys of one of the best Pats beat writers and columnists there is.

Douglas Flynn, who had covered both the Bruins and Pats since his arrival at the MetroWest Daily News in 2000, learned in October that his position would be among those cut.

Since its inception, the Sunday Links has often taken issue with certain coverage of the Patriots, but never with Flynn’s. Along with being a deft, thoughtful writer, Flynn was clearly a football fan at his core, and his appreciation for and curiosity about the game produced the kind of work that is too often in short supply in an increasingly sensationalistic media environment.

As a news consumer, I look at it like this – treat me with a little respect, and tell me something I don’t know. Nasty screeds about alleged sycophantic fat guys in Bruschi replicas illuminate nothing and contribute nothing. They’re craven attention-grabs designed purely to manipulate and infuriate, and promote an undeserving writer who thought so little of his audience that he would insult them for his own personal gain.

It was in those times that I most appreciated honest, sincere reporters like Doug Flynn, whose respect for his readers was a given. His clever piece on special teams gunners from early August is a great example; by peeling back the detail on an element of the game that we often overlook, he told me something I didn’t know.

His reporting often did. I had a chance to chat with Doug recently about his separation from the Pats beat, his take on today’s media, and his future plans.

Did GateHouse’s cuts at MWDN come as any surprise to you?

Cuts in the newspaper business have become so widespread, it’s hard to be surprised by any of them anymore. Still, I had no idea that I was about to be laid off. I had actually spent the day in Foxboro working on stories for the upcoming weekend and wasn’t informed of my layoff until my arrival in the office that night, so I was taken completely by surprise by the news. I was informed that the decision had nothing to do with the quality of my work and that it was due only to financial conditions. Obviously, it was a disappointing end to my tenure with the paper, but I am proud of the work I did there and I am appreciative of the opportunities I did have while writing for the MWDN.

MWDN has always had superlative Pats coverage, by people like Mike Reiss, Albert Breer, and you. How will the paper cover the Patriots now?

First, thank you for the kind words and for putting my in that company, particularly with Mike Reiss, who I have worked with, consider to be the best on the beat in this market and am proud to call a friend. I would also be remiss to not point out the work of Tom Curran, who is now one of the top national football writers for NBC.com but cut his teeth with the MetroWest and really was the first to bring the paper’s coverage of the Patriots to prominence. He is also someone I feel fortunate to have worked with and call a friend. As to the future, I obviously have no say in how the paper will continue its coverage of the Pats. I was told when they let me go that they would be focusing their resources on local sports, a strategy that many mid-sized papers have adopted, and that they would rely primarily on AP and the other Gatehouse papers (the Brockton Enterprise and Patriot Ledger) for copy on the Patriots and other Boston pro teams. Glen Farley of the Enterprise and Eric McHugh of the Ledger, who had the only Pats stories on the MWDN web wite I could find when I checked this week after receiving your email, are both solid beat guys who provide quality coverage and I would also assume that MetroWest columnist Lenny Megliola will continue to write about the Pats on occasion.

It seems to me that the end effect of all this will be fewer choices for fans seeking team coverage, which is kind of ironic considering a glut of choices -like those on the Internet, but on TV and radio too – is one of the things hastening this ‘redefinition’ of traditional media. Removing your professional hat for a moment – as someone who is at heart a passionate football fan, how do you view these developments?

I think even without the loss of many writers from the mid-sized papers due to economic conditions, there was already a lack of different voices in the market. Despite the addition of so many new outlets on the web and shows devoted to sports on TV and radio, too often it’s the same people expressing the same views or reporting the same news on all the various platforms. It would be nice to see more opportunities for some new voices and opinions, but that is harder now with fewer and fewer mid-sized papers covering the team on a regular basis.

If you could be Media Czar for a day, what things would you change about the profession?

It would take a lot more than a day to make any meaningful change, but if you could make it a full-time gig I’d be glad to take the job since I could use the work about now. On a more serious note, having returned to the perspective of a fan rather than a part of the media, my top wish would be to see more time devoted to actually talking about sports and the games themselves, rather than the soap-opera subplots and attempts to generate controversy that too often dominate the coverage in the papers and discussion on the airwaves.

If you had been able to finish the 2008 season with the Patriots, what kind of story do you think you would have written?

The only regret I have about leaving the MetroWest Daily News is that I had to do it in the middle of the season and couldn’t see the campaign to its conclusion. While last year was an amazing thing to witness and record with the club’s quest for perfection, I think this year’s storylines are even more compelling in many ways. Watching the maturation of Matt Cassel, seeing the defense trying to overcome the loss of leaders like Rodney Harrison and Adalius Thomas, gauging whether the club can return to its underdog roots and make it back to the Bowl, those were ongoing themes I would have enjoyed continuing to chronicle. There were also many individual stories I had planned to pursue. In fact, on my final day in Foxboro I sat down with Lonie Paxton for a one-on-one interview and spoke with Chris Hanson and a number of other special teamers for a Patriots Beat I had planned to write about the role of the long snapper, similar to a story I wrote earlier in the season on gunners.

In your career, you’ve covered football and hockey, and done some radio and TV. Yet you’re a Brown grad with degrees in History and Afro-American Studies. What’s next for Douglas Flynn?

That’s something I’m still working on. While I’d love to continue covering pro sports, with the current state of the newspaper industry I don’t really foresee staying in the business. As much as I enjoy writing and loved the time I spent covering the Patriots and Bruins, it was probably time for me to move on anyway and look into alternatives that allow for a better standard of living than a career in the newspaper world. I’m currently exploring some opportunities in public relations and also considering going into teaching, which was my original plan when I was at Brown before I got sidetracked into journalism after a brief stint in grad school on a fellowship for a doctoral program in military history at Ohio State. I probably won’t ever completely abandon writing though. I am currently discussing a book project on the Bruins’ tradition of tough guys and the bond between the enforcers and Boston’s fans (tentatively titled “Big, Bad and Beloved”) with several potential publishers and will always be looking for an outlet for my creative side, so hopefully you haven’t read the last thing from me yet.

I hope that’s true. As fans, we need more writers like Douglas Flynn, not fewer.

Scott Benson is the Editor and Co-Founder of Patriots Daily. He can be reached at [email protected].

College Scout, 11/22/08

logoThere are a lot of rivalry games today and matchups that could decide conference championships. Oklahoma looks to take out undefeated Texas Tech in a huge matchup on ABC tonight, and there’s many other games for you to keep you eye on as the bowl pairings start to shake out.

Boston College at Wake Forest (3:30 PM EST ABC)

This is a game that BC needs to win in order to keep alive their ACC Championship aspirations. It also features two potential Top 10 NFL picks, one on each side.

Boston College DT BJ Raji (#90)

If you have watched BC the last few weeks you have seen the 325 lb. Raji eat college offensive linemen alive. He is simply too good for this level right now. He is a powerful run stuffer with great size who also can penetrate and is surprisingly athletic. He would definitely fit in a Patriots 3-4 scheme and creates great push inside while stalemating any attempt to move him out of the gaps. Probably the best interior defensive lineman in college football right now and a probable first round pick, perhaps the first tackle taken. He does benefit from being next to another excellent defensive tackle, Ron Brace, who’ll also be drafted (possibly on the first day). But while Brace is good, Raji is dominant and seems to be getting better each week after sitting out 2007. Watch Raji simply overpower a Notre Dame offensive lineman into his own running back in this clip.

Wake Forest OLB Aaron Curry (#59)

A very athletic outside linebacker who can do it all. Hits like a house, can cover and rush the passer. At 6’3″ 248, he is a great athlete too, running a 4.6/40 and power lifting 400 lbs. But it’s not just his triangle numbers; he is a football player who makes many plays for Wake Forest. His coverage ability is demonstrated by his 6 career INTs, 3 of which he has returned for touchdowns. Good student and character guy who plays the game hard. Seems to be the perfect Patriot, even excelling on special teams with blocked punts. If you had to predict one guy, right now, that Bill Belichick would target, this would seem to be the guy and he’ll certainly be a first round pick. The question is how high?

[Read more…]

NFL.com Videos on Patriots/Dolphins

The NFL has taken to emailing bloggers links to videos about the current week’s game for your local team. Here is the selection they sent along this week for Patriots/Dolphins:

Week 12: Patriots vs. Dolphins Preview

Weather update: Patriots vs Dolphins

Week 11: Inside the Locker Room Speeches

Columns from NFL.com

News articles and video from NFL.com

Fish On A Roll

logoThis Week – Miami Dolphins (6-4; Against AFC East 2-1; Against the Pats 1-0)

Man, I’m beginning to wonder if Coach Belichick and his coaching staff are forgetting to read my column.  I mean, he didn’t get my plans to expose the weakness of the Jets’ DBs by using 3WR/1TE or 4WR sets until near the end of the second quarter.  I guess someone on his staff must’ve remembered to look here in between the 2-minute warning.  Hopefully, with no more Thursday night games, it won’t happen again.

With that in mind, how should the Pats win against the streaking Dolphins, winners of four straight games, Mr. All-Knowing Football Man?  If you look at the stats, the trends are there for the reading.

On offense, the Pats need to continue to work on the 3WR/1TE sets from last week to keep the Dolphins nickel and dime DBs on the field.  The Fins are 23rd in the NFL for passing yards per game.  The Pats also should go deep against the Dolphins as the Fish are 29th in the league in allowing passing plays of 20 yards or more.  But since the Fins are in the top 10 in sacks, Cassel needs to get check down or rid of the ball if the deep ball is not there.  I do have another plea to have Cassel use the shovel pass up the middle and the WR bubble pass on the sides to tire the D-line and LBs.

With Sammy Morris coming back this week, he might be able to run better on the left side.  While I’m not a fan of running at the new Mouth of the South (Porter) and Holliday but prior to Game 3 of the 2008 season getting out of hand early, Morris did have some success on that side of the line and with a relatively healthy line, running the ball is a necessary component to a Pats victory.

On the defensive side of the ball, there will be visions of last week’s Favre check-down mode on the field by the Fish.  With Pennington behind center, the Fish are 9th in the league in passing yards.  But that doesn’t mean that the Fins won’t try to go long as they are 10th in completions of 20 yards or more.  That means in obvious passing situations, the Patriots need to play a Cover 2 scheme with over the top safety help to keep Camarillo and Ginn, Jr in check.

But the real question is how should the Pats defend the high school Wildcat formation?  They should do the same thing that they always do for run-heavy teams.  They should play a 3-4 alignment.  The D-line and LBs must be held responsible for their backfield reads.  Staying home and seeing the formation for a second time will definitely limit those explosive runs by Brown and Williams. 

Lastly, if the Pats can play a bend-but-don’t-break style, they might be able to hang in the game.  The Fins are 24th in the league with a 20.9 scoring average and 26th in the NFL with only 9 TD passes.  Keeping people in front of them, limiting the one-on-one exposure in the defensive backfield and wrapping people up will make it a successful night for the Pats and should help the Pats secure the needed win to keep pace in the tight AFC East.

Next team on the docket is the AFC North leader Pittsburgh Steelers, another recently made grudge match.  Can the Pats take advantage of a QB who is still trying to get back in his groove?  Will they be able to withstand the blitzing onslaught that comes with playing the Black and Gold?  Tune in next Friday to find out.

Britt Schramm’s ‘Line Em Up’ appears weekly on Patriots Daily. He can be reached at [email protected].

Have Gunslinger, Won’t Travel

logoMy daughter said the F-word last week. Here we were Thursday, happily watching the game, and out it blurted:

“Daddy, did the man just say, ‘Brett Favre’?”

Oh dear. We knew this day would come. A little bit before I expected, but here we are. Deep breath.

No, honey, there is no Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy is just bribery so you won’t freak out at the blood, and the Easter Bunny? Well, I have no earthly clue what the Easter Bunny’s supposed to be about. There’s also no pot of gold at rainbow’s end, and Mickey Mouse is actually just some girl sweating her butt off in a mouse suit in the Florida sun.

And yes, sadly there is a Brett Favre.

Turns out Brett Favre is one friend’s favorite player, and being so thrilled to hear the name on TV (yeah, just wait, honey), my daughter had to tell her best friend about it.

“Brett Barf?” he responded. Whether a character judgment or an allusion to Favre’s Vicodin days, I must say, prescient lad.

Actually, I come to praise Brett Favre. No, really.

In the Jets’ win against the Patriots a week ago, Favre had one of his most impressive days ever. Certainly not statwise, paling in comparison to a number of games. But he played a nice, efficient game, checking down to secondary receivers, not forcing balls, and generally taking what the Patriots defense gave him.

In stark contrast to his legend, he wasn’t drawing up plays in the dirt, he wasn’t winging it, and he actually seemed to grasp the concept of nickel defenses. It even looked like he just wasn’t having fun out there.

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Soft Zone, Coin Flipped Pats

logoFor this week’s Turning Point, we’ll break down the coin flip.  Only kidding of course, but more on that in a moment.

Last Thursday night’s contest was full of momentum shifts.  The Jets scored on their first four possessions (one of them a kickoff return touchdown) to jump out to an early 24-6 lead.  Afterwards the Patriot defense/special teams adjusted, allowing New York nothing on their next five non-kneeldown drives.  Meanwhile, New England’s offense gradually chipped away at the deficit, finally tying the game early in the 4th quarter.  The Jets subsequently rattled off a sustained, clock-killing drive (14 plays, 63 yards, 7:06 elapsed) that ended with a go-ahead touchdown.  The teams traded three-and-outs, with the Patriots using their time outs, the two minute warning and a stout defensive effort to give them one last shot with 1:04 remaining.  It took Cassel only 1:03 to erase any lingering doubts about his clutchness as he delivered an on-the-run game-tying TD to a perfectly-covered Moss in the corner of the end zone (time index; 4:44).  Cassel led his team on two game-tying 4th quarter drives, although officially it only counts as one comeback.

Due to sudden death overtime rules, however, he was unable to build on it, making the eventual overtime loss all the more bitter.  Ranting about overtime invites hypocrisy given New England’s 7-0 record under Belichick & Brady (with plenty of fortunate bounces and breaks) prior to Thursday night.  And griping about rules that have been in place for 34 years may ring hollow compared to the NFL’s other glaring problems, among them horrific, consequence-free officiating and a humorless, dictatorial commissioner.  Therefore the author begs your indulgence.

This season we’ve witnessed the greatest amount of parity, Tennessee and the defending champs aside, since 2002.  Former commissioner Pete Rozelle’s dying legacy was to establish an even economic playing field, the idea being that the talent level would likewise equilibrate and give every team a chance to succeed.  What does parity have to do with overtime?  If the spirit of the former is to promote competitiveness, why not do the same for the latter by giving each team at least one possession?  Under the current archaic system, the winner of the overtime coin toss prevails 60% of the time.  In a league of parity, the stakes are too high for the outcome of games to be determined at random; as the PD editor pointed out yesterday, the overtime loss dropped the Patriots from the #3 AFC seed to being out of the playoff picture entirely.

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