I was just thinking that for all the regret recently expressed in the space regarding the Patriots’ playoff chances, they could still end today in control of the AFC East lead with two games left. Upsets by the Bills and 49’ers in the Meadowlands and Miami respectively, combined with a New England victory in Oakland, would place the Patriots’ destiny back in their own hands and leave the Jets and Dolphins with one eye on the scoreboard over the next two weeks.
Thanks to some sound TV programming, those of us in New England will be able to watch that dream slowly die today as the local CBS affiliates offer Bills-Jets at 1:00 while FOX counters with Niners-Dolphins. Better put some fresh AA’s in the remote.
Speaking of three-way ties in the AFCE; the first tiebreaker in that event is the best winning percentage in games played between the clubs (the Jets currently lead that one, 2-1, over the 2-2 Pats and the 1-2 Dolphins). Which brings me to this morning’s strange but true fact – so far, every one of those five wins by the AFCE rivals has come in the other teams’stadium.
The Jets lost to the Patriots at home but vanquished them on the road. The Pats beat the Dolphins in Miami after getting crushed by the Fins in Foxborough. New York began its season with a victory in Dolphin Stadium; it will close it (maybe for good) by hosting Miami at the Meadowlands in Week Seventeen. Will the trend hold, or will the Jets become the only one of the three to win a head-to-head game at home?
Regarding possible trends – the last time the Pats traveled West for a two-game swing, they won a surprisingly close game in the first week before getting absolutely croaked on the back half of the trip. I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little paranoid about that today.
Rich Gannon, once a Patriots draftee (I guess he was right about not playing defensive back), will handle the color on today’s CBS broadcast from Oakland. Did you see the bit he did with Mike Reiss this week? His response to Reiss’s Snow Bowl question (“We had a chance to put that thing away at the end, offensively. If we converted a first down, the game was over.”) is a treat after seven years of Tuck Rule junk. That too-convenient catchphrase never told the whole story of what decided that game.
That must have been one hell of a shot to the jaw of Patriots LB Pierre Woods two weeks ago against Pittsburgh. It ended his season this week when the Pats put him on IR. All due respect to the pain he must still be in, but it would be hard to say that Woods did anything special with the opportunity he got after Adalius Thomas went down. I like Woods; he’s made himself a good special teams player and the experience he got as a defensive starter this year can’t hurt his employment prospects down the line. I don’t think we ought to hold our breath waiting for him to bust loose though. The Patriots are going to need much better players if they’re going to stop their slide on defense.
The patchwork unit that resulted from the cumulative losses of Thomas, Woods, Ty Warren, Tedy Bruschi, James Sanders and Vince Wilfork ended up outperforming its predecessors in last weekend’s win over Seattle, however. They were one freak play (courtesy of Deion Branch) from shutting out the Seahawks in the second half. Hey, don’t laugh – it may have been this season’s defensive high water mark. They even forced a game-deciding turnover, suggesting once again that anything’s possible, even for this Patriots defense.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see if the possible return of Wilfork and Warren today will continue the forward momentum for a defense that most of us wrote off weeks ago.
Last thought – it would be a shame if CBS used the death of a player’s father to pump up some formulaic storyline today. Just let the guy do his job without exploiting what should be private in the first place.
The good news is that Jim Nantz is in Baltimore to call the Steelers-Ravens. Moment averted.
Scott Benson is the Editor and Co-Founder of Patriots Daily. He can be reached at [email protected].