October 23, 2014

Blue Keister Colt

By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff

Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian has had a rough week, enduring a good butt-whipping from the Indy press and fanbase alike for the team’s decision last week to not pursue a perfect season. But in light of his recent interview with NFL Network, we’ve concluded Polian isn’t necessarily wrong, just misunderstood. In fact, I think you’ll agree Bill is our kind of guy.

See, while everybody else in the league was out there trying to reach the Super Bowl, Bill was casting his eye toward history:

“16-0 we did not feel was an historic achievement. What was important to us, and what we tried very hard to do on a short week against Jacksonville after we had wrapped up the home-field advantage was to set two records. One, for the most consecutive regular-season games won. We were tied with New England prior to that, and we now hold that record ourselves. And secondly, for the most games won in this decade. And I don’t believe that anybody can catch us now, no matter what happens this week. We felt those were both extremely historical milestones that were worth going out there and risking everything for. Having achieved those two… we felt prudence should dictate what we did from there on in.”

16-0? 16-0 has already been done you dumb hayseeds, Polian was telling Indy’s fanbase (oddly, 19-0 never came up in the interview). But most wins in a decade and a 23-game regular season win streak (and pay no attention to that mid-streak playoff loss to the 8-8 Chargers behind the curtain)? Now, those are records of distinction.

Not a day goes by in which I don’t think back in awe upon the teams that won the most regular season games in the 70s, 80s and 90s, whoever they were. The ’72 Dolphins, on the other hand? I can’t even remember the year they went undefeated.

“At least the ’07 Patriots had the guts to go for it,” argued Tedy Bruschi. “It is historic to go 16-0, because that means you have a chance to go 19-0. You only can go 19-0 if you go 16-0 first and 19-0 trumps every single team record ever.”

But Bruschi misses the genius of a Bill Polian. This a man with an eye for the esoteric: iron man streaks, number of days without an injury on the assembly line, number of Jets assistants roughed up in stadium tunnels, most days in first place. Somebody has to care about these things, and for that we’ve got Bill.

“Take care of the little things,” Joe Paterno famously preached, “And the big things will take care of themselves.” I think Bill Polian lives by this credo. For all we know, he may still be expecting 19-0 to work itself out now that he’s worked out the finer details.

And oh, those finer details! Like the record number of one-and-done playoff appearances by a team with 12 or more wins (3, and could have been 4 had the ’02 10-6 Colts paid more mind to the little things). Or the fewest Super Bowls won by the team with a decade’s most wins (1, a mark likely never to be broken). Or the most head coach/Jesus comparisons in the media (154 and counting). Unfortunately for Tony Dungy, the record one-and-dones robbed him of the more illustrious Most Pro Bowls Coached mark (5) still held by Tom Landry and John Madden.

I think the Pats should work out a little gentleman’s agreement with Mr. Polian for the coming decade. Sort of a win-win proposition: The Colts can again have the most wins in the decade, and as many regular season winning streaks as they please, accommodating Polian’s taste for the trivial; and the Pats get the Super Bowls.

Just like the deal they had this decade.

Around The League – Week 16

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

The point has been belabored nearly to the point of oversaturation. But the Colts and their decision to bench their starters in a home game they led by five points in the third quarter last week against the Jets was and still is such a head-scratcher that it seemed appropriate to add two more cents.

The bottom line is, the Colts have decided as an organization time and time again that potentially achieving a perfect record is less important than conservatively protecting their starters from getting hurt and thus damaging a run at a championship. This is the third time they’ve been at least 13-0 in a season. The first two times, as well a couple of other times that they had locked up their division and a first round playoff bye early, they treated their last couple of regular season games as glorified exhibitions, chose rest for their starters over not just gunning for perfection but for keeping momentum and subsequently were bounced from the playoffs in their first game both times, both at home. The one time they were forced to keep their starters out there due to not securing one of the two top seeds in the AFC in 2006, they won the Super Bowl. Coincidence? Hardly.

Obviously the headline is the team’s conscious decision to throw their scrubs into the teeth of a tenacious defense as opposed to trying to go to 15-0 and perhaps beyond while playing at home. They have been criticized in all corners for this decision, as well they should have, because their actions didn’t guarantee them anything but a loss and also flew in the face of good manners both because of their obvious quitting in a game and because by ensuring the Jets the win, they damaged the playoff hopes of several other teams that had and will have to continue to play their asses off just to get a chance at the postseason. Furthermore, they outraged their loyal fans by giving up and the team’s public response, led by tone deaf team president Bill Polian, hasn’t measured up, from Polian’s saying that while they didn’t care about a potentially perfect season, they did care about securing the most wins of the decade as well as the most consecutive regular season wins (making them the only ones) to telling the fans that their aspiring for perfection doesn’t measure up to proper “football logic,” which is essentially the same thing as calling them stupid.

The Colts really blew this one. If they go on to win the Super Bowl, then they can look down their noses and laugh at how inferior everyone else is for not seeing their plan the way they do. But if they don’t – if the decision to not let their best players play a full, competitive game for an entire month doesn’t work, as it hasn’t every other time they’ve gone that way – then they will have a hard time living it down. Peyton Manning, who looked like he was ready for blood on the sideline while watching the scrubs lose the game last Sunday, would never do or say anything publicly that wasn’t toeing the party line. But I wonder what he really thinks about all of this.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. San Diego: Impossible not to recognize the Chargers as the current best team in light of their now 10-game winning streak. Their most recent win was only a 42-17 runaway in road game on Christmas against a Titans team desperate for a win to stay in the playoff chase.

2. Indianapolis: Since the Colts didn’t care about potentially finishing with a perfect record, they can’t possibly care about being bumped out of the top spot on our renowned, illustrious Patriots Daily, Around the League list either.

3. Philadelphia: The Eagles seem to have trouble finishing (335 yards in their first seven possessions last week against Denver, 59 in their next seven). But their offense is not only explosive but even sort of balanced, an odd notion for an Andy Reid-coached team, which covers for their somewhat suspect defense.

4. New Orleans: Wow, what happened to the Saints? When they destroyed the Pats a few weeks ago, they looked like the best team I’ve seen in years, probably equal to the Pats of 2007. Since then, they’ve been taken to the wire by the Redskins and Falcons and lost to the Cowboys and (gulp) Bucs in being outscored 100-96 over that stretch. Somebody better figure out how to convince them that the late-November tilt against New England wasn’t the Super Bowl, otherwise they’ll be one-and-done in the playoffs.

5. New England/Green Bay (tie): Two hot teams edge out the ice cold Vikings for the fifth and final spot. The Packers are locked in to a playoff berth thanks to six wins in seven games and both their offense and defense operating at near peak efficiency. The Pats are a more sentimental pick here. Sure, they’ve won three in a row and seem to be over their hideous defensive issues of November and earlier this month. But the competition hasn’t exactly been stellar over the past three weeks. Still, given the acumen, it’d hard to believe they won’t win at least one game come playoff time.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. St. Louis: Keith Null. Chris Ogbonnaya. Kenneth Darby. Brandon Gibson. Danny Amendola. Billy Bajema. Just a few of the guys the poor Rams are trotting out there these days. Not exactly Warner, Faulk, Bruce, Holt and Hakim. Seriously, if any of those dudes walked in here wearing t-shirts with their names written on them I still wouldn’t know who they are.

2. Detroit: Another week, another loss another offensive effort that produces less than 20 points. Even the worst teams have moments in time in which they win at least a little, right? It seems like eons since the Lions had one of those moments.

3. Kansas City: Give the Chiefs credit for making the Bengals sweat out last week’s nail-biter, especially since the game was on the road. As bad as this year has been, you have to believe that with a full year under their belts and given all of the great teams for which coach Todd Haley and GM Scott Pioli have worked over the years, better days aren’t too far off.

4. Washington: Albert Haynesworth and his loser mentality excluded, how about the Redskins just starting to show some life prior to Bruce Allen being named their new GM then giving up almost immediately. Washington’s last two games have produced its most disgraceful efforts of the season and after this year, that’s saying a lot.

5. Seattle: Three straight losses by a combined total of 106-24. Matt Hasselbeck’s corpse at the controls and a trio of loud-mouthed, overpaid, underachieving receivers going on the radio to take on talk show hosts and claim that they are really a good team going through a tough time. I hope Jim Mora’s year as head man was fun because he ain’t getting a second one.

What’s Trendy

- Ray Rice, Ravens: With his 141 yards at Pittsburgh, Rice became the first player to pile up over 100 yards rushing against the Steelers in their past 32 game. Not too shabby, Ray.

- Andre Johnson, Texans: Seemingly the best, most complete receiver in the game, Johnson’s 71 yards against the Dolphins made him the second wideout in league history to post 1,500+ receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. alongside former Colt Marvin Harrison.

- Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: A career high and franchise record 206 yards on the ground was Stewart’s contribution to Carolina’s 41-9 carpet bombing of the Giants in their farewell to Giants Stadium.

What’s Not

- The Giants: Carrying on with that theme, the Giants needed a win to stay in the playoff hunt and had Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson and 70,000 fans by their side to close out their home digs of the past 33 years. So, they played their absolute worst game of the season, a 41-9 blowout loss to the non-playoff Panthers, in which they trailed 24-0 at halftime, averaged just 4.8 yards per play and allowed 247 yards rushing. Ouch.

- Brandon Stokely, Broncos: His team only had four healthy receivers and he was one of them. Knowing that, Stokely slapped the outstretched wrist of an official after a perceived non-call, getting himself ejected from Denver’s eventual loss to the Eagles.

- Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN: Wojo, more of a personal, unpaid PR man for the object of his undying love, Brett Favre, than an actual columnist, wasted about 1,500 words on basically a press release regarding why the Vikings recent issues and coach Brad Childress’s recent tiff with the Holy One is all Childress’s fault; that he should capitulate immediately to every Favre whim with no questions asked and that if he doesn’t, that he is a moron. You know, despite the fact that he’s the coach and Favre is the player. There are many Favre-suckers out there, as has been documented in this space before, and some are worse than others. But Wojciechowski , who by the looks of his work over the past two or three years seems to have made it his life’s goal to be the king of that group, has now achieved it. Congratulations, Gene – you have no credibility, whatsoever.

And finally…

We’re down to the final hours of the decade so I thought I’d regale you with another list, this one my five favorite players of the past 10 years. Happy new year and thanks so much for reading Patriots Daily!

1. Tom Brady, Patriots: Three Super Bowl wins, a fourth appearance and multiple passing records both team and league wide are enough of a reason for him to be No. 1. But the ascension from skinny, unknown, sixth-round nobody to this? Outstanding.

2. Derrick Brooks, Bucs: Like Ray Lewis without one iota of the playing-for-the-cameras bombast, Brooks led the fearsome Tampa Bay defense for years and years, not just routinely putting up stats but making play after play after play with a quiet authority and class that so many Lewis-types could never understand. One Super Bowl title as well.

3. Devin Hester, Bears: Before Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs showed up, Hester spent a couple years holding the mantle of the best return man of a generation. He had five punt or kickoff return scores in his rookie year of 2006 (including an amazing one in the Super Bowl against the Colts) and another six in 2007. Every time he went back to field a kick those first couple years was noteworthy even if he didn’t wind up in the end zone just because of the threat. Then, of course, the Bears erred in their evaluation of him and turned him into a receiver, which he’s never truly grasped, robbing the rest of us of the most electrifying return man of his generation.

4. Ty Law, Patriots: He was already a star before he picked off Kurt Warner and ran it back for a TD in Super Bowl XXXVI. But that play, along with his three INTs of Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game two years later cemented his place as the most clutch, effective Patriots DB of the decade. Forget about his wasted time with the Jets (twice), the Chiefs and now the Broncos. He’s a Patriot, through and through.

5. Torry Holt, Rams: He exploded onto the scene as a second-year man for St. Louis’s 1999 champs with 82 catches for 1,635 yards (19.9YPA ) and a key role in the Rams Super Bowl win over Tennessee. There were many more amazing moments, including his amazing 2003 numbers (117-1,69612TDs-106 YPG ) in a career that is still chugging along for the Jaguars. I think I had Holt on at least one fantasy team for something like six straight years.

Trading Places – Chatting With a Texans Blogger

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

We’ve reached the regular season finale. Unbelievable.  This week we had a great chat with Mike Kerns of the Don’t Mess With Texans blog. It’s a longshot, but it’s possible we might get to do this all over again next week, if things fall right.

How angry were you and fellow Texans fans at the Colts on Sunday for laying down and letting a team in direct competition with you (Jets) for the final playoff spot gain the upper hand in the race for that spot?

Personally, I was more pissed at The Colts for not going for a perfect season. Lots of fans out here are pissed about it, but I’m not. Houston should have taken care of their own business and did better than 1-5 within the division. They have no one to be pissed at but themselves. I am a bit pissed off that The Jets look like they may get to cakewalk into the playoffs by playing two teams that seem to be laying down to end the season. I hate the way that’s playing out and I think it is a black eye for the NFL.

As a Texans fan, what is your opinion of Gary Kubiak as a head coach? What are his strengths and weaknesses? Does he return next season?

Again, personally, I am ready for Gary Kubiak to go. His strengths are that he has taken a team that was in shambles and turned them into a team that can compete with anybody and possibly win. His biggest weakness is that he plays not to lose instead of playing to win. How many times this year has Houston had a significant lead on someone only to take their foot off the gas and let them back in the game? It is quite frustrating as a fan. Going .500 for (possibly) three consecutive seasons to me is unacceptable. I would like a change at Head Coach. But, only for someone that is established (I’d personally like Cowher, but that is highly unlikely). I do not want to start over with another rookie coach.

When I look up and down the Texans roster, I see talent on both sides of the ball. What has kept the team from reaching the next level?

Killer Instinct. They have lost five games this year by seven points or less. They have an inability to finish. In my opinion, this falls on the Coach. Gary Kubiak is highly guilty of going conservative and not insulting anyone by running up the score. It has cost him dearly in contests against The Colts and Jaguars this year. All 4 of those games were winnable.

I’m not sure how old you were…did you ever root for the Oilers? What is it like when the Titans come to town? Is there any crossover there in Houston?

I’m 31 and didn’t move to Houston until 1994. The Oilers were well on their way out when i arrived, so I missed the whole “Luv ya Blue” era. Personally, I don’t like anyone in my division. But there is a special personal hate for The Titans for me due to the annoying Vince young fans in Houston. Many of them just can’t let go that Houston didn’t draft him (Thank god!) in 2006 and cheer for him over the Texans. Then there are the other ones, who were here for The Oilers, who hate anything that (Titans owner) Bud Adams touches. There are plenty of Titans followers in Houston that just followed the Oilers as they transformed into The Titans. It is quite the hostile environment in Reliant Stadium when Tennessee comes to town. But mostly between the two fan bases.

Has any defense been effective against Andre Johnson? If you were trying to slow him down, how would you defend him?

The phrase “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him” is well overused in sports. But for certain players, this still rigs true. Andre Johnson is one of these guys. The only guy this year that has had any luck against him is Darrelle Revis. But there were lots of issues in that game. Honestly, he would probably have 2,000 yards receiving right now if Owen Daniels hadn’t gotten hurt. Johnson is double and triple teamed on every play since OD is no longer there to keep the safeties honest. The best way to stop Andre Johnson is to get consistent pressure on Matt Schaub. When Schaub is protected, he is as good as any QB in the league and can slice a defense apart and make it look easy. But under consistent pressure, he is as average as average gets. See the aforementioned Jets game.

P.S. – Can you do us a favor and keep Bernard Pollard away from Brady?

Ha Ha, someone mentioned the Pollard/Brady thing. I had forgotten all about it, truthfully. A funny thing one of my readers posted on Battle Red Blog was that if Belichick decides to play Brady the whole game this Sunday that we should blitz Bernard Pollard every play having him scream “I’m gonna knee cap ya, bitch!” at Tom. Thus, making Brady gun shy. It was funny. But honestly, who wants any of these guys to get hurt?

Just wanted to add that you guys were my Super Bowl pick over Minnesota to start the season. I got a 50 spot riding on this at the office. So help a brother out, huh?

Thanks, Mike!

Here are the links to our chat with Mike on his site. He broke it up into part one and part two.

50th Anniversary Minute – the 2007 Patriots

By Brendon Rosenau, Patriots Daily Staff

It’s a year that in all honesty will never get the recognition it truly deserves. Since the NFL expanded to a 16 game schedule, only one team has managed to run the table in the regular season. Only one team in the NFL has won 18 straight games in one season. Yet, the 2007 New England Patriots will forever be remembered for the one game they did not win, the final, and most important game of the year, the Super Bowl. Frequently lost in the catastrophic loss were all the other notable events of the year. We all remember the records set by Tom Brady and Randy Moss, but let’s revisit some of the other happenings of the year.

The year started off on a tragic note when defensive end Marquise Hill drowned in his home state of Louisiana. Throughout the year the Patriots honored Hill with a 91 decal on their helmets.

Feeling that Brady needed better targets to throw to, the Patriots completed an offseason for the ages when the acquired three top flight receivers for minimal price. Moss was netted for a fourth round pick, Wes Welker was had for a second and seventh round pick, and Donte Stallworth was signed as a free agent. Kelly Washington was also added through free agency and would be a dynamite special teams player for the Pats. On defense they signed former Ravens standout Adalius Thomas to form a veteran line backing crew that became known as the brotherhood. The team also had a long contract battle with Asante Samuel, whom they eventually where able to franchise.

The season opened with a resounding 38-14 win over the Jets. Ellis Hobbs returned the second half kick an NFL record 108 yards and we got a glimpse of how good Moss would be when he caught 9 passes for 183 yards and a TD. All good feelings where lost when the Spygate incident came to the front page of the papers. That is all I am saying about that subject.

The Pats then smoked a vengeful San Diego team by the same score serving notice that New England was the team to beat. Thomas earned his Pat Patriot logo when he scored on a 65-yard pick six. The Patriots then rolled. In Week Six they hung 48 on the road in Dallas and followed that with a 49 point outing against the Dolphins and a 52-7 win over the Redskins.

The teams first test came in Indy. The Pats trailed 13-7 at the half and 20-10 with under 10 minutes to play in the fourth. However, a Moss 55-yar grab set up a Welker TD. After the defense nearly forced a turnover, Brady led a game winning drive with Kevin Faulk catching the winner. Jarvis Green stripped Peyton Manning on the Colts last drive and Rosevelt Colvin recovered the clinch the win.

The Pats had two other big time scores, as they allowed A.J. Feeley to throw for 345 yards in a Sunday night win. Feeley made two critical mistakes, both to Samuel, that allowed the Pats to move to 11-0. The next week on Monday night the Patriots snuck by the Ravens 27-24 when the Pats took advantage of several Ravens miscues late in the game. Frequently forgotten was Mark Clayton’s Hail Mary reception on the game’s final play that feel inches shy of the goaline.

The Pats concluded the regular season with a 38-35 win over the Giants.

What do you remember about that year? Set the disappointment aside and relive one of the most enjoyable NFL seasons in years.

Leaders

  • Tom Brady – 440-652 (1st NFL), 4,806 yards (1st), 50 TD (NFL Record), 8 INT, 300.4 yards per game (1st), 8.3 yards per attempt (1st), 117.2 rating (1st), NFL MVP
  • Laurence Maroney – 835 yards, 6 TD
  • Wes Welker 112 receptions (T-1st), 1,175 yards, 8TD
  • Randy Moss 98 receptions (T-8th), 1,493 yards (2nd), 23 TD (NFL Record), 138 points scored (2nd)
  • Ellis Hobbs 26.0 kick return average, 1 KR TD
  • Stephen Gostkowski 74-74 PAT (1st), 21-24 FG, 137 points (3rd)
  • Tedy Bruschi 93 tackles
  • Mike Vrabel 12.5 sacks (T-6th)
  • Asante Samuel 6 INT (T-5th)

ALL PRO (1st Team)
Tom Brady (QB), Randy Moss (WR), Matt Light (LT), Mike Vrabel (LOLB), Asante Samuel (LCB)

Pro Bowl
Brady, Moss, Light, Logan Mankins (LG), Dan Koppen (C), Vince Wilfork (NT), Vrabel, Samuel

Why Did The Colts Do It?

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

There’s so much being written and talked about regarding the Colts decision to basically lay down in the second half against the New York Jets on Sunday and forfeit their chances for a perfect season. But I think some of the real questions here aren’t being asked.

1) If the Colts plan all along was to pull the starters in the third quarter, why were the backups so ill-prepared? Curtis Painter looked like he was pulled out of the stands and sent out onto the field.

2) If they were prepared, is it just that the Colts are just really top-heavy in talent? Bill Polian gets universal praise for his drafting and team building, but those guys on the field didn’t have a chance. There were a lot of drafted players on the field for the Colts, and they weren’t remotely competitive. Painter was a drafted NFL QB. Would Brian Hoyer have looked that bad?

3) Did they bench the stars because they wanted to get them rest, or to avoid injury? Neither makes sense. They probably won’t play much this week, then they have a bye week, and by the time the divisional round of the playoffs arrives, they’ll have gone almost a full month without playing an entire game. The first guy they pulled, Manning, has never missed an NFL game due to injury. Was he going to start now?

4) Peter King has said he disagrees with the decision, but has been curiously quiet overall about it. Since when does Peter King say less about the NFL’s biggest topic than anyone else? Could it be because he’s close with Polian? Nah.

5) The media is very focused on the Colts giving up their chance at the perfect season. You can’t get away from hearing about it, but no one is addressing points 1-3 above. Why?

Making The Grades – Week 16 vs. Jaguars

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

It took them almost two full months, but on Sunday in their regular season home finale, the Patriots finally submitted an effort worthy of a playoff team for 60 full minutes. In thrashing the Jaguars 35-7, the Pats got plus performances from almost everyone on the game day roster, locking up the AFC East and severely damaging Jacksonville’s postseason prospects in the process. The offense gained 464 yards, showing perfect balance with 197 of those yards via the run, and averaged 8.6 yards per play. The defense didn’t let up a single point until the fourth quarter with a 35-point lead and held the Jaguars vaunted running game to under 100 yards and four yards per attempt on the day, while getting more key plays out of the revamped secondary. It was a near perfect game, the Pats best since the back-to-back destructions of Tennessee and Tampa Bay in October, and although the overall effort (and the quality of the competition) doesn’t change the fact that this team still has enough flaws to make even the most die hard fans a bit worried about their playoff prospects, it still provides a comforting sigh of relief with one game left before the real meaningful stuff begins. So with that, let’s get to this week’s report card, the last of the decade.

OFFENSE: Overall Grade: A

It would be hard to imagine a better effort in every aspect than the one the Pats offense submitted on Sunday. Everyone who played on this side of the ball (with one notable exception) was at least good; several were outstanding. The play-calling was consistently excellent, keeping the terrible Jags defense on its collective heels all day thanks to a perfect mix of passes and runs. The production came from almost everywhere with four backs combining for those 197 yards and 5.5 YPA and Tom Brady completing passes to seven different receivers. And the offensive line, which has been very good ever since the debacle in New Orleans four weeks ago, played perhaps its best game of the season, not only opening up the room for all of those rushing yards but keeping Brady literally untouched all day. There were two 10-play drives, a six and a seven-play drive each of which resulted in a TD and a 20-play march that salted away the game, all even more evidence of a completely dominant performance. For an offense that has been drifting (to be kind) the past few weeks, Sunday provided a very bright, confidence-inspiring turn of events.

Quarterbacks: A

I guess Brady is feeling better, eh? He played a virtually flawless game, completing 23-of-26 passes for 267 yards and four TDs (the only incompletions being an overthrow to Randy Moss, a drop by Fred Taylor and an out-of-bounds throwaway) to go over 4,000 yards for the third time in his career. He must like playing the Jags, against whom he was 26-of-28 for 262 yards and three TDs the last time he saw them in a 2008 divisional playoff game. He was a sharp as he’s been since the Indianapolis game, making every throw, feeling what little pressure there was and sliding or stepping up to the right spot and spreading the wealth, not just to Moss and the tremendous Wes Welker, but to his other receivers, both tight ends and a couple of backs as well. Through all of this, he didn’t hit the deck a single time and while a lot of the credit for that must be levied to the offensive line, it is worth noting that for a guy playing with a variety of injuries that have clearly affected his play over the past couple of games, the fact that he stayed upright all day was a major plus going forward. Brady will not see the kind of ineptitude out of too many playoff defenses that the Jags, who have even less of a pass rush than the Pats as well as very suspect secondary play, displayed. But if he has time and plays as sharply as he did on Sunday, it may not matter come postseason time.

Running Backs: A-

Poor Laurence Maroney. Just when it seemed he finally had conquered his dancing demons and gotten the gist of what it takes to be a productive running back in the NFL, he loses his third goal line fumble of the season at the end of a fantastic, game-opening march and gets benched for the remainder of the day. That’s not an exaggeration, folks. Maroney started, carried the ball five times for 22 yards with a long of nine, then took a handoff from Brady on first and goal from the 1 and put it on the ground. The replay showed the ball may have crossed the plane of the goal line before it came loose but really, who cares? Maroney did it again, a familiar refrain throughout his tenure here, and even though it didn’t wind up costing the team, it was a major, major boo-boo and it may have cost him his job thanks to the return to full health of Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris. Tough stuff for Maroney, who has been very, very good the past two months. Morris, for his part, took the bull by the horns after Maroney’s benching and exploded for 95 yards and a TD on just 12 carries, including a career-high, 55-yard scamper on third-and-one from a power set with guard Dan Connolly as his fullback and lead blocker, setting up a one-yard scoring blast two plays later. It was a huge game for Morris and a relief as well given the circumstances surrounding Maroney. Fred Taylor returned, entering the game in the fourth quarter against his ex-team and contributing 35 tough yards, many of which came on the Pats 20-play drive that ran out the clock in the final frame. And Kevin Faulk did his thing too, with 41 yards on just six carries, most of which came came in the first half when the Pats were hammering the helpless Jags D. The running game has been excellent the past three weeks and Sunday was the cherry on top.

Wide Receivers: A

So what will the Randy Moss haters say this week? Will they point out that he had just four catches for 45 yards? They could, but they’d have to add that three of those catches were for scores. What about failing to block on running plays or quick throws? Can’t go there either; he was blocking out wide all day including a crusher on a hitch to Wes Welker in the third quarter in which he was sprung for 11 yards en route to an eventual score. The crowd appropriately saluted Moss with a standing ovation. Will his critics? After another outstanding game by Moss, they should. As for Welker, ho-hum. 13 more catches, 138 more yards, another franchise record for receptions in a season (122), and his seventh game this year with at least 10 grabs, tying a league mark. Again, ho-hum. There are hardly any words left to describe Welker’s greatness. It’s already been pointed out that he is this offense’s most valuable player this season a million times. Let’s make it a million and one then. The only disappointing aspect to Welker’s year is the fact that he’s now gone 83 catches without a TD, which is one of the top five longest such stretches in league history. It’s hardly his fault; it’s not really anyone’s. But wouldn’t it be great to see him score? Julian Edelman was Sunday’s third receiver and made a 28-yard catch on a crossing route that looked Welker-esque. And Sam Aiken softened up his hands enough to make a catch of his own. It was a great day for the entire receiving corps with Welker and Moss, as usual, leading the way.

Tight Ends: A

They were used! Again!! That’s right, the Pats utilized both Ben Watson and Chris Baker in the passing game and boy did it pay off. Baker had two catches for 32 yards including a reaching, twisting TD reception in the second quarter on which he fought off a couple of defenders. It was a great throw by Brady but the way Baker contorted his body to come up with the ball in traffic was equally impressive. Why can’t he be a primary target more often? Obviously, he’s no Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez, but he has shown on a few occasions this year that he can be a very effective receiver. Watson made one catch, a nice grab on a roll out on the first drive of the game that took the ball to the one right before Maroney’s fumble, but he also spent a lot of time split out in spread sets and contributed his usual solid performance blocking. Again, it’s hard to grade these guys since it’s not always clear what kind of impact they have when they don’t wind up on the stat sheet. But when either of them scores or sets up a chance to score, as they both did on Sunday, in our weighted grading system here at PDU, that’s reason enough for the big A.

Offensive Line: A+

Stephen Neal returned and set up the perfect alignment for this group. Why? Because with Neal back at right guard and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle, with Matt Light, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen at their usual spots, the O-line submitted its best performance in weeks, if not of the entire season. Again, Brady wasn’t even hit. That’s zero hits to go along with zero sacks, a phenomenal stat. Sure, the Jaguars pass rush is non-existent. But that makes four straight games now that Brady hasn’t been sacked which tells me that this unit is peaking at precisely the right time and now with Neal back (though with his injury history, it’s always touch-and-go) they keep Brady completely clean. There was one play in the third quarter on which Light was beaten by former first-rounder Derrick Harvey, but Brady felt the heat and ducked under the sack, keeping the line’s perfect showing intact. Vollmer was whistled for a couple of false starts but neither mattered. And again – 197 yards rushing, 5.5 YPA. As much credit as the backs should get for those numbers, so too should the line. It’s hard to imagine them playing better as a group than they did on Sunday. Great, great stuff.

DEFENSE: Overall Grade: A

Another big game for this group, which continued to put its problems from the middle of the season further into the rearview mirror. Vince Wilfork sat out again while Ty Warren suited up but only played a handful of snaps and was more of an insurance policy than anything else, but it didn’t really matter. The Pats held the Jags to just one score on nine possessions and after their first drive, on which Maurice Jones-Drew looked like a bowling ball knocking over pins disguised as defenders for a few plays, they tightened up, held on both third and 1 and fourth and 1 (the latter play a gem on the part of both Warren and James Sanders) and were barely bothered by the Jacksonville rushing attack again. The “cocktail party formation” made another appearance and again paid dividends both defending the run and pass and the secondary produced another solid effort now three weeks after putting youngsters Jonathan Wilhite and Darius Butler (who was inactive) into sub roles in favor of vets Sanders and Shawn Springs, with Brandon Meriweather finally getting his head out of his you-know-what and making an impact multiple times. The Jags two top receiving targets, Mike Sims-Walker and Marcedes Lewis, were bottled up and injured respectively. Other than a 16-play drive to open the second half that ended in a Springs interception at the 2, the Jags were not able to sustain a drive more than six plays all day. With a 35-0 lead in the fourth quarter, the Pats let up a bit, allowing the Jags to fly down the field and score in just five plays, but it was far too little, far too late. With the kind of success this defense has had the past two weeks, with its best player sidelined and another crucial one at far less than full strength, there is reason for a lot of optimism headed into the playoffs.

Defensive Line: B+

Other than rookie Ron Brace, who showed why he’s not been allowed anywhere near the stadium on game days after getting swallowed up by center Brad Meester on the Jags opening drive and was subsequently banished to the bench, it was a solid day for the line, even without Vince Wilfork. Jones-Drew was never able to get going after that opening series, managed just 41 yards on 13 carries for the remainder of the game. Ty Warren made a huge impact despite his limited reps, breaking through to slow Jones-Drew enough for James Sanders to finish him off on the fourth and 1 in the early going. Mike Wright wasn’t nearly as active as last week in Buffalo and he missed a couple of tackles in the process but was still serviceable, as was Jarvis Green, who according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss’s handy snap count chart, played more downs than any other lineman. Rookie Myron Pryor also returned from injury and saw some time on the nose and shined with five tackles. It will be interesting to see how much regular time these guys will get when Wilfork returns vs. how much “cocktail party formation” is employed. For the past two weeks, the mix has been just right.

Linebackers: A-

The year of Tully Banta-Cain‘s life continues. Tully stepped up big again, notching his ninth sack (which forced a fumble) to go with a couple of more hits on Jags quarterback David Garrard as well as five tackles, one of which came out of the “cocktail party formation” and dropped Jones-Drew for a loss. He played the whole game again and has clearly emerged as one one of the most important weapons on the entire defense, coming out of nowhere to do so. What a find for the Pats – it’s too bad he had to be allowed to leave, fizzle out somewhere else and come back before it happened but the Pats will surely take it. Jerod Mayo had his best game in weeks, submitting 15 tackles and getting some pressure on Garrard while looking fast and active all over the field. Gary Guyton made a few nice stops and sacked Garrard while Rob Ninkovich saw some extensive action thanks to the number of “cocktail party” plays and responded with three tackles. Derrick Burgess wasn’t the bear he’s been the past couple of weeks but he was quick and active, getting pressure on Garrard multiple times without actually coming up with a sack. And Adalius Thomas, who was run over by Jones-Drew early on bounced back to make a couple of key plays including one on which he ran down Jones-Drew on an outside run from a ways away and held him to a short gain. In fact, Thomas and Banta-Cain were huge in run containment all day, staying home when the Jags went away from running the ball between the tackles and forcing the play back into the middle of the defense on several occasions. It was a very good day for this once beleaguered bunch, which has seemed to improve as a unit every week since Miami.

Secondary: A

Who knew that bouncing Jonathan Wilhite out of the starting lineup and Darius Butler altogether would give this group so much life? Wilhite, for his part, continues to thrive as a part-timer, posting six tackles and looking solid against the run while again not having to bear the burden of being responsible for too much. Leigh Bodden played the whole game and Shawn Springs was in for just about the entire run and both came up big, especially Springs, who beautifully jumped the route on a quick in pass to Sims-Walker near the Pats goal line at the end of that one sustained Jacksonville drive to come up with the pick and preserve the shutout. It was a perfect, veteran read and one I’m not too sure Wilhite or Butler would have been able to make. Maybe Springs lack of playing time earlier in the year had less to do with ineffectiveness or injury and more to do with keeping him fresh for this portion of the season. Whatever the reason, his presence has clearly paid off. Brandon McGowan and Pat Chung saw time in nickel packages but did most of their work on special teams. Which brings us to the other safeties, James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather, both of whom were among the biggest stars of the game. It started when Meriweather smelled a reverse on third and 1 on the Jags first drive and stuffed receiver Mike Thomas for no gain. Sanders made the stop on Jones-Drew on the next play and off they went. In the second quarter, Garrard went deep to Lewis but severely overthrew him, and Meriweather, playing center field, snagged the ball and ran it back 55 yards to the Jags 27, setting up the TD pass to Baker two plays later. Sanders, who laid out Lewis on the play, knocking the Jags tight end out for the rest of the game, was in perfect position to make the pick had the throw been lower and added a couple more big hits as well as a couple of passes defensed later on. The big test for these guys comes this week when they face the first high-powered passing game they’ve seen since New Orleans when they travel to Houston. But if they play like they did on Sunday against an admittedly far inferior offense in the Jags, they’ll be just fine.

Special Teams: B

How about Kyle Arrington? The rookie out of Hofstra, who was acquired from Tampa bay after Week 1 and has played in just seven games, has become the ace of the Pats special teams. He had three tackles and was on two others, giving him 15 on the year. Oh yeah and he also missed a punt block by about four inches. What a find he’s been. Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on his five point after tries and also hit a couple of kickoffs into the end zone, something he hasn’t been doing much of lately. Chris Hanson only had to punt once and it was a solid 42-yarder. If there was a problem, it was the non-existent kick return game, which went one for 16 yards (by Edelman). The Pats came into the game ranked 31st in the league in this category and have been unable to find the right answer there all year (hint – it’s not Edelman or Matthew Slater). It’s a minor problem but on which needs fixing nonetheless.

Coaching: A

The Jaguars are a fairly easy looking team to figure out; they want to run, are conservative when they need to pass and are young, undermanned and not too talented on defense. It’s a combination over which a guy like Bill Belichick probably licks his chops. The game plan on both sides of the ball was sparkling. The only real impact guy on the Jags defense is nose tackle John Henderson so the Pats doubled him up, neutralized him and forced other linemen and linebackers to stop the run, which did not happen. Brady’s numbers attest to how easy it was to pass on the Jags and while it certainly helped that they hadn’t the first clue how to cover either Welker or Moss, the ease with which the Pats threw had to have been something for which they were prepared. The balance of run and pass in the play calling was perfect; it was Bill O’Brien’s best day as de facto offensive coordinator in a long time. And on defense, after making the adjustment with Brace after that first Jags possession, everything they did worked with guys in position to make plays at every level all day. It’s said here for a couple of weeks now that Belichick and his staff seem to be rounding into form after a tough season. Sunday against the Jags was the most convincing, resounding proof of that yet.

Take A Lap – Coach Jack Del Rio

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

After a game where the Patriots did just about everything well, time to look across the field to hand out the infamous PD Lap (it is still the season of giving, after all). In light of New England’s 35-7 pasting of Jacksonville, we point our finger at Coach Jack Del Rio.
Aaaayyyy! Sit on it Potsie.

You ask for reasons, we offer the following:

A lame press conference: Reading Del Rio’s words after the loss, we see a coach using the deflection-by-attention approach. Basically, he said that quarterback David Garrard had a rough game, but he shouldn’t take the blame. Plenty of blame to go around – the coaches included – even though, “That’s an easy target for people, to want to throw David under the bus.”

We get it, Coach Jack. You’ll take the blame, even though your QB pretty much stunk.

The fourth down call: Hey, we love going for it on fourth down here in New England (especially the incessant discussion afterward). Still, to try a fourth down conversion from your own 35 on your first possession of the game didn’t make a lot of sense. Your defense had just stopped the home team on the goal line (thanks, Laurence Maroney). Punt the ball away and try to keep the scoreless tie.

The play itself had about as much chance as a house of cards in an avalanche (see the video here), as Maurice Jones-Drew got hit three yards behind the line of scrimmage before getting hogtied by James Sanders. Why no QB sneak? Garrard said that the defense would have been expecting that, so the coaches made a different call.

Sure. A different call up the middle, just slower to develop. Great.

The lack of preparation: After the Patriots’ success with the cocktail party formation in Buffalo (several linebackers milling around the line of scrimmage), you’d think Jacksonville would have had some basic pass-blocking schemes prepped for it. Instead, Garrard found himself under more pressure than a shaken can of soda, as evidenced by this sack by a stand-up D.

Also under-prepared? The Jaguars defense. If you’re going to employ behemoths on your defensive line who provide the lamest pass-rushing in the league (14 sacks and, uh, counting), you’ve got to stop the run. Instead, New England racked up a season-best 197 yards via terra. Hey Coach? When guard Dan Connolly lines up at fullback, it’s probably going up the middle.

The Jaguars look like they have the promise of a better-than-average team. On Sunday their coach couldn’t deliver on that promise. For Jacksonville’s poor performance, Coach Del Rio, PD asks you to take a lap.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Game Ball – WR Wes Welker

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

You know it’s been a solid game for the home team when several different players vie for the coveted PD Game Ball.

After Sunday’s 35-7 de-clawing of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the prize could have gone to quarterback Tom Brady, who hit Randy Moss three times and Chris Baker once for touchdowns, missed only three passes all day (one of which hit Fred Taylor in the chest), and eluded an onrushing defender’s arm so well it looked choreographed.

We also considered running back Sammy Morris, who averaged almost eight yards a carry; safety Brandon Meriweather, with six tackles and one interception; and Kyle Arrington, who racked up five special teams tackles.

In the end, though, we had to consider these facts: this season, Wes Welker has 122 receptions. That’s more than the Cleveland Browns’ top four receivers combined. (It’s true – take a look).

By catching 13 passes for 138 yards, Welker gave Brady the same reliable target he always does; he also seemed to open up the field for others. Moss’ three TDs Sunday matched his best output of the year (with the Tennessee trouncing of Week Six). Brady found a larger-than-usual variety of receivers vs. Jacksonville, connecting with seven different players. These included tight ends Benjamin Watson and Baker, as well as Welker-in-training Julian Edelman (one for 28 yards).

Mr. Welker, you offer a steady influence on the offense and a rate of production that would make a Bollywood studio swoon (which might look something like this). For all your efforts, please accept yet another PD Game Ball.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Gut Check – Game 15 vs. Jaguars

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

As my father used to say (usually after his first sip of cold beer on a summer day), “Not too shabby.”

The Patriots needed a win to seal the AFC East title and did so in convincing fashion, taking a five-touchdown lead before settling for a 35-7 win over the Jaguars.

The win puts New England’s team in good position and their fans in a good mood, as the squad displayed some of their best overall football this season.

Some plays and players worth noting…

Safeties On: Strong games by Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, epitomized by an early Jacksonville drive. On third and short, Meriweather (six tackles, one interception) stopped an end-around run for no gain; when the Jags went for it on fourth down, Sanders (five tackles) bolted in to bottle up dynamo running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

Feeling Welker: Quarterback Tom Brady looked like his old self, and receiver Wes Welker had a lot to do with that. The fleet flea had 13 catches for 138 yards, accounting for most of Brady’s 23 completions (of 26 attempts) and 267 passing yards. Welker now has 122 grabs for the year after missing two games. His underneath routes helped open up Randy Moss for three touchdowns.

Making Ends Meet: Nice to see the tight ends get more involved in the offense, as Chris Baker (two catches, 32 yards, one TD) and Benjamin Watson (one for 14) helped the Patriots offense keep the heat on in the first half.

One Guy Named Mo: After an unfortunate fumble by Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris took over rushing duties and showed his pre-injury form, gaining 95 yards on 12 carries, including a 55-yard hammer-and-sickle run (an apt description of him pounding and slicing the defense; just watch it here) The jaunt set up Morris’ own one-yard touchdown that gave the home team a 21-0 lead.

Rarefied Arrington: For a player who started the season on New England’s practice squad, Kyle Arrington has more than earned his spot on the active roster. The special teams Tasmanian devil always gets to the ball. Arrington got credit for five tackles against Jacksonville and now has 17 in seven games. The guy makes more stops than a school bus.

Springs Into Action: Just in the nick of time, cornerback Shawn Springs has gotten back on the field. His interception at the two-yard-line put an end to Jacksonville’s nine-minute, 16-play drive at the start of the second half that had Pats fans a tad antsy despite the home team’s 28-0 lead.

Banta-Cain Is Comin’ To Town: Better watch out; I’m telling you why. Tully Banta-Cain proved a menace to the opposition once again, tallying five tackles and one sack with a forced fumble on QB David Garrard (19 for 25, 185 yards, two INTs). The team’s most consistent pass rusher has been solid all over the field, something that bodes well for upcoming games.

Oh, There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays: Ah, Perry Como. The Pats should be singing this tune all week after having gone 8-0 at home for the regular season and continuing Brady’s streak of 23-0 in Gillette. As they have nailed down either a third or fourth seed, they have also guaranteed themselves a home playoff game.

Not too shabby.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

First Impressions – Patriots vs. Jaguars

The Patriots come into Sunday’s final regular season home game with a chance to reach their first goal, wining the AFC East. A victory assures that goal will be accomplished for the Patriots. Their chances look good, as they’ve yet to lose at home. Standing in the way are the Jacksonville Jaguars whose own playoff chances are remote. What chances they did have were probably blown last week with a late David Garrard interception against their division rivals, the Colts, at home in a 35-31 loss.

Look for the Patriots to throw the ball here some as Jacksonville is the worst team in the league rushing the passer and do not cover that well either. The Patriots will mix in some runs against a good Jaguar run defense, but this could be a game that gets Tom Brady going again and his first big game in some time.

And in the end the Patriots, with a flawed, younger team, may just walk out of yet another “hat and t-shirt game” victorious and wearing same proclaiming “2009 AFC East Champions.” And that will be one high point in what has otherwise been somewhat of a disappointing year. It also should serve as a reminder the year is not over and nothing has been decided as of yet.

Perhaps more hats and t-shirts are to come?

QB David Garrard (#9):

Garrard is a decent QB who may have had one of his better years throwing the ball. He’s gotten more accurate as his career has gone along and is completing 60% of his passes this year. He generally avoids big interceptions and has never really turned it over a lot throwing. He does have a tendancy to fumble, however, and has fumbled an incredibly high 13 times this year, losing it to the opponent 8 times. He throws well on the move and is strong at 245 lbs., but he’s been sacked 37 times so far this season. Occasionally, Garrard will take off and run and is dangerous in that aspect. It seems one thing Garrard has never done well is play effectively down the stretch against good teams. He has had a tendancy to play smart, keep a game close and then make a killer mistake against a good team late to kill the Jags chances. It happened just last week versus the Colts. Garrard has never beaten the Patriots as Jacksonville has lost all three games he’s appeared in against them.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew (#32):

Jones is a fun player to watch. A mere 5’7″ he is strong as an ox and bounces off and runs through defenders regularly. The rest of the time he is elusive and fast and easy to lose track of on defense. This season Jones-Drew has taken his game to the next level, surpassing 1,000 yards rushing for the first time while maintaining effectiveness in the passing game. Despite his stature, he is good around the goal line and has pounded in 15 touchdowns this year. Jones-Drew has hit the 100 yard rushing mark in a game 5 times this year with 97 in another game. The Patriots did a good job against him in the running game in the 2007 playoff game against the Jaguars, holding him to 19 yards rushing. But in 2006, his rookie year, Jones-Drew ripped them up for 131 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on the ground. Jones-Drew was born Maurice Drew but was raised by his grandparents. When his grandfather, Maurice Jones, passed away from a heart attack while the younger Maurice was at UCLA, the name was changed to Jones-Drew to honor the grandfather.

OT Eugene Monroe (#75) and Eben Britton (#73):

One of the stories of this game will be how well the Patriots can take advantage of Jacksonville’s two bookend rookie tackles. Monroe was the Jags first round choice in this past draft while Britton was the team’s second round choice. Reportedly the Patriots had a lot of interest in Britton prior to the draft. Monroe attended Virginia and was taken with the 8th pick in the draft. He’s started 11 of 13 games and played pretty well. He has an excellent future in the NFL, but still occasionally is prone to get overwhelmed by experienced defensive linemen or complicated defensive schemes. He was benched at one point due to a drop in play, but since is starting again and playing better. Britton has started all 12 games he’s played in. He’s pretty athletic but could use getting a bit stronger. He has held up okay this season and played decently, the upside is there, but look for the Patriots to dominate him if all their defensive linemen are healthy.

DT John Henderson (#98):

Henderson is a massive 6’7″ 335 lb. inside presence who helps the Jaguars stop the run. And they have done so pretty effectively this year, limiting opponents to 103 yards per game and a mere 3.9 per carry. A 2-time Pro Bowler, Henderson is actually one of the Jaguars more effective pass rushers too. He’s gotten to the QB 3 times from the inside on a team that ranks last in the NFL in sacks with a mere 14 for the year. Henderson has been extremely durable for the Jaguars, missing only 3 games in his 8 year career.

S Reggie Nelson (#25):

One of the reasons the Jaguars have been very inconsistent in pass coverage is the play of Nelson, which has to be considered disappointing. Nelson, their former first round choice, has all the tools and is supremely talented. But his reactions at times are slow and he misses tackles trying for the big “Sportscenter” hit sometimes. He has flashes, but like the rest of the Jags secondary, to many lapses. Look for the Patriots to throw on Sunday and take advantage of a secondary that at times seems out of sync.

Jaguars official site

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Patriots Buffet Table – Game 15 vs. Jacksonville

by Patriots Daily Kitchen Staff

A cold weather game against the Jaguars means one thing. A built in advantage for the Pats – maybe?

Snow on the field – possible. Goodell launches an investigation into snowballs being thrown at Phil Simms- hopefully.

Aaaayyyy! Sit on it Potsie.

Aaaayyyy! Sit on it Potsie.

But those pale in comparison to Jack Del Rio wearing his Fonzie jacket on the sidelines.

The Pats have a chance to not only clinch the AFC East this weekend, but they can also help the Jags jump the shark right out of playoff contention. A two headed attack not seen since the Malachi Crunch.

What to eat?

Christmas was just 2 days ago, so lets use up some of those leftovers and grill up some ham steaks.

If you don’t have any leftovers, or if you didn’t have ham go buy one. They’re really cheap now.

All Jacked Up Christmas Ham (serves 4)
Ham – precooked, 2 pounds
Apricot jelly – 1 jar
Brown sugar – 1/4 cup

Mix the apricot jelly and the brown sugar. Heating for a short time in a microwave may help it come together. This can be done the day before cooking.

Slice ham into 1″ slices. Go around the outside of the steak and score the fat about every 1.5 inches. This will prevent the ham from curling up as it grills

Heat your grill to a medium to medium high level 350 to 400 degrees. We will cook the ham over direct heat, so turn all burners on.

Grill the ham for 10 minutes on one side. Flip, glaze with the apricot jelly, grill for 5 minutes on the opposite side.

Thats it, a simple recipe after the months long runup to overly complicated Holiday dinners.

What to drink?

This week we’re running down some of the winter seasonals that invade liquor stores earlier every year. As a seasonal and not a beer style, the individual beers are varied and can differ greatly from brewery to brewery.

One of the traditional types is the Winter Warmer. A version of the English Old Ale, Winter Warmers tend to be brewed with some darker malts – with the resulting caramel, chocolate and roast flavors and aromas almost always appearing. Usually they’ll have a full slightly sweet body.

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome is one of the oldest and best examples. Not terribly strong at 6.0% ABV it’s full of caramel and earthy British hopflavors and aromas.

Fairly similar is Redhook Winterhook Winter Ale.  Another 6.0% ABV beer with caramel and chocolate flavors.

Looking locally, Berkshire Brewing offers Cabin Fever Ale.  A 6.3% ABV Winter Warmer similar to a big German Alt beer.

Another common style is the Winter or Christmas Spiced beer. Usually a dark malty beer like a Winter Warmer with spices added. The spices will commonly include cinammon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg or anything that is commonly used in Christmas baked goods. Generally they’ll taste like an underhopped Winter Warmer or Amber Ale with whatever spices are added.

The original American offering is Anchor Our Special Ale. Introduced in 1975 this beer undergoes recipe changes every year. The spice profile will change, but the beer usually comes in around 5.5% ABV. Anchor Our Special Ale ages very well, the antioxidant properties of the dark malts and spices counteracting the low ABV. I had a bottle of 1986 in 2006 and it was still drinkable.

Harpoon Winter Warmer is one of the most commonly found winter spice beers. The ABV is 5.9% and the caramel malt is almost hidden by the strong cinammon and nutmeg aroma and flavor.

One beer that almost everyone has tried, but that isn’t usually thought of as a spiced beer is Sam Adams Winter Lager. Technically it’s a Spiced DunkleWeizenBock if such a thing existed. 5.9% ABV and spiced with cinammon, ginger and orange peel.

Harder to find than the Winter Lager is Sam Adams Old Fezziwig. The ingredients are not that different from the Winter Lager. Cinammon, ginger and orange peel still provide the spicing. But as an ale, Fezziwig has a more robust taste.

Far larger than the beers above, Troeg’s Mad Elf Ale is brewed with honey, cherries and Belgian yeast. It’s a full flavored 11% ABV beer more suited to sipping than chugging.

There are also a number of winter beers that do not fall under the Winter Warmer or Winter Spiced beer categories:

Harpoon has added a second winter seasonal. This one in the American stout category. Harpoon Chocolate Stout has 5.9% ABV with a lot of chocolate flavor and aroma from the chocolate malt used. No actual chocolate is used, chocolate malt is a highly roasted form of malt that takes on chocolate and even coffee notes.

Southern Tier goes much bigger with their winter stout. Choklat is a 9.1% ABV chocolate in a bottle. The chocolate flavor in this one has to be tasted to be believed.

Newly arrived in New England is Goose Island Bourbon County Stout from Chicago. It’s a big 13% ABV Russian Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels. Russian Imperial Stouts are rich, complex beers noted for their roasted flavors such as coffee, chocolate mixed with char and caramel. Usually they’ll often show off a dark fruit character such as cherry or plum, which comes from the malt and the fermentation not from actual fruit.

Brooklyn Brewery has a BCS of their own. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout runs a little lower at 10.1% ABV and is not aged in Bourbon barrels, but don’t let that fool you. It is as good as the Goose Island Bourbon County

Brooklyn also puts out a winter seasonal in the Barleywine style. Brooklyn Monster is a heavy 10.8% ABV sipping beer perfect for cold snowy weather. Barleywines are strong, malty beers, the top of the pyramid of English beer styles.

Sierra Nevada also goes with a barleywine for one of their winter seasonals. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot is a big 9.6% American style Barleywine. As an American style it’s very hoppy, about as hoppy as a Double IPA. It’s what you’d expect from the brewery that invented the American Pale Ale style with Sierra Nevada Pale ale. You can think of this as a much bigger brother to SNPA. However the body is much fuller than simply a scaled up pale ale. This beer stands up extremely well to aging, improving for at least 3 years if not longer.Not being left off the barleywine bandwagon is the brewery that made the first barleywine in America .. at least in about 100 years.

If ‘first in America’ sounds familiar thats because it’s Anchor Brewing again with Old Foghorn Barleywine. OK so this is actually a year round brew. When it comes to winter beer I’m not leaving Old Foghorn off the list, it’s made for cold weather. They’ve been producing this since 1975, when every other beer in America was a cold flavorless yellow colored soft drink.

Looking locally .. again, Berkshire Brewing offers Holidale. This 9.5% American Barleywine goes a step further by including some of the spices common to winter spice beers. See what you can pick out beyond cinammon.

Similar to a barleywine, but invented in Scotland is the Wee Heavy. Just as malty as the barleywine, but usually with more caramel character. Hopping levels are even lower in the Wee Heavy, and the fermentation is very clean done at near lager temperatures. Paper City from Holyoke, MA puts out Winter Palace Wee Heavy as their winter seasonal. 8% ABV and a good example of the style.

A bit small for a Wee Heavy, but still good is Long Trail Hibernator. A 6% ABV scotch ale it’s an easy drinking malty beer.

From one extreme to another, as focused as a Wee Heavy is on malt, an India Pale Ale is focused on hops. Sierra Nevada’s second winter seasonal is Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. My favorite beer, this 6.8% IPA was revolutionary when first introduced and is still a standout today. Fitting it’s winter release it’s a little darker in color and has more of a malty body than most other IPAs.

A beer unto itself, but mixing the qualities of an Imperial IPA and a Barleywine is Stone Double Bastard. This winter seasonal is the big brother of Stone Arrogant Bastard. 10.5% ABV, outrageously hoppy and only packaged in bottles that are just stupidly large for a beer so strong. There is a strong chance that you won’t like this beer, but also a chance you’ll love it.

Another direction you may find winter seasonals is breweries going Belgian.

Smuttynose does this with their Winter Ale. Small compared to most of the beers above at only 4.8%, Winter Ale is kind of like the brewery’s Old Brown Dog ale but fermented with Belgian yeast.

You’ll find many winter seasonals beyond the 21 listed above. Almost every brewery makes one, and it seems like most breweries are now making more than one. Beers that aren’t listed above will probably fall into one of the categories that were listed.

Patriots All Access – Saturday, Dec 26 at 7:00pm

A special holiday edition of Patriots All Access will air Saturday, Dec. 26 at 7 p.m. on WBZ-TV and is available immediately afterward on Patriots.com.

Saturday’s show highlights:

  • Sights and sounds from last Sunday’s game, as All Access breaks down a Patriots win over the Bills, including a behind-the-scenes look at a victorious Patriots locker room
  • Scott Zolak goes one-on-one with head coach Bill Belichick, who explains exactly what this Sunday’s game against the Jaguars means to the Patriots
  • In the “Belestrator” segment, Belichick spotlights one of the most underrated special teams players in the league and highlights what he describes as the best defensive play he’s seen on film all year
  • Steve Burton interviews defensive lineman Mike Wright following one of the best games of his career
  • Kristina Akra sits down with linebacker Junior Seau to get the 20-year veteran’s thoughts on his latest journey with the Patriots
  • In honor of the Patriots’ 50th Anniversary Season, All Access reveals the Number One Moment in Franchise History, as voted on by the fans
  • Patriots Football Weekly’s Paul Perillo and ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss share their opinions and analysis