October 25, 2014

Pats Pregame Points: Insufferable Super Bowl Hype, Week Two

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

So, it all comes down to this. One game out of hundreds this season to determine who holds aloft the Lombardi Trophy.

Should we have a bigger run-up to this contest? Is the magnitude sufficiently stated, or should we spend another week prepping?

No? Okay, then. Off we go…

Other Than That, How Was 2007? No matter what, at least this can’t become a replay of That Game. In case you missed it, here’s a link to a great piece by Bruce Allen written in February 2008 that summarized what he nailed as The Most Miserable 18-1 Season In History. While the Giants seem obsessed with the similarities to that season (peaking at the right time, for example), the Patriots seem more than happy to move on.

We’ll see which way works better. In any case, much, much different expectations this year.

Indiana And The Temple Of Doom: The Patriots might feel disappointed in having to play in Indianapolis. Not only does it lack the temperate climte of Miami or San Diego, New England hasn’t had a ton of success there over the years.

Well, different opponent, different Manning, different time of season. Who knows?

Speed Of Lightning, Roar Of Thunder: So who’s really the underdog in this thing? (Note: you can link to the theme song from “Underdog” here.) Despite losing the previous tilt this season, New England has been favored from the get-go. Still plenty of “no one believed in us” fodder for both sides, though, as several national media members have picked New York.

You ever get the feeling that no one knows anything? This seems like one of those games.

Moore Or Wes: So, who, if anyone, is going to come out of this thing a hero? Will it be an expected player, like receiver Wes Welker, or a surprise contributor, like rookie defensive back Sterling Moore?

Our thoughts? If the Patriots win, the MVP trophy will prove difficult to award to one person. Everyone from Tom Brady to Vince Wilfork to Zoltan Mesko will have to put in his best effort for New England to come out on top.

Do You Speak Trench? Brady needs time to throw; the Giants will do everything they can to disrupt that. This has been one of Matt Light’s best years at tackle. Word has it that Sebastian Vollmer has finally come back to play. Though the Patriots aren’t focusing on 2007, we’re sure Logan Mankins remembers his un-stellar performance during that game.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball…

What’s Love Got To Do With It? While most eyes will be on Wilfork, New England’s success may hinge more on what battery mates Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick are able to accomplish vs. New York’s tested front. If the Giants have success running the ball – something they haven’t focused on as much this year as in years past – then the letters XLVI will translate roughly to “Ugh” for Patriots fans.

Riding Coach: Sure, it’s a team game, but in the end, this might come down to a battle between two guys. Coach Bill Belichick has guided a 5-3 team on a 10-game winning streak; Coach Tom Coughlin has endured a 9-7 season (and numerous calls for his head while losing five of six games) to get his team playing their best at the right time.

Who has the best game plan? Who can adapt better during the contest?

There’s a game this weekend. Check it out.

Email Chris Warner for the last time this season at [email protected]

Pats Pregame Points: Before the Big Game, Week One

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

That’s one way to make it to Indianapolis. Relying on their defense to overcome an uncharacteristic performance from Tom Brady, New England held on for a 23-20 stomach-cramp win.

With two weeks until the big game, this column will be more devoted to the AFC Championship than to Destiny in Indy (which may or may not be the title of an adult film). So put off tolerating highlights of a certain previous Super Bowl and bask in the glory of New England’s fifth AFC win since January 2001.

Billy, Don’t Be A Hero: Despite our rooting interest, we must feel some sympathy for Billy Cundiff, the Ravens kicker who failed at his job at the least opportune time possible. Just a tough way to go. A welcome way for Pats fans, sure, but still tough.

Stagger, Lee: Similar sympathy (and/or ironic thanks) to Lee Evans, who allowed Patriot defensive back Sterling Moore to knock a winning touchdown pass out of his hands.

The lesson? To paraphrase Mike Vrabel when he was asked about catching a touchdown pass vs. Carolina, hold onto that ball like it’s your newborn son.

Hold The Rice: After watching what must have seemed like a continuous loop of Ray Rice running for an 83-yard touchdown back in the 2009 playoffs, New England set out to stop the dynamo and did so, holding him to 67 yards in 21 carries for 3.2 yards per.

For a defense that had some trouble stopping the run in the regular season, the past two playoff games have seen a welcome change.

Kraft Work: Kudos to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, not just for his steady day toting the spheroid (15 for 68 yards, 4.5 per), but for his thoughtful touch to the MHK patch on his uniform. Good to see the team honoring the late Mrs. Myra Kraft this year.

Lest we forget, the 5-3 Patriots headed down to New York (well, New Jersey, but close) to take on the Jets in a fight for first place in the AFC East. They beat the Jets by three TDs and have won every game since. We’ll take it.

Where There’s A Wilfork, There’s A Way: The AFC Championship win came in no small part to the efforts of defensive lineman/bulwark Vince Wilfork, who finished with six tackles and one sack and seemed to make an impact on every other play. A great game for the big fella. He went against solid center Matt Birk, but too often seemed like he was in the back corner of the playground taking Birk’s lunch money.

How’s The Grankle? Tight end/Beanstalk resident Rob Gronkowski had his ankle twisted during a tackle by safety Bernard Pollard, a name so odious to New Englanders he’s approaching Bucky Bleeping Dent territory.

No matter what, Gronk’s playing. Let’s hope he helps the good guys triumph.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Pregame Points: AFC Championship

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

We had almost forgotten the feeling: a heady mix of excitement and contentment after winning a playoff game can make for a fun week. At least until the Ravens start talking.

As nice as it would be to take some of New England’s points with them from their 45-10 Broncos corral, it’s on to a new (and much different) opponent as Baltimore comes to Foxboro.

It’s A Shame About Rays: Linebacker Ray Lewis has been around so long it seems like he’s 50 years old, but he continues to play like a crazy dude gunning for the guy who threatened his sister. The Patriots’ interior linemen have their work cut out for them with Lewis and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who’s so big and aggressive he could rent himself out to lumber companies to clear swaths of trees.

The other Ray, running back Ray Rice, offers an entire playbook’s worth of problems.

The Joy Of Six: When quarterback Tom Brady throws six touchdown passes in one game, you know he’s doing something pretty special. But when those passes come against a spent Denver team, it’s tough to carry that over to next week.

That’s partly because…

A Scary Reed: Old or no, hurt or no, safety Ed Reed puts every offense on notice. He’s a smart, talented player who’s been making big plays forever. Coach Bill Belichick spoke of Reed in such glowing terms, you’d think he wanted to take him out to dinner.

Nothing fancy. Just, you know, a quiet place with good food and engaging conversation.

2012: The End Times… Not sure if the Aztecs foresaw tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez having such a huge impact on the Pats’ offense, but maybe their whole shtick was less about “the world ends” than “the tight ends.”

Get it? Tight ends. Because, you know, they – oh, never mind.

Defense On Gronk Un-Seam-ly: It made no sense to us that Gronkowski got so wide open running along the seam of the Denver defense. The dude’s 6-foot-6, galloping down the middle of the field. How could Denver miss him?

Don’t expect Gronk to go unnoticed and/or uncovered vs. the Ravens.

Running An Aaron: So, running Aaron Hernandez out of the backfield? Why not? He started out with a 43-yard dash and added New England’s final TD of the game, a 17-yard reception that included a nifty maneuver to avoid a defender at the five-yard line.

(One note to Aaron: high-stepping into the end zone might work against the Bills and Broncos, but the Ravens will have something to say about it. And by “say,” I mean “do.” Just be careful.)

All of this tight end production helped out in other areas, like, for instance…

The D On Deion: When Deion Branch broke open along the sideline in one-on-one coverage for a second-quarter, 61-yard TD, it proved that, just when you think that guy’s done, he pulls off a veteran move (like a nice, not-quite-pass-interference nudge along the sideline). Something else for Baltimore to consider next Sunday.

Magnificent Seven: What a difference a game makes. Denver ended up with 14 negative plays on the day, thanks in large part to New England’s hustling, penetrating front seven. Brandon Spikes, great to have you back. Vince Wilfork, glad you’re still around. Rob Ninkovich, you looked awesome.

Of course, taking on a run-oriented offense like the Broncos’ and an efficient NFL-caliber offense like the Ravens’ are two different tasks. Interesting to see if the Patriots’ D can stay on top of running back Rice and pressure QB Joe Flacco. After last Saturday, that seems more likely than it did before.

I’m Special, So Special, I’ve Gotta Have Some Of Your Attention: Let’s not forget the special teams success in this one. Denver got very little return yardage despite fielding eight kickoffs. It’s usually a good sign if we’re not discussing special teams this time of year.

Interesting tidbit to take with you this week: This is New England’s sixth AFC Championship game since January 2002. That’s a lot of success in a decade, and it shows you how far this franchise has come.

Here’s hoping it goes a bit farther on Sunday.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected] to tell him how awesome he is.

Pats Pregame Points: Divisional Round

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

The Tebow is not a quarterback. The Tebow is a life decision. So what side are you on?

Denver quarterback Tim Tebow runs with authority and passes with mediocrity. He also tends to win big games, none more so than the 29-23 overtime shocker over Pittsburgh. We’ll see if the on-again, off-again trend continues this week in Foxboro.

Tim After Tim: Which one of these guys is going to show up? The one who went 0-3 to wrap up the season, finishing with a miserable 7-3 loss to Kansas City at home and needing the Raiders to turtle and miss the playoffs? Or the one who averaged over 30 yards per pass completion vs. the Steelers?

The way the Broncos win, coupled with Tebow’s outspoken religious beliefs seem aligned so perfectly, so improbably, that even Mitch Albom couldn’t write this book.

Cruel Runnings: Tebow takes over the ground like Cortez took over Mexico – relentlessly and, as he believed, with a higher power in mind. If New England begins the game at Gillette the same way they did at Mile High (giving up 167 yards rushing in the fourth quarter), Sunday churchgoers across the country will end up donning the orange and blue.

The Passed And The Present: Denver fooled Pittsburgh with a lot of play-action passes. The Steelers proved stubborn in leaving safety help downfield, a display of inflexibility that ended up biting them in overtime on the 80-yard TD pass.

Doctor Rosenrosen: Looks like much of this game will come down to what the Patriots’ defense can do, and that will depend on linebackers Dane Fletcher and Brandon Spikes. If Fletcher gets blocked, Spikes can come in for stronger run support, but pass coverage suffers with his lack of speed.

There’s A Tom And A Place: Quarterback Tom Brady had a rough start at Denver but got on track in the second quarter, leading the way for 41 points. Will he get on track at home from the start?

If not during this game, when?

And I Love Her…nandez: The Broncos held Lilliputian receiver Wes Welker and Brobdingnagian tight end Rob Gronkowski to 94 yards combined the last time these two teams met. Hernandez made the difference with nine catches for 129 yards, and could do so again.

If not he, then who?

Branch Out, Or Branch In? Who can play third receiver? Can Deion Branch make a difference? Will it matter? Will Brady keep an eye out for ol’ Chad Eight-Five (English translation)? Will he look Tiquan Underwood’s way once or twice? Exactly how many questions can I ask in this paragraph?

Safety Pinned: Looks like the coaching staff is attempting to relieve hopeless Devin McCourty from his pain at cornerback by switching him to safety. Might work. Can’t be much worse than what he’s done this year. I’ve seen better corners at the Guggenheim Museum.

(Kind of a visual joke there. Just go with it.)

Just Joshing: If former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels can come in as Patriots offensive assistant and make a difference, that would prove a major coup by Coach Bill Belichick. If not? Eh, it was worth a shot.

Another home playoff game this year. Let’s hope for another next week.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Pregame Points: Playoff Bye Week

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

The Patriots’ 49-21 season-ending win over Buffalo resembled a 75-cent DVD: worth checking out, but only for three quarters.

With their playoff bye and home field secured, New England waits to see whom they’ll play on Saturday, January 14. Until then, some theme songs to ring in the New Year.

Start Me Up: Whatever it’s going to take, New England needs to figure out how to get going when the game actually begins. Their first quarter output has been miserable on offense, defense and – as Buffalo showed with a fake punt – special teams. Whether it’s individual effort or overall preparedness, the Pats have looked off the past couple of weeks. (Speaking of off, check out Mick Jagger’s moves in the “Start Me Up” video.)

Moving In Stereo: Again, that makes two games in a row where New England found themselves behind by double digits. Yeah, we’re repeating ourselves, but only because this song by The Cars is awesome.

I Musta Got Lost: Nothing better than this J. Geils beauty to explain the play of Foxboro’s defensive backs in the first quarter. Some positive change came from installing all-but-useless corner Devin McCourty at safety and switching around a few other other players.

Vacation: On the positive side, having a bye week for a home playoff run? It’s something you really wanted, even if you weren’t willing to admit it. Kind of like this Go-Go’s song.

Moore Moore Moore: How do you like it? When a guy like rookie Sterling Moore can come in and get two interceptions, maybe things are starting to break the right way for this defense.

Maybe. We’re just saying. At the very least, it’s entertaining, but in an unexpected way, much like this disco video from the 1970s.

You Got Lucky: Tom Petty brings home a good point in that New England has benefited from their opponents’ unforced errors. Whether via a delay of game penalty or a shotgun snap that looked more like an air rifle, Buffalo did all they could to give away momentum.

Starting with –

New Year’s Day: Many thanks to U2 for one of our favorite songs, and many thanks to receiver Steve Johnson for expressing his New Year’s wishes on a t-shirt, revealing it after a TD, and getting benched for the ensuing celebration penalty.

Up to that point in the first quarter, Johnson had four catches for 40 yards. Coach Chan Gailey then did what the Patriots defense couldn’t – shut him out of the stat book.

Wreck of the Ryan Fitzpatrick: The Bills’ second-half disaster was brought to you in part by their QB, who followed up a flawless, 21-point first quarter with a horrid scoreless stretch that included four interceptions (five if not for a McCourty penalty).

Minute By Minute: Always liked this song by the Doobie Brothers. Once again, it reminds us that no matter whom New England plays in nine days, a full 60 minutes will be required.

Tom Tom Club: QB Tom Brady joins an elite group of quarterbacks who surpassed (emphasis on “-passed”) 5,000 yards through the air. Glad to see it, and with the way he’s been playing this year, not at all surprised.

The song “Genius of Love” reminds us of good times from the past. With help from Our Tom, may more good times happen in the next few weeks.

If you agree with these song choices or can think of any better songs that fit the Pats’ situation, let us know in the comment section below.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Pregame Points: Game 16 vs. Bills

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

New England resolutions for the New Year:

Number one: Play 60 minutes of football. All in the same game.

Number two: If no number one, play 30 minutes of really good football.

Number three: Make sure those 30 minutes happen in the second half.

The Patriots overcame a 17-0 deficit to avoid drowning against the Dolphins in a 27-24 win. With a first-round bye in place, New England hosts Buffalo with an eye on the number one seed in the AFC.

Some thoughts heading into the regular season finale…

Line, Please? The Patriots’ offensive line had more switches than a Dickens-era schoolteacher, ending up with rookies Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon at left and right tackles, respectively. Looks like both guard Logan Mankins and tackle Matt Light will be held back until the playoffs.

The rookies and new Patriot Donald Thomas (left guard) deserve praise for gelling in the second half, but Buffalo’s defense may not prove as kind to the newbies.

What’s Blue And White And Runs All Over? Speaking of rookies, nice work by running back Stevan Ridley. He seems to possess a burst that BenJarvus Green-Ellis doesn’t, as well as some serious bulk that running back/pixie Danny Woodhead lacks.

In short, the more carries for Ridley, the better.

Ochocinco Para Uno: When New England signed Chad Ochocinco before this season, they had hopes of developing him into a complementary receiver. Not so much, as Ochocinco caught just one pass, again. He has 15 catches for 276 yards and one TD.

Ochocinco has set our expectations at this mediocre level, so if he has a game with a few catches and a touchdown, we’ll be first in line at the parade.

Don’t Call It A Comeback: Well, we’re not sure what else you could call it. Down 17-0 at the half, New England scored 27 straight in the second half to pull away from the Dolphins. Earlier this season at Buffalo, the opposite occurred, as the Pats failed to hang onto a 21-0 lead before losing on a last-second field goal.

What Pats team shows up in the first quarter this week? Will they need some more comeback magic?

Doing More With Wes: Receiver Wes Welker has 116 receptions for 1,518 yards and nine touchdowns. For a bit of perspective, Ochocinco would need eight seasons in New England to match that output. (And some are wondering whether or not to lock up Welker’s contract?)

Should Welker sit out this game? We wouldn’t mind it, but we wouldn’t expect it, either.

Call Us New Englan – Without the “D”: Sure, the Patriots’ defense held Miami to only seven points in the second half. Yes, they recovered a fumble and notched an interception. But you have to contrast these turnovers with the fumbles they forced at Denver.

The Patriots got into position to make strong plays and strip the football at Mile High stadium two weeks ago. Against Miami, they fell on a botched snap and caught what amounted to a punt by Dolphins QB Matt Moore (Devin McCourty was behind the receiver by two steps and mistimed his jump to the point where he almost missed the ball. Maybe the kid needs glasses).

When they play better teams in January, New England will need better play from their defense. Less luck, more pluck.

Planting The Seed: Win or lose, New England gets to rest their linemen, put in some fancy plays for Ochocinco, and maybe – maybe – settle down their defense. Either way, not too bad.

A serious note from me about the passing of a dear friend. Father Tom Fleming lived and worked in and around Boston for over 50 years, leaving the area only when he was a military chaplain in Vietnam. Father Tom has been a part of our family since the 1960s – among many other connections, he baptized me and married me to my wonderful wife. He will be missed.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Pregame Points: Game 15 vs. Dolphins

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

The Patriots got on the “nice” list with a win at Denver and found something in their stockings: the AFC East championship. Now if only Santa could step in at defensive back.

Though far from perfect, the Patriots’ 41-23 conquest in Colorado showed flashes of an opportunistic defense, stout special teams, and of course an offense that creates mismatches week by week.

Keeping that victory in mind, let’s look ahead to the Christmas Eve tilt when the Pats host the Dolphins.

On Ridley, On Woodhead, On Brady: The Pats had some success running the ball in Denver (141 yards on 36 rushes, with quarterback Tom Brady notching his annual rushing TD). This kept their time of possession up and kept their defense off the field. Important elements come playoff time.

They had to step up because –

Run, Run Rudolph (and anyone in a Broncos uniform): Want a scary stat? (Sure you do!) After the first quarter, Denver had rushed for 167 yards – that’s rushing only. They were on pace to run for over 650 yards Sunday. Just for perspective, New England’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis has 635 yards rushing this season.

The jolly old elf might describe that defense as naughty, or at the very least not nice.

Oh Christmas Bush, Oh Christmas Bush: Miami’s Reggie Bush has been a dynamic all-purpose back in recent games. If New England starts this game the same way they did in Denver, that trend will continue.

Mark, The Herald Angels Sing: Kudos to pass-rusher Mark Anderson for his two sacks and forced fumble. That type of pressure will become even more important Saturday with Andre Carter lost to injury and Miami’s efficient QB Matt Moore coming to Foxboro.

Seven Guys A-Blocking, Six Points A-Getting, Chad Ochocinco! Yes, Chad Ochocinco blew by Broncos coverage to score his first TD in a Patriots uniform. And it only took 14 games. So … hooray. Right?

Anyway, it would be nice to see Ochocinco contribute on a more regular – oh for the love of God haven’t we said this a dozen times already?

Tiquan Under-the-mistletoe: Actually, we were happy for Ochocinco, but we’re more intrigued with Tiquan Underwood as the third receiver. He caught one pass and should have caught another (he hugged the sideline too closely on the route and ended up out of bounds), but more importantly, he seems to understand the playbook and doesn’t appear lost in the hurry-up offense.

In The Aaron, There’s A Feeling Of Christmas: When the Broncos took away receiver Wes Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski, hybrid Aaron Hernandez became the gift that kept on giving, scoring an important touchdown, converting a crucial fourth down, gaining 16 yards on an end-around play and compiling career highs of nine receptions for 129 yards.

Miami’s defense has been playing well, but whom do they cover? How many receivers can they take away?

And that’s all because of…

Three-score Leads, Two Touchdowns, And A QB Named Tom Bra-a-d-y-y: We know this for sure – the Patriots have made the playoffs. We have no idea how far they might get, but, hey, let’s relish the consistency of Brady (320 yards passing to eight different receivers last Sunday). He runs the offense, protects the defense, and even sets up special teams for success.

That, by itself, has been a gift. We wish you a Merry Christmas, New England.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Pregame Points: Game 14 At Broncos

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

This must be New England: where else would following a 10-3 team get depressing?

Dropped passes, airheaded penalties and a consistent lack of defense led to a 34-27 shootout in Washington – not exactly the late-season salve Patriots fans sought against a 4-9 team.

New England returns to the road this weekend, heading to Denver to face quarterback Tim Tebow and His Tebowites. Somehow, the man who started the season unable to throw a football into a kiddie pool is 7-1 as a starter, with each comeback win jockeying for its own mini-documentary on ESPN. He has shown significant improvement of late.

Some thoughts for the week…

If You Want You Can Look And You Will Find Me, Tom After Tom: So quarterback Tom Brady throws for 357 Yards and three touchdowns, and of course all we’re interested in is his verbal confrontation on the sideline.

Is the pressure of having to be perfect getting to Our Tom? Could be. But maybe he just felt stupid throwing an interception. In any case, it seems like he needs to relax a bit back there – it’s as if he trusts his receivers less and less, which affects him throughout the game.

That pressure won’t subside this week facing Denver’s defense. Tebow’s not the only Bronco working miracles every Sunday.

Tiquan Underthrown: According to his combine stats, receiver Tiquan Underwood can leap over 41 inches high. Seems unfortunate that the Patriots QB lofted a pass to him that the defender could get to in the end zone.

Sorry. Moving on. Don’t get defensive.

Speaking of which…

Vince Wilfork Over Some Money For A Fine: Hey Vince Wilfork, just a thought… if the running back has fallen to the ground, you should probably not hammer him with a forearm and earn a 15-yard penalty. You’re a veteran. Your younger, less-experienced, less-talented teammates look up to you. Keep that in mind.

Devinstatingly Dumb: Speaking of questionable conduct, why on Earth would Devin McCourty commit a pass interference penalty on third and 18? Of all the plays he decides to act aggressively, that’s the one? Next time, let the guy make the catch (for about a 10-yard gain), make the tackle, and force the punt on fourth and long.

Leading 14-3 with 4:30 left in the first quarter, the Pats had a real chance to do some damage if they’d gotten the ball back there. Instead, first down Redskins, an ensuing TD, and a dogfight.

Will this team ever pull it all together for 60 minutes? Hard to say.

On the positive side…

Not To Sound Like A Broken Record, But: Versus Indianapolis, gargantuan playmaker Rob Gronkowski thought he had the record for tight end touchdowns in a single season, but the final TD was deemed a run (Brady’s pass was a lateral). Gronk – or is it The Gronk? – made up for that twice this past week, catching six passes for 160 yards and two TDs.

For the season, Gronkowski has 71 catches for 1,088 yards and 15 touchdown receptions. We’re no defensive coordinators, but we’re pretty sure the Broncos are taking a good, long look at that.

When Wes Is More: Seven pass receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown would be a good game for anyone. For Wes Welker, it’s merely average. The man has 100 receptions for 1,339 yards and nine TDs with three games left. For comparison, number two receiver Deion Branch has 48 for 665 and four. In other words, just under half of each.

The Patriots have some weapons, but they’ll need a near-perfect game to take on the Tebow (He is offense, He is defense, He is special teams). Tough thing for the Pats is, that’s the type of game they haven’t played in weeks.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Pregame Points: Game 13 At Redskins

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

A week after a 28-point laugher turned into a 7-point head-scratcher versus the 0-12 Colts, New England ventures down to our nation’s capital to gauge exactly what kind of team we have this year in Foxboro.

Some thoughts on the impending contest…

A Redskin By Any Other Name: I mean, not like this is new conversational territory, but it’s 2011 and we still call an NFL team that name.

We should call the Forty-niners the Gold-diggers and the Texans the Yahoos.

Seriously, Redskins. Amazing.

Anyway…

Change For Two Quarters: In the second and third quarters against the Colts, the home team scored four touchdowns. In the first and fourth quarters, they gave up 24 points and scored a field goal. So which team will show up in D.C.?

Chad Swim-or-sink-o: Okay, here’s the thing about Chad Ochocinco. He’s lost his joy of the game. Up until this year, he seemed to have fun when he took the field – gliding under the ball for catches, taking the time to jaw with opponents.

Now, Ochocinco either drops the pass or falls to the ground in an effort to catch it. As far as talking to the other team? It’s not happening.

His straining to learn New England’s offense has eroded the pleasure Ochocinco used to derive from football. He’s thinking too much, and he’s given no evidence that will change. We’ve called him this before, but Chad Overthink-o might be the right nickname.

Tiquan Underneath: Hey, a nice reception under the Colts coverage for Tiquan Underwood. Of course, some of Indy’s defenders played so far back they needed binoculars to see the line of scrimmage. Still, good to see the new guy get involved, and maybe – just maybe – New England is closer to getting regular contributions from a third receiver.

Rex Effects: If Colts QB Dan Orlovsky can get off the train from Thirdstringtown and pass for over 300 yards, what can Washington’s Rex Grossman – an actual NFL quarterback – do? This could get ugly.

So Funny I Forgot To Gaffney: Former Patriot Jabar Gaffney, who in terms of New England receivers sits at the high end of the JG Scale opposite Joey Galloway, plays for the Redskins now. Just thought we should brace you for a solid contribution from a guy who, just maybe, the Pats should have re-signed.

If you want to feel wistful about the halcyon days of Gaffney’s tenure in New England, check out this piece by Chris Forsberg.

Extra Mayo: For a guy not known for his playmaking skills, Jerod Mayo popped out some eyeballs with his parallel-to-the-ground interception in the third quarter. Probably the most spectacular play the steady Mayo has made in years.

Sooner Rather Than Slater: Special-teamer Matthew Slater got a fresh start at safety this past week, along with Niko Koutivides at linebacker, which confused us to no end. Are they suddenly the best at their positions, despite having started NFL games only slightly more often than your average cockapoo owner? Wasn’t the defense having a strong showing the past few weeks? Why would Coach Bill Belichick mess with it now?

We don’t know. We just don’t know.

Gronk If You Like Scoring: Having Rob Gronkowski at tight end is like having the school’s best athlete on your team during field day. You just get a sense of comfort that he’s there, and you figure everything will be all right with him on your side. Three TDs for him on Sunday, with the Colts showing no interest in stopping him.

By the way, does anyone do field day anymore? For you kiddoes, it’s a lot like a video game, except you go outside with a group of people and run around. (So more or less the complete opposite of a video game.)

Ridley No Jokey: Though the team struggled to run the ball, notable effort by rookie Stevan Ridley, who averaged five yards per carry. Lil’ Danny Woodhead is slippery while BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a hammer, but Ridley has shown both abilities. He’s the Slippery Hammer.

(That may or may not be the title of an adult film. We don’t want to know.)

On to Washington for another test. We can only hope New England plays all four quarters this week.

Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected]

Pats Pregame Points: Game 12 vs Colts

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

In this post-Thanskgiving week, Patriots fans can feel grateful for one thing: they don’t have to root for the Eagles. (Take it from the “I Hate You Tom Brady” kid – it’s not easy.)

After spotting Philadelphia a 10-0 lead, New England shook off their turkey-and-stuffing doldrums and raced to a 38-20 victory that left thousands of Eagles fans looking as green as their jerseys: green with envy and, we assume, some nausea.

The Pats return home to take on the Colts, who are having what can only be called a nightmarish season. Put another way, thus far in 2011 my wife and I have just as many NFL wins as Indianapolis.

A few things to consider going into Sunday’s rare (yet cherished) 1 p.m. start.

Branching Out, Going Welker: For some reason, Philly decided to stick with a zone defense, allowing the much-hated Brady to pick and choose his receivers in open areas. Deion Branch and Wes Welker benefited, combining for 14 catches and 240 yards.

We have to figure Indy will try something different, with more man-to-man coverage and double teams. Right?

If so, the Patriots could use a third wide receiver. Hmmm…

Third-y Something: For whatever reason, a number three receiver has been tougher to keep than a Spinal Tap drummer. Chad Ochocinco? Zilcho. Taylor Price? The Price is wrong.

Then we had this guy –

Tiquan Underwhelmed: Too bad for speedster Tiquan Underwood that most of his talent lies in his feet and not his hands. The former (and, we assume, future) free agent broke free for an apparent touchdown, only to flail at Brady’s pass like a lobster trying to play handball.

When opponents double-team Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski, then single-cover guys like Branch and TE Aaron Hernandez, a third wide receiver who knows the offense (and can catch) could become integral to the team’s late-season success.

Remember feeling okay with the Pats not re-signing Jabar Gaffney in favor of Joey Galloway? Wow: the opposite ends of the JG scale! Some get the Patriots offense (Gaffney), some never do (Galloway). Looks like we can add Ochocinco and Price to the latter list.

That’s Using Your Edelman: Punt returner, special teamer, receiver, now defensive back. The man’s on the field as often as the number 50. You go, Julian Edelman.

Of course, we’d feel a little more confident in the defense if they didn’t need him.

Defense Con-Vince-ing? So, solid defensive effort, or miserable quarterbacking by Vince Young? Had Young hit more open receivers, had receiver DeSean Jackson not dropped more bombs than a B-52, maybe we would’ve had a different game. Still, after some opening snafus, New England’s defense settled in for the long haul. Antuan Molden even managed an interception.

This bodes well vs. a Colts team that has struggled to establish their passing game, the first and only time we’ve ever stated that about a Colts team (at least since Peyton Manning joined the squad in 1947 or so).

LeSean LeStopped: Also of note was the effort to stop dynamic Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, held to a mere 31 yards on 10 carries. Solid play from the Patriots’ defensive line kept him in check. Kudos, people!

A similar performance from New England’s D will put the ball in QB Dan Orlovsky’s hands. Kind of where the Pats want it to be, we’d imagine.

Walk The Line: Walking is about the only thing the banged-up O-line can do these days. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer left early, while Matt Light has been battling leg issues for the past few weeks. (Our favorite types of magazines, those leg issues. Ba-da-boom!)

With rookies Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon stepping in, there’s some depth, but the offensive line’s health will be something to track moving forward.

On to Sunday afternoon for a contest with much less hype than the typical Colts game. The Patriots should win, which, of course, makes us wicked nervous.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Pregame Points: Game 11 at Eagles

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

You ever wrestle with your big brother? You know when he pins you and somehow dangles saliva inches over your forehead before sucking it back up? Well, that’s what the first half of the Kansas City game felt like: 30 minutes of tense, dreadful saliva-dangling.

Today, all Pats fans feel thankful for myriad reasons, one of them being that the final 30 minutes went much more according to plan.

Some points to ponder as we prep for Sunday’s tilt at Philadelphia…

Just Offensive: A lame display by the New England offense in the first half, as receivers missed assignments, quarterback Tom Brady missed targets, and the offensive line appeared to have missed the bus. Brady had to run for his life and forgot the ball along the way.

All was not lost however…

Up Tight: How ’bout that Rob Gronkowski? You know, at the beginning of the year, a certain someone wrote a certain something about Gronk being the best all-around tight end in Foxboro since Ben Coates. After his two touchdowns and nearly 100 yards receiving Monday night, I hate to say I told you so, but, um.

(Actually, saying “I told you so” is totally satisfying. I apologize.)

Where The Faulk? Nothing against Danny Woodhead, but it seemed that the Pats could have used Faulk’s knack for receiving and more decisive pass blocking in the first half. (It should also be noted that the precision required in hitting a tiny target like Woodhead is akin to scrimshawing a team photo onto a grain of rice.)

To their credit, Woodhead began to click in the second half, as did BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Plus, we got a look at the rookie –

Shane On Us: We questioned Coach Bill Belichick’s decision to draft running back Shane Vereen in the second round, thinking it a reach. After showing off his abilities late – against a defense looking to stop the run – we got a better glimpse of Vereen’s potential. Lots of speed and strength in a small yet stout frame. Looking forward to seeing more of him.

Random Thought For The Week: If actor Keith David were introduced to actor David Keith, it would sound like, “Keith, David. David, Keith.” And that’s not even using their full names.

Something to think about this weekend. Or, not.

In Nate Ability: Looks like the Pats have found their third tight end in tackle Nate Solder. The 6-foot-8, 315-pound offensive tackle not only lined up to block, he also went in motion and ran a pass route (during Gronkowski’s second touchdown, no less).

We can’t wait to see Solder catch a pass.

Special Edelman: Oh, a Julian Edelman 72-yard punt return to ice the game in the third quarter? Yes, please!

Edelman literally ran a circle around one defender and shot up the gap like a geyser. Once he made the punter look silly, he had a clear sprint to the goal line. Who knew the running QB out of Kent State would become New England’s best punt returner ever?

Oh, come on. You know you didn’t.

Opponents Erring A Ton Near Arrington: Defensive back Kyle Arrington has some serious ball awareness, intercepting two tipped passes on Monday night. Arrington now leads the league with seven INTs for the season, not exactly the stat we predicted after 10 games.

Stunting Growth: Good for the defensive linemen and their schemes these recent weeks, as it looks as though they are stunting and looping more than in the past, to solid results. The more Mark Anderson and Andre Carter can charge up the middle and rattle opposing quarterbacks, the better.

Brand New Tyler: Chiefs QB Tyler Palko had only slightly more experience playing in the NFL than Queen Elizabeth, so his missteps shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Still, it might bode well that, once the Pats settled down, they were able to take advantage of his mistakes.

Will Philly’s QB – Vince Young or Michael Vick – make similar gaffes? Tough to say.

On this day, we are thankful for so much. I’m thankful for my wife, who didn’t let her playing of Kansas City running back Jackie Battle for fantasy football blur her allegiance to New England; I’m thankful for my daughter, who once again spat up on me this morning with the force and volume of a fire extinguisher (which makes me laugh every time).

And the Pats are 7-3, tied for first in the AFC. Not too shabby.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Pregame Points: Game 10 vs. Chiefs

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Have you ever been kissed by a rainbow? Nuzzled with a unicorn? Felt the sweet breeze of an angel’s wing?

Any one of those comes in second to beating the Jets in the Meadowlands.

New England defied the odds Sunday, defeating Gang Green to sweep their season series and leap ahead in the AFC East Division standings. Pretty awesome stuff.

On to the Chiefs, who bring their 4-5 record and shaky quarterback situation to Gillette Stadium next Monday night.

KC Jones: New England’s recent schedule has included Dallas, Pittsburgh and both New York franchises. Frankly, it’s about time they played a team under .500, and Kansas City is merely the first of many such squads.

The downside, of course, is that the Pats must stay wary of each team despite appearances. New England’s defense can stink like my daughter’s diapers; it’s not like they’re going to suddenly become stoppers.

Romeo Void: Speaking of defense, Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel knows a few things about his former team. Interesting to see if he’s got any riddles for quarterback Tom Brady to solve Monday night.

Everybody, Pat Chung Tonight: Despite a lineup of safeties about as familiar to New Englanders as gila monsters, the Patriots managed to keep the Jets at bay. Patrick Chung might still be hurt. Rookie Sterling Moore delivered the hit of the night, albeit on teammate Devin McCourty. James Ihedigbo has an interesting name.

It’s just that there’s not a lot to put one’s faith in, is all we’re saying.

Put Your Records Andre: With a pass-rushing crew so anemic it gets its blood checked on a regular basis, call us surprised at the success of Andre Carter rushing the QB. Specifically, his four sacks of Mark Sanchez tied a franchise record last week.

A fluke night, or a sign of better things to come? We shall see.

They Wuz Robbed: Too much Rob Gronkowski and Rob Ninkovich for the Jets. Brobdingnagian tight end Gronk caught two touchdown passes and towered over New York’s secondary, while Ninkovich snared two interceptions, one for a game-clinching pick-six in the fourth quarter.

Gronkowski has remained as solid as a wad of taffy on the North Pole, but the Patriots have lacked individual playmakers on defense. A couple of turnovers against the Chiefs and Pats fans will be going to bed happy.

Me, And My Chad, Oh: Pats Daily fave receiver (nope, not true at all) Chad Ochocinco had the longest pass of the game at New York, yet for the most part looked more nervous than a high school kid asking his crush to the prom. Call us when he can stay on the field in the hurry-up offense.

Still, a couple of first-down passes per game wouldn’t hurt. Chad? Would you be our date?

The Line In Winter: Looks like the offensive line has deteriorated as the season has progressed. Guys like Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder have played hurt, while Logan Mankins has had one of his lesser years in Foxboro. New England had a lousy day rushing the football and must do better.

Shane On You: And what about that rookie running back, the Shane Vereen kid? Is he okay? Would it kill the coaches to give him a few plays?

Cannon Fired Up: He’s been keeping it low key for the press, but we bet rookie lineman/small planet Marcus Cannon (6-5, 348) has been aching to play after missing time recovering from cancer (diagnosed during the NFL combine, of all things). Not sure if we’ll see him this week, but happy to have him on the roster.

Turn To The White: The Patriots’ linebacking crew lacked Brandon Spikes, but core special teamers Tracy White and Jeff Tarpinian picked up much of the slack. The smaller, speedier linebackers did well in mid-level coverage (credit White with knocking tight end Dustin Keller to the ground to aid Ninkovich’s second interception) and held up surprising well vs. the run.

Revis And Butthead: Though Darrelle Revis covered him like a tarp for much of the game, receiver Wes Welker was just stubborn enough to help out in a couple of clutch situations, including a big third-down conversion.

The good news? The Chiefs don’t have Revis on their team.

Have Fun Storming The Cassel: Will New England be able to pressure Chiefs QB Matt Cassel?

Wait, what? Cassel won’t play this week? It’s backup Tyler Palko?

Ooh, hold on a sec…

Tyler Parries, “I Can Do Bad All By Myself”: We hope so, Tyler. We certainly hope so.

Much to discover Monday night in Foxboro. We can’t expect a possible win over the Chiefs to give us the satisfaction of overtaking the Jets, but at this point we’ll take all the victories New England can get.

Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected]