October 23, 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]

Are The 2011 Broncos The 2010 Jets?

By Dan Zeigarnik

Does anyone remember how Patriots fans were taking a victory lap when they found out that they had to face the Jets in the playoffs last year?

New England was 14-2, clearly the best team in the AFC despite its bad defense, and had recently defeated the Jets by 42 points. The 2010 Patriots resemble this year’s Packers, not just because of their great offense, great record, and inability to stop their opponents, but because their fans have already mentally booked reservations for the Super Bowl. However, would anyone be surprised after the fact that like last year’s Jets, the Giants will come in and upset the Packers with a disruptive defense? The Giants have a history of this, as anyone who remembers the Week 17 barnburner against the undefeated Patriots that the Giants lost, only to get the last laugh a short month later. As a fan who has been burned the last couple of years by high expectations, I have appreciated the nervous tension that this year’s Patriots have provided.

This was the collective mood of Patriots nation for a good part of the season, but unfortunately there has been remarkable mood swing. Last week, everyone was petrified of the playoffs, because the team had a terrible month of December despite winning all of its games. The running joke was that they were the worst best-team ever.

Just looking back at the 5 games in December, the games that were supposed to be cakewalks and not prepare the Patriots for the grueling expedition that is the NFL playoffs, makes one wonder where all the newfound exuberance came from:

  • For starters, Patriots miraculously played only 2 teams with a winning record all year: Giants and Steelers and lost both of them. That’s right, just 2 games against teams with an above .500 record! For contrast Baltimore is 6-0 against playoff teams. The Patriots also have a 1-2 record against playoff teams this year, losing to the aforementioned Pittsburg and New York while defeating Denver which was 8-8.
  • The Patriots, in a pathetic display of mediocrity almost lost a game to the lowly Colts when they just installed a new starting quarterback, Dan Orlovsky.
  • They followed the game up with an embarrassing squeaker against the Redskins in which Rex Grossman looked like an All-Pro and had Washington inside the Patriots 10 with a chance to tie the game with seconds left in the 4th quarter, before he threw an interception to Jerod Mayo.
  • The next three games against Denver, Miami and Buffalo, saw New England give up big leads early, and only be saved by their opponent’s turnover riddled implosions.

This anemic performance in the month of December has squared perfectly with the criticism that the team has been unable to shed in the past couple of years. Yes, the team is an offensive juggernaut and when they are on a roll its hard to stop Welker, Gronk, and Hernandez. However, their defense is as porous as the Mexican border. They are 31st in pass defense and their vaunted bend-but-don’t-break defense is ranked 23rd in Red Zone defense, letting teams score touchdowns 55% of the time.

Despite all these issues, the team still won 13 games and finished first, but last week fans were incredibly nervous of New England’s ability to make it far in the playoffs, and that’s a good thing. The Boston area’s sense of sports entitlement is nauseating and actually takes away from the enjoyment one gets from rooting on their team. What’s the point of watching the whole season if all you care about is if they win the Super Bowl or not? There was a sense of uncertainty about whether the Patriots of could make it out of the Divisional round, and that’s great. Sports are supposed to have a high level of unpredictability, otherwise why tune in.

Now that the Tebow train is riding into town, everyone assumes that the Patriots will trounce them. Could this happen? Sure and it would be amazing, but I don’t see the reason for such a mood swing. How quickly people have forgotten the lessons from year’s past or even last month’s. Denver ran all over the Patriots until McGahee got injured. Then they proceeded to turn the ball over three times. Without these favorable proverbial bounces of the ball, the game could have turned out much differently.

So let’s hope for a Patriots trouncing of Denver, but to expect it and not take your devilishly-hot streaking opponent seriously is to fail to learn the lessons of history, and we all know what happens to them….

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]

Maybe Looks ARE Deceiving When It Comes To the Patriots

By George Cain, Patriots Daily Guest Contributor

Maybe looks ARE deceiving. I watch this Patriot defense and I think, there is no way they are going to the Super Bowl. Not enough talent, not enough health, not enough playmakers. You need balance on both sides of the ball right?

But then I look around the league and I start to question my own eyes. If the Patriots make it to Indianapolis they will do it with one of the worst statistical regular season defenses of any representative in Super Bowl history.

But, there have been teams with mediocre to bad defenses in recent years that have appeared in the big game. In just the last 6 years, New Orleans, Indianapolis and Arizona come to mind. New Orleans and Indianapolis walked out of those Super Bowls with the Lombardi Trophy. And Arizona, came pretty darn close. This is the NFL in the Polian rule era. Ironically, Bill Polian was the GM of the Buffalo Bills in
the 90’s, an explosive offensive team better suited for today’s NFL. Polian was just 20 years too late to help the fans of Buffalo, but he was able to change the game enough for Indianapolis to break through in 2006.

As for this season, it’s hard to get your mind around anything. Ron Borges seems to have it all figured out, I wish we were all as smart as Mr. Borges. Myself, I am not so sure. I mean look what’s happened so far this season.

  • The Patriots beat the Chargers, Cowboys and the Jets, not once but twice.
  • The Jets beat the Chargers and Cowboys and got destroyed by the Ravens.
  • The Ravens beat the Steelers twice but lost to the Chargers.
  • The Steelers beat the Patriots but lost to the Texans.
  • The Texans beat the Bengals and lost to the Titans.
  • The Titans beat the Ravens, lost to the Broncos and the pathetic COLTS.
  • The Broncos lost to the Lions and Patriots.
  • The Lions lost to the Saints and 49’ers.
  • 49’ers lost to the Cowboys and Ravens but beat the Steelers.
  • The Saints lost to the Packers on opening night, the Bucs and the Rams; two awful teams who will have new coaches next year.
  • The Packers lost to Kansas City. That’s right Kansas City.
  • And Kansas City lost to the Patriots, Jets, Broncos, Lions, Chargers, Bills, Steelers and Dolphins. And they fired their coach.

Everyone still with me? Good, because I got confused once I started writing about all these matchups. I guess it’s why the NFL is the premier sport in this country and it’s not even close. It’s also why the Patriots, with all their flaws, with all their defensive problems and with all their critics, have as good a shot as anyone in January.

Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

I recommend the Lagunitas IPA, if your over 21, its relaxing during trying times.

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]

Tebow the Terribl……y Lucky

By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff

Considering that the mighty Curtis Painter has just been benched in favor of  UConn’s very own Dan Orlovsky, and that Vegas has taken the already ridiculous 21 point line off the board and is no longer taking bets on the game, I will take a stab at the national conversation. Now, don’t get me wrong there is always trap games and the Pats need to come in focused and ready to play, but other than that there isn’t really much to say.

However, there is plenty to say about the sainted one, Mr. Gospel Choir Himself, the one-and-only Tim Tebow. Despite the fact that everything in America has been politicized including, unfortunately, religion, I will try to be as fair to him as possible and focus on the on-the-field performance.

He was an amazing high school quarterback. He was an unbelievable college quarterback. He is clutch in the fourth quarter and had countless of comebacks including several in this year in the NFL. Everyone knows these facts and they are not up for dispute.

Along with his history or success, comes his style of play which is plainly visible to anyone who watches him. He is built like a running back, he runs like a running back, and most amusingly, he throws like a running back.

Now does that mean that he doesn’t have the physical, mental and mechanical tools to succeed in the NFL? Of course not. The quarterback position is a cerebral one and making the right adjustments before the snap and the ability to make your reads quickly is the biggest differentiator between the haves and the have-nots. So is Tebow going to be a successful quarterback in this league? He very well might be, but his impressive 5-1 record since taking over the starting job is much less predictive than everyone has let on to be.

Since Tebow took the helm:

  • Week 1: Defeated a god-awful Dolphins team in Overtime
  • Week 2: Lost emphatically to a decent Lions team 45-10
  • Week 3: Beat an Oakland team that had Carlson Palmer still shaking off the rust. He threw six interceptions in his first two weeks
  • Week 4: Beat Chiefs in a close game where Matt Cassel suffered a season ending injury. Also, the Chiefs were already a bad team and with Palko leading them have become a laughing-stock. They are currently in a four game skid, with no end in sight. Looking at their schedule, they will probably lose the rest of their games and finish 4-12.
  • Week 5: Beat a Jets team that is doing its best Eagles impersonation. Since week one they haven’t beat a single playoff team. Their two wins against the fading Bills and the Chargers don’t count.
  • Week 6: Speaking of San Diego, they are in the middle of a 6 game skid and are ready to give Norv Turner the very belated boot.

If the Patriots played a schedule like this, everyone would be saying how it doesn’t matter much. In fact, they are saying it right now about the Patriots remaining cupcake games which include Denver. Looking forward to the rest of the Broncos games, they are playing the Vikings, the Cutler-less Bears,New England, Bills and Chiefs. With a schedule like that they could easily finish the season out 4-1 and land a spot in the playoffs. Now, it’s pretty improbable that in the last 11 games of a season a team would only get two worthy opponents (New England and Lions). However that is exactly what happened to Denver.

So if they get blown out by the only two legitimate playoff teams that they faced, does that make them a good team? I, therefore, submit that Tebow’s performance has to be put in context. Can he become a good Quarterback in the NFL? Sure he can, but it’s not because he can beat a Raiders team that is starting a player just signed off the streets at quarterback and don’t have Darren McFadden. Let’s see how he does against New England in two weeks and decide then.