There are bandwagon fans and there are lifers. There are obnoxiously confident fans and there are strifers (those that worry about each and every game to the point of inducing nausea). And there are flavors in between. Which ever one you may happen to be it is impossible to identify those on the other side of the circle of support. It is even hard to begin to understand how they can be THAT way and call themselves a fan of your team. And of course you and your stance are right. All the others are wrong. And of course this situation rings true with YOUR New England Patriots. And as the team moved closer to 19-0 and the ranks swell with everyone hoping to say they were part of this great season, the conflicts will increase.
And as the season of perfection builds to the climax in Arizona, more will be said without saying anything, about this team and this season, than any of us ever imagined. Hopefully the media and the fans can rise above the temptation to tear down, and instead build up. For these playoffs have been pretty great. This AFCC game was full of surprises. And how much more so will the Super Bowl be more than we can imagine. And remember, the more we think we know about what Belichick will do, the more surely we are to be wrong.
I don’t know about you, but I for one am well sick and tired of the media and their need to make each and every game that the Patriots play some sort of epic story line. Yet nowhere are the words more empty and senseless than when they come from the game commentators in the game lead up or during the game itself.
At the beginning of the AFCC game with the Patriots walking out of the tunnel and with the image of Junior Seau filling the screen Jim Nance begins to prattle on in nonsensical fashion about the Patriots one game at a time approach to the season.
“But Tom Brady and the Patriots have NEVER looked beyond one game. They say their season will only be special if they can orchestrate two more wins.”
So Jim, which is it? Is it only look at this game and keep it one game at a time or is it looking ahead to the Super Bowl? Because by and large the team has never mentioned much less acknowledged the fact there were any games beyond the one that stood before them. And the notion that the players or coaches would actually “Say” something about the idea of looking ahead to the game in Arizona, before they had played the conference championship is ludicrous. Yet this type of self contradiction is just the type of thing that continues to come across the airwaves fail to let the games themselves do the work of creating anticipation.
Or better yet they share stats that are so insane, it only leaves you asking who tracks this stuff? Like Nance’s comment “That is Brady’s first post season interception in the first quarter.” The next thing you expect is to hear Phil Sims say “Well, that is the first time that the Patriots have allowed a first down run of more than 27 yards by a back over 250 pounds in the 2nd half of a game that they were leading my more than 7 points.”
Really? You are a pro?
And if I have to hear Phil Sims refer to Asante one more time as Asante Samuels, I am going to scream. It is Samuel as in singular. The guy is an All Pro this year so know him. You are getting paid so get it right.
Return to Earth
In the divisional playoff game, Tom Brady completed his first 16 passes. At the end of the day only 2 of his 28 tosses missed the mark. Against the Chargers he missed his first two. From best playoff game ever to.. well, to a pretty poor start. Kind of makes you wonder if there was something medically wrong with the boy wonder. There has been speculation that he had the flu as there was not spark in his eyes and no fire in his
The clearest example of Brady having an off day can be seen in the fact that 3 of his passes to Kevin Faulk were of the mark. Oh, sure, Faulk made the catch each time, but the ball was arriving behind him, usually arriving on his back hip. Normally No.12 would want to put the ball out in front of the running back, leading him to the place where the play is going. The first time this happened was with 14:29 left in the first half at the SD 9. It was 1st and goal. Faulk was moving from the center of the field to the left. The pass from Brady was so far behind him that Kevin had to spin to his left, against his momentum to make the catch. As the catch is made he continues his left rotation to head towards the goal line. He is tackled about a yard short of the goal line. However if the pass had been out in front of him, where Brady would normally deliver it, there can be no question that Faulk would have scored. While the Patriots did score on the next play, you never know when something can go wrong so you have to score when you have the chance. A second and goal at the 1 is no sure thing. For the Super Bowl, that pass to Faulk has got to be better.
While Jim Nance was praising Chargers RB Michael Turner for being a downhill runner, by the time this game reached its conclusion it was more of how Laurence Maroney has been doing his best impersonation of Franz Klammer. On a large scale he has been picking up speed as the season has progressed. In a microcosm, as each game progresses No.39 runs better and stronger. In the 1st half of the AFCC game he had 16 yards. In the second half he had 106. Sure, the team made a greater effort to ensure the success of the running game by using 2 or 3 tight ends in the second half. Yet it seems that the coaches have found a way to best use the Minnesota grad. The let the passing game soften up and tire out the linebackers and secondary and then turning loose Maroney, to run where he can best use his speed: hitting the outside. Because Maroney is fast. He has always been fast. So the edge is where he excels. Screen passes are his forte. But now there is more.
I am not entirely sure when it happened, but somewhere in the last couple of weeks someone replaced Laurence Maroney with Stephen Jackson. Because suddenly, looking at Maroney, he looks bigger, thicker, stronger and more muscular. And he bears a strong resemblance to the Rams running back in appearance and running style when hitting the hole inside. And in addition to making huge gains on the out side he has been getting more yards on inside runs. Make no mistakes, he is no Sam Cunningham. He has found his way into finding the holes and is hitting them. He is now using the blocking to his advantage the way that Sammy Morris was before he went on IR. He is finally running straight ahead and then making his cut once he gets to the second level. And most of all, Maroney is loving life, his smile exploding through his face mask after those big runs to around the end. And that smile is a nice change from 7 weeks ago when he was complaining about fans and media complaining about his inability to gain yards.
One of the things that teams have tried to do to make the Patriots more beatable is to shorten the game with a running game. Ironic is it not that against the Chargers the Patriots used the tactic to their benefit. With 9:21 left in the game the Patriots took possession of the ball needing to keep the ball out of San Diego’s hands. So how about a 9 minute and 21 second drive? The team that could not run the ball did and killed the clock and the Chargers.
Red Zone Fun
After hearing in every game this year about how the Patriot’s red zone defense was the worst in the universe wasn’t it great to see the team shut down the Chargers? Can you even remember the last time our defense allowed 3 trips into the red zone but gave up no touchdowns? I think it was the same game when the team gave up the longest field goal in team history above 100 degrees to a left footed kicker who had once served as an army ranger. So despite the inability to stop other offenses during the season the defense came up big in a game where it the rest of the team really needed the help. Just a few great plays by Bruschi, Asante and the end-zone back line were all that was needed.
Reversal Of Fortunes
When you are having trouble getting the ball into the hands of the league leading touchdown scorer, you just have to go to a shorter pass. Like the kind of pass that happens when you push the ball into the hands of a player on a running play. And that is what Josh McDaniels called: a reversal to no. 81. After 3 attempts to throw the ball to Moss were thwarted by high winds and a strong pass rush Moss took the hand off and rolled wide right cutting in behind stonewall blocking by Ben Watson and Nick Kaczur and ran for 14 yards. This play was so effective I want to look at why it worked.
Tom Brady began the play under center. Kyle Brady was on the line next to Matt Light with Ben Watson outside and off the ball. Another 2 yards outside of him Randy Moss lined up 2 yards off the ball. Such a tight formation clearly gave the impression that it was going to be a running play. What made this play work so well was that the left side of the line from Koppen out to Kyle Brady committed hard to slant run blocking, going down the line to the left. Prior to the snap Watson raises up and drifts to the right as if he is going to seal block on the back side of the line so that Neal can pull to the left, further selling the idea that it is going to be a run. Brady took the snap and faked the hand off to Maroney who ran into the middle of the slanted blocking line.
The play action pass has been very effective for Brady. Here it created further confusion as it was in fact a run but on a sweeping run to the right by Moss. The outside linebacker on the Patriots right read the play very well and was fighting to stay outside of Watson’s block. His job is to keep the play inside where the rest of his team mates are. However the genius of the blocking scheme was that Watson and Kaczur were sealing their players to the outside creating a channel for Moss to rush up into. Finally as Moss is making his break into his running corridor you see Maroney come running up from the inside looking for someone to block. This kind of downfield blocking is what springs plays for huge gains. It is also the kind of blocking that Moss has been providing for Maroney for so many weeks and this time Laurence had a chance to repay the favor.
Ramming It Down Their Throats
On the next 3 plays New England deployed wide, spread formations including one with 5 wide outs. Then on 3rd and 1 at the SD 16 the Patriots went to a goal line formation with 3 TEs (K.Brady left, Ben Watson and Spach to the right) In the back field was Heath Evans and Maroney. Brady was under center. With the alignment deployed it was clearly going to be a run, but with the extra body on the right it looked as though it were going to the right. But the Pats ran to the left with Evans leading the way and taking out 2 players including Merriman. Just flat out an impressive play.
Really, we are taking this game over.
With the game moving into the 4th quarter the Patriots were playing with a very thin margin of error. What they needed to do was to score a touchdown and make it a two score game. With 12:22 left, they had moved the ball into the San Diego red zone and had a 2nd and goal just outside the 6. The Patriots needed to score on this play because a 3rd and goal at the 6 would be an obvious running down. So they needed to score while there some level of options. Here, the Patriots called a play that came right from the basketball courts.
Brady is in the shotgun with Faulk to his left. Split left is Moss. To the right side Welker is on the LOS 5 yards outside the RT. To his right and a yard off the ball, stands Gaffney. Three yards further outside and 2 yards off the ball is Watson. Prior to the snap of the ball Watson comes in motion to the inside of Welker.
At the snap of the ball, Moss takes off on a slant post pattern. As he crosses the goal line the corner and the safety to his side go with him to the back of the end zone. This leaves the left side of the secondary empty. At the same time, Faulk moves to pick up one of the 2 linebackers blitzing on the left. But as Faulk makes his move it becomes apparent that the blitz is a fake because the outside linebacker moves with Faulk and begins to drop into coverage mirroring Kevin as no.33 begins a drag rout to clear out the middle of the field and then cuts left towards the side line. However with Faulk’s move to the outside the linebacker is so focused on him that he ignores what is behind him: The middle of the field.
Watson sprints up field cutting in front of Welker and then cuts out to the right. Gaffney begins an outside slant pattern, further taking defenders from the middle of the field. With Watson scraping in front of him, Welker makes a stutter step and then cuts across on a flat slant to the left towards the middle of the field. Because of the linebacker following Faulk Welker is running right behind him but the defender has no idea he is even there so that when Brady delivers the ball Welker only had to change his angle towards the goal line to score. This was one of the best executed plays of the day for the Patriots.
Really big kickoff
Following that touchdown, the absolute last thing that the Pats wanted was to give the Chargers a short field. Yet, as the season had grown colder Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs had stopped landing in the paint. I was not sure what was causing the incredibly shrinking kicks but if the team ever needed the Ghost of the beginning of the season. And it was at this moment that he delivered a big surprise, booming the ball 4 yards deep into the end zone. I am guessing that it surprised everyone on the Patriots team has he basically out kicked the coverage and the Chargers were able to get a decent return.
You can say what you want about Brady being off the mark or that the Chargers really schemed to take Moss out of the game, but I believe that the cold has been hampering him as much as anything. Regardless of what is the cause, Moss had a number of drops in this game. This continued a tendancy that we have seen with the receiver down the stretch. As the weather has worsened his niftyness and soft hands seemed to have frozen. I really hope that we see an improvement in his catching ability with the return to a warmer climate game.
Rivers Runs Throughs Its
San Diego QB Philip Rivers played heroically this day. It was known that he had injured his knee in the divisional playoff game against Indianapolis. However it was not made public that he had likely partially torn his ACL. In light of this it is somewhat amazing that he was able to play through the pain. In fact it was almost miraculous that he was even able to play, and for the whole game for that matter. We can debate the intelligence of risking the balance of his career against playing with an injury but there can be no debating his guts.
For a moment just on a whim lets suppose the Patriots win the game this coming Sunday in Glendale, Arizona. Ok, now lets jump ahead to next year or the year after. And you Patriots rookie Brandon Meriweather. How on earth is any season you ever have, going to even begin to come close to topping this 2007 season? If the Patriots won the next 3 Super Bowls (I’ll pause while your mind begins to embrace the prospects of that happening) none of them will top this season. Barring the league adding a 17th game to the playoffs or a Patriots team that can (and does) score 50 points a game and allows 10 points or less per game, every season from here on out will be a let down for Meriweather.
Conversely, how does 4th round pick Kareem Brown feel. He was actually on the team before being waived in mid season to add some veteran depth at another position. There was much prognostication that after clearing waivers that Brown would be added to the practice squad. However in one of the cruelest of ironies, Brown was signed by the new York Jets. You almost can imagine Kareem telling his agent, “No I DON’T want to be claimed off of waivers! Can’t we refuse to be picked up? DON’T LET THEM CLAIM MEEEEEEE! HELP!!” Because if the Patriots win this Super Bowl and rings of diamonds and gold are produced with the word “Perfect” on the side, it is a near slam dunk certainty that Mr. Kareem Brown will not be one of the recipients. Despite being on the Patriots roster at the beginning of the season
Now that the AFC Championship game is over, many on TV and radio would have you believe that now is when the real pressure hits the New England Patriots. The idea that they could go 18-0 and then lose the last game of the season would be pressure so amazing that it would hang over the Patriots like a mill stone. I however argue that this is dead wrong. At this point the Patriots are simply playing a Super Bowl game. This may seem to be a bit of an oxymoron as it is quite obvious that a Super Bowl carries with it a tremendous amount of pressure and tension. But for several of the players on the Patriots this is old hat. Tedy Bruschi will be playing in his 5th Super Bowl. Lonie Paxton, Larry Izzo, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour and some guy named Tom Brady will be playing in their 4th Championship. They have won their 3 previous. And the veteran Bowlies have experience and insights to share with the new kids. If there is one thing that this team knows how to do, it is get ready for and win Super Bowls. This decade’s version of the Patriots seems destined to be on a level with the 49ers of the 80’s. Finally if you need some reasons to believe that the Patriots will win Super Bowl XLII (that is 42 for the Roman Numerally impaired) consider these points:
1) Bill Belichick will have 2 weeks to prepare the team for this game. And his record with the extra prep time is decidedly good. Just how good is not so clear. In fact it can be wondered if anyone knows Belichick’s record with extra time as newspaper and TV reporters never share what the actual record is. After doing some checking I came up with these results. In a case where Belichick had at least 10 days to prepare his team for the opponent he has a 12-4 record. One of those losses came after the buy week in the 200 season. The other was in 2001, the Jets game played the week the week 2 games were postponed because of 911. This would leave him with a 12-2 record with Tom Brady under center. Together they have never lost in the post season with a 2 week lead in.
2) Tom Brady, who was on an insane tear (rhymes with pair) has had his bad game already. His 3 interceptions against the Chargers easily represented his worst game of the season. Despite hurting his ankle (3rd qtr.) and possibly playing with an illness (flu) he had a bad game for him despite leading the team to a victory. Yet when was the last time that Tom Brady had 2 bad games in a row?
3) Eli Manning has gone 3 games without a turnover. Wanna bet that he is able to go one more game without at least one pick? Yeah me neither.
4) The Patriots passing game, kept in check for 5 weeks in the cold and blustery north east has little choice but to come alive in the wind free, rain free, natural grass domed environment. The weeks of the Patriots prolific passing game being pathetic will end as Randy Moss will explode for a huge game. Moss is making his first ever Super Bowl appearance and will do his best to play his best. Considering the Giants weakest point in the secondary is their cornerbacks Moss should be able to produce number greater than what we saw in week 17 at the Meadowlands.
5) Finally, consider how much the match up for XLII resembles XX. In that game an upstart wildcard team won 3 games on the road against heavy favorites only to face a juggernaut team from the other conference that set records on one side of the ball.
That year, 1985-86 the Bears employed a defense that was beyond amazing. The Patriots played the role of wild gunslinger underdogs who their supporters, you and me, believed could slay the big bad bullies. This time around the favorite is wielding a powerful offense. The symmetry and reversal is pretty clear. Do you think that the Patriots should hit the studio before Sunday to record a music video? It might be the only missing piece. I could go for a 46-10 Patriots victory.
No matter what happens, next weeks notes will be tied together and lead by the letter S. As in Super Bowl. As in Serendipity and Summation. See you there. As long as this industrial bag of rolaids lasts I will be just fine.
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