By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 18, 2002

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FOXBOROUGH -- Man, that new stadium looked so dadblasted beautiful, Tom Brady could have had six picks and the evening was still awesome.

Foxborough gave new meaning to the term "First Night". It was born in Boston several New Year's Eves ago, and was born again on Saturday night in perhaps the noteworthiest town in the Commonwealth. Seeing gleaming new Gillette Stadium, be it on television or live, was worth all the buildup, hype, and anticipation over all these years. The palatial "Taj Mahal of the NFL" (as Bob Kraft likes to call it, and who can blame him?) made the evening a visual treat, and gave Patriot Nation a sense of pride to see their team finally playing in a true world-class facility.

What will you take from the evening? The lighthouse? The bridge? That goofy long, streaming, multi-colored marquee of lights that you see in the Staples Center and Heinz Field? Parking hassles? A chance to yell "Thanks, Bob!" to the team owner? A set of buttocks that don't ache after three hours on a metal bleacher?

If your answer is "Brady looks rather lousy", you are really no fun to be with and you take your love of the sport way too seriously. The Patriots, in what was really a footnote in the overall scheme of things, barely won the game, 16-15 over the Philadelphia Eagles. And for the second week in a row, the second and third offensive units of the Patriots outperformed the first unit. On a night where Adam Vinatieri scored the first points in the new stadium and Kevin Faulk scored its first touchdown, Brady was left to be made to look creaky and not yet ready for when things get serious.

Brady had a rather poor statistical night. His passer rating came out at only 36.2, whereas Damon Huard's came out at 88.6. Brady suffered two interceptions in the first half, and still at times looks like he doesn't have a rhythm.

And already, some alarmists are worried about Brady and the Patriot offense. The Patriots scored exactly three offensive touchdowns in the 2001 postseason. The Patriots have thus far scored only two offensive touchdowns in two games this preseason. Some experts out there think that this is a trend that will spell doom for the 2002 Patriots in that they can't put points on the board at a rate that will get them lots of wins.

And we say not to worry. All is well, so far.

Are improvements needed? Obviously. That's why they have the preseason. Though some veterans decry the preseason and claim that it isn't necessary, it's games like this that help the Patriots work out the kinks before the real deal begins.

That said, here is what is really going on with the Patriot offense, and why you should not worry. At least not yet.

First of all, you must remember a basic tenet of football in general: in training camps, the defense will always be ahead of the offense. The unit needs to get its timing down, and it is obvious that the timing that Bill Belichick and Charlie Weis want is not there yet. Run blocking is not yet crisp and efficient, and pass routes aren't squeaky clean yet. In fact, the timing factor plays a role in some of the other things about the offense that follow.

The offensive line right now is a mess. With Joe Andruzzi still out with his virus, and Greg Robinson-Randall still not able to reclaim his starting job, Dante Scarnecchia and Belichick are playing around with various combinations in order to find one that works. Both Adrian Klemm (guard) and Kenyatta Jones (tackle) got starts on Saturday night. Stephen Neal saw a great deal of action at right guard on the second unit (next to Randall). Damien Woody has been seeing more action at guard with Mike Compton handling the center duties. End result: anything but cohesion and clean execution. Nothing else connected with the offense will get better until these guys get their act together.

Deion Branch had a little bit of a comeuppance following his outstanding game against the Giants last week. Concurrently, Troy Brown exposed a lot of what the rookie needs to learn as he adjusts to life in the NFL. Branch had only three catches this week, along with a nifty 18-yard end-around on the game's first play. Overall, Branch had a few drops and ran poor routes, and needs to learn quickly that his blazing speed is not enough for a little guy to succeed in this league. On the other hand, Brady threw twice to Brown, both times in the second quarter. One went for 17 yards, the other for 15 yards. That was it for Brown. Get open, catch the ball, run with it after you catch it. Branch will catch on, folks.

Both of Brady's picks, along with one other rather adverse play, made Brady look foolish. In fact, each of these plays looked like experiments, none of which would have been run in the regular season without some test-marketing to see how well they would be executed.

Brian Dawkins made a super pick on Brady on the left sideline route to David Patten, but either Patten ran a bad route (unlikely) or Brady cannot make this throw (possible) and Weis won't try this when games count. On the end zone pick by Lito Sheppard, Brady merely needs to get used to throwing to a tall target (Donald Hayes), and a play like this is harmless if tested in the preseason.

Another play of note was in the first quarter, when Brady drove the Patriots to third and two at the Eagles' 10-yard line. Brady tried to force a pass into new tight end Cam Cleeland, but former Steeler LB Levon Kirkland was draped all over the former Saint and knocked the ball down. There is no harm in seeing what kind of heavy traffic Cleeland (or any other tight end) can deal with in a preseason game. And again, it is unlikely that Brady makes this play in a real game, unless it was seven years ago and the tight end answered to the name of Ben Coates.

Finally, anyone who complains about lack of Patriot offense when the team wins anyway is giving you a huge whine job. Last we checked, the object of football is to merely outscore your opponent. Winning by one point yields the same result as winning by twenty. That said, why should Belichick and Weis coach aggressively on offense and gun for 30-40 points per game if the defense can reliably hold down the opposition to under 20 points? The Patriot defense played generally quite well Saturday night, save for a few dumb penalties at the end of the first half (Donovan McNabb was only 8 of 14 for 59 yards but did rip off a 24-yard run). Weis can afford to play close to the vest with the intelligent and non-error-prone Brady.

And last we checked, those paltry three offensive touchdowns the Patriots scored in the 2001 postseason helped the Patriots pull off a Super Bowl win. Try and tell me what's bad about that.

Right now, there is no real reason to worry. Next week, the offense will get a chance to open up when the lowly Carolina Panthers come to Foxborough. The Patriots did ring up 38 points on these guys late last year, but 21 of those points came on returns of either punts or picks. If there is anything to worry about the Patriot offense, you might see it if the Patriots have problems scoring on these guys, unless it is obvious that they are still tinkering with plays to see if they work.

And if they fail to crack the end zone, at least Vinatieri is still looking every bit like Automatic Adam. The problem is if Vinatieri sets a record for number of field goals made in a season, that might not be a good thing.

Anyway, forget about the offense for now. The defense looks sweet, the stadium looks sweeter.

And we can't let this article pass without mentioning that the first game in Gillette Stadium turned out to be a real close shave. Enjoy the new crib, folks.


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