By: Bob George/
November 16, 2003

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FOXBOROUGH -- Never mind the coaching issue. Dallas's offense looked like boys tonight.

Not 'Boys. Boys. As in prepubescent and the voice not yet changed.

The Battle Of The Bills went to Belichick, and rather handily, despite Parcells' defensive unit playing a fair game itself. But Belichick's defense put on a terrific show Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, as it completely stifled Quincy Carter and the Cowboy offense. New England prevailed, 12-0, and showed the nation that these Patriots might just be the best team in the AFC instead of the Chiefs and Titans, as everyone seems to think.

The shutout was the first by the Patriots since a 31-0 blanking of the Cardinals in 1996, with Parcells as Patriot head coach at the time. After seven straight wins over the Patriots since 1971, the Patriots have now won two in a row against Dallas. Of all the previous matchups involving these two teams, this game had the most advance billing since their first meeting 32 years ago, which was the inaugural game at Texas Stadium.

The Patriots, despite getting killed in the first half on time of possession by Parcells' ball control offense (Dallas had the ball in the first half for 18 ½ minutes), allowed the Cowboys only three serious scoring threats, and brushed them aside at every turn. Carter suffered three interceptions, and Tedy Bruschi stuffed Troy Hambrick for a two-yard loss at midfield on a fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter.

Despite having generally a lousy passing night, Tom Brady had just enough offense to get the job done thanks to two key long bombs and zero interceptions. The Dallas pass coverage was good for most of the evening, but long passes to Deion Branch and David Givens helped set up nine Patriot points, which was more than enough for Belichick to trust the game to the defense and to not do anything foolhardy or stupid against a robust Cowboy defense.

But the story of the evening was the Patriot defense. Despite Parcells generally running a conservative offense all game long with the intent on establishing a power running game, the defense had an answer for everything thrown at them. The Cowboys averaged three yards per rush, but that's counting 33 yards on six carries by Carter, who was running away from a ferocious Patriot pass rush while doing so. Take away Carter's scrambles and you get 22 carries for 51 yards, a measly 2.3-yard average.

It was obvious that Belichick was obsessed with putting the lid on former Patriot Terry Glenn. Glenn finished with only one catch for eight yards and a loud chorus of boos. Ty Law pretty much kept his former teammate under wraps, while Carter continually misfired in his attempts to find Antonio Bryant (Joey Galloway was a scratch, as was Troy Brown). One indication of how well the Patriot pass defense went was that the leading receiver for Dallas was fullback Richie Anderson, who had 8 catches for 85 yards. However, that is skewed by a freak 37-yard screen toss in the closing seconds of the first half, with the defense merely protecting against a touchdown as time ran out in the half.

Only twice did Dallas drive deep into Patriot territory, and both times the drives ended with interceptions from the Patriot 19. Late in the third quarter, Dallas drove 37 yards in eight plays to the Patriot 19, but on first and ten, Carter rolled right and found tight end Jason Witten momentarily open in the right flat. Witten grabbed at the ball, bobbled it, and Law snatched it away from him. Then on the final play of the game, Carter threw a desperation heave into the end zone which Law returned 45 yards to end the game.

The definitive drive for Dallas, the one which summed up the evening for both teams combined, took place in the second quarter. Dallas took over the ball at their own 8-yard line, ran 13 plays and took 7:23 off the clock. Typical Parcells ball-control drive, right? The only problem is that the drive only went 66 yards, and was killed at the Patriot 46 thanks to one play in which both Flo Adams and Larry Allen were called for illegal use of the hands on the same play.

The play which perhaps iced the win for the Patriots also typified what kind of an evening Carter had. With 9:51 left in the game, the Cowboys were perched at midfield. On third and inches, Mike Vrabel stuffed Hambrick for no gain. Parcells decided to go for it, a tack he often took when he was Patriot head coach. Dallas was 3 for 7 on fourth down plays in 2003. But instead of running a sneak by Carter which would surely have gained the six or seven inches needed for the first down, Parcells lined Hambrick up deep behind Carter and handed him the ball for a run up the gut. Bruschi met Hambrick at the Dallas 48 and nailed him for a two-yard loss, and Dallas lost the ball on downs.

Further complicating this play was that, prior to the snap, Carter had to burn a timeout. This means that, despite only six inches needed for a first down, Carter was confused at what the Patriots were showing him. Making a bad situation worse was that, despite the timeout, Parcells made a bad call which resulted in a two-yard loss.

Dallas did manage to get the ball back after a three-and-out by the Patriots, but on the second play of that drive, Carter was picked off. Glenn sneaked in behind Tyrone Poole in a deep zone seam on the left side. But Carter, under pressure, underthrew Glenn and Poole made a leaping interception. The Patriots proceeded to run 5:28 off the clock and Adam Vinatieri (who had an extra point blocked earlier in the game) booted his second field goal of the game to make it 12-0 Patriots.

How really stifling was the defense? Brady finished with only 15 of 34 passing and a 64.8 rating. The Patriots averaged only 2.6 yards per rush and totaled 65 yards on the ground. Ken Walter, who may become the next Lee Johnson sometime soon, averaged only 33.6 net punting yards on eight punts. Carter hit on 20 of 36 passes, but finished with a rating of only 38.0, nearly half that of Brady.

As stated earlier, this was indeed a classic case of just enough offense to win. In the first quarter, Branch ran a crossing pattern, caught the ball wide open over the middle, and nearly outran Terence Newman down the left sideline to the end zone before being shoved out of bounds at the Dallas 11 for 46 yards. This long gainer set up Vinatieri's first field goal, from 23 yards out. Then in the second quarter, a hurried Brady heaved a dying quail deep downfield, but Givens hauled it in, put a neat move on Newman, and raced to the Dallas 5-yard line. One play later (the ball was placed at the two because of a roughing the passer penalty on Al Singleton), Antowain Smith plowed in from two yards out behind Dan Klecko and it was 9-0 Pats.

This was the fifth meeting ever between Belichick and Parcells, including the postseason, and Belichick now leads 3-2. What to glean from this game, other than that the Patriots have great coaches and a great defense, is not real certain. Either the Cowboys were overrated and finally ran up against a defense better than theirs (though their last loss was also by shutout, a 16-0 loss at Tampa Bay three weeks ago), or Belichick simply beat the pants off of Parcells in every way imaginable, including the all-important game manager issue, which this column said was the key matchup in the game.

Simply stated, the Patriot defense was way too much for the Dallas offense. It didn't seem like Parcells was outcoached, it just seemed like he was overmatched. Despite being generally conservative, Parcells really didn't have the material to deal with the Patriots, bolstered by the return of both Ted Washington and Ted Johnson.

But Belichick did win big tonight nevertheless. On a national stage, his team shut out the Dallas Cowboys. He beat his former boss. He gave his home crowd a satisfying win after seeing their team get jilted seven years ago by Parcells, then watching him come here with the Jets and torture the Foxborough faithful.

Belichick may have lost to the Bills in Week 1. But he sure beat The Bill Sunday night.