By: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
October 17, 2005

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As Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer connected with wide receiver Rod Smith on a 72-yard completion early in the second quarter on Sunday, you almost had a feeling that it may have been the start of something bad for the New England defense.

On Sunday the Broncos found a weakness in the Patriots defense, with that weakness being cornerback Duane Starks, and just kept attacking it again and again. Try as the Patriots did to fight them off, in the end the Broncos got the better of New England and did enough damage to send the Patriots back home with a 28-20 defeat.

It was certainly difficult to watch. You can say what you want about Plummer, but he might as well have been Tom Brady's alter-ego on Sunday considering the way he played. He finished 17-of-24 for 262 yards and two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 134.4. He was accurate all afternoon, and to make matters worse, for the most part each time he went deep he connected. It was the first time in quite a while that the Patriots defense made an opposing quarterback look better than they really were.

It was flat out embarrassing. Let's not kid anyone, if the Red Sox were still in the playoffs there would likely have been plenty of people who changed the channel this afternoon after the Broncos went up 28-3. There's only so many times one can watch a defense get beat deep and give up big plays, and there were probably plenty of people who reached their limit on Sunday.

In fairness to cornerback Starks, who struggled mightily on Sunday, without any free safety help his job isn't exactly the easiest. To make matters worse they got little or no pressure on Plummer, giving him plenty of time to survey the field and pick apart whatever receiver happened to be open. It's difficult to play defense when the opposing quarterback has all day to throw.

On the other side of the ball Brady was again stepping up, stepping back, ducking, side-stepping, doing everything he could to try and deliver the football to an open man. For yet another afternoon he had to deal with constant pressure, and as much as you hate to admit it you could see on Sunday it may finally have been starting to get to him. For the second straight week Brady was badly underthrowing balls, stepping backward as he made his throw, anticipating the shot he was about to take. The protection did improve as the game went on, but by that time the damage had been done.

Granted there is some solace in the fact that the Patriots did fight back from a 28-3 deficit and were within one drive of winning the game. It certainly makes the end result a little easier to handle. Unfortunately had they not spotted the Broncos a 25 point lead in their own stadium, then maybe the outcome on Sunday would have been a bit different.

There are plenty of problems that will need to be addressed during the Patriots upcoming week off. Fortunately there is some good news on the horizon with the possible return of linebacker Tedy Bruschi. However to ask #54 to come back and fix the fact that the defensive backfield is having a hard time covering anyone isn't going to make this problem go away. The only good thing is if Bruschi can at least help the Patriots run defense, hopefully they'll start stopping opponents on third and short along with inside the red zone, both areas where they're struggling right now.

While watching Sunday's game there is one thing that fans may have begun to notice, and that is the fact that on defense the Partriots have not been able to create many turnovers. They have recovered just two fumbles and have one interception on the season. On that pace they'll finish the season with just three interceptions and six fumble recoveries. That's quite a drop-off from last season when they finished with 15 fumble recoveries and 20 interceptions.

Needless to say they've got their work cut out for them. Hopefully the week off will help head coach Bill Belichick figure out a way to fix what's wrong, along with also giving his team a chance to get healthy. Add in the potential return for Bruschi and it certainly makes for an interesting off week.

A Pleasure cruise?

It's apparently not a good time to be a Minnesota Vikings fan. If there was any doubt about the future of head coach Mike Tice, there's a pretty good chance that the events of last week may have closed the book on his tenure in Minnesota. Following the incident where 17 Vikings players have been implicated in a "ėsex party' that reportedly took place on charter boats on Lake Minnetonka, it's become a circus in Minnesota that the media is jumping all over. According to the Minnesota Star Tribune Quarterback Daunte Culpper, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie and cornerback Fred Smooth are on that list, with many new details likely to surface in the coming weeks.

This alleged cruise was supposed to last 3 ¬Ĺ hours but was cut short after the crew members that were on those chartered boats apparently weren't interested in having to watch the events that were taking place around them. They reportedly returned the boats to shore just 40 minutes into the cruise and then called police. According to the newspaper two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation said that crew members have told authorities that several women who had sex with the players on the boats had said that they had been flown in from out of state for the party. One of the sources also told the newspaper that if the women participated in organized prostitution on the boat after crossing state lines, it could be a felony under federal law.

To make matters worse the report also said that the sex that took place was apparently consensual, and some was "ėphotographed as passengers watched and cheered'. Needless to say those players better hope that none of those photographs end up on the internet. Should those come out it could be one of the most damaging events ever to hit the National Football League.

Brady vs. Bledsoe

Sitting atop the league leaders in passing yards at the time of this article being published is Brady and Dallas quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Through six games Bledsoe has tossed 11-touchdowns compared to just eight for Brady, along with just four interceptions for both. Now the question for Bledsoe will be whether or not he can sustain this level of play throughout the rest of the season, and finally get his team deep into the postseason. The difference has been that Brady has been far more consistent down the stretch, as opposed to Bledsoe who historically has struggled late in the season. It will be interesting to see if Bill Parcells can finally get whatever Bledsoe has left out of him. The thought of a Patriots and Dallas Superbowl certainly seems far fetched at this point, but in the event it did happen it would certainly make for an interesting two weeks.

Ted Johnson's Media Transition

Seeing former Patriots linebacker on WBZ for the "ėFifth Quarter' along with "ėSports Final' has certainly been an interesting experience. It's funny how current players seem to have a tough time taking him seriously, with every one of them grinning ear to ear each time Johnson attempts to interview them. Johnson was obviously a player that was well liked in the locker room, and the banter between he and his former teammates has been fun to watch.

One thing that has certainly been apparent is that Johnson initially seemed very nervous about making any negative comments about the team and the way they may have been playing. However after the past several weeks he now doesn't seem to be quite as afraid to call it how he sees it, and while he hasn't mentioned any names, he's been critical of the defense and the struggles they've had so far this season. It will be interesting to hear his insight as the season goes on and he gets more and more comfortable as a media member.

Top Three Observations

1) Linebacker Monty Beisel hasn't exactly filled the shoes of either Bruschi or Johnson so far this season. I don't recall ever seeing the previous person who wore #52 miss tackles as frequently as Beisel does, nor do I recall ever seeing him get run over down on the goal line. Whether he's struggling to get comfortable with the system, or he's simply not the player we all hoped he'd be, so far Beisel has been a disappointment. Hopefully with a week off to regroup he'll be able to turn it around.

2) Fans need to be very concerned with what's happening with Brady through six games. It's no secret that givent the play of the defense Brady and the offense is going have to go out there and simply try to out score each team they face, since it's obvious that unless something changes their defense is going to continue to give up a lot of points. The only problem with this is that in 2002 New England also found themselves relying on Brady's right arm to win games, and teams began coming after him much like they have been so far this season. Much like this season Brady was also getting hit quite a bit that year and eventually suffered a separated shoulder that he later admitted would have kept him out of the postseason. Brady has been hit or knocked down far too often this season, and considering his undefeated postseason record his loss would be devastating. Needless to say with the changes they have had on the offensive line, hopefully they'll be able to turn it around and play better heading into the latter part of the season.

3) It's hard not to be excited about Bruschi's apparent return to the team. However the biggest issue in the minds of most fans is likely whether or not playing football will have any impact on his health long-term. From everything that I've read the odds are pretty good that Bruschi has probably lost some quickness and reaction time as the result of the stroke he suffered earlier in the year. I'll never forget the Indianapolis Colts game last year where he simply looked like a man possessed, ripping the ball out of Edgerrin James' hands, and then was right there smacking at the ball while James did all he could to keep Bruschi from taking it away. Bruschi seemed to be gliding across the field and was in complete control of whatever he wanted to do in that game. While his loss before this season was obviously unceremonious, that's how I'd rather remember him. I'd rather remember the guy who was one of the best players I've ever had the pleasure of watching. Seeing him after he's "lost a step"Ě would probably be pretty tough to take. Here's hoping he's made a full recovery.

Weighing in on Manny Ramirez

I'm going to come out and tell you that I feel trading Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez is a major mistake. I understand he doesn't run out every ground ball, and I'll certainly admit that many of the catches he makes in the outfield become an unnecessary adventure. However I can't imagine under any circumstances where someone can look me in the eye and tell me that the Red Sox will be able to replace him with someone that can hit 40 home runs and knock in 100+ RBI's year in and year out, and fill his spot a effectively in the line-up. To make matters worse the loss of Manny could also ruin how effective David Ortiz has been. With a guy like Manny to protect Ortiz, it's doubtful that Ortiz will get as many good looks at pitches, and if they lose Manny and also Ortiz's production, they're going to be in tough shape.

Considering the financial issues with Manny's contract, they're also not going to get what they would need to for the value by letting him go, nor will they be as good offensively. People need to undestand that the problems this team faced this year in the postseason had nothing to do with Manny. It had to do with the fact that the rest of the line-up didn't hit and their pitching couldn't get anyone out. The sooner people realize that the better off they'll be.

Final Thoughts

All things considered things could certainly be worse with the Patriots. For the most part they're healthy on offense, and by the time the season resumes in two weeks the odds are pretty good they'll have many of their defensive starters back in the line-up as well. With 10 games remaining the worst part of the schedule is over, as six of those remaining games will come against the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets. However three of their final 10 games will come against the Indianapolis Colts (fortunately in Foxboro), the Kansas City Chiefs (at Arrowhead Stadium, a tough place to play), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (currently 5-1 and playing well) so it's not exactly a cakewalk. Fortunately six of those remaining games are also at Gillette Stadium, a place where everyone knows is a place where the Patriots play their best football.


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