By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by Comdoctor.net
November 13, 2005

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If the folks at Webster's Dictionary are ever looking to update their definition of the phrase "game of inches," Sunday's 23-16 nail-biting victory by the Patriots against the Dolphins in Miami just might do the trick.

If Tim Dwight doesn't wrestle the ball away from Reggie Howard during the Pats game winning drive, your Super Bowl champs season is basically over with a record of 4-5.

If Miami receiver Chris Chambers didn't have a case of the dropsies in the end zone on the last play of a potential game-tying drive, we wouldn't be giving props to the hodge-podge offensive line that kept Tom Brady off his rear end all day. Talk about the 2006 draft would quickly ensue.

If you're anything like me, you're still having a tough time getting your head around your feelings for the 2005 New England Patriots. Past performances have raised the expectation level in these parts to unrealistically sustainable levels (I'm still guilty as charged on this one.) We expect that if a key player goes down, his replacement will show no drop off in performance. He will perform with the other members of his squad as if he has been playing with them for three or four years. Based on this, you get frustrated when Nick Kaczur or James Sanders just doesn't live up to the performances of Matt Light or Rodney Harrison.

Then the rational side of your brain takes hold of the argument and counters that there is indeed a line that gets crossed "" thank you, Marty Schottenheimer "" where injuries will make a great team perform in an average capacity. Look no further than this year's Patriots squad if you want an example.

Based on this rationale, you start to cut the team a little bit of slack and lower your level of acceptable behavior. Any team that can win with an offensive line consisting of two rookies and two backups deserves a pat on the back. Mix in rolling auditions throughout the defensive secondary and you'll perhaps begin to see my point.

Such a mental wrestling match makes it difficult to get your head around this AFC East victory. There was plenty to take away that was good like Tom Brady's 21st game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and the Dolphins being held to 77 yards rushing. But when was the last time a team gave up 360 yards Gus Frerotte and lived to tell about it come January? Go ahead, I'll wait for an answer.

Still waiting"

What you saw on Sunday will exactly be the way that it will go for the remaining seven games of the season. The Patriots won't have the ability to blow out even crummy teams like the Jets or Saints. They'll have to scrape, get a few lucky breaks and hope the injury bug finally finds a new address. I wish I could tell you differently but you know deep down that I'm right.

There's no shame in this lowering of expectations. They'll still play their tails off and not shame you into admitting that you are a Patriots fan. Just look at the effort the defense made at the line of scrimmage against the Dolphins. Three Super Bowls in four years and not falling off the face of the earth this year is nothing to sneeze at, folks.

And who knows? If you consider this a transition year, we may remember 2005 as the year that Ellis Hobbs, Logan Mankins, Nick Kaczur and others emerged as bona fide NFL players for years to come.

Despite the late-game histrionics, step back and think about this for a minute: If all 32 NFL teams had to line up for a game missing four starters (Ashworth, Givens, Graham, and Dillon) that played six days earlier, just how many of those teams would have won? I would wager only a handful. You may have a hard time seeing the Patriots depth at times but it's there if you want to look for it.

And we might along the way be subjected to a few surprises like the incredible defensive play of Hobbs and the surprisingly adequate play of Dillon's replacement, Heath Evans (17 attempts for 84 yards, 4.9 avg.). And one thing's for sure: you'll get your full three hours worth of entertainment with these Patriots if they do win. No cheap fourth pre-season game value here, folks.

Am I disappointed the run of invincibility has ended? Sure, who wouldn't be? But if I just stop listening to the emotional side of my brain for a minute and entertain the rational half of my noggin, this 9-7 Patriots season may be easier to swallow when I'm tasting my guacamole dip on Super Bowl Sunday watching the Colts and Panthers mix it up in Detroit.

Idle Zinger thoughts while trying to get around the middle-aged female zombies that roam the aisles of the Christmas Tree Shop:

From the No Headline Necessary Dept: The Rams recently placed OL Richie Incognito on injured reserve.

I saw that a few Redskins have been fined for not wearing the proper uniform during a game. If you've seen some of the numbers I show up into work in, you'll agree with me that I should be grateful that my place of employment is a little more lenient than the NFL.

He may be the most influential man that you've never heard about. He stands at the 25 yard-line during games with orange mittens and notifies the officiating crew as to when to take a timeout and when to start up play again.

Drew Rosenhaus' diatribe in front of T.O.'s house was so disingenuous I thought for a minute that he had dropped the agent thing and was running for federal office.

Quote of the week: "When you know what you are doing, you don't get intercepted."- Johnny Unitas after the famous 1958 NFL Championship game.

The ProJo's Tom Curran reported that Colts GM Bill Polian, while sitting in the press box last Monday night in Foxboro, screamed out to his players to break Doug Flutie's leg on the last play. Mr. Polian, your team may be the cream of the AFC but it certainly isn't the class of it.

This column also appears in the American Journal (Westbrook/Gorham, Maine), the Current (Scarborough/Cape Elizabeth/South Portland, Maine), the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly (Windham/Naples, Maine), the Citizen (Sacopee Valley, Maine), the Reporter (Waterboro/Hollis, Maine), the Sun Chronicle (Saco/Old Orchard Beach, Maine), and online at VillageSoup.com (Belfast, Camden, Rockland, Maine).

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