By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 17, 2005

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FOXBOROUGH -- There's former president Franklin Roosevelt, leading the nation in a rousing chorus of "Happy Days Are Here Again".

Then you have Demond (Lamont Sanford) Wilson trying to get you to watch his ill-fated second venture in television, Baby I'm Back.

But why bother with these. Let's let Tom Brady sum things up from his famous mantra of two years' past: "We're ba-a-a-a-ack!"

And back they are. What had been dismissed as big wins over cupcake opponents was nothing such on Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Nearly shutting out the Buffalo Bills on the road is one thing. But actually shutting out the powerful Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home on a national stage was enough to make the rest of the league quiver in fear. The Patriots are healthy, motivated, and now officially dangerous as all get out. Their 28-0 victory, which clinches the AFC East title for the Patriots, makes the entire NFL stand up and take notice.

And that includes the Indianapolis Colts, who beat the Patriot junior varsity here a few weeks back.

Let there be no doubt that the Patriots are in playoff form right now. They beat Tampa Bay in every way imaginable. The defense put the clamps on Cadillac Williams, treated Chris Simms as if he were a high school frosh/soph player, and made offensive genius Jon Gruden look like his reputation was nothing but gossip. Offensively, Brady was simply brilliant, and despite being in obvious pain throughout the game, exhibited a great deal of toughness in the midst of a Buccaneer defense which never gave up trying to pound him senseless.

If the game had one turning point where Tampa Bay could have turned the game to their favor, it was early in the second quarter. Brady made his one bad throw of the day, a deep left flat pass to Andre Davis which instead found its way perfectly into the hands of Juran Bolden. Bolden could not have an interception more neatly gift-wrapped for next Sunday, but he simply let the ball slip through his hands. The Patriots, leading 7-0 at the time, did go three and out and would not score until two possessions later, but Tampa Bay never threatened to win the game after that moment. Had Bolden made the pick, Tampa Bay could have completely changed the complexion of the game.

But it is open to debate if they actually could have done so. The Patriots completely throttled the Buccaneer offense. Williams was held to only 23 yards rushing and a 1.6-yard average. His longest run of the day was for only three yards. Simms had a 72.5 passer rating and threw no interceptions, but was sacked seven times and pressured hellaciously all game long. The Buccaneers as a team racked up only 138 total yards of offense.

This was a game where literally everyone on defense deserved a game ball. Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest had two sacks each and were flying around out there as if they were both twenty-year-olds. Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork helped stuff Williams and were both big huge houses out there. Ellis Hobbs did a terrific job in coverage, as did Asante Samuel, though his area was picked on frequently during the game. Rosevelt Colvin also applied constant pressure on Simms all game long.

The only thing the Buccaneers did really well was to shut down the Patriot running game. Corey Dillon had only 48 total rushing yards and a 2.5-yard average, but he scored two of the four Patriot touchdowns. As a team, the Patriots averaged only 2.6 yards per carry.

Brady was simply fantastic, there is no other way to put it. His passer rating was a whopping 122.8. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 258 yards and threw three touchdown passes. One of those passes was a first quarter one-yard toss to left tackle Tom Ashworth, who lined up at fullback and was wide open in the right flat. David Givens had a career day, with six catches for 137 yards and a touchdown.

Raw numbers simply don't tell the story. The Patriots have their old swagger and intensity back in full force, and that, above everything else, is why they won the game by a blowout shutout. The Buccaneers played hard all game long and never gave up, but the Patriots simply took it to them and outclassed them at every turn.

Part of it also was key Buccaneer mistakes. A roughing the punter penalty on Ryan Nece kept a second quarter drive alive for the Patriots which eventually led to a touchdown. Simms lost a fumble on the next drive when sacked by Mike Vrabel, which led to another Patriot touchdown. Twice the Bucs had fourth down and short and went for it, and failed each time. An 81-yard punt return for a touchdown by Mark Jones was wiped out on a holding penalty.

But this was a total dominating victory by the Patriots, who are now poised with a ton of confidence as they pursue a record third straight Super Bowl win. They now have their division title and a playoff berth secured, now they face a similar plight that the Colts face, that being they are probably locked into their playoff seeding right now (four seed) and have two meaningless regular season games left to play. How they handle these two games as they try and build momentum going into the playoffs is well worth watching.

Now that the Patriots have gotten back to their old ways of playing well against a quality opponent, the Patriots may want to play as hard as they can in their final two regular season games (at Jets, home against Miami). Unlike the Colts, who are openly admitting that they could care less about a 16-0 record and want a Vince more than they want an undefeated season, the Patriots might give the rest of the league a lesson on how to handle meaningless games which segue into the playoffs. The Colts may spend this time resting and avoiding injuries, while the Patriots will likely stay as sharp as possible. Granted, the Patriots will have to play in the Wild Card round this year unlike previous years, but if the Patriots and Colts should meet in the second round of the playoffs, these next three to four weeks could be groundbreaking strategy for other teams in future years if the Patriots should knock off the Colts and somehow make their way to Detroit in February.

The Patriots have sent their message. The junior varsity is gone. The varsity is back. The champs are back in town, and playing like champs.

And that is the nicest Christmas present any Patriot fan could get at this time of year.


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