By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by Comdoctor.net
January 07, 2006

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As Asante Samuel undercut a Jacksonville pass route and took an interception back the other way to seal a Wild Card playoff win over the Jaguars, it dawned on me.

X's and O's are important in the playoffs but two things truly determine just who advances in the playoffs. The first factor is the ability of a team to take advantage of a break handed to them. The second is that it comes down to individuals making outstanding plays at critical junctures.

You don't remember every third down conversion in Patriots playoff history. But I bet you remember Ty Law racing down the sideline with his right arm up in the air against the Rams. I'm sure you remember Adam Vinatieri jumping for joy later in the same game. And don't forget Rodney Harrison sealing the last Super Bowl with an interception and an Eagle arm flapping.

Besides Samuel's game-sealing interception, the other play that will go down on the long list of individual brilliance in Patriot playoff history is the Ben Watson jaw-dropping, Jaguar-shedding touchdown catch and run in the third quarter that took whatever fight that was left out of the Jags.

Watson's quarterback had the most inconsistent playoff performance in his short, stellar career. Tom Brady was confused the entire first half by the Jaguar defensive coverage and uncharacteristically held onto the ball just long enough to get sacked a few times. And when he did get the ball off in the first half, often times it was inaccurate or thrown into triple coverage as was the case on a deep ball to David Givens. Every great quarterback, including Brady, deserves a mulligan when looking back over his body of work. This will likely be his.

With his quarterback and running backs struggling to put the game away, Watson did the heavy lifting on one of the most exciting plays in Patriot history.

Up until these two individual performances, it was anybody's game. With the score 7-3 in favor of the Patriots of the half, it was time to feel uneasy. Three trips into Jaguars territory had yielded just seven points. The offense was unable to take advantage of the Eugene Wilson forced fumble. It felt like it was going to be the kind of sloppy game that a team like Jacksonville would have a chance to win at the end.

But thanks to the big plays by Samuel and Watson in the third quarter, that didn't prove to be the case. So as the Patriots train continues to pick up steam and head into the Divisional round later this week, one has to believe they will have a chance to advance because they have a laundry list of players that are unafraid to be called upon for a big play.

Forget strategy and game planning, that's the factor a team craves at this time of the year.

I suppose you could also throw a pinch of attitude into a successful playoff recipe as well. An attitude like the one that was displayed in the fourth quarter by the Patriots defense when it refused to allow the Jaguars even a field goal during garbage time. It was quite clear what was going on. The message being sent wasn't so much for the Jags but rather for the Colts and Broncos.

Looking ahead to this coming weekend, a rational person could make a case for each of the four remaining AFC teams advancing to the Super Bowl. It's difficult to recall a year when there has been such quality among the four remaining teams in a conference. Compare this quality with the Jekyll-and-Hyde routine being advertised as the NFC playoffs and it's easy to conclude that whoever wins the AFC will win the Super Bowl.

Do the Patriots have a chance of being the lone survivor out of these four AFC teams? Of course they do. And at this time of the year, that's all one could hope for.

That, and they type of players like Samuel and Watson who want to make "The Play" with the season on the line.

Idle Zinger thoughts while wondering how I am suddenly listening to the Indigo Girls:

Did you see Rodney Harrison on the sideline of Saturday's game? He looked like he was going ice fishing right afterwards.

Not having the Patriots' radio broadcast even close to being in synch with the television feed is becoming a proverbial rock in the shoe.

News item: Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick has decided to leave the school and enter the NFL draft. My guess is that most, if not all, NFL teams are going to do to Vick what he did to Louisville defensive end Elvis Durnervil when April rolls around.

Maurice Clarett: THE Ohio State Penitentiary.

I could have done without Tom Brady uncharacteristically throwing the team's fans under the bus last week when describing all of the people who wrote them off at midseason.

It occurred to me while watching the Rose Bowl that the Super Bowl L (50)should take place where it all started, in Los Angeles at either the Rose Bowl or at the Coliseum.

It's a close race at the bookstore: the number of new, tired Red Sox books or rip-offs of The Da Vinci Code.

You'll love this. Just got the latest NFL Shop catalog in the mail and it is offering up Super Bowl XL merchandise including championship hats and t-shirts. Well guess what team they chose to use as an example? None other than the Indianapolis Colts. You'll remember that last year the team had "AFC Champions" merchandise for sale before the Divisional round game against the Patriots. And we all know how that one turned out.

You have to feel for Houston Texans fans. Watching that team since its inception has to be as happy and warm as a viewing of "Apocalypse Now."

How is a coach (Herm Edwards) who went 4-12 and has only won his division once in five years worth a fourth round pick and a substantial raise?

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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