By: Bob George/
September 16, 2006

Mock draft: Patriots get defensive
Rob Gronkowski puts out video to talk about his decision-making process
Patriots getting a good read on Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Filling the Patriots' needs: No. 2 Linebackers
Rob Gronkowski says he'll be back with Patriots

E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the game films are dissected early next week, the word "tampering” will not come up.

Where: Giants Stadium
E. Rutherford, N.J.
When: Sunday 9/17/06
1:00 PM EDT
TV National:
TV Local:
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 714, 725, 930
2006 Team
Patriots 1-0
Jets 1-0
Latest Line: Patriots by 6
Between the lines on Sunday afternoon at Giants Stadium, it will be about nothing but football. You can forget all about the dalliances over new Seattle Seahawk Deion Branch and what, if any, underhanded tricks the masters of the underhanded might have pulled. It will come down to the Patriots and the Jets on the field and who blocks and tackles better than the other, not who out-litigates the other.

Matter of fact, any discussion of this grievance stuff is moot until after the season is over. Word from the league offices is that the grievance the Patriots are filing against the Jets won't be heard until after the season, since it involves money and not a player's immediate playing eligibility. The Patriots will go after draft picks from the Jets, fine money from Branch, and perhaps even some of Branch's signing bonus.

But that's for later on. Right now, the real compelling story is the revision of the old border war between Gang Green and the P-Men. Instead of Parcells versus Belichick, now it's Belichick versus Mangini. Curtis Martin looks like he is finally off to the glue factory (the one in Canton, folks). Chad Pennington is back, and led his team to a 23-17 win over David Givens and the Tennessee Titans last week.

If only the Patriots had played the Buffalo Bills a little better last week, Patriot Nation would be feeling quite comfortable right now. But the Patriots were only able to squeak by a division rival by two points at home last week, an inferior division rival they were expected to beat handily. Now the Patriots travel to Exit 16-W off the Joisey Turnpike, against another inferior opponent on paper, but one which may give the Patriots a run for their money if they bring less than their "A” game to the table.

What would help the Patriots greatly is an improvement in the passing game, on both sides of the ball. On the one hand, the blocking needs to be better, Tom Brady needs to call a solid game at the line of scrimmage, and it would also be nice for Chad Jackson and Doug Gabriel to see some game action. On the other hand, the Patriot defense cannot wait until the third quarter to wake up and play Patriot football.

Jackson is still listed as questionable with his hamstring. But Gabriel has been upgraded to probable. Word has it that Gabriel was scratched from last week's game only because he needed more time to learn the system. Gabriel does have a bit to prove, given that he came from a team which cut him despite opening the season with a 27-0 loss at home to San Diego. On the other hand, he was buried on the depth chart beneath Jerry Porter and Randy Moss (though the former is currently in Art Shell's doghouse). Gabriel was looked at by some as a "steal” for the Patriots, costing only a fifth rounder. Reports certainly vary, but a solid performance by Gabriel on Sunday will shut a lot of people up quick.

Jackson also needs to shut people up. Already you are hearing about the Florida Flop syndrome (and we aren't talking about that wacky play in 1971 which helped John Reaves become the all-time leading passer in NCAA history). Jackson won't cut it because all Florida receivers do poorly in the NFL. All Jackson has been so far is a flash in rookie camp and a flop ever since thanks to his sore hammy. Of course, Jackson can negate all the bad press by stepping right in and making everyone out there forget about Messrs. Branch and Givens.

On defense, Tedy Bruschi is listed as questionable with his wrist. The Patriots won't be facing a top-flight running back like they did last week with Willis McGahee. With Martin nearing retirement, the Jets will go with Derrick Blaylock as their featured back, which is a far cry from Martin at the top of his game. Still, Bruschi's mere presence helps everyone out there.

The pass defense will have to contend with a healthy Pennington throwing to receivers like Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery and Justin McCareins. Coles is a burner who can stretch the field, and using these three men together will give the Patriots something to think about. While the Patriots have managed to have more good games against Pennington than bad ones, Pennington is still a quarterback who can hurt the Patriots if he is on.

Then there is the much anticipated coaching matchup. Has Bill Belichick met his match with former protégé Eric Mangini?

What material deficit Mangini may have, he will make up for it in familiarity with the Patriots and their system. Mangini may not have the horses to pull off an upset if the Patriots to play up to their potential, but don't expect this game to be a cakewalk for the Patriots. Mangini will be ready for the wrinkles Belichick likes to throw at division rivals, and he may also have a few wrinkles for Belichick and his gang. Given that it's the Patriot offense he used to practice against, it can only help the Jets in their victory quest on Sunday.

The Patriots are six-point favorites at press time. They have the Jets by a mile on paper, but after last week's tough battle with the Bills, that will mean nothing. What the Patriots have to do is to simply out-execute the Jets, and if they can do that, they should win. The Jets simply cannot match the Patriots on the field if both teams play to their fullest. But if the Patriots falter and show less emotion than the Jets do, it's the Jets who will be 2-0 and not the Patriots.

And if the Patriots should lose, the last thing you'll be thinking about is "Dang it, if only we'd won that grievance!” Extra money and draft picks won't help the Patriots on Sunday, either way.

Just block and tackle better. Period.