By: John Molori
November 06, 2007

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Patriots notebook: Season starts with Houston at Foxboro


Pats and Colts live up to the pregame hype and hot air

Sunday's Patriots-Colts game on CBS received as much hype as any regular season game in history. It did not disappoint on any front. The two teams slugged it out, while CBS did justice to the game with outstanding coverage.

Jim Nantz was adept at setting up partner Phil Simms, while also asserting his own views. Simms was right on, and expressed appropriate disagreement with several bad calls from the officials. Those were the voices of the game, but what of the pregame?

In the days leading up to the battle of the undefeateds, there were quotes aplenty. In the aftermath of New England's 24-20 win, let's use a little hindsight to analyze a few of them.

"We got a good break with the two teams being undefeated going in and I can't remember anyone at CBS Sports being more pumped up for a regular season football game." - Sean McManus, CBS Sports and News President.

Amen Sean! The Patriots and Colts gave the 94% of the nation that could watch the game a real treat. It wasn't ballet. The game was, at times, ugly with the Patriots logging enough penalties to make Terry O'Reilly and Dave Semenko blush, but it was a classic heavyweight bout.

"History has showed us that (the Patriots and Colts) are both willing to do something different. So I can't wait to find out and can't wait to watch on Sunday." - Phil Simms, CBS game analyst

Once again, Simms was on the mark. Pats QB Tom Brady admitted in his postgame press conference that the Colts did things that the Patriots were not expecting. One example: Joseph Addai was the main guy running and receiving, while Dallas Clark, a notorious Patriots killer, was somewhat invisible.

"I think these two teams are a little bit different from the standpoint of how the teams were built. Indianapolis built their team through the draft, and New England, a lot of their skill positions were filled through free agency." - Bill Cowher, CBS "NFL Today" studio analyst

You have to give the erstwhile Pittsburgh Chin Boy credit. For Indianapolis, draftees Peyton Manning and Addai were huge. As for New England, how incredibly large was the play of free agent signees Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth?

"Dungy and Manning have the mental edge. They've been the underdog to these guys last three times they played them and they beat them. I don't care if they have their whole contingent or not. I really believe somewhere along the way, it is going to come down to good versus evil." -- Mike Ditka, ESPN " NFL Countdown" studio analyst

It is clear that Ditka is sitting way too close to those big screen TV' s he's been hawking. Good versus evil? When Ditka traded his entire draft for Ricky Williams a few years ago, he must have thrown in his cerebellum as an extra in the deal.

"It is hard to believe that the Colts have an advantage when they walk in as almost a touchdown underdog in their own building. But I think that might be the edge. They are used to being in this position when they play this football team. A lot of talk about respect and admiration, if the Patriots could beat you 60-0 today, that would happen." -- Tom Jackson, ESPN "NFL Countdown" studio analyst

So much for Tom Jackson, pigskin psychologist. A few years back, Jackson stated that the Patriots players hated Bill Belichick. Let me make a more accurate statement. Jackson hates Bill Belichick. His disdain for the New England coach is so apparent.

Jackson puts Colts' coach Tony Dungy on some exalted pedestal, while Belichick is Simon Bar- Sinister. His gushing over Dungy is embarrassing. It's almost to the point where Jackson should excuse himself from any discussion of the Patriots.

"I don't care if you run the ball or pass the ball, if you don't have an offensive line you can't do either. It starts right there with the offensive line."- Cowher

Both lines were keys to the game. When Brady and Manning were hurried or pressured, they looked amazingly average and, at times, downright bad. You can throw Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas or John Elway back there. Without the big honchos up front, they will awkwardly morph into Steve Bono, Gary Hogeboom and Norris Weese.

"(The Patriots) look forward to the battle and they're willing to battle from start to finish. You've got to prove as the opposition that you are willing to fight that long. All of this really feeds into what they love. They like the turmoil. They like the action." - Simms

Maybe Simms is pulling a Belichick and has been videotaping the Patriots. He has his finger firmly on the pulse of this team. Talk about a game that required 60 minutes of play. The Patriots never stopped from, as Simms stated, "start to finish."

"All of us in the media took that opportunity to attach what happened in the "Spygate" episode and say that this stained their three championships. Maybe it is not verbalized in the sacred setting of the locker room, but I think they have all internalized it. I think they are inflicting that punishment on a weekly basis with that right at their very core." - Jim Nantz, CBS game announcer

This is why Nantz is in the upper echelon of broadcasters. No play-by-play man mixes calls and commentary more seamlessly. I don't believe that Bill Belichick harps on "spygate" at practice, but when Tom Jackson implies that sign stealing makes it tough for him to teach his child about right and wrong, that stings.

When HBO's Cris Collinsworth questions a dynasty and pleas for stronger penalties against Belichick, that stings. We all saw how Belichick's players rallied around him amid the controversy. There is some lingering anger and it shows on the field.

"Because you have two of the most potent offenses in the National Football League, their defenses are going to have to match that and slow each team' s offense down to some extent." - Simms

There is no question that defense was the story in this game. The New England defense was not stellar early, but they did keep the Colts out of the end zone. If not, the game could have been over in the first quarter. The Colts defense, meanwhile, kept Brady on edge all game long. He did not have time to survey the field and had to get rid of the ball more quickly than he would have liked.

"Peyton Manning is going to have to play keep-away from Tom Brady. Usually teams play keep away from Peyton Manning, but they're going to have to run the football, be good on third downs and keep that offense off the field." - Dan Marino, CBS "NFL Today" and HBO "Inside the NFL" studio analyst

The Colts did just that for most of the game. In the first half, CBS caught more shots of Brady sighing on the sidelines that playing in the game. The Colts looked like the pre-Moss Patriots, running the ball and employing a short passing game to move the chains and keep the big play Pats off the field. Addai looked like a morph of Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig, catching the ball as well as running it.

"They (New England) are unstoppable. This is the best offense the NFL has ever seen." - Boomer Esiason, CBS "NFL Today" studio analyst

New England earned this hyperbole with their offensive firepower in the first eight games of the season, but Esiason needs to reel it in a bit. The Colts showed what an angry and aggressive defense can do to the so-called "best offense the NFL has ever seen." The Pats may yet earn that moniker, but no one gets that title in half a season.

"When they get the running game going with (Laurence) Maroney, they are going to be impossible to beat." - Deion Sanders, NFL Network "Gameday" studio analyst

"Prime Time" was right on with that one. The Patriots had basically no ground game against the Colts, although they did try to get it going, almost to a fault. When Indy went up 20-10, New England had to go to the air to play catch up. Like Sanders said, if the Laurence Maroney show is still to come, it could get downright frightening.

"Moss is one of the best receivers in traffic because he focuses on the football." - Sanders

Let's just say it now. Most people were dead wrong about Randy Moss. If not for him, the Patriots would most definitely have lost against the Colts on Sunday. Moss went over the middle on numerous occasions. He took hits, held onto the ball and picked up the tough yards when the ground game proved futile.

He also turned a host of not so great Brady passes into receptions. Who knows what the future holds? Moss may still prove his critics right, but right now, he is the NFL's leading receiver and, moreover, a receiver who leads.

"I think the only person that can stop New England's offense is the guy whose game plan stopped the 'Greatest Show on Turf' in Super Bowl XXXVI and also the guy whose game plan sits in Canton, Ohio for stopping the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV.

"That would be Bill Belichick. If this team goes on and wins another championship, I think you have to mention Belichick and Tom Brady in the conversation for best ever at what they do." - Howie Long, Fox "NFL Sunday" studio analyst

Long is not one to dole out such superlatives, so it warrants attention. Having played on some unique Raider teams, Long can perhaps identify with what the Patriots are experiencing more than any other NFL studio analyst.

His Silver and Black clubs were despised by other teams and fans, had a maverick owner, a violently protective fan base, a stingy and punishing defense, a bevy of wily veterans, a vertical passing game and great offensive and defensive balance. Sound familiar?

"The reason they are the best is because Bill Belichick is an outstanding coach. He coaches new players, young players, rookies, free agents and then on top of that, he coaches his coaches. He lost Charlie Weis, he lost Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini. What does he do? He grooms young coaches to take their place." - Jimmy Johnson, Fox "NFL Sunday" studio analyst

Enter Josh McDaniels et al. Johnson has tipped back more than a few offseason pina coladas with Belichick, so heed his words. Belichick's supposed " running it up" is more accurately translated as playing a full 60 minutes of football regardless of the score. That, in the end, might be the greatest quality he has as a coach, and it showed in the Colts game.

"They've won with one star on the offense who was not as good as he is now in Tom Brady. Add Randy Moss to a team that has had one of the top three defenses as far as points allowed in football. The sky is the limit for this team. This is a team that I can sit here and say, 'This is a team that can go undefeated'." - Cris Carter, HBO "Inside the NFL" studio analyst

Carter's effusive praise is a "time will tell" proposition, but Sunday' s tough win against Indianapolis might be even more ominous that the Patriots' prior blowout wins.

Hanging fifty on an opponent is impressive, but to go into Indianapolis and take the Colts' best shots for a full game and still have the strength to score two fourth quarter touchdowns and win is scary.

Factor in that that New England played its sloppiest game of the season and still took down a 7-0 club, and things get even more frightening. Let a whole set of new quotes begin.

John Molori's columns are published in Boston Sports Review, Boston Baseball Magazine, New England Hockey Journal,,,,, Methuen Life and several newspapers and websites throughout New England. Email John at [email protected]com.