Game Fifteen–Jacksonville—A Cap and T Shirt Game for the Division Crown

     This was a big game for the Patriots for a win would give them the AFC East crown and at least one home game. With the roller coaster ride of this season, having it come down to one game is really good news, for a win here will give them a week to possibly rest players going into a tough playoff game.
     It will not be an easy game by any means as the Jags are also fighting for a playoff spot and have featured back Jones-Drew as a big weapon in the run game as well as a mobile and accurate quarterback in Garrard. With a few days extra rest, they will be pumped and ready to do battle with this Patriot team.
     The Jags are also a very physical team on both sides of the ball and that makes them a difficult opponent, although in the last few weeks this Patriot team seems to be moving more in the physical direction.

**Patriots**—This team has been up and down and all over the place. At first it was Brady’s recovery that slowed the offense and then it seemed the team was in a real groove with some big wins piling up points. But then it all came tumbling down so to speak as they lost three of five in the tough stretch. Since then, it has been a slow ugly sort of situation, which leads to this game. Despite it all, they can take the East crown with a win. I think that says it all.

**Jaguars**—Another team on a roller coaster is Jacksonville. They have been up and down, looking strong at times and weaker at others. They have played the Colts tough in both games, but lost each in close games. Coming into this one with two losses, they really need a win to keep wild card possibilities strong.

**Not Being There–Patriots**–There’s a lot of injured Patriot players, but it does seem like a lot are on the mend. The real problem is with the defensive line as both Warren and Wilfork are questionable. If they are out, there may be trouble as the team will be facing Jones-Drew, who is a tough little runner. Neal and Kaczur being questionable is not good either, but less of a concern.

**Not Being There–Jaguars**–CB Rashean Mathis is the only questionable starter and most likely he will play. Other than that, pretty injury free.

????–Patriots–They are playing against the toughest running back they have faced all year in Jones-Drew and they will need to control him and not let him run loose. If the Jags can pound the ball and keep it going, it could be a long day for the Patriots. The Bills did it in the opening drive and if the Jags follow suit, it will be their opening to a win in Gillette.

????–Jaguars–After a loss to the Colts in a long game, one has to wonder how they will approach this game and what they will try and do differently. They still have a chance being one of eight teams that is 7 and 7 and with a win they will be in good shape for a wild card berth.

History–The Patriots have won all but one of the games they have played with them, including a few in the playoffs. For whatever reason, it does seem like the Pats have their number.

     One thing about this Jaguar team is that it is physical and tough and both lines are big and present problems. The Pats have not been a physical team until lately and developing that more is what is needed, especially against teams like this. Having a few starters in the lines as questionable will make it harder if they do not play.
     The offense of the Jags leans towards the run and the key there is Jones-Drew, who is the best back that this team has faced all year. That is one large problem for the Patriot defense. Garrard is a tough and mobile quarterback who doesn’t turn the ball over. The receivers are tall, from veteran Holt to Hughes and Sims-Walker and the tight ends, Lewis, Potter, MIller and Wilford are all over six foot four, with two over six six. Although the Jags do not rely on the passing game, it doesn’t mean that those weapons can be ignored. There are some tough match ups for the Pats.
     Besides not having turnovers, the team does not make many mistakes with penalties, so the Patriots will need to play sharp and clean football. They have been better the last few weeks, but in Miami, there were just too many miscues and in a game against the Jags, that could be costly.
     One thing the Patriots offense will do is throw the ball as the Jags are not rated all that highly in pass defense and a large part of that is their inability to get a rush on the QB. But on the other hand, the Patriot offense has been pretty through the air in the past few weeks. What may happen is a continuation of the shift to a more balanced attack with more of a running game. It is almost certain that Fred Taylor will make his return against his old team and that will be a big step in that direction. All in all, this Patriot offense has been sputtering and needs to get back on track.
     The special teams of the Jags are mediocre and it might be here that the Patriots have an advantage. Having one might come into play sometime in the game and that is good news.
     It may be a tough game, but I see a Pats victory here. A cap and T shirt game is a real challenge, but one that I hope will bring out the best in the team.
(Written a ten days ago, posted today, Tuesday, because of pc issues)

A Tough Game in Buffalo Shows Character and Physicality

     This was going to be a tough game but with four starters out, all first rate players in the trenches, it was going to be a lot harder. Having Warren, Wilfork and Pryor out was going to hamper the defensive line. With Neal and Kaczur, the right side of the offensive line was out. With Connolly and Vollmer filling in, it would be close, but the D line would be a lot further back.
     The Bills were rejuvenated with two of three wins and playing against a rival like the Pats would only make them want to be spoilers even more. To be a barrier to the Pats would be a big accomplishment and for a team without playoff hopes, small things like that are large.
     The Patriot team was pretty beat up with four starters in the trenches not playing. The entire right side of the offensive line, Neal and Kaczur were out as well as Warren and Wilfork on the defensive line. Add in a solid rookie backup in Pryor and that is a lot of beef missing on both sidss of the line. Given how this D has bot contained the run, stopping Jackson and Lynch would be hard without two starters.

Momentum Movement—–The Bills had the early momentum with their first tough drive down the field. Even though it was only a field goal, they kept it as Posluszny picked off Brady. IN the second quarter, the Patriots grabbed it big time as they put up two scores. They kept this momentum into the second half and into the last quarter as Buffalo was unable to score again. But just when one thought it was over, the Bills surged, momentum shifted for a short bit as the Bills offense put up another touchdown and made it close. This was short lived and once the Pats had the ball and a first down, that last gasp was gone.

Tipping Point—–It could have been a lot earlier in the game and if the offense had added another score would have been. Once the Bills kicked off to Welker, I thought that was the game then. Even if the Pats had surrendered the ball with a punt at the two minute mark, I really doubt that this defense was going to allow another score with the Bills marching down the field with no time outs.

Stat Check—–The big difference was the 3rd down efficiency. The Patriots 5 for 12 for 42 percent while the Bills were 2 for 12 for 17 percent. What is interesting from that is that of the 12, only two were third down and less than five yards, while there were five times it was third and greater than ten yards.

     The Bills started with a long drive that over nine minutes and really set a tone of what they thought they were going to do. That was the way they could have won the game, but the Patriot defense got a handle on things and it all changed. If they had gotten a touchdown, it may have made the game closer, but the offense could not repeat that pounding again. And what also sparked the Bills was the play of linebacker Posluszny who picked off a Brady pass on their second drive, stopping any momentum. Unfortunately, things changed and the Patriots took control after that.
     It was the Patriot defense that really kept them in the game and kept the Bills in check. If one takes away their last minute drive and their first march down the field, the defense would have allowed only 139 yards of Buffalo offense. Given that two key starters were out, Warren and Wilfork and that a tough rookie also was, this defense played great. If last week against Carolina they played quiet, but strong, this week it was with large explanation points. The team had a season high six sacks and really put the pressure on the Buffalo offense so that they were in 3rd and long much of the time.
     The offense was able to get the lead and get two touchdowns in the first half, but the second half was a bit different. They did have a nice seven minute drive, but only got three out of it, but other than that, drives stalled quickly. Their next three drives were all three and outs and the offense again started to run in cement. Instead of making sure of an easy victory, the offense just hung on and what has plagued this team continued to.
     Buffalo did really shoot themselves in the feet with so many penalties, from the Ramsey False Start that negated a Jackson two yard touchdown run on the opening drive, to the Maybin Offside on the onside kick in the last few minutes of the game. The fact that they had recovered the kick with plenty of time made this penalty a real game breaker. In between, there were the two Pass Interference calls, which were obvious and a host of others that put the Bills in bad situations four times they had penalties on first down, twice making it first and twenty and twice first and fifteen. An Illegal Block made another a second down and seventeen. With penalties like that that push the offense back, it’s no wonder that they found it hard to convert third down plays.
     The Patriots did control the game and when Reed dropped a pass at the New England three yard line on fourth down, the crowd disappeared quite immediately. But it was not that simple as there was a run and a Holding penalty on Aiken, another running play and a Buffalo time out. There was just over four minutes left and it was second down and 11 yards to go for the first down.. There were two failed passes with only a handful of ticks more of the clock, a short punt and a big Parrish return of 20 yards to the Patriot 28 yard line. The offense had failed to get a first down and take much time off and the special teams did not do much better with a short punt and terrible coverage. The defense failed in the same way as it took two passes for the Bills to advance 28 yards and a score. In a full minute from that Buffalo timeout, the Bills were within one touchdown of a tie. That the Pats were lucky a flag was thrown only shows how close this game could have been. That they finally got a first down to nail it was great, but my question is why did it have to come down to that? That killer instinct to put the game away has not been present and the last minutes of the game show that clearly. This will have to improve or they will have a hard time keeping tough opponents at bay.
     Also in all of this is how there were loose balls a few times and the Patriots did not get any of them. There was a loose ball on a catch that rolled out of bounds as well as another on a muffed punt. If they had recovered either of those, it would have been a big takeaway. That they lost the ball on the onside kick and were saved by a flag shows that they really need to be more ball hawks and go all out for any loose balls.
     This game was one of physical play and intensity and more ugly than smooth, but it proved to be a large catalyst for the team with the first road win on the continent. To do that without some solid players in the trenches was a big feat and will only help this team’s character more as the playoffs grow near.

Thumbs Down—–With a game of character as this one was, I really feel that singling players out would not be the best. Yes, there were some that had moments of poor play, but this team played as a unit and won as a unit and for that reason, I will leave this category blank for this week.

Thumbs Up—–1) The defense–All season this unit has taken a back seat to the offense as it has grown and matured. It was always a work in progress and with this game, even without starters Wilfork and Warren, it came to maturity with a big resounding bang. It was the D that really kept the team in the game, keeping Buffalo in third and long situations and putting a lot of pressure on Fitzparick and later Edwards. They had a season high six sacks and had a big pick as well. This unit played with intensity and were on a mission. When the offense was struggling, they provided a spark that ignited the team and insured a victory for them. 2) Mike Wright—He filled in for the injured Ty Warren and played the nose as well as end during the game. He was tremendous in play with six tackles, two of them for losses and a sack. He really stepped it up with some big plays. 3) Tully Banta-Cain—He had six tackles as well and three sacks. He stepped it up in the last quarter with a surge on quarterbacks. His intensity helped the defense stop the Bills when it counted.

Bumps and Bruises—New England–This might have been the one week of the year with no serious injuries of any kind, which does happen on occasion. LB Gary Guyton–He was shaken up in the 1st quarter but returned quickly to the filed. Buffalo—CB Terrence McGee–He hurt his arm in the 3rd quarter as Moss caught a pass and came down on him. He hurt his arm and did not return in the game. It seemed like it was a serious injury. —-QB Ryan Fitzpatrick—He was pulled from the game in the last quarter, but part of that reason was an ankle injury. It was not serious, but when Edwards was injured, he was forced back into the game on the next series a few minutes later.—-QB Trent Edwards–He hurt his ankle in the last quarter after coming in for QB Fitzpatrick. On the play, he was fighting not to be sacked and in the process of being tackled, his ankle was sprained. He was out and Firzpatrick back in.—-LB-S Bryan Scott–He got a concussion in the last few minutes of play on a Maroney run. He did not return to the game.

     This was a big win for the team and now with two remaining, maybe they can build some momentum for the playoffs. It’s been a real roller coaster of a year and to come out of it with a team together and on fire is what is really needed going into January. It’s really funny looking back and seeing teams in the past year get into gear about this time and it has happened more. Both the Giants and Cardinals were on a plateau and stagnant, but got into a flow when it counted. Maybe I am optimistic, but this could be what is happening with this Patriot team.
     While the offense sputtered, it did seem like the running game is being used more. This will only give this offense another dimension and option and when Taylor returns, it will really help even more. Moss was involved early and his catches helped the team move the ball, but there were problems in the second half. While the offense had troubles, the defense is morphing into a tough unit and that is coming at the right time. They have played okay as they have transitioned into a cohesive unit, but this game was their coming out party and they did that with toughness and physical play. Adding that at this time will propel this team into January when it’s needed the most and that is great news!

Play Under the Radar–Sometimes when passes are completed in the open, it’s what the receivers do upfield that have a lot to do with the success of the play. Giving effort is what counts; keeping defenders away from receivers so they can gain extra yards or not be hit hard. There were two passes to Randy Moss over the middle where he caught the ball and headed to the right. On both plays, receivers in that area made plays on defenders that were in the way. On one play it was tight end Watson who kept blocking Corner and pushed him ahead and away. On the other, it was rookie wide out Edelman that flattened Wilson with a hard block on the play. Small plays, but ones that in the long run pay off and show tough hard play.

The Chalkboard—With the injuries to Wilfork, Warren and Pryor, the team had little depth on the line. Thus, there was a decision to use the old cow mooing defense at times, six defensive backs and five linebackers. This proved to be quite effective especially when used here and there when it counted. On the first Buffalo drive, after the penalty, on a 3rd and goal from the 7, this D forced an overthrown pass and pushed them to go for a field goal. On the next series on third down it was a sack and later in the 2nd quarter, it was used in the play that Wilhite made an interception. In the second half, they got another sack with it being used.
     All in all, it was in place for 18 plays, 9 on third down, 6 on second down, twice on first down and once on fourth. Of these 18 plays, there were 16 passes and 10 complete, with 2 sacks and 1 interception. Although ten passes were complete, only three of those resulted in first downs. Mostly those completed were short screens, with plenty of players there to make quick tackles on the play. Where this D was not effective was in Buffalo’s late in the half drive and it’s one late in the game. Quarterbacks were 4 of 4, with yardage enough to try a long field goal in one case and score a touchdown in the other.
     It was an effective strategy given players were out and the organized chaos worked just fine, confusing the quarterbacks of the Bills.

The Whistle—For the most part, I thought the officials called a really good game, even though the Bills did get penalized much more as there were clear reasons for that. With Incognito new to the starting line, he was called for three penalties. It also seemed like the Bills strategy was to play the receivers physically hard and let the chips fall where they may. They were called twice, but one was a clear penalty with no flag.
     There was one bad non call that I thought really stunk up the joint and that was late in the game when Brady threw it long to Aiken. Clearly, his arm was pulled down by Corner as the ball was making its track downward, but no flag was thrown. It was so obvious and yet, the official did nothing. Was it just a missed call or were there other factors? I say that because I do wonder if there are other factors involved with throwing a flag, besides the fact there is an obvious violation. There had been two other Pass Interference calls made earlier in the game. Moss and Welker both were hit while the ball was in the air and I have to wonder if it were Moss not Aiken whose arm was pulled down would a flag had been flying? If this was the case, it says a lot about how officiating is done. Maybe the fact that it was late in the game with the Patriots were leading by fourteen points had something to do with the flag being glued in his pocket. It was an atrocious non call, whether the latter two reasons were part of that or not. If they did not enter into it, the official should be banished for missing something so obvious. If it was one of the latter reasons, then it’s no wonder why officials are so poor because they in effect are making decisions about flags NOT just on what they see but of many other things going on in a game. In any event this official should be banished from the game. Just think how big a call it would have been if the Bills had come back to tie it? A call like that smells like rotting garbage and really makes one question what is going on with officials in general. Maybe some day it will be cleaned up, but Goodell is gutless and will keep it the antiquated system in place.

Last Thoughts–With two games to go, this team is slowly moving in the right direction. It was a big win, but they must continue and build on this one.
(Written seven days days ago, posted today, Friday, because of pc issues)

Finally a “Real” Road Win; A Character Game and in Buffalo

     10:45 AM—-A storm raging around Boston and south has made it a weird Sunday. I imagined how and what it would be like if this was a home game. Blizzard in Buffalo? Actually, a nice day there weather wise, but I track all kinds of storms on this Patriot field. The Pats are down six players and hearing that kind of made me sink when I learned. Wilfork, Warren, Neal, Kaczur; all out. All of them starters in the trenches. Add in rook Pryor and running back Taylor. Is that enough?
     This will be a tough game and the word character comes to mind here. I am feeling tense. I always do, but sometimes, it’s deeper and in the guts more. This will be a difficult game. Even with a few of the six it would be. I am looking for a win as I just see that as there for the taking, but a game that will be close, no run away. Twelve straight, to make it lucky thirteen.
     11:47 AM—-Inactives–Neal, Taylor, Warren, Wilfork, Wheatley, Kaczur, Pryor, Stanback.(3rd QB). Six were out last night, and five in the trenches. Wow!! What a hard hit this is for the team. I thought that some would be unable to play, but so many? That has made it so difficult for this team.And it’s so odd. On teh offensive side, it’s not that bad. Vollmer/Light and LeVoir backing up both. Connolly/Mankins and Ohrenberger backing up both. But what about the D? Wright and Green; solid players, but after that, Brace and Adams. One who has played little and another who is just on the 53. All that will mean is that others will move up outside and/or other things will take shape. Maybe something new? All in all, it’s not going to be easy. A character game and one might help down the road in other ways if they get there.
     1:13 PM—-Can one say tissue paper?? What a horrible D and it is now 3rd down and goal as a False Start has finally stopped this Buffalo offense. Just really pitiful how this Patriot team is playing.
     1:17 PM—-Buff 3 NE 0–Well, there was a pass over Reed’s head in the endzone and an easy Lindell field goal of 25 yards. That was good as the alternative was quite worse. A 3-0 Bills lead is not bad, considering how easily they marched down the field. Really so horrible to see feel. The defense has to play better, but three, zip, no big deal. The defense poor, while the offense has to do something.
     1:20 PM—-A long Bill drive and now the Patriot team needs to answer that with a score. I feel better that it was only 3, but still, they looked horrible on D. Jackson is a good running back, but tissue paper defense does not make it in the NFL.
     1:25 PM—-They got some runs from Maroney and it was looking good, as if the offense was going to take it downfield for a score. A reverse to Welker on 3rd down and a successful attempt and all was good. A bomb to Moss was just to his side, but then another pass to Welker, picked off by Posluszny. A dart to optimism with a pick. Playing terrible on offense is not going to give them a W.
     1:31 PM—-The D rose up and stopped them cold, although it started by the Bills shooting themselves in the foot with a False Start. On 2nd down, Wright knocked down Fitzpatrick with a knockdown an don 3rd down, it was an all out rush that surged and swallowed him up for another sack. Ninkovich, Banta-Cain and Burgess were all flying in there for the sack. Now, if the offense can get going, all will be well.
     1:35 PM—-End 1stQ—-Buff 3 NE 0—It’s 3-0 and the Patriot team is not looking as bad as when they started. I feel momentum starting to increase. The D is playing better and that is needed, but the offense is again out of sync. It seems like a really slow game and a long one. But I do feel it is headed in a better direction.
     1:43 PM—-NE 7 Buff 3–THAT was the Patriot team that I love to see. A score, a big one. Maroney and Faulk ran the ball, but then it was a long pass to Moss and Whitner pulled his arm down on that. That was a clear Pass Interference call. But even that was not easy as Levoir was called for a PI call as well and the ball moved back 10. And Brady found Moss in the back of the endzone with his getting feet down quickly. Boom, bang a score!! Patriots in the lead with that. The Pats up 7-3 and that is the team I wish to see more of, one of depth that does what it takes to win the game. Sloppy a bit, but points are what they are; no extra for style points.
     1:45 PM—-What a great pickup in Arrington. Jackson was in the open field and Arrington was over quickly and brought him down. What a great open field tackle. It was really good and needed.
     1:51 PM—-A great play by Mike Wright on 1st down after a penalty as he just grabbed Lynch on the sweep and with Seau’s help, spun him down for a 3 yard loss. It was a tough play and the D rose up to make it a three and out. Burgess, Sanders and others doing what it takes. Now after a punt they have it on their 41, in position to add points. It’s good to see the defense play strong.
     1:57 PM—-They looked like they were going to move the ball as a pass to Moss over the middle went for 16 and a quick move against the Bills. But again, Posluszny made the big stop. It was a great play to move in on Maroney and a loss of 6 yards. That was just what the Bills needed and with Schobel heading into Brady and a low pass, the Pats were forced to punt. But even though stopped, I feel they are in control of the game. That is what this team can do.
     2:06 PM—-A Wilhite pick stopped that one and a quick pass to Welker for 14 got the ball to midfield. Two runs and the ball is closer and they are threatening again. With two minutes left in the half, they are doing great! I love that the team has risen to the moment and taken charge. I felt all along it was a character game and this one has been. It’s really great and they have to have a solid second half for that.
     2:14 PM—-NE 14 Buff 3–A PI call as Welker was flattened in the endzone and the Patriot team was at the one. Flapping gums about this one I do not understand. I really believe they are playing hard tough and making the officials call it. Hey, they may get away with it a few times. What’s to lose? This time it was Corner who clearly knocked him down. And with the clock winding down, the team took their time, Brady into the line and Maroney for no gain. I think that was part of the strategy for Maroney punched it in for the score on 3rd down quite easily. All great!
     2:25 PM—-End Half—-NE 14 Buff 3—The Bills got a big return and Gostkowski saved the day knocking Jackson out of bounds near midfield. A few passes and a missed field goal which was no surprise, considering it was 56 yards. I would have liked a better ending but I am quite pleased with it all.
     They have played solid and risen to the task today. Time to take all the negative Patriot haters and shift them out to sea. Felger, Borges and all of them who are trying to destroy this team. They play a character game and these Mickey Mouse sportswriter will find something else to pick at. Why won’t the fans here start ignoring these toads. I fail to listen to smug and squeaky. They may be the bottom of the barrel for so called sports talk.
     2:37 PM—-A bad start to the third quarter, starting with a Chung penalty and ending up with two missed passes. Brady was way off on the 3rd down pass and Hansen’s punt not great. I had high hopes, but not now with that series.
     2:42 PM—-Wright, Brace, Green, Banta-Cain, Burgess; the D pulled together and really stopped the Buffalo team cold. Two runs, a screen and only 5 yards gained. That was the pumped up D that is playing. Take it and bottle that!
     2:45 PM—-Brady was hit, got the pass off and Moss made a nice catch, but a defensive back for the Bills was flattened on the play, down out with an arm injury. A big play and I am feeling this team even more. It’s super that they are showing heart and emotion here. Moss was OK on the collision, but McGee down and out. Did not look good and the players all called for the medics quickly.
     2:54 PM—-NE 17 Buff 3–What is going on here is a big mix up big time. The Patriots ended up with a field goal as their 3rd down pass to Welker was way over his head, but the techs who are taking care of the game at NBC must be new as they messed up downs. That is so so weird. Was it first down and not third? Then they took the down off the screen entirely. Just confusion and the Patriot’s seven minute drive got only 3 points. It was pretty much all on the ground and that was quite good. They are in control and all is well.
     3:05 PM—-End 3rdQ—-NE 17 Buffalo 3—They are holding on again as the Bills have a drive going. On Offside on a failed 3rd down play extended it and a play later was just as odd as Fitzparick’s pass bounced off of Stupor’s hands into Jackson’s for a big completion. They need a big stop and momentum to nail the Bills. It’s here that they have stumbled and could not get it done. I do feel today they can and will!
     3:09 PM—-A wide open Shane Nelson could have made the big catch, but the ball went whizzing by and even though he might have gotten his hands on it, Meriwether would have flattened him with a hard bump. A 3rd down screen to Jackson was also away. This D is playing tough, much tougher than I have seen all year. The ball is just inside the 10, but I really think the offense can spring forward and get points and take the game in a big way.
     3:13 PM—-It’s 3rd and 4 for the Pats and the Bills are calling a time out. I bet they are wondering about the short ball. Seeing who Brady will throw to. They really need to get the first down and take the air out of any comeback balloon. That is what is needed here. I like what I am seeing, but they must put it away.
     3:20 PM—-This is what I hate about “in the grasp” calls. Edwards was going back and Guyton and Brace had him and he was like a tree not going down at all. And what happened? On the way down to the ground, finally, Brace got a hand on the Face Mask and an immediate 15 yards. Slow whistles to stop the play and then you touch him wrong and it’s 15 yards. I really hate the way they do not call it. Maybe if a QB has his leg broken because he’s in the grasp with the officials swallowing the whistles and he gets pounded legally, they will do something. But I really doubt it. What is a defender to do? But on 3rd down, they nailed him big time as Banta-Cain came in and squished him, and even with that, he almost got a completed pass out of it. Rules clarification needed. Flashback to the other side of the Tyree catch as Manning was in the grasp and no whistle. Edwards is tough and a problem because he will not go down.
     3:25 PM—-The Pats could do nothing at all as they ran twice and then Brady threw a low pass. The punt was muffed and the ball was loose and the Bills tight end Nelson came up with it. A bad bounce and the Pats not on the spot. They are up 17-3 and I am confident the Bills will not score. The defense is playing great; all is well.
     3:40 PM—-Feeling really good but then not so much as the roller coaster went on. The Bills drove down the field with a long drive, including 2 4th down plays, one a run by Lynch which wasn’t all that bad and another to Reed, as he was hit by Meriwether and was more like in a pinball machine bouncing off of him for more yards and a 1st down at the Patriot 12. That was pitiful defense. But then the D seemed to do better as Bodden was on Evans, who made the catch out of bounds. On the 4th down play, Reed was open and dropped the ball. The stadium emptied. But then AIken had a Holding penalty and two passes went incomplete. One was a penalty that they did not call as Corner pulled Aijen’s arm down as he was making the play. A punt and a Parrish return up the middle. What is happening here? Not the way to show character.
     3:51 PM—-NE 17 Buff 10–They are going to win, but this is not what championship teams do. Two plays after the Parrish return, Fitzpatrick found Evans open in the endzone. A big score with over tree minutes left in the game. An onside kick was next and the ball bounced off of AIken, recovered by Corner, but there was one problem, a flag on the play. A Bill was Offside on the play. So instead of an onside kick, it’s went deep to Welker and the Pats had the ball at the 28. Two runs and then a pass to Welker for 8 and a first down. Game over. Why can’t they nail it when they need to? A game they had in control but almost let get away.
     4:01 PM—-End Game—-NE 17 Buff 10—They won and it should have been easier, but a W is still a W. It was a great character game for this team with four starters out from the trenches, including two basically All Pros on the D. That they won fairly easily is just a real testamant to what and how this team can play. Forget the last five minutes and how they did not close it out. They won it early in the game and really could not extend it and back it a laugher. But that is okay. It’s a tough road win and that will just the morons up on that one. Somehow dragging your team to another continent equals not a road game. Figure that one out.
     There are still many things they have to do on both sides of the ball. They have to get points and they must make big plays when there are loose balls. There were a few loose and the Pats got none of them. It’s a step in the right direction, but with so many teams in the AFC in the hunt, who will make it as Wild Cards is still a real toss up.
     (These notes were transcribed from my scribbles as I wrote them during commercials in between watching and keeping a play by play line score.)

Game Fourteen–Buffalo—Mucho Injuries and a Rejuvenated Buffalo Team

     With the locker room fiasco over with, Thomas quiet, the week was spent more about Randy Moss and if he quit in the last game. That the team won was immaterial to the vultures and their grinding of axes. It’s the holidays and a lot of sports critics are wanting easy stories. Lazy writers, wanting the easy obvious words, laying in wait is what a lot of the media in this area has become.
     The real problem for this team are the injuries in the trenches. What will they do to counter them? Can the backups be strong enough to sustain this team? It wasn’t anything close to a gimme game before, but with the six out, it’s going to make it a lot higher hill to climb.
     On the bright side, as a blizzard is headed to the Boston area, it doesn’t look like weather will be a factor in the game in Buffalo. Considering last year’s finale was all wind, having a game with the weather being “okay” is quite good news.

**Patriots**—Up and down and all around, this team has been on a long roller coaster ride that came down hard in November as they lost three of five tough games. They recovered and in ugly fashion took care of the Panthers, but now must venture north to Buffalo. The team is beat up, both physically and mentally with a focus on a few players as the media vultures always do. A win will be big and their first road win in the US.

**Bills**—This is a Bills squad with a different outlook and mode. Without Jauron, they are a bit more focused and open to the long ball. Fitzpatrick has been a lot better than Edwards adding some quick running to his smarts and arm. The defense has always been pretty good as well and having won two out of three has really rejuvenated this team.

**Not Being There–Patriots**–There was another list of players questionable, the standard long one, but when downgrades came out, that hit hard. There were five in the trenches, including Wilfork, Warren and Pryor on D and Kaczur and Neal on the offensive line. That hurts big time, so whatever this team can do with Wright, Green, Brace and Adams will be interesting, although I am sure others will move into positions on the end. Injuries could hurt really bad this week.

**Not Being There–Bills**–WR Terrell Owens is questionable with an illness, but I am sure he will play. No other important injuries on the team.

????–Patriots–With two important starters out the defensive line, it will be interesting to see what changes are made to stop this very tough Buffalo Bill’s running attack.

????–Bills–After changing coaches, one has to wonder how a team looks at the last few games of a season. Is it with a look toward the future of the next season and building momentum to that? Or is it more playing out the string, really not caring? Interim coach Fewell will need to fire up the team to see what players show character in this transition season.

History–The Patriots have won twelve straight games, going back to the start of the 03 season.

     Buffalo has quite a balanced offense, with some solid receivers and a tough running game inside and out. Owens, Evans and Reed are a tough corps of receivers. Jackson and Lynch are really solid inside and out. With Fitzpatrick at the helm, this offense could spell trouble for a hurting defense, especially if they decide to keep it on the ground and slowly drive down the field.
     This Patriot defense will need something, whether it’s players stepping up and/or using linebackers at the outside end position, to really stop the Buffalo rush attack. The pass defense will take care of itself, but a rush would really help that immensely. Having a linebacker spot Fitzpatrick might also be an option as he’s quick out of the pocket.
     The offense does need to get in gear as the Carolina game showed it running in cement for a lot of the game. They need to get on the board with points, slowly develop a running game and finish drives with sevens not threes. It has seemed the last few weeks that the offense has not been as strong as six seven weeks ago and the return to piling up points is needed as well. Maybe they just got a bit out of the groove, but if that’s the case, a return to it will be wonderful.
     The Buffalo defense is weak against the run, so that might be a real incentive for the team to use Maroney, Morris and maybe Taylor. In the end, that could be a real secret weapon for this team. Schobel has always been tough on Brady and this offensive line will need to counter him. Their defensive backfield is above average, but I do think they involve Moss early, given the situation the media has thrust on him.
     An area that the Bills are always quite strong at are the special team units. The Patriots will need to watch Parrish and others on returns. In a close game, a long one could bust the game open or really effect the outcome of a game. Luckily, the defending return units have been pretty good all year, but have improved over the last month.
     I do think this will be a tough game, made tougher by the missing players in the trenches. Maybe this will be a character game for this team as I still feel like the identity of this year’s team is still a bit murky. A win will be a great thing for this team, especially now.
(Written three days ago, posted today, Tuesday, because of pc issues)

It Was a Win and at this Point that was All that Counted

     After two losses and some behind the scenes team discipline that was leaked out, there was plenty of talk about the character of the team. A win was needed to set the boat in the correct direction and to steer course to the playoffs in the new year. 
     There were question marks galore about the team and that is something that has been the case all year. They were slow and then better, but in a quiet way. Then the five games of hell and a hard tumble, losing three. They are still finding an identity and that is was what this game was all about. The talk was all about this team, totally overlooking this tough Panther team.
     It was going to be a really tough game as Brady was a lot more injured than people knew. Sure, his ribs were quite bruised and making his status Questioable, a bit different, but who really knew how he was going to play. That under the radar story exploded later in the week, while the locker room things were the focus.

Momentum Movement—–The Pats had some early momentum, but lost it with Morris’s failed 4th down run attempt. Neither team had it until Gamble’s pick and the Moore TD bomb to Smith two plays later. Then it exploded with Panther Teal. They had it and kept it,through Moss’s fumble and the sputtering offense into the rain late in the 2nd quarter. Kasay missed the field goal and then, it was grabbed by the Pats, who marched down and tied the game at the half. They had it in the start of the 3rd quarter, but it was fumbled away with Morris’s and continued as Wesley made an outstanding play, keeping it inside the 5 on a Baker punt. The Pats though grabbed it on their long seven minute drive for a score and kept it, as Gostkowski answered with a field goal to Carolina’s three. It followed with a big defensive stand and another field goal that put the game out of reach.

Tipping Point—–For me it was Gostkowski’s second field goal that made it a lead of 10 with just under four minutes left in the game.

Stat Check—–I saw a really interesting difference in the Red Zone and Goal to Go Efficiencies. The Patriots were 2 of 3 in each of those, but the Panthers were 0 of 1 in the Red Zone and 0 of 0 in Goal to Go situations. What I found interesting was that they had only one red zone trip as the Patriot D kept them pretty much contained all game.

     The Patriots really struggle on offense early in the game. They looked out of sync and tentative and yet moved the ball. When Morris fumbled, it was really tough, for again, they could have struck early and did not. On their next drive, it was a few good runs and then a short pass to Welker incomplete. Then there was the Gamble pick and a sucker punch that sent the team reeling. Moore to Smith for 41 yards. That was a really tough one to take and they did not recover from that until Faulk tied it a quarter later.
     Having three turnovers by the first drive in the second half might kill some teams, but despite all of those, it was a tie game. As CoachB said, usually teams that are down three lose, but it was the tough effort by this team to not have that happen. Add in the fourth down run failure and that was four times. It was as un sharp an offense performance in some weeks, but they did do what it takes to win the game and that is the bottom line.
     The defense surprisingly kept the team in the game as the offense sputtered. They started the game forcing two three and outs and on the third, it was a Williams run and then one of those. It was another one of those with one first down and another three and out before the Panthers longest drive of the half, with three. On that one, it was for 45 yards and ended in a missed field goal. Right after that miss, the Patriot team marched down and tied it.
     In the second half, they contained the Panther offense as well. On one drive, back to back completed passes were negated by Illegal Shift calls. This resulted in the ball downed inside the 5. In the fourth quarter, after a great Rosario catch on the sideline, the D stood tall and held them to a field goal. The key was a 3rd down incomplete pass to Smith, helped by a Wilhite blitz. Green had a sack on the next series and Burgess made back to back plays on the next, a sack and a fourth down stop on a screen pass. Not the highlights of a that draw attention, but tough plays that did the job.
     Given how the Patriot’s lost Wilfork early in the 3rd, I was quite surprised that the Panthers did not go with more of a running game, as they had Williams and Stewart and could pound the ball hard and wear the line out. They didn’t take advantage of that at all, looking more for an air attack. Adams, with his rush into service, was adequate in Vince’s absence. Even with Warren down, early in the fourth, they kept to their plan of the air, instead of the ground.
     This game was plain ugly with both teams not showing much of anything until the Moore to Smith score. Even after that, it was more a game of field position in the rain that hit in the second quarter. Although it was only a bit windy, the rain did not let up at all in the second half and was not as much of a factor as it could have been.

Thumbs Down—–1) Adalius Thomas—On a week like this with the locker room boiling over like it never has in this era, only one player deserves the thumbs down and that is Adalius Thomas. Not only did he leak out the whole issue which I am sure embarrassed his team mates, but he clearly showed himself to be more of a cancer in the locker room. Maybe that can change, but at a time when leaders are needed, doing something childish like that only shows more how money was wasted in bringing him to town. I really thought he had a stronger character like that and a better player, but this week showed more about him than all his play for a few years. Just when this team needs leaders and direction, one player wants to pull the team down and thinks he’s bigger than the team. Pitiful! And leave it to Mr Samuel to add his two cents to it all. Does anyone who wanted the team to keep him STILL think they should have? I am glad AS is gone, despite his play. When he needed to MAKE the play, he was all butter fingers.
     In other days, at other times, one might had added Randy Moss to this list, but, given the situation, I feel that is not warranted. Sure, he had a bad game, with a dropped pass, a fumble and only one catch, but I am not jumping on that bandwagon of Moss haters. For one, I have no idea about chronic pain issues like his back and I have no idea how or if things like that like that should even be listed on the so called injury report. That might be an issue here. Secondly, to those who see individual play as the ultimate, play fantasy football or just in general love getting on certain players for things in the past, I have a bit to say. Randy Moss may have had a bad game individually, but he drew coverage so much that Welker was quite open and had a super game. Does one not even care about that at all or see any connection? Is it all about the individual player and not the overall picture? Let’s get all riled up about that battle lost there, even though the war overall is being won. It’s a bit dumb to concentrate on one area where a player is not doing all that good and miss what is really going on overall. Sorry, but those that have these sorts of blinders will never get it.

Thumbs Up—–1) WR Wes Welker–He was an offensive machine with 10 catches for 105 yards, 6 of the 10 catches resulting in first downs. One has to admire the little guy for taking the hard hits, as he did in the third quarter, catching the ball and being pounded by Godfrey, but springing up quickly after with tough resolve.  2) The defense—This unit as a whole kept the Patriot team in the game as the offense was playing poorly and the turnovers occurring. It wasn’t a pretty, nor with highlights and big plays, just a down and dirty D that contained the Panthers. Carolina’s only big play that hurt was early on Moore’s TD pass to Smith, but other than that, there were no other bombs. 3) K Stephen Gostkowski—When it counted, in the rain and dampness, he nailed two key field goals of over forty five yards in length. I think that has to be mentioned as special team play is very important.

Bumps and Bruises—New England–DL Vince Wilfork–He went out in the 2nd quarter with a foot injury and played one play in thr 3rd and had to come out. Given how strong he has played the run, Carolina did not take advantage of that at all. Newly activated Adams from the PSquad filled in fine, but I really have to wonder if they had wanted to run more could they have.—DE Ty Warren—He hurt an ankle in the 4th quarter early and was gone for the game. It was really tough seeing two linemen go down with what looked like fairly severe injuries. —-OL Nic Kaczur—He hurt his shoulder in the 4th quarter, forcing him to the bench. The team had rotated tackles, but it left them with only another tackle if any other linemen were injured —–LB Pierre Woods—–He was shaken up on the last play in the 3rd quarter, but returned on the next series. Carolina—OL Jesse Otah–He hurt a leg on their last series of play, but it was not a serious injury, even though it seemed so at the time. —-CB Richard Marshall—He pulled a muscle in the 1st quarter and returned quickly to play.

     The win did answer a few questions and set them in the right direction, but with some who want perfection, a win is not just a win and have their own axes to grind in putting the team under the microscope and churning up self promotion. With two losses in a row it was easy, but with a win, other issues had to be brought up. Leave that to Panther cornerback Gamble who called out Randy Moss. I think it’s interesting how the yellow journalists in Boston took to the bandwagon on this and how poor a fan base it is when many follow like lemmings. In many cities, it would be seen for what it is, but here, it’s par for the course of the lazy journalist.
     The team is back on track, although with so many injuries, limping instead of running into December. I am still hoping that a lot of these will be cleared up, but more keep piling up. There were three more and to key players in the trenches. One has to wonder if that has taken a toll on this team that will hamper their chances in the long run.

Play Under the Radar–This play was part of an unsuccessful third down play from the Patriot 35 yard line, just before the 53 yard field goal attempt by Kasay. Tully Banta-Cain got a hard rush on Moore, pushing running back Williams into the quarterback, enough to force a bad pass. A small play, nothing at all showing up in any stat column, but effectively breaking up the play. It’s sometimes small things like this that make large differences.

The Chalkboard—Sometime it’s really hard for a coach to decide about whether to kick a field goal, punt or to go for it on fourth down. After the 4 and 2, it does seem that coaches are becoming a bit more aggressive in going for it with the offense, but each has it’s own situation with options.
     CoachB had two of these in the last quarter and chose to go for the three. In the first, a field goal would have answered a Carolina field goal and made it a 7 point game. To do that made sense in a game of field position, even though it would be a long attempt. In the second case, it extended the lead to two possessions and basically made that the only way the Panthers could win. With just under 4 minutes, that was the path to take in the game.
     Coach Fox had two decisions as well, the first being one that led to no points and propelled the Pats great field position and a drive to tie the game. It was a 4th down and 3 at the Patriot’s 35. It was at the back end of Kasay’s range, but was it worth it to give the Pats great field position? At that point it had been two three and outs, so one might have thought another might follow and it would not be a big deal. But on the other hand, if it was more a field position game, why hand something golden to the Patriots with three minutes left in the half, knowing they get the ball as well in the third? His fourth quarter decision to add three was a no brainer, but I think the first was one that can be looked at in different ways.

The Whistle—I thought the officials did quite a good job although Fox might disagree a whole lot. The biggest call was the Pass Interference call on Anderson that set up the Patriot’s first touchdown. Watson was hit as the ball was coming towards him and the fact that Anderson was not going for the ball as he never looked back, always a large mistake for a defender. That’s always been the case. The other call, one of Holding on Munnerlyn, was quite obvious. A receiver impeded in the open from going forward into the endzone is always one for a flag.
     There really were no other large calls, but Carolina seemed to have problems with offensive shifts, two of which were called, two others declined. The challenges were reasonable and fair and for the most part, this crew faded back and out of the spotlight, which to me means they did a good job.

Last Thoughts–With three games left, the Pats must keep focus and gain momentum and improve those areas that have been plaguing them all year, basically finishing up on both sides of the ball. It was better today, but the have to improve more.
(Written three days ago, posted today, Tuesday, because of pc issues)

An Ugly Win in the Rain

10:24 AM—-Nervous and tense, not the way one wishes to be. A tough week to be a Patriot fan, especially after two losses in a row. Bringing out some strange things from the locker room; things that are rare for this Patriot team of now.Thomas and Springs making jokes about the team with four late to a meeting…I wonder who spilled the beans? Would that be Mr Thomas? What a joke he really is, coming in with his humble pie act and turning out to be a stiff playing wise and a cancer in the locker room. Even Pat Patriot got arrested. When it rains it pours!
11:46 AM—-Inactives–Neal, Taylor, Brace, Thomas, Wheatley, Aiken, Ohrenberger, Pryor. What I see on here is that there are two interior linemen that are inactive, meaning that if one of the inside three goes down, Kaczur will probably move inside, leaving Vollmer or LeVoir to play tackle. I find that so interesting and that I am sure they will rotate left tackle. Thomas was an early healthy scratch and that might be his role for the rest of the year. Pryor was injured and doubtful, but Aiken will be missed for his special team play and his use as third receiver. Also interesting is that they activated Adams and he will play while Brace sits. That has to be tough for the rook. So the game and possible rain. Will they come out on fire or will they just play strong all game? Is Brady hurt as bad as Shecter says? If he is, it may be Hoyer in when they have a big lead, if they do.
12:52 PM—-Ugh, these are the Fox commentators? Terrible, they make Nantz and Simms seem like the really big timers doing pro games and these clowns more high schoolers. Totally second class.
They do need to win today or it will just get worse and worse. Funny how it is that two losses in a row is not tolerable and there are many teams that would LOVE to win two straight. What does that say about the great fans of New England? I really want to see the Broncs take care of the Colts, but that will be hard. Funny how the haters have been so quiet as these teams win games; only the Patriots do they care about blabbing about? Is Mercury Morris in hiding? The world could be so lucky.
1:11 PM—-There we go; a repeat of last week although different circumstances. The D started strong and forced a punt and then a dumb penalty by the Panthers; a Face Mask and plus 15. But then, just into Carolina territory and the offense could not do it. A 4th and 1 and there’s the repeat, Morris into the line stopped cold. Just like the week before, but in some ways worse as the Panthers have great field position. Not feeling good about this one at all. Some bad play and a pitiful start.
1:15 PM—-They made a big stand and the Panthers could do nothing. A ball was right in Sander’s mitts and he dropped it. It was all clear sailing for a big gainer and then on the ground, but the Williams was stopped by Green and a 3rd down pass to Rosario was broken up by Butler. That was the way to go! A punt and The Pats with the ball again.
1:21 PM—-The Pats are actually running the ball and Maroney looks solid and moving up the field, even breaking one off for 17 yards. But just when it was going good, stops by the Panthers and a Brady throw low to Welker. That looked so so poor, but a punt was the only thing they could do. They are sputtering and not on fire. The D looks good, but they do in spurts and then have crumbled.
1:26 PM—-Williams actually got a tough run starting the drive for 14, but lost 2 on the next play. The 3rd down screen to Sutton was a few yards shy and another punt. This game is starting out boring with no offensive life and OK defenses. Looks like a mediocre game and that it’s close is never good. Had hoped for a stronger start by this Patriot team.
1:31 PM—-Maroney continued with a nice run and even though Moss was overthrown, it looked good. But then, a throw to Moss and a pick by Gamble. And all of a sudden chaos and down feeling. A big turnover and soon boos. This team seems out of sync now.
1:34 PM—-Caro 7 NE 0–Moore went back had time and hit Smith at the goal line for a 41 yard touchdown, the first of his career. Wow! That was really bad, I mean so so horrible. This team is starting like clunkers and boos heard. A poor start and Springs the culprit as he got beat. Not a way to start a game. Really angry and feeling like they could be in trouble.
1:31 PM—-Welker caught a pass and was hit, the ball loose and Faulk came up with it, so a gain of 6, but Fox threw the been bag and challenged. It’s an odd one as it is not a large gainer and could be overturned, but losing a time out over that? Not wise. Not sure why they did that as it is not any type of change time wise or anything like that. A tough game though and not getting easier.
1:42 PM—-End 1stQ—-Caro 7 NE 0—They overturned the play and then two plays later, Welker caught one on the left for a first down at the 37. They are driving and that is so good. The Pats D did not look bad, but for that play, Moore’s bomb to Smith. Looking good, but not at all great and one play spoils it all. That really stinks. I feel like this will be a long day with a struggle to win. They look bad and it’s going to be a long day.
1:50 PM—-There was it, a big pass to Moss to the 21 yard line, a gain of 16, except there was one problem, Moss had the ball stripped from him by a hard Harris hit, Conner with the recovery. What is going with this offense?? But as bad as that was, the D did not let that Panther team take any advantage of that turnover. There was a Holding call even though Williams lost a yard and then a Delay of Game penalty moved it back more. Welker returned it 17 yards into good field position to the Carolina 41. These are all really good things happening, but what will the offense do? Nothing at all? Granted one score down, but they need to tie it quickly and not let it fade away.
1:54 PM—-There it was with the ball on the Carolina 41 and what happened? Nothing and the offense sputtered more and more. Maroney lost 2 as Beason raced in on a big play. He’s a beast and such a great player. Their next play was a pass left to Baker, but linebacker Anderson was in front of him knocking it away. The 3rd down pass was stopped quickly and all was bad. Luckily, the punt went out of bounds, but getting into any field position game at 7-0 not a happy sign. At least it is only 7 points not 2 TDs.
2:01 PM—-They had a 3rd down and 1 and Smith played QB on the Wildcat and took it left for 3. Boddin and Banta-Cain had him further back, but the quick Smith was outside and out of bounds with the first down. There was a pass to Smith who got hit hard by Sanders, that looked like a McGowan slam. Williams went inside on a counter and Wilfork led the charge. The 3rd down was an overthrown pass and Carolina had to punt. Again, the Pats had good field position 7 yards shy of midfield.
2:05 PM—-A dropped pass on 3rd down was not the way to end a series. They only needed 4 yards, but even though he was open, it was not happening. It was now some 49 minutes since this team scored a point and just stinking it all up with many small things. The defense has played strong and kept the team in the game while the offense has been pitiful. Injuries have really hampered him and having two days away from the practice field seems to have been a factor here. Half the quarter is gone and the offense making so many mistakes, but still only 7 points down.
2:11 PM—-Williams started off the drive with 11 yards on a play to the right that was turned outside left. Stewart ran up the middle for 2 on a 3rd down play to extend the drive and then a short pass by Moore to Smith took it to the Patriot 42. With the play clock winding down, a time out was taken. With four plus minutes left, the Panthers were making a big drive here and another score would put a dagger deep into the heart of this team. I was upset that the offense was terrible and that a lot hinged on the D. A stop was needed here big time.
2:17 PM—-Finally a break for the Patriots and with two minutes left, it looks like they will be able to go in and tie it all up. Carolina moved the ball down the field and although a receiver fell on first down, Stewart drove through the line for 7 yards to the Patriot 35. On 3rd down, Moore was under fire and his short flair pass to the left was short to Hoover. If it had been completed, he may have made the first and many yards. They went for the 53 yarder and Kasay came up short. It was a change of field position and Watson dropped the ball, but it was a PI call and the ball advanced 30 to the Carolina 21. With a run and a short pass to Welker, it was to the 11. Fox was all upset and angry, but things do happen, calls are made and those are the breaks.
2:23 PM—-NE 7 Caro 7–Faulk ran in for the 3 yard TD after a Hold on a pass to Moss. Munnerlyn held Stanback and that was quite an obvious flag. Was really happy that they got it in an dtied it. It had been a real struggle, but now a new ball game and fear of another bad second half. Finally a tie game! Finally a TD to get on the board!
2:38 PM—-End Half—-NE 7 Caro 7—Carolina had the ball and tried to make a hook and ladder go for yardage, but that was not going to happen. It’s really an OK game, Pats finally in a tie. An ugly half and Brady not being like Brady with finger, ribs and shoulder injuries. The team is beat up and just to say even, that was a major accomplishment. Wilfork has gone out with a foot injury and that has to really hurt. Vince is needed. The line is banged up with Warren and Green coming back from aches and pains. Really only one bad play, the bomb to Smith. Other than that, the defense has stropped them. Good words for them, but not the same for the offense. ‘
This is where the character of the team is found in going through this adversity; where new leaders are found. When the sun is out, it’s easy, but stormy weather is what tells the full story. They need to dig deep and get in front and take this game. With rain headed this way, that will make it sloppy, which is really OK. They need to get control of them game and just stay ahead; that is all, quite simple, but that is all. It’s been a horrible game, but tied and really hope that they can get the lead and keep it. Simple, but no style points this week.
2:51 PM—-Maroney had a nice sweep for 11 and then 12 on a screen pass. It was looking like the Pats were getting their offense back. There was a pass to Welker of 18 to the 25 and then Morris swept left as well, but fumbled and the Panthers taking it at the 14. This time it was Godfrey that did the damage and rookie Munnerlyn came up with the recovery; bad bad timing here. Just when one thought things were going great, a turnover and just horrible things happening.
3:00 PM—-A long run by Williams and Wilfork goes out hobbling off because of a foot injury he suffered in the first half. A pass to Smith on 3rd down was good, but there were flags on back to back third down plays. An Illegal Formation and an Illegal Shift and Carolina had to punt the ball as the 3rd and 17 play was a short pass that was stopped quick. Baker punted and Wesley made a great play knocking it back in so it could be downed inside the 5. They need to move the ball and having this a field position game is bad.
3:02 PM—-The Pats will challenge the play as they think he stepped on the line and was in the endzone as he knocked it back. Again, shades of the Denver playoff game and needing endzones cameras. How many disputed plays could have a definitive view, but the cheap NFL doesn’t care. I think it will be upheld as in my quick view, I thought he had made a great play. The 4 isn’t as bad as the 1, but with beat up Brady and an offense out of sync, it could be three and out and disaster.
3:13 PM—-NE 14 Caro 7–What a drive! It started out with a few passes to Welker and on one, he was flattened with a hard hit. I love it how he gets up and keeps on going like that. With runs to Faulk thrown in, this team moved the ball slowly down the field. It was great to see Welker wide open for 23 yards to the 8. A 3rd down play and Watson was open for a 5 yard TD. That was really good news. Finally, the team was up as the rain was coming down. A lead and a bit of momentum.
3:16 PM—-A bit left in the quarter and this Patriot team is alive even though they have not looked all that good. I love how this team and players just keep it up and fight through all kinds of things to stay focused and win. This will be a tough one, but I am hoping the D continues and holds them in check. They do need a stop.
3:20 PM—-End 3rdQ—-NE 14 Caro 7—well, the quarter ended with two runs by Williams of 26 yards total and a groggy Woods coming off the field. This team is just so beat up. They really need to be able to rest some players some time, as they are getting worn down as time goes on. Just when I thought the injury list was smaller, it’s adding and not subtracting. 14-7 is not bad, but I fear a really tough last quarter of play. The D must make a few plays and close it.
3:26 PM—-A big pass to Rosario of 21 on the sideline went for 21, right after a Stewart run of 21. It was a great catch, but was his feet in bounds? They ran a quick play of Williams into the line for 1, so there was no challenge. In looking at the replay, it did seem like it was a great catch. Another run by Williams and then a time out as Warren was down on the ground. Another injury and more trouble for this team. A big third down play and if they hold to a field goal a real victory.
3:29 PM—-NE 14 Caro 10–The 3rd down pass was to Smith and Meriwhether almost had a pick cutting in front of him. That would have been great, but it forced a decision and a field goal. The 36 yarder was good by Kasay and with 12 minutes left, it was a 4 point game. The Pats need a drive here as the D saved points.
3:36 PM—-A pass to Welker and another to Watson and they are again moving the ball nicely. It’s into Carolina territory and that is really good. But, there’s another injury and Kaczur down. Just what this team does not need at all, more injuries. They are holding on to the ball and that is good, but points needed.
3:41 PM—-NE 17 Caro 10–An open Moss and a first down and the ball dropped. That was quite disappointing. And on 3rd down, Brady’s pass was poor. Leave it to Gostkowski to nail the 48 yard field goal to answer the Panthers. That was so so big as it’s back to 7 with half a quarter to go. The D needs to come up big, but without some big guys up front.
3:55 PM—-NE 20 Caro 10–Bodden and Sanders were in quick on a pitch out to Williams and they lost yardage and then, a sack on 3rd down, this one by Green. They got good field position and got a break on a dumb penalty by the Panthers. Roughing the Kicker is never a good penalty and here, it pushed it to the Carolina 30. They could not move it more, but Gostkowski kicked it through the uprights from 47 and they led by 10. Wow! What a way to do it.
4:01 PM—-Two minutes left and the game seemingly over. Burgess with a sack and a big tackle on 4th down, coming from the backside to catch Williams on a screen. A loss of downs and time to run the clock out.
4:17 PM—-End Game—-NE 20 Caro 10—This was an ugly win, but I am so happy. I could see the offense so out of character and turnovers galore. That is the way to lose the game and yet, they hung in there and won the game. That was a game of character building and of gutting it all out. What is the difference between one of style points and one like this–nothing! Sure, I would have loved to have seen a blow out, but sometimes a win like this gives the team a bit more. the D played tough when needed and made the plays when they needed to. That is always good. The offense did get points up and that was tremendous. Gostkowski’s two field goals were really key in the last quarter.
This wasn’t pretty, but it’s on to Buffalo and with players down, this beat up team somehow needs to get it together to make it into the playoffs. If they get Taylor back and if the injured are better, this team could be tough. It took a lot of starch out losing to the Fins, just after getting kicked by the Saints, but I sense a change for the better. They gutted it out and won on a day they didn’t play great.
(These notes were transcribed from my scribbles as I wrote them during commercials in between watching and keeping a play by play line score.)

At The Corner of Carroll and Belichick

     One rather snide and smug commentator from the land of Cheese Heads remarked about this team going back to the days of Pete Carroll and I thought not only was that an exaggeration of the situation, but really a cannon shot at this team and where it is. But I will take that poor analogy and use it here, for my own purposes, for I have much emotion on many levels, about the team, the media and the fans.
     I really am not sure who I am most upset with, this Patriot team that has floundered the past few weeks, the mediaots who are attackung this team like vultures, going at it in every way possible or some of the fanbase that are spoiled and more like fair weather fans instead of being die hard and deep. And when it rains, it pours as Pat Patriot was arrested as well in Rhode Island. What can be next?
     Let me start with this team of Patriots. They have come close a few times to getting the big one, but have fallen back hard the last two weeks. They do have many issues on the field, from the lack of a pass rush to red zone offensive issues to poor tackling. They might be able to be solved, but now, it’s expanded into a larger issue, the mental state of the team.    
     This team has had injuries galore, not the ones that send one out to pasture on IR, but nagging injuries that players need to work through and recover from. In some ways they are harder to deal with for they are short term and can not be remedied by bringing in another body. The offensive line has had four starters and two reserves on teh injury list this year. Two running backs, five receivers, two tight ends, five defensive linemen, six linebackers and eight defensive backs have been on the report wit nagging injuries. It’s a fact of life in the NFL, but this team has been banged up badly. It’s never an excuse, but to overlook it is not seeing the whole picture.
     The one thing that sums this all up is that they do not know how to close games on both sides of the ball. The D plays good, but lapses and teams catch up in the end to win. The offense starts on fire and like a blown out candle, seems to disappear fast. These might be able to be solved in some way, but they are some of the barriers to this team getting to Miami in February.
     Now, the locker room attitudes are in play and that has never been as  much of an issue as it is at this time. Other Patriot teams have had veterans to calm things, strong personalities, but dealing with adversity in other ways is new to a,lot of these players. The Patriot way is foreign to many newbies and vets from other teams. There are 20 on this team that have not played two years and another 7 vets that are new to this squad. Over half the team is learning about what being a Patriot is. It’s a hard time and the leaders on this team, Brady, Wilfork, Seau and others need to show the what is needed to be done. Through this adversity, younger leaders will be found, but it might not be quick enough for a run to Miami. In any event, the transition process has started and will only be better in teh long run.
     With four late for practice, it’s obvious some do not get it. Thomas showed what he is all about, but I do think Guyton, Burgess and Moss will go the other way and be strong. For Moss, this is an important time as real leaders take control and aid the rest with direction. That is sorely needed in the locker room. I think it’s clear about Mr Thomas, but that’s another story altogether. I do think that the bulk of these players will follow strongly, so this in fact could be a team on a mission with a rebirth of energy.
     But while this is the team now, it’s really larger issue of team, as coaches and the front office are also under scrutiny and the losses of coaches may have caught up a bit. Some may think the genius of Pioli is gone, so duds like Galloway and possibly Springs and Burgess come into mind as they were post-Scott. But the biggest bust has to be Adalius Thomas, who came when Pioli was in full throttle. Not only has he been a large disappointment on the field, but a cancer off the field. I can not think of a worse acquisition this year than Joey Galloway. He was the third receiver and the one who would help Moss and Welker. Instead of helping, he was a large bust and that has hurt this offense all year. Burgess and Springs may contribute, but relying on vets who have come up short, shows that the FO made some bad signings.
     These are all team issues and I am quite concerned about them, but the team is 7-5 and still in the lead to take the division crown.
     And that leads me to the commentators who are like parasites, feeding on this team’s roubles. For many of them, it’s all self serving as failure of this team means they will get higher rankings. It’s also easier to have a gourmet meal in front of oneself than to have to prepare it in any way. Most are quite lazy and love all of what is happening to this club as they can just gossip and not have to really know, understand any of the details. The Patriot haters are out there in their glory, rising up again, the strongest time since spy-gate. Why not talk to Big Sey and see what he thinks; I mean what better way to drive the knife in deeper. And Mister full of himself said he could help; no kidding..Maybe if the front office thought he would be reasonable with a contract he would still be here.
     There are carpet baggers galore, from Cheese Head Felger to punk Borges. Neither care at all about this team, but wish to promote themselves as best they can. Felger will throw anything out to be controversial and what is so annoying is that so many take that bait and do not see past his smugness and total self promotion. It’s all about him and what he thinks and really, who cares! Borges on the other hand, has been Mr Negative for a decade as he lost his friends and hated Belichick and this team from the moment of his arrival. Both should be thrown back to whence they came.
     And it is sad that so many fans have followed the loud mouth critics with their over the top words about this team. It’s easy street for them now as they can be lazy and talk about all of this mess, while real analysis takes hard work and many run from that with a passion. That anyone would say this team is anything like the old pre-Belichick Patriots is about as dumb and outrageous as anything I have heard. But obviously, when one sees AD’s face on half of the team and is that unaware, anything is possible.
     Some have had some good points about what is going on, a really solid analysis of this team’s struggles, but the vast array of media have been incredibly disappointing at the best.
     And then there is the fan base, fickle, with short memories and totally spoiled. They are attacking this team with a vengeance that is truly pitiful, for they show what they really are when they do.
     I too am very disappointed with what has happened this season, but when I feel down about it, I pinch myself and think back to when the Patriot teams were really bad and there were many seasons like that. 7-5?? Fans of the team would be salivating at being 7-5 and having a good shot at 11 wins. The teams of the past were clueless and leaderless and would be okay one week and blown out the next. Think about having a team at 2-9 at this point. That is real disappointment.
     Too many fans have tasted the nectar of championships and never have been close to the real poor seasons that a football team can have. “This team stinks!” I have heard that many times this week and I have to laugh at that, for these people apparently have never come close to any real rotting garbage ever in their life. What is true is that many would be off the bandwagon if the team failed to be 500 in two years or even worse seasons. Many claim they are not fair weather fans, but have never seen snow or rain. only brief showers of adversity. They scream and yell for victory when the team is doing well, but two losses in a row and it’s, “the Patriot’s suck!” and other chants.
     It’s really pathetic, but I am encouraged that a large portion of fans have perspective and are not spoiled. The others will disappear when this team is in another cycle, but until then, will just need to see them for what they are.
     So in a larger sense, it is between the past pre-Belichick era and what the teams of this decade have been. I do not see this team taking a wrong turn down Carroll Street and those many blocks before. So much has been established with Belichick and it’s not going to be washed away by a few bad apples and their promoters in the media who wish for that. The team may not have the peaks of the early part of the decade, but I feel this team can be stronger than it has been and will be going into the future. This game may be the one that turns the corner back onto Belichick Way, with a renewed effort and spirit and I hope that fans will be behind this team with the same vigor as before.

Game Thirteen–Carolina—A Desperate Rebound Needed

     With the Patriot’s reeling from two losses, and the locker room exposed for all to see, this is a must win for the team. There are no two ways about it. A loss here will sink this team like a lead balloon. On the other hand, if they come out strong and play that way for sixty minutes, it will be a big first step to make something out of this season.
     The problems on the field have been there all year and some have improved a bit only to come back later. Now, with the disciplining of four players for showing up late to a team meeting, the underbelly of what this team is about has been exposed. It’s obvious that many are on the same page and a few are collecting a pay check and giving a half hearted effort. Prima donna athletes are always a problem, but this situation is quite new to the team and what is worse is that there are not the group of vets to keep this in line like there was.
     The back drop for the game is as ugly as it’s been, but while the focus is all about the Patriots, this Panther team is coming in under the radar and could be a big problem to the team. Even though they are 5-7, the Panthers are still in the NFC playoff hunt. They are ranked ninth and are not too far behind both the Falcons and Giants. If they can win out, it is possible they could get in as a Wild Card, but while that is slim, I am sure this team will be tough and play the spoiler role.

**Patriots**—This Patriot team is on a tail spin, coming out of the big five games with only two wins. They are in good position, but have to win out to take the crown. They are at a point where I could see them falling flat again or playing on fire as they did in the first quarter in Miami. They could get stronger during these for games or they could start to fall apart. It’s a real test of character.

**Panthers**—The Panthers have not had a great season as Delhomme has been erratic and injured. The team though has won games in the trenches with a tough relentless running game and a strong defense. It is their first time ever at Gillette and I am sure they will do their best to make that visit one for the books.

**Not Being There–Patriots**–The biggest concern is quarterback Tom Brady, who now has rib injuries to go with those of his finger and shoulder. That could be a problem, but there’s no way he doesn’t play. The Pats are still recovering from injuries with fourteen players on the report, but I really doubt that any key players will miss the game.

**Not Being There–Panthers**–Jake Delhomme being out really hurts this team as the quarterbacking falls in the hands of rookie Matt Moore. The defense is a bit banged up with defensive end Tyler Brayton out and linebacker Na’ll Diggs is questionable. If others are out that will only weaken this team.

????–Patriots–Will the Patriot team come out on fire and stay that way or continue to fade as they have in games? I think that is the real question for this team. Character is built on weeks like this and let’s see how strong the character is for this young team. It could be quite interesting.

????–Panthers–Matt Moore will be in for Delhomme and it will be interesting to see how the rookie plays. Brees and Henne piled up yardage against this defense, but I wonder if this rookie will try to do the same. If he is anywhere near successful, it could mean trouble.

History–Although they played in the Superbowl, other than that, they have met only three times, with the Panthers having a 2-1 lead. The last meeting was in 05 during a tough early stretch of the season that saw the Pats lose a few tough ones.

     With the Pats returning to a friendly home stadium, this big game for the Patriots should be a breeze, but with the Panthers still in contention, it will be a dog fight. Their defense is really tough up front and having Williams and Stewart carrying the ball and controlling the clock, it could be a really close game.
     All eyes will be on the Patriot team to see how they come out and what character this team has. With Thomas and a few others it seems, more interested in themselves than the team, team leaders will need to step up and get through this adversity with pride, strength and tough football. They could not do it last week, but this week, they need to take that extra step.
     The Patriots may have more of a running game if Taylor makes his return and that would be great news for the offense. Having that added dimension would strengthen their passing game and it would bring some of the defensive backs closer in and thus open a bit more routes. I also think having an inside running game will help Maroney more.
Brady may be hurt, but now he’ll be a target for this tough Panther D and their D is full of play makers from Peppers to Beason to some of the other lesser known players. The Pats need a big effort from this offense and they may do it in a more balanced way. It would not surprise me to see more of a run game with long slow drives down teh field.
     It will also be interesting to see how the Panthers attack the Patriot D. Will they stay with their hard hitting running game or have the rookie go after the secondary as Henne and Brees did? I tend to think they will do both, seeing what they can get on the ground and then open the game up a bit. The Panthers have Smith and Muhammad and they can be strong receivers.
     Will this Patriot defense start getting it together? They had kept the team in a lot of games, but they need to get a rush on Moore and pressure him anytime he goes back to throw. If they are able to force bad throws, they will do fine. If they let him stay back and look down the field to find an open receiver, it could be more of the same.
     I do see the Patriots taking this one, but it will not be a blow out. I would love to see that, but there are too many issues they have to deal with and the Panthers are no pushover. A win by even one point will be a good first step for this team to take. If they can build something now, their timing might be more important than anything else.

A Close One in Miami but Some Trends Seem Clear

     This was a game the Patriots needed to win to basically keep the other teams a few games behind and pretty much assuredly take the crown. The Fins were on their last legs, gasping and desperate, and even without Brown and the Wildcat, gave a full out effort in this game, beating the Patriots with a late in the game drive and field goal.
     This was a big surprise to many as the team has not lost back to back games in three years and it seemed in the first half, it was all in control, until a fourth and one failure and a Miami drive cut it to four points at the end of the half. Both offense and defense floundered and the Fins found a way to win the game, really throwing a shock into Patriot Nation.
     With the two losses, there are many issues and a whole gaping hole has been opened up for so fans, critics and Patriot haters of world to jump on this team with a renewed vigor. Even long time fans are now part of a lynch mob that is growing with each day. It’s a sad commentary for both this franchise and the supposed fans.

Momentum Movement—–The Patriots started with a big bomb to Moss and continued with that with the D stopping the Dolphins with some key plays. The Patriot momentum was strong as they scored another TD on Faulk’s run, but then the Fins took over with a drive for a touchdown. This seemed to tip in their favor until Meriwether made a pick later in the quarter. This strong momentum continued to the fourth down Morris run where Miami put up a wall and stole it carrying it down the field to end the half with a field goal. The third quarter started again with the Pats momentum on defense stopping them and then surged with the Aiken’s pass and run. But just as quick as that occurred, the Fins stole it back with a drive and a field goal. And they kept it as the Patriot offense did nothing and marched down the field for another score, making it a two point game. The Pats stalled, but got it back with a drive, only to have a pass to Moss be picked off. But just as quickly, the D did a good job. Slowly the momentum was with the Fins, even though they again failed on a fourth down pass. The Patriot offense sputtered as the momentum was all Miami, down the field to get a field goal and win the game.

Tipping Point—–it was late in the game, but Henne’s 13 yard pass to Camarillo on 4th down was the play that tipped it in their favor. If that had been incomplete, the Patriots would have had the ball with two minutes and could have used up most if not all, punting maybe with some time left, but not much. With that completion, the ball was at the 28. Even with no further advancement, it would have been a 46 yard field goal and certainly within Carpenter’s range. It was basically over from that point. Given the way the offense was playing, I did not think they had any shot with a minute left. They could not get a first down on their last two series and before that it was a pick in the endzone, so for all practical purposes, it was over.

Stat Check—–A big difference in this game was third down efficiency and the Fins were 10 of 19 for 53 %, while the Pats were 4 of 10 for 40 %. In the first half, the Dolphins were a blistering 7 of 8 for 88 %.

     The Patriots opened the game with one of their strongest quarters in the season. They started with a bomb to Moss six plays in and after stopping the Dolphins, proceeded on a long drive mixing short passes and runs. It ended on the six yard line, with Faulk going in for their second TD on the first play of the second quarter. In between, the Fins did get into Patriot territory, but were stopped cold, with a sack and a loss of 15 on a Wildcat gone wrong. Unfortunately, they could not keep that up for the next three quarters or even come close to it.
     The largest turning point was in the second quarter, after a long pass to Welker. It was 1st and 19 at the Miami 15 and instead of any points being put up on the board, it was a loss of possession on downs. There were two runs by Maroney and the ball moved nine yards. Unfortunately, the two attempts at running for the first down failed and the Pats gave the ball over to the Fins at their 6. I know that many were very upset they did not go for the field goal, but at that point, they had moved the ball for two scores, were threatening for a third and punted only once. I think if they had felt it was going to be a close game, they would have secured the field goal. If they had thought there was going to be any offensive problems later in the game, they would have done likewise. Instead, they gambled and lost.         Given how the team had moved easily, there was no reason at all to grab the easy three. If they had put up another touchdown, the Pats would have led by 14 and changed the dynamics of the game. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of failing on a fourth down play, is that it gives a shot in the arm to the other team. In this case, even though there was less than two minutes left, Miami was able to drive and kick a field goal. The fact that they were getting the ball to start the third quarter only made it worse. In retrospect, I think a field goal would have been the move, but predicting a pretty pitiful offensive performance in the second half at that point was impossible.
     While the defense has been the punching bag a lot of weeks, this game they made some key stops. Pryor stopped Hilliard on a 3rd down run, pushing him back a yard. On the next series, Boddin tipped a Henne pass away, forcing the Fins to kick a field goal. Burgess got pressure on Henne enough to force a bad throw to Camarillo on a 3rd down pass to open the last quarter. Butler broke up a pass to Hartline on their next possession, forcing a punt. He also stopped Bess from catching the ball on a 4th down play with a bit under five minutes left in the game. It all came down to the last drive and at that point, Henne’s short passes were quite on target and the defense had nothing left to make the big stop. What was also the case was that the offense, went quite cold after their last score.
     After the great Aiken catch and run, they had the ball five times, before the final winning field goal drive by the Dolphins. The last two drives occurred in the last nine minutes of the game and both were three and outs. Any drive then would have increased their chances of winning the game. The series before that ended with a Davis interception in the endzone. Even if they had kicked a field goal, it would have forced the Fins into a situation where a touchdown was needed. The other two drives were in the 3rd quarter and consisted of another three and out and one with one first down and a successful fourth down play, negated by a penalty. The failure of the offense in the second half to either hold onto the ball for a few series or punch it in for points contributed greatly to the team’s loss.
     The Dolphin D was strong when it had to be with Starks, Wake and others getting pressure on Brady. Porter led the charge on the 4th down attempt by Morris and Davis made a big play in the endzone for a big pick in the last quarter. On the other side, it was Henne who had a big day with 29 completions for 335 yards. What was interesting was that he completed only 10 passes in the 2nd half, with drives of 46, 64, 37 and 51 yards and no pass longer than 19 yards, making the drives very efficient. Williams added 42 yards rushing in the 2nd half. Carpenter’s three field goals were also key in the win.
     What was troubling was that in the first half Maroney ran quite well, but hardly touched the ball in the second half. Why was the run game abandoned? Why did they go long on a number of occasions on third down? Why did things change so drastically in their approach in the second half?
     It’s sad is that the incredible catch and run by Aiken is quietly fading away from even any talk. It might have been one of the greatest catches in Patriot history. He basically made the catch over Smith’s back, held onto it, vaulted over him and sprinted down the sideline for the 81 yard touchdown. There are few catches that are better than that one.
     In the end, the Patriot team could not get it done again on the road with the typical pattern now of starting fast and fading in the second half and not holding on to the win. If one looks at how this team has been incredible in holding leads, this year has been quite the opposite.

Thumbs Down—–1) The Patriot’s Red Zone Offense—This has been a problem all year and for a few games it seemed it was getting better, but with some things, when they do not improve, they end up biting oneself and hurting deeply. This is the case as the Patriot’s had two drives deep and came out of it with no points on either. On one, they gambled on 4th down and was stopped while on the other, in the last quarter, it was a Brady mistake of throwing an interception that stopped the drive. They had been getting by at times, even though they showed that it was not fixed. This game it was front and center when one might list reasons for the loss. If they are going to advance into the playoffs, finishing drives has to be done; touchdowns not field goals and points rather than turnovers. I think it’s all been said before, but now it’s more critical.                                      2) The Patriot’s Defense—Again, the D allowed a lot of yards passing and this time it was not a top quarterback that did it. When Henne can throw for over 300 yards, there’s a large problem. It’s not all secondary issues either as the lack of a pass rush is becoming a major issue. Any reasonably good quarterback can hit receivers with time. Henne, either in the pocket or rolling out, seemed to have all day to throw the ball with little pressure on him. The defensive backs, however swift and strong can not cover receivers forever. The trick is to have a rush that forces the throws to be quick, so in that the little time, defenders can cover tightly. That is something that is not happening and must change if this team is going to make any noise post season.       3) Tom Brady—I know he had injury issues and he started hot, 14 of 15, but he finished up with only 5 completions in his last 14 passes, including the interception in the endzone. That was more of a mental mistake and that really hurt. If he had thrown it away, they still would have had a shot on third down and could have added a field goal at the worst. Instead, he forced the pass and Davis’s pick stopped their last real attempt at a score.

Thumbs Up—–With a loss as disappointing as that was, I don’t think any players should be mentioned. It was not just one unit, but all that did not play like they should. It’s now two weeks of this and of players underachieving and that for this team is really poor.

Bumps and Bruises—New England–QB Tom Brady–He was plastered by two defenders on the bomb he threw to Moss and went into the locker room quickly. He returned and played on the next series. It was believed to have been a finger or a rib, but other than that speculation, nothing further was known. This week a rib injury was added to the report and he missed two days of practice —CB Leigh Bodden—He hurt an arm tackling Williams in the 3rd quarter, but returned later in the quarter. —-WR Sam Aiken—He hurt his shoulder in the 3rd quarter extending himself to catch a Brady bomb, having it for a second and hitting the ground hard. It was a great effort though and he did return on the next series. Miami—LB Jason Taylor–He went out with shoulder injury on the long pass to Welker in the 2nd period, but returned in the second half. —RB Rickie Williams—He pulled a hamstring in the later stages of the 4th quarter, but returned on their next series, the winning field goal drive.

     The loss not only left the Patriot team with a one game lead and making these last four games so important, but it exposed larger issues with the team, ones that may have been hidden and glossed over the last month or so. It’s obvious that the team misses some of the veteran leadership. Young players and those new to the organization really are a bit lost and in many ways, this is so far away from the type of team of earlier in the decade. Reports of the team squabbling on the sideline in the last two games and of lots of laughter on the busses after the loss in Miami speak loudly as to the lack of character of this team. It’s obvious that some take it all as a joke, but the leaders need to take the majority of the players and march forward with them. This season is not over, but more at a crossroads.
     If they win out, they will get the crown, but a bye now seems long gone. The Dolphins and Jets may not win out, but any Patriot loss will make it so much closer. If they can get it together, this low point might seem like the storm, before the sunny weather, but it is going to take a lot of hard work and I don’t know whether this team has that.

Play Under the Radar–Sam Aiken made a nice play on the 58 yard pass to Welker. With him and Welker on the right side, he was able to move inside a bit, drawing coverage, allowing Welker to get outside and down enough so he could get free for the long pass. As it turned out, the play went for 58 yards, but the Pats came out of it sans points.

The Chalkboard—With all the ways the Dolphins could have gone, it was interesting that they saw throwing the ball as their best option. With other teams, it’s been a use of the Wildcat, even without Brown and more of Pat White. With other opponents, it’s been more run oriented. After their first series, it seems they chose the passing option, giving Henne the ball and attacking the Patriots through the air. If one looks at the past few games, this has not been successful at all, but in this game, it was. Taking a few parts of the Saint playbook and incorporating it into their plan, they were quite successful in the game. They used short crossing patterns and a lot of short passes, more to the sides than the middle and the Patriots could not stop them when it counted.
     Chad Henne was 29 for 52 for 335 yards. When was the last time a Dolphin quarterback threw that many passes? And what is interesting is that his longest completion was for only 29 yards. In throws that were less than 8 yards, he was 19 for 28 and he threw only 8 over 15 yards. Also, most of his throws were to the right side, 30 in all and he completed 17 of those to that side. What is most disturbing was that he was 11 for 15 in third down completions and that 10 of those 11 resulted in first downs, two for touchdowns. This strategy paid off very large for the Dolphins with Henne’s big performance.

The Whistle—Steratore and crew have to be one of the worst in the league, I do think they had an impact on the game, aiding Miami with a spattering of calls and non calls in the third quarter. Stinky Steratore was the referee who in the Titan game made up his own story late in the game on Young’s aborted snap, blind to his picking up the ball and going into the endzone on his own accord. Young fumbled and the play should have been a safety, but that didn’t matter as Steratore magically placed the ball inside the five yard line, making up his own rules and basically erasing the reality of the play. When one has that type arrogance, the shenanigans in this game seem minor, although there were many that he and his crew made.
     The Patriots were called for 6 penalties for 82 yards and the Dolphins only 2 for 10 and that is quite one sided, but some teams do play pretty error free football, while other teams are less disciplined and commit many more. But if one looks at the penalties themselves and at other plays where there is a non call, there are discrepancies galore. The False Start call on Watson and the Illegal Motion call on Arrington on the punt were quite correct, but the other four were questionable and when one looks at the non calls, to me raises concern.
     The Roughing call on Wilfork was pretty cheap as once a ball is intercepted, a quarterback is not given the same protection as he has when throwing the ball. Vince pushed him, not even hard enough for him to fall down, but apparently enough for a 15 yarder. While it was a cheap call, that one I can understand.
     Mankins was called for Holding before the 81 yard TD pass to Aiken. It was negligible, if that and that is OK if they are calling plays like that. What is rather amusing is that Miami’s line had more blatant holding on a few plays with no flags called. On the last drive, Wright was held from getting to Henne and the same official that was so quick on throwing a flag at Mankins, kept it in his pocket.
     One of the worst calls was the Pass Interference call on Wilhite. Hartline, in fact, had his hands pushing Wilhite aside before the ball was there, which was so much more obvious than the Aiken PI call, but gutless Greg Gautreaux threw the hanky and Miami added 47 yards, with a first down and three points a minute or so later. It’s okay to call them as tight as that, but at least be fair about it. In the fourth quarter, Welker was hit by Allen past the 5 yard mark and then again by Bell as the ball came by him. Where was the flag? The gutless ones refused to throw it.
     Before I discuss the last penalty, there was a blatant Block in the Back penalty not called in the 3rd quarter. Slater was running down on the right and beat Wilson, who pushed him from behind right in the open. Although Slater doubled back and made the tackle, it was an obvious penalty and the non call gave Miami the 36 yard line instead of the 16. It was on this series that Miami scored and got to within 2 points, but I have to wonder if they would have done that if they were pushed back inside the 20.
     The absolute worst call though had to have been the Aiken’s Pass Interference penalty on what was a successful fourth down play. Given how one sided this crew was in the third period, I knew that if they did get it, it would be taken away. That was how obvious this crew was. That call was pitiful as Aikens was going forward and in fact Sims alluded to it in what he saw. “Oh, man, I tell you. That is just an unbelievably tough call. Sam Aiken is allowed to go straight ahead.” Yes, and that is what he did, but in Steratore’s world, where a player running into the endzone on his own, fumbles it in what should be a safety and is given a spot of a few yards, calling a penalty on a legitimate allowed play, is nothing.
     I am not saying the result of the game would have been different, but when there are uneven calls and non calls at a key time in the game, it smells pretty rotten and Steratore and crew lived up to that and more last Sunday. The Pats should have won despite what these jokers were doing and that they did not is quite sad.

Last Thoughts–There are four games left and if they can win out, they will be in good shape. The big issue is does this team have the character to rise up, win these games convincingly and have momentum headed into the playoffs. I think it’s a question mark at this point.

Another Chapter of the Horror Show in Miami

     10:30 AM—-An oddweek for Patriot fans, really hard after a loss like that and looking forward to a win in Miami. I do want this team to come up big and I feel that so deeply. There is so much infighting and that is so different and totally out of character for Patriot teams. It’s a real need to regroup and I felt the words of Junior Seau big time, when he said coaches have short short memories and move on quickly. After that game they needed to. That game had to be forgotten quick and fast.
     Nervous, of course, but a bit more so today and I really feel like the Pats will come out strong and will take it with fire. I also like where they are now as they are down some and expectations are lowered a lot. No more talk of being an elite team and that is OK. They do much better in these situations and that is how they won before. And now, it’s where they are. To slowly get better, that is the plan am d,aybe they can strike deep. Even with teh crushing they took, if they learn, they will be OK.
     11:46 AM—-Inactives–Vollmer, Neal, Taylor, Brace, Edelman, Lockett, Springs, Wheatley. Five had already been downgraded before the game, so with Neal being number six, it was to who the other two would be. The big question was answered with Neal out. That left only two. With no defensive linemen out, Brace was the easy choice. Wheatley was the surprise here. So what’s happening with Springs out again? Is that sort of like the Galloway situation only on D? It’s puzzling and not good at all for this team.
     12:52 PM—-Actually did something different today in my routine, being out for awhile before the game. All was ready, but out and stayed out till about 20 minutes before the game. I really liked coming back and not seeing all the BS before the game. Hearing all the predictions and such. Less football talk and out away. It does seem to relax me a bit more. Just a different way of getting ready and such.
     Just think the Fins will try anything to win and so many ways to get a W. I am really confident this team will make a big statement today. The old Patriots were always in question and usually it was a let down. I love what this team does, not coming out flat, but more with fire and a wanting to show what they have. Just think it will happen and all fans will be happy. Just a game soon and I can not wait.
     12:58 PM—-Almost here. Thinking more about how this team will arrive on the field. Will they start strong with confidence or will it be tentative? Just so good being out and having the game there, so quick. Maybe a new routine in the works. One large question is whether there will be any starters replaced, or just the same players as last week? No shake up?
     1:08 PM—-NE 7 Mia 0–A bomb to Moss of 58 yards; that is the way to do it and start off big. Brady was hit by two Fins and hit hard. And after the play was off to the locker room. Really a great throw, but injured? Is there something going on with him under the radar? Why would Vegas pull the game a day before? Was it the finger injury or rumors of some kind going around? IN any event, Pats did what they had to and up by a TD.
     1:17 PM—-Brady questionable to return? That was really an odd one. The D did get the job done with a star. White was in at QB on 2nd down and he pitched it back to Williams who barely got the ball. It was a big loss of 14. That was following a Henne sack and a few short passes up the field. Bess and Ginn both were out and easy targets. On 3rd, it was a short screen, knocked down by Butler. All very nice for the D. Brady out? That throws a real monkey wrench if true. Not a good thing at all, but I think he’ll be back. Looking great right now for the Pats. Another quick TD and let the Fins sink.
     1:25 PM—-The offense was on fire with Maroney and Morris adding to the short passes from Brady. It’s always good to see the offense go down field in a nice tough manner. It’s 3rd down and 6 at the 15 yard line. Will they get it on a pass? Will they be forced to the field goal? I love what this team is doing and a 14-0 lead is what is needed.
     1:29 PM—-End 1stQ—-NE 7 Mia 0—They did get the first down as Welker made the play toward the middle. Team is doing good in this fast quarter. 14-0 seems like what will happen; all good!
     1:32 PM—-NE 14 Mia 0–And this was needed! First play 2nd quarter and Faulk with a driving run that went in 6 yards for the touchdown on an easy play. 14-0 and that is what is needed. This is Patriot football and all they have done is just that. Fins playing from behind and that is the flow. Pats riding high, Fins way behind. Really good to see that. I wonder what and how they will pile on points. It’s been a bit upside down the road losses and home wins. They are really getting good. Two long possessions and two touchdowns and Miami one and no points.
     1:35 PM—-Ginn got the ball on one side of the field and ran to the other, trying to break away, but was hemmed in and downed at the 12. The Pats flying around and playing strong. Meanwhile the Saints down in Washington, but the Colts leading the Titans as the undefeated have teams gunning for them.
     1:46 PM—-NE 14 Mia 7–Just when you think the D is doing a good job, they fall apart slowly allowing a big Miami TD. There were receivers open in the backfield and Henne hit them, Camarillo, Heartline and Bess. Why is it happening? This is not Brees and company but…Henne? A 3rd down pass to Camarillo, open and for 29 yards. That was the killer. Back to back passes to Heartline and the D again is getting smoked. Not at all the way to do it and not harder, but easy. So a 13 yard pass to Bess for a score. Not what was needed for this team. Now, it’s more a game.
     1:49 PM—-Slater takes it out upfield and Heartline makes a hard stop on him at the 18. Now Miami is with fire and the Patriot team, dawdling. A large momentum shift and that is not good at all. Now, after they quieted the crowd, the Miami defense must go after this team and here, the Pats need to just plow through the defense and score again. Lions on top of the Bengals and Redskins leading as well.
     1:55 PM—-They got a first down on a pass to Welker, but in 2 runs, Maroney only got 8. A pass to Faulk got another yard, but here, almost at midfield, a punt. Why did they not go for it? THAT would have seemed like the play, given the situation. SO more focus back on the D, almost halfway through the quarter. They do need to stop the Fins and take the ball away. What they can’t do is allow a score here.
     2:04 PM—-A big interception by Meriwether and the defense came up with the play, but what was not good was a cheap chinsy call on Wilfork for Roughing, after the pick. A bogus call and making good field position not the best.
     2:06 PM—-What a play! Brady found Welker for 58 yards and he tried to outrun a few, but made it down to the 15.That was a great play. Jason Taylor on the ground, injured arm or rib. That is never good. Talk of him coming to the Pats; maybe next year. But it was a big third down play that went for many yards.
     2:10 PM—-Two minutes left in the half and what a play be Welker to get free and male it a long gainer. A big shift with that play as the Fins are back on their heels. Now, it’s back to a 4th down and a decision. They do need that touchdown, but somehow I think they will go for it. Fourth and one; it’s no problem. They will do it again. Scoring and being up by 14 is needed here. Back and forth again and it’s a big play. Very big call here and I think they will go and score.
     2:21 PM—-They are reviewing a catch by Ginn that was for 19 and put the ball on the Patriot 11. It all started when Morris was stopped hard on the fourth down run, but the Fins just threw short passes and runs and Fasano and Bess were both open as they marched down the field. I really think it was on the line and out, but this is not a good crew at all.
     2:27 PM—-End Half—-NE 24 Mia 10—Not a good way to end a half. A big shift at the end, both with the touchdown and the touchdown the Pats could not get to and the Fins field goal. The Pats not getting 3 and going for the 1 yard and the Henne going downfield with small passes. What is the D doing? They slowed him down a bit, but, ultimately the pass to Ginn and a field goal. I was really not sure Ginn was in and Steratore making the call? No chance it goes the Patriots way. And with the field goal only up 4. Not good whatsoever. A good start and then a fall and a stumble. On fire and then smoldering as the Fins dumper water on them. Miami gets the ball with a chance to go ahead. Not the way it should have been.
     2:41 PM—-A big play on 3rd down as Pryor comes in and knocks down Hilliard for a loss of a yard. That was a big play. They have the ball near the 30 and can get a TD and go up by a bunch of points.
     2:46 PM—-NE 21 Mia 10–Wow! What an incredible catch and run by Aiken! He jumped up as the defender was going for it and trapped it against the back of the defender. Not only did he catch the ball, fighting him for it, but got away from him, jumping over him and racing to the endzone for 81 yards. It was great and I am so happy for him, for he’s quiet but works hard. A long TD and so so happy because of that. In an instant, the are up by 11. That might be one of the best catches in Patriot’s history. So fast, so quick BANG!
     2:53 PM—-A long pass and Heartline and Wilhite were going for it and the hanky came out. Not a surprise as this crew may be the worst in the league. Steratore is one of the worst refs in the game. So no surprise that his crew is so similar. He was the one who made up his own story in the Titan game where Young fumbled. Not only did Young pick up the ball and run back into the endzone, but fumbled there. It was a safety but Steratore made his own rules and placed it inside the five yard line. This is just more of the same from this crew. I am feeling like the D needs to hold some to keep it to 3 and make it an 8 point lead.
     2:55 PM—-NE 21 Mia 13–They went for it on 3rd down and Boddin rushed and tipped the pass. A good play as Miami had a receiver open in the endzone. A good play. Carpenter nailed the field goal and made it an 8 point lead, but that was better than a TD. Somehow I am feeling the calls from this crew will always be going against the Patriots. Stinky Steratore, leader of the band of incompetents.
     3:01 PM—-They went to Moss deep on 3rd down and had to punt. I did not like that play at that time. They needed a drive, not a three and out. Why go long and put it back on this hot Miami team? Hot Henne is ripping the D apart. And what happens on a punt, Bess takes it, but this crew missed an obvious block in the back. What a surprise that no calls have been made against the Fins. This crew is pitiful and it just gets worse. Just feeling the game is more 11 against 18 and that is never good.
     3:13 PM—-NE 21 Mia 19–Just so incredible how this D can fold so easy. Passes to Bess and Fasano for 19 each and quickly the ball is at the Pats 18 yard line. And what happens, the Pats stop them on 3rd down with a big play, with Mayo and Guyton making the play. Then, it was Polite who pushed through on fourth down. Just incredible. Three plays later it was Heartline deep in the corner, Henne hitting him and the Fins were with 2. An 8 yard TD sticking it right to the Pats. Green tipped the Henne pass on the two point conversion, but too late. It’s a game now.
     3:23 PM—-End 3rdQ—-NE 31 Mia 19—I am still stunned by what I have seen, both by what the Fins did and how this crew of officials have very obviously made all the calls against this team. Fourth down and the Pats go for it and get it with a pass to Welker, but no surprise to me as Steratore and company negated it. It’s like playing cards and all of a sudden things seem to be going against you in odd ways; a marked deck in play. That call for Offensive Pass Interference was totally bogus and I expect more of them against the Pats. Stinky Steratore needs to go back home to his cleaning business, for the garbage and smell and mess from his crew needs many of his products to clean up. That call was most offensive and poor and shows how little guts he has.
     3:29 PM—-A 3rd down pass by Henne thrown wide, why not, but on a punt, Woods running into the kicker, but an Illegal Man Downfield as an Offset saved the day. Do not like how this is going and how calls, phantom flags are dictating the outcome.
     3:36 PM—-The Pats moved down the field with short passes and a big Morris sweep for 16 and with Miami having too many men on the field, they had a first and goal at the 4. One would think they would get in with a score, but here, it was a dumb pass and a big pick by Davis. They could have been up by 9, instead, the pass to Moss was grabbed by Davis. Why Moss didn’t hammer him and knock the ball out, I really do not know. It was there and that could have been the play.
     3:40 PM—-The D did come up big here, with Green pressuring Henne and the pass incomplete. Warran batted down a Henne pass on the next down. On 3rd down, it was Butler who made the play on Heartline for an incomplete pass. With just over 9 minutes left, a big defensive stop, but the offense must get points and make it a tougher game for Miami. The O must come up big here.
     3:45 PM—-Morris ran for 4 on a sweep and then there was a bomb to Aiken, just out of his reach. He slammed down hard and hurt his shoulder. That was just a bit too far and so so close to another big play. And then a change up with Faulk running and he went nowhere. A three and out and not good at all. It’s again up to the D to stop Miami and I have a feeling that there will be another big call that will turn the game around. I also think the D has not been bad, but the offense has to do something more than three and out or seven and out. They need points and this offense is frozen.
     3:54 PM—-A 3rd down play with 4 minutes left and on the play before, Bell clearly hit Welker which should have been a PI, only this stinky crew refused to call it. Sure, it was not much, but neither were other calls against the Pats. No breaks from this crew at all; stinky Stetatore and company. And the Fins had gone for it at the Pats 39 on a 4th and 2. The pass to Bess, broken up by Butler on a big play. But now, the offense was doing nada.
     4:00 PM—-It’s been a horrid time for the Pats with the game slipping away. An overthrown pass to Welker on 3rd down and a punt with the Fins started at their own 26. Why can’t the D make a play now? They have made plays, but now again, it’s so hard. But the big play was a 4th down pass to Camarillo for 13. That could be the game the way it is going and I feel sick. Between bad officials making poor calls, to a team that was on fire, cooled off fast in the second half to a D that made stops, but was being asked again to stop the Fins to an offense that was stuck in the mud in the second half, it’s really been a horrible second half.
     4:11 PM—-Mia 22 NE 21–The field goal from 41 was an easy shot for Carpenter and good. How horrible that was, but what was worse was Brady’s pick. They threw it 11 to Welker and then a bomb on the far right, as Welker and Aiken was there and the ball just out of reach. That was bad enough, but with 42 seconds, any chance of a bomb and Gostkowski field goal was taken away as Brady was hit, threw the ball over the middle and Crowder had it easily. There’s a review as they think maybe Brady’s ankle had touched ground, but for Steratore, it’s a layup and there’s no way he will call it back. Game over, even though no decision has been made.
     4:25 PM—-End Game—-Mia 22 NE 21—I am sick and angry and in a way, not surprised at all. They played a pitiful second half, going away from what it takes to win. I felt the game being taken away with calls here there, but instead of getting points and adding to the tally, much was taken away. The fourth down call on Aiken was so bad., but so weren’t the non-calls. But even more so was the horrible play of Brady who was not even at all with it. The D again had problems galore as Henne looked like Brees at times, only with shorter passes. They had open receivers, although not deep, but what is horrible is each of the opponents will use that blueprint to try an dwin. Copy cats of course.
     Two in a row is a shocker, but what can one do? They started out great and lost momentum, as if they only had to show up and they would take it. Spoilers knew about it and, the House of Horrors in Miami has a new chapter. I couldn’t help but think when they put up a mug of Donaghy being interviewed that this idiot ref would be the next one. Just sickening, but as bad as that was, they had opportunities so that even bad calls would not affect them. But that would not be today and I felt ill as I was feeling that they would have to win out.
     (These notes were transcribed from my scribbles as I wrote them during commercials in between watching and keeping a play by play line score.)