Sunday night's game against the Raiders was nowhere as close as the final 27-20 score would indicate. The Raiders got their so-called revenge for two main reasons: 1) pass rushing superiority on both sides of the ball, and 2) questionable offensive play calling by the Patriots.
By putting a constant barrage of pass rushing on Tom Brady and giving Rich Gannon all the time he needed to throw completions to his Hall of Fame receivers, the Raiders controlled the tempo of the game. The pass rushing deficiency on both sides of the ball killed the Patriots tonight and will continue to do so for the rest of the season. All parties on the offensive line are guilty as charged on this account. However, Matt Light and Greg Randall had a particularly difficult time picking up the Raiders' outside pass rushers. Tom Brady spent more time on his rear end than I did on Sunday(and that's saying a lot, folks!). He was hurried 7 times, hit 3 times, knocked down 7 times, and sacked 4 times. Because of the lack of a commitment to the running game, teams like the Raiders have been teeing off on Brady all season. More on the play selection later.
It's fairly obvious that the Patriots must use one of their two first-round draft picks on a legitimate pass rusher in next year's draft. For the most part, the Patriots defensive line and linebackers are veterans and smart players. But there is a very thin line in the NFL between being a veteran and being too slow and too old. It looks like the age factor is starting to catch up with the Patriots defense. When a quarterback of Gannon's ability gets four and sometimes five seconds to pick a target, you are a sitting duck in the NFL. Consequently, the Patriots defense can't get off the field and it leads to back-breaking 10 minute drives like the one the Raiders put together to open up the third quarter on Sunday night.
So far this season, I have been reluctant to jump on the fashionable "Charlie Weiss play call bashing" bandwagon. However, it's getting harder and harder not to take that jump. No opposing defense is going to continue to fall for the short dink and dunk passing game that the Patriots are trying to shove down their opponents' throats when they have done very little to promote a legitimate running game. This is going to kill them as the weather turns harsher. Every time the Patriots begin to have some success with the running game, they don't stick with it. My breaking point tonight came in the fourth quarter when on 3rd and 1 in Raiders territory, the ball was handed off to Antowain Smith seven yards in the back field for no gain. And then, on 4th and 1, we saw the now-infamous five-receiver set and an incomplete pass. Balance is a good thing.
After ten games in a season, we have a pretty good idea what this team is all about. Basically, they are an average to marginally above average and will probably finish 9-7 or so. The good news though is that four of the final six games are home and the two away games against Detroit and Tennessee are very winnable. If you would had said three weeks ago that the Patriots would finish the three game road trip 2-1, I would have taken it. The Patriots have their destiny in their hands and it will be up to them to shape it. Now, I know what you are going to say. Let me just say that even though they were also 5-5 at this point last season, this feels different. Very different.
Okay, its 12:30 a.m. on a school night and I'm cutting right to the Zingers so I can be somewhat presentable at work tomorrow......
I love the ESPN Sky Cam. What an incredible perspective this camera gives. I felt like I was in the huddle. These are the same innovative people who brought us the yellow first down marker.
If you are not listening to Gil and Gino on the radio while watching the game, you are missing out.
I have discovered something more addicting than a "Charles-in-Charge" marathon on Nick at Nite. I just bought a used version of the Madden 2001 video game for the computer. I am now petitioning to join the 21st century.
I understand the need to ban substances like ephedrine. What I don't understand is that if a player takes this over the counter product, he gets an automatic four game suspension. If he smokes a joint or takes crack, he is entered into the treatment program and not suspended for a first offense. How does this make sense? Peter King of CNNSI speculated this week that the NFL is doing its darndest to put the lid on ephedrine because many folks believe it help kill Korey Stringer last year.
If you know who Ed Hochuli and Bob McElwy are, maybe, just maybe, you need to take up a new hobby and get a life. Model railroading, anyone?
Fluke plays even out over the course of a game, a season, and a lifetime. As an example of this thesis, Raiders' fans never seem to mention the roughing the passer call against Ray Hamilton in 1976. We're now even. Unfortunately, this law of science cannot be applied to my dating history before I met the very lovely Mrs. Rousseau.
I can't wait to see what Ron Borges is going to put pen to paper on this Raiders victory. If you have followed Mr. Borges over the years, you know that he spent some formative years covering the Raiders. I can't stand his work half the time and I love it the other half. I suppose that makes him an excellent columnist.
Okay, that's it for another week. Thank you for your continued loyal readership of this column. This endeavor has exceeded my wildest expectations. As always, I would be thrilled to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org