Peter King MMQB - Patriot Games: Twenty reasons why NE beat a better team
Should be required reading here and in SD. No mention of dancing, just how football players doing all the little things allows Belichick to field a team where the sum total is better than the individual parts.
Twenty reasons why New England beat a better team
I could write about the New England-San Diego game forever, and I just might dwell on them a little longer than usual before I get to the other playoff winners and losers.
My conclusion: There's a reason New England has been a feared Super Bowl contender for the last six years. You know what it is? The little things. All the little things. Not just the greatness of Tom Brady and the brain of Bill Belichick. In football, the Patriots have made all the little things add up to some very big things. In this case, a stunning 24-21 win over the AFC's No. 1 seed, San Diego, at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.
Sean Payton, coach of a fellow Final Four team in New Orleans, talked about one of those little things late Sunday night.
"I thought San Diego would win this game by two touchdowns,'' he said from his home a couple of hours after one of the best days of pro football we've ever seen. "Just an unbelievable game. You know what impresses me so much about the Patriots? With all the turnover they've had at wide receiver, the way Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney, guys who were on the street, can function at such a high level with the season on the line, and the chemistry they have with Tom Brady, that's what I respect so much. Because I know how hard it is to get a passing game going.''
That leads my cavalcade of 20 small things that helped the Patriots oust the top-seeded Chargers.
1. Gaffney/Caldwell find a way. In the last two weeks of playoff football, Gaffney and Caldwell have 30 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns. Indy's Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne: have 16 catches for 180 yards, one TD.
2. No big coaching gaffes. Hardly ever for the Pats. And none in this game. That's what you appreciate about Belichick -- he takes chances, but almost always well-calculated ones. On the other sideline, Marty Schottenheimer did two things that ... well, let me put it this way. I am a Marty guy. Always have been. I have great respect for a man who coaches 21 years and wins 200 games, even if his playoff career ought to be in a double feature with The Exorcist. But this was an awful, awful day for Schottenheimer ... a day that could well help get him fired. His two errors didn't cost San Diego the game, but they hurt mightily.
In the first quarter of a scoreless game, he eschewed a 48-yard field goal attempt by the AFC's Pro Bowl kicker, Nate Kaeding, who hadn't missed a field goal in six weeks. Instead, the Chargers went for it on fourth-and-11. I repeat: In a game very likely to be close, he gambled on fourth-and-11 and paid dearly for it. Three points. Isn't that what the game was decided by?
"I thought we had a play we could use that would make the yardage," he said. "Our intent was to be aggressive.''
Marty, Marty, come on. You demean yourself by trying to defend that call. In the fourth quarter, he challenged a call that had absolutely zero chance to be wrong, a fumbled interception lost by Marlon McCree, costing his team a timeout it could have used in the final minutes. An insane, brainless challenge that will live in infamy.
3. Todd Sauerbrun and the battle for field position. Seven minutes into the game, New England couldn't hear itself think on offense and had its second straight feeble possession. Standing at his goal line, Sauerbrun punted to the Chargers' 30, a booming punt that changed the field position for good.
. The Kicker Who is Not Named Adam Vinatieri got to watch the new Colt/expatriate ex-Patriot kick five field goals to beat Baltimore on Saturday. All Stephen Gostkowski did was kick three of his own in three tries, including a 50-yarder and the winner, from 31. He's a rookie. Well, he may not be a rookie anymore after this day. And he's kicking with a holder who's had the job all of four weeks.
5. They can win when Brady's mortal. "Even though we were down so much today,'' said Caldwell, "you'd have thought we were winning when you looked at him.''
6. A corner you don't know saved the day. Ellis Hobbs batted away four passes, including a potential touchdown to Vincent Jackson in the second quarter.
7. Safeties you don't know saved the day. Artrell Hawkins and James Sanders, playing for starters Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison, combined for 13 tackles and two sacks. Early in the third quarter, with Kaeding warming up for a 45-yarder or so, Sanders came on a blitz on third-and-17 from the Patriots 28, sacking Philip Rivers for a 10-yard loss. Rivers should have know better than to take a sack there. But Sanders made the play.
8. Ever hear of Antwain Spann? Corner from Louisiana-Lafayette. Practice-squadder for much of the year, promoted to help on special teams. And when Chargers return man Eric Parker muffed a Sauerbrun punt on the San Diego 35 in the third quarter, there was Spann to lunge in there and prevent Parker from recovering his own fumble, leading to ...
9. Ever hear of Dave Thomas? (No, not the Wendy's guy; the former Texas target of Vince Young.) Third-round pick, backup tight end. He recovered the punt, and seven plays later, Gostkowski's second field goal cut San Diego's lead to 14-13.
10. Linebacker's hands. New England's guys are good hands people. You know about Mike Vrabel and the touchdown catches. Trailing LaDainian Tomlinson on the last play of the third quarter, Rosevelt Colvin made a pick of Rivers at an impossible angle. I don't know who teaches that with the Patriots, but Bob Kraft ought to give him a raise. What a catch.
11. Poise. San Diego scored to make it 21-13 with eight minutes left, and to celebrate, Chargers lineman Shane Olivea angrily shoved a Patriot in the scrum and caused a 15-yard markoff on the ensuing kickoff. New England started it drive, thanks to the dumb penalty, on its 37. Earlier, the Chargers played like a bunch of Bob Whitfields, with Drayton Florence getting flagged 15 yards for a head-butt, enabling New England to extend a drive and get a field goal. "We talked about keeping our emotions under control,'' said Tomlinson, "and we didn't do a very good job of that today.''
12. Troy Brown's sense of where you are. That's what Bill Bradley called it a long time ago. Always know what to do in whatever the situation is. And this was a biggie. Pats down 21-13, six minutes left, Brady throws an interception to safety Marlon McCree at the Chargers 31. Brown went in and stripped the ball away. Caldwell recovered. That would have been the game, down eight with the Chargers running out the clock, but Brown had the presence of mind to think, "We just have to have a turnover." And he produced one. "What a terrific football player,'' said Belichick.
13. Chemistry on rarely called plays. A direct snap to the running back, standing a yard to the right of the quarterback, has to take some significant practice time -- if only for the center to get used to snapping the ball to the right instead of straight back to the quarterback. Down 21-19 and facing a two-point try with 4:41 left, Kevin Faulk took the snap and got the block of Logan Mankins' life. With Faulk charging up the middle, Mankins, the left guard, hogtied defensive lineman Derreck Robinson and wrestled him to the ground, paving Faulk's way to tie the game.
14. Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney rushed for 23 yards and New England scored 24 points.
15. Ben Watson didn't catch a ball for the first 55 minutes of the game and New England scored 24 points.
16. Clock management. New England, with a veteran quarterback who's seen it all, went 72 yards in 11 plays in 1:15 at the end of the first half to get back in the game. San Diego, with a young quarterback playing in his first playoff game, wasted 11 seconds on a desperation drive to tie the game with no timeouts left in the final minute as Rivers motioned Jackson from the left side of the formation to the right.
17. The clutch serenity. Ever see Belichick or Brady or Troy Brown or Tedy Bruschi snap or look out of control? Been there, done that. Brady's 12-1 as a playoff quarterback now.
18. The attitude of Brady on a just-okay day for him individually. You want a guy who wants the ball, even after throwing three picks, so he can throw it some more. And that's what he did on the winning drive. Third-and-10, Pats' 24, 21-all, two minutes and change left. And here comes a perfect throw up the right sideline, 49 yards on a lofty strike to Caldwell.
19. "I'm speechless,'' said Belichick. He has feelings, those of you who consider him cold as a stone, and his team likes to see them.
20. They're never satisfied. "Can't wait for next week already,'' Brady said afterward. "I just knew we would be seeing the Colts again.''
Re: Peter King MMQB - Patriot Games: Twenty reasons why NE beat a better team
Great article. Damn, we are lucky to be fans of this team.
Re: Peter King MMQB - Patriot Games: Twenty reasons why NE beat a better team
Incredible article. I always thought Peter King had a soft spot for the Pats....now I know it.
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