September 16, 2002
NFL Summed Up In Two Words: Pats Rule
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Enjoy this moment, one and all.
Down and through the years of the National Football League, what with all its rich heritage and history, dominant teams have come and gone. The George Halas Bears, the Vince Lombardi Packers, the Don Shula Dolphins, the Steel Curtain Steelers, the Bill Walsh 49ers, the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys, all of these teams form an incomplete list of some of the greatest in league history. In their day, there was no question that they were the uncontested dominant team in the NFL.
And the New England Patriots were the dipolar opposite for much of their existence.
Today, September 17th, 2002, the Patriots sit on a perch that they have never occupied in their history. They didn't sit here after their Super Bowl win in February. They didn't sit here after improving their championship team in the offseason. They didn't sit here after beginning defense of their championship with a 16-point win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on national television.
But they sit here now, for the first time ever in the history of their team.
The Patriots rule the NFL. They are the unchallenged and unquestioned best team in the league right now. Sure, they possess the most recent Vince. But nobody bought that yarn. They do now.
Go out now and find someone who still thinks the Patriots are flukes. You might find a few in Oakland. They're still torqued off. That's about it.
The Patriots right now sit atop the football world, with everyone else fully in tow. The Patriots are the dominant NFL team. Not just the best team. The dominant team. The biggest question in the league right now is who's number two. There's no question as to who number one is.
The Patriots have simply never played at this level in their history. Their championship defense got even better in the offseason. Bill Belichick upgraded his offense, and told Charlie Weis to stand on the gas pedal and put his foot through the floorboards. End result: against two top-tier teams with grudges to bear, the Patriots blew out both opponents.
In yesterday's column, we used the word "scary". It's not a bad word to describe this team, even to its faithful. How really good is this team?
As you sit back and examine the rest of the league, you can see why the Patriots are where they are. They have the best team concept in the league, thanks to a ton of good players who become great by working so well together. When you add to this the fact that the Patriots have the best coaches in the league, it simply puts the Patriots head and shoulders above the rest.
Breaking it down further, here are the four biggest reasons why the Patriots are now the NFL's dominant team, and why it is now versus other great Patriot teams. This 2002 squad has the best chance to supplant 1976's shouldabeen champs as the best team in franchise history.
Patriot Nation no longer lambasts Dante Scarnecchia. Penny for Paul Boudreau's thoughts.
It's really hard to put your finger on when it all came about, but the maturation and the coming of age of the offensive line last year has been a key to the Patriots' rise to the top of the heap. It just sort of happened, but you didn't really notice it until Tom Brady got sacked a lot less often than Drew Bledsoe did, and Antowain Smith managed to top the 1,000-yard rushing mark last year.
And these guys are really the embodiment of this team. Except for Damien Woody, who still can't long-snap worth a damn, none of these guys are all-pros. There are no Jonathan Ogdens, no Larry Allens, no Orlando Paces, and absolutely no John Hannahs. You have a bunch of Fred Flintstones and Barney Rubbles who show up, punch the clock, get the job done, and go home.
It's a shame that September 11th of last year immortalized Joe Andruzzi for the wrong reasons. Extrapolated to football, his guard play is as heroic to the Patriots as the great work of his three brothers. He went from a stiff in 2000 to a vital cog in 2001, and is still improving this year in both run blocking and pass blocking. Adrian Klemm has finally shown this team that he belongs, and old man Mike Compton anchors the line as the only true source of veteran leadership.
And how about Kenyatta Jones? How in the world can Greg Robinson-Randall go from Super Bowl starter to not dressing for the Jets game? You might recall that Jones is from South Florida; only Stephen Neal's alma mater, CSUB, is lesser known in these parts. Jones is the personification of the word "project". And look at him now. Ditto for Neal, the second best known NFL man to come out of Bakersfield (number one stands under center for the Houston Texans). Jones should wear a beaming smile every time he breaks a huddle with Tom Brady and company.
When Brady has all day to throw, and when Smith, Kevin Faulk and Marc Edwards find holes out of nowhere, these guys are to be thanked, and lots. Thus far, these guys have handled two stunning sets of linebackers, John Abraham and Shaun Ellis. The Patriot offensive line continues to be one of the wonders of the NFL.
It's the size of the fight in the dog
Hell hath no greater fury than a woman scorned. All married men know this all too well, especially on football Sundays with work to be done around the house.
Ladies, we apologize, but hell do hath a greater fury.
Just make the Patriots underdogs. Diss them, ignore them, disrespect them. Then watch the fun as they take it out on their next poor opponent.
Ask Torry Holt. Ask Hines Ward. Ask Vinny Testaverde.
As long as the Patriots stay angry, they will stay hungry. And as long as they stay hungry, they will continue to play at this high level.
The next two opponents, Kansas City and San Diego, could provide something the Patriots haven't had to deal with in quite a while: a trap game. Patriot Nation waits with baited breath as the opening line comes out this week, and its expected that the Patriots will be -- gulp -- favorites. Oh, no.
The last time the Chiefs came to Foxborough, the Patriots won by 30 and watched the Chiefs quit midway through the third quarter. And the Patriots have not lost in San Diego since 1969. These could be tougher games for the Patriots than the previous five or six.
The Patriots have a nasty edge when they're angry. They have to find a way to maintain this intensity even when there is literally no reason to. Losing that nasty edge could cause an inferior team to rise up and cut the Patriots down when they least expect it.
John Madden said it also, not just Yours Truly
After the Super Bowl winning drive, this author opined that Brady looked like the second coming of Joe Montana.
Some folks scoffed at that. Comparing Brady to Montana? You gotta be kidding. Montana is on his own planet. The rest of the bunch are mere mortals.
Madden made a good point last Monday night. He said that Brady looks so calm and in control out there, a definitive Montana trait. Mix that in with how accurate the guy is, and how coolly he led the Patriots on the winning drive in the Super Bowl, and the possibility that Brady is the next coming of Montana is not at all that far fetched.
If that be the case, the Patriots are going to be this dominating, injuries and/or personnel attrition notwithstanding, for a long time.
In both games of the 2002 season thus far, Brady has eclipsed the 100 mark in passer rating points. Rather than show a sophomore jinx, Brady instead looks like he is still improving with every game. Rather than be fat and happy in the spring and summer, Brady won the team's choice parking space award for having worked the hardest in the offseason.
Brady is exhibiting all the tools thus far to become one of the all-time greats. It's still very early in his career. But he was 20-5 at Michigan and is 16-3 (counting postseason) in the NFL thus far. Brady simply wins. And as long as Brady continues to improve, he and his team will keep winning.
Sometimes, battles are won before they are fought
Take that, Herman Edwards.
How dare this man, whose only NFL claim to fame is a touchdown scored thanks to the dumbest play call by an offensive coordinator in league history, demean Belichick the way he did? Edwards said, to paraphrase, that Belichick's defensive schemes in their December 2001 meeting were pretty much a base defense, and that he'd see much of the same on Sunday and merely "figure it out as we go along".
Good Lord. And to think this column called Edwards a kind man. We never did include the word "foolish". We will from now on.
Belichick is firmly implanted as the best coach in the league right now, and the best asset this team has. His game plans are being feverishly copied league-wide. How did Oakland beat Pittsburgh Sunday night? By passing on almost every down just like the Patriots did the week before. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The league is going to be imitating Belichick for a long time to come.
But as the season progresses, two men to keep your eyes on are Weis and Romeo Crennel. Will this be the last season as Patriot assistant coaches for these two men?
Weis is definitive head coaching material. As long as he never again gets these stupid ideas on weight loss, he'll be right there as someone's hot guy. At season's end, someone will come calling for Weis. He's definitely ready for a move up, and Belichick will have to make ready for this inevitability.
Now, what about Crennel? How much of this defensive genius is Belichick, or how much of it is Crennel? Belichick hits the game film the most of anyone on staff, but Crennel is the guy who implements all the game plans. Some people labeled Crennel as the key man in the Super Bowl win over the Rams.
Naturally, if Crennel is considered a coaching candidate, the race issue will come up. His becoming a head coach will be less about his ability and more about his color. And that will be a shame, because if Crennel does get the call somewhere, he will by golly have earned it totally on his ability and not because some GM wants a feel-good story for some cheap PR.
Add all this up, and you get the very best team in the NFL right now: your New England Patriots. The Celtics and Bruins know what this is like. The Red Sox haven't been like this since 1946. Your region has the absolute best football team on the planet right now. They're right up there with the very best of the very best.
Pinch yourself a few times, and don't take any moment of this for granted.
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