November 06, 2002
Time To Book It And Bring Up Grades
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
One of my favorite restaurants has this sign: "If the standards here do not measure up to yours…please lower your standards."
The opposite holds true for the 2002 Patriots.
Win the Super Bowl, and everyone's standards go through the roof. No longer is it in style to praise a player who plays better than he's ever played but is below last year's standards. Feel good stories? The only feel good story is a win. Sentiment? That's for the Rams' fans, as they pine for the good old days when they thought they really had something in St. Louis.
With that as a backdrop, we hereby present our midterm grades for the 2002 season. Only one Patriot gets an A, so we'll get that suspense out of the way. Enjoy, and tell your faves to bring these grades up if they want to hang out in San Diego in January.
QuarterbackTom Brady gets major props for calling out his team last week. What is amazing is the audacity that some players (and reporters) had in telling Brady to either begin with himself or look in the mirror. It is not Brady's fault that his offensive line was in tatters, or that the playcalling has been suspect most of the time, or that Troy Brown spent most of the first half of the season on the sidelines.
The Super Bowl offensive line came back against Buffalo, and look what happened. Brady hung up numbers that rank among the very best quarterbacked games in team history. What Brady needs to do for the second half is to continue his vocal leadership and get away from throwing stupid picks. What the coaching staff needs to do is to quit trying to turn Brady into Dan Fouts and maintain focus on a balanced attack.
Tom Brady: B+
Running BacksIt's hard to diss Antowain Smith here, since it's been the coaching staff that has been inhibiting him. Give this guy the ball, and he'll get the job done. Grade suffers only because he should have passed the preseason conditioning test, and for him to fail it two years in a row is rather bad.
The rest of the gang has been largely invisible. Kevin Faulk has cut down on his fumbling, but his only game of note was the Buffalo game. J.R. Redmond's chief role now appears to be pass blocking, because the little dump passes that helped the Patriots in the postseason last year haven't been seen as much this year. Marc Edwards has been his usual, steady self, but he is not nearly as reliable on third and short as he was last year.
Antowain Smith: B
Wide ReceiversLet's hear it for the mighty midgets.
Can you believe Donald Hayes, coming out the other day and confessing that he still doesn't know the Patriot offense? The 6-4 receiver now languishes in Robinson-Randall land. It may be a long time before the Patriots dabble in Wisconsin wide receivers anymore.
You are left with the 5-9 and under club, and they are good, albeit underachieving. Brown has been hurt, but had a record-breaking game against Kansas City before getting hurt. Both David Patten and rookie Deion Branch have had long stretches of getting shut out of receptions. Patten has also dropped some easy catches, and Branch no longer is getting open like he did in September. The Rookie Of The Year party for Branch has been temporarily put on hold.
Troy Brown: B+
Offensive LineWe'll take talent over sentiment any day.
Sorry, fans of Stephen Neal, the former CSUB wrestling stud, who got put on injured reserve after defying tremendous odds in getting a start against Green Bay. Neal may have a great future with the Patriots, but that day is maybe a year away. Neal remains an amazing story given what little history he has, and coming from a college known more for basketball and wrestling than football (there is no football at CSUB).
And, our apologies to the Adrian Klemm fan club, who was rooting like crazy for the Patriots to forget all about Joe Andruzzi. Klemm finally showed some of the promise that he had when he was the first draft pick of Bill Belichick. But Neal eventually won a start, got hurt, then watched Andruzzi come back to reclaim his right tackle job.
And the big boys are finally back together. Matt Light, Mike Compton, Damien Woody, Andruzzi and Greg Robinson-Randall really boogied on Sunday against the Bills. Kenyatta Jones is back on the bench where he belongs, but kudos to him for making the progress he made. Light simply must learn how to deal with speed rushers. If he doesn't, the Patriots might move him to guard.
Matt Light: C
Defensive LineSomeone find out if Richard Seymour still plays for the Patriots.
So much was expected of last year's first round pick, and he has delivered so little this year. Technique, spirit, energy, maybe a combination of the three, all of these are things Seymour needs to address in the second half. This man is far too talented to be so invisible in 2002.
That said, is everyone else too old?
The others have been invisible because they're getting the snot beat out of them by younger and quicker offensive lines. When you send out four thirty-something guys (Anthony Pleasant, Bobby Hamilton, Steve Martin, Willie McGinest) and call it veteran savvy, you might be placing too much emphasis on "veteran" and not enough on "younger" and "quicker". For most of the first half of the season, these guys have simply looked every bit their age.
But a solution may have come out of the Buffalo game. Belichick used four down linemen and flooded the rest of the field with secondary men. The defense came out to something like a 4-1-6. The Bills could never figure out who was coming on which play, and the uncertainty played right into the Patriots' hands. This uncertainty factor is what can give the edge to older guys, and help put veteran savvy ahead of young and quick.
Anthony Pleasant: C
LinebackersWith both Tedy Bruschi and Roman Phifer out for the Kansas City game, the Chiefs ran with glee through the Patriots, and helped launch Priest Holmes' season, not that it needed much "launching" at all.
Both men are back, but the rushing assault continued.
When Bruschi is healthy, he is one of the more versatile and effective defenders on the team. He has surpassed the stature of Ted Johnson, and along with Lawyer Milloy has become the heart and soul of the defense.
Mike Vrabel's strength is pass rush, Phifer's is in end containment. Both these men need to be on top of their games, and the age factor definitely applies to Phifer. As for Johnson, he needs to stop complaining and start contributing. He played well against Buffalo, and, when healthy and happy, can still stop tough opposing running backs with the best of them.
Tying in with the defensive line, the disguising of coverages and packages is important to the success of the linebackers as well as the defensive line. Some of the stunts the Patriots pulled on the Rams in the Super Bowl were simply brilliant; the Patriots need to try and go back to that kind of mentality, as long as they can keep this bunch healthy.
Tedy Bruschi: B+
SecondaryWhat was a strength for the Patriots in 2001 has hardly been such in 2002.
Ty Law has been perhaps the most consistent player. Though he is still prone to too many holding calls, he is still one of the best cover corners in the league and still has the speed to play with the best of them.
But the rest of them have not produced at 2001 levels. Milloy has been prone to missed tackles, and his number has not been called as often this year versus previous years. Otis Smith is looking every bit like an aging star that can't run with the best of them anymore. Tebucky Jones has had precious few hard hits this year, a trademark from last year, and still can't cover anything running by him. Victor Green helped make a "nickel safety" package for the Patriots, but that has not panned out like Belichick has wanted, and Green has been good to moderately good most of the season.
Tom Knight was supposed to be the answer at cornerback, except that he didn't make the team. Leonard Myers might provide some relief at cornerback from Smith, if he is healthy and shows the promise he showed last August before getting hurt. Terrell Buckley has had basically a subpar year, getting burned frequently and not showing that he can take the starting job away from Smith. Antwan Harris is strictly special teams stuff, more or less the Larry Whigham of today.
Ty Law: B
Special TeamsDon't faint, folks. Here's your one and only ace. Here's your guy who's at the head of the class.
Adam Vinatieri is the only Patriot that is playing like last year. He has missed only one field goal, and is still every bit the reliable kicker he established himself as last year. If there is one area in which he is a little deficient, it's in kickoffs. But this has never been a strong area for Vinatieri; gee, what's Danny Kight doing these days?
Ken Walter has a low net punting average. But his forte is placement, not distance. He made a lot of clutch kicks last year; he needs to regain that touch and work hard on pinning the opposition deep in their territory.
Returning has been hurt by Brown's injury. Branch has been tried out on punts, and Faulk on kickoffs. Both are adequate at best, but one has to wonder if some day Branch elevates his return game to among the best in the league.
Adam Vinatieri: A-
CoachingBelichick has ridden out the storm, for now, over the losing streak. He was vindicated with the convincing win over Buffalo as to his knowledge of quarterbacks. He withstood the withering fire of reporters who basically hate him for speaking on occasion and saying nothing constantly.
So, what now?
Belichick needs to focus on getting the Patriots back to what got them their Vince and three of their four wins this year (all but the Kansas City game): balanced on offense, disruptive and confusing on defense. Brady did a lot of his work for him by sticking his neck out after the Denver game. The players obviously responded to Brady's call-out (and it most certainly was a call-out). Belichick now merely needs to provide the right game plans, something that he is the best in the league at.
As for his chief lieutenants, Charlie Weis needs to have a better second half. Some of his game plans were downright wrong. He made Brady to look like a personification of the sophomore jinx (so called, though technically last year was his sophomore year). Weis needs to return to what worked against Pittsburgh, New York and Buffalo, and things will be okay. Actually, the Kansas City plan wasn't bad, but seeing Brown set a receiving record in that game isn't really the ingredient to a Patriot win, if Brady's "Patriot Football" mantra is to be acknowledged.
Bill Belichick: B
Here are some other things that deserve to be graded, just for laughs. May all of you bring your grades up next quarter. Class is dismissed.
Gillette Stadium: A-
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