November 27, 2002
Lions And Turkeys And Pats, Oh My!
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
DETROIT -- Give Lawyer Milloy some credit for actually admitting that he'd rather be home watching than here playing.
Unfortunately, if the rest of the team feels that way, make the Lions about a 28-point fave.
It seems only yesterday that we were last here, two Thanksgivings ago. It was two years ago Thanksgiving when my friend and I…whoops, now we're starting to sound like Arlo Guthrie. Alas, two Thanksgivings ago, the Patriots suffered their worst loss of the Bill Belichick era, and looked like total turkeys in doing so.
On that day, November 23rd of 2000, the Patriots had a 9-6 lead late in the third quarter and wound losing 34-9. Tom Brady did play in that game, but it was a mopup job in relief of the starting pitcher, Drew Bledsoe. The game portrayed the Patriots as a tired bunch of sad sacks, who were being totally baffled and befuddled by their new head coach instead of baffling and befuddling their opponents.
This year, most everything will be different. Instead of the Pontiac Silverdome, it's brand new Ford Field. Instead of Elvis Patriot, the visitors will be adorned in red-dominant 1985 uniforms with the estimable Pat Patriot on the helmet (and those pictures of Brady in the red duds looked pretty good; no doubt the sentimental lot will be wishing that the uniform switch were permanent). Bledsoe won't be throwing any 101-yard picks to Bryant Westbrook.
Instead, Michigan Man Brady comes back home to the state of his collegiate triumphs (ditto for Ty Law). Brady played some 45 miles to the west on I-94, in the quaint and New England-ish city of Ann Arbor. Brady comes back to within a short drive of the Big House, back to southeastern Michigan and all the rabid Maize and Blue fans who perhaps love this guy more than Bill Knapp's, Kroger's, Dooley's and Thano's.
And perhaps more than Marty Mornhinweg.
The embattled Detroit coach is likely to get booed Thursday afternoon, as the Turkey Day crowd will likely call Mornhinweg a turkey. The second-year Lions coach botched away a win last Sunday at Chicago, with two boneheaded coaching decisions that cost his team certain victory. The biggest head-scratcher came in overtime, where after winning the coin toss he elected to take the wind and have the Bears kick off. The Bears never let the Lions get the ball, as Paul Edinger made Mornhinweg pay for his brain poop.
Face it, on paper, this is a slamdunk for the Patriots. But on the field, it is anything but.
The biggest problem for the Patriots is that it is Thanksgiving Day. The Lions are 32-28-2 all-time on Thanksgiving, but have won nine of the last thirteen Turkey Day clashes. Superior visiting teams often come into the area flat as a fallen soufflé, and the Lions treat them as if they were a bunch of quiche-eaters. The Patriots are 0-2 on this holiday, with a 20-17 loss to Dallas in 1984 also on their Turkey Day docket.
2000 was one of the shining examples as to how good to great teams can sometimes play in Detroit. The Patriots totally ran out of gas in the fourth quarter, and the Lions clobbered the Patriots with four late unanswered touchdowns. The short week catches up to the opponents in due time, and the hometown Lions merely add them to their weekend feast. One has to wonder what tastes better in their opinion, turkey and all the trimmings, or a victory that was impossible on paper but possible only because it's Thanksgiving.
That said, here's what has to happen for the Patriots to keep this so-called "Run The Table II" deal alive and not risk killing their season Thursday at Ford Field.
Belichick might want to consider coaching for the fourth quarter all game long, as long as he doesn't fall horridly behind early. Fresh fourth quarter legs is what will do in the Lions, something that visiting Thanksgiving opponents often find impossible to have. Pacing the starters is something that might be possible against a weak sister like the Lions, something that Belichick tried unsuccessfully with his offensive line at Miami earlier this season (in an attempt to deal with the stifling humidity). If the Patriots have the energy to play even with the Lions in the final stanza, that's a huge edge for the champs.
Greg Randall must have a good day against Robert Porcher. Porcher is the Lions' leading pass rusher, and still one of the league's best. The nice thing is that at least Brady will see Porcher coming, and the blind side matchup (Matt Light vs. James Hall) isn't that imposing. Kenyatta Jones was hurt against the Vikings on Sunday, so Randall might not have to worry about being yanked if things go awry.
The Patriots need to pressure rookie quarterback Joey Harrington, and try to intimidate him as best as they can. Harrington has yet to have a breakout game, and is still basically untested. He is the future of this team, but he is no Kurt Warner. Rookies like Harrington can be made to have lousy games if the defense bullies him, confuses him, or both. Watch for the latter of the two to be likeliest to happen, as Belichick and Romeo Crennel will probably come up with something that will cause Harrington to go into a mental funk.
The Patriots will get to see someone they know from the Super Bowl, Az-Zahir Hakim. They at least know that he can be shut down. Hakim is also notorious for being prone to fumbles. Law will likely draw Hakim, and don't be surprised if the Patriots take a similar approach to Hakim as they did in February in New Orleans.
The Patriots also have to win the battle of running backs. Detroit features ex-Jaguar James Stewart, and have two great young bookend tackles in Jeff Backus and Stockar McDougle, their last two first round picks. If Detroit tries to run often off tackle, then Milloy and Tedy Bruschi become very important. It stands to reason that the Lions may try extremely hard to establish the run against a team that has been awfully susceptible to giving up large chunks of rushing yardage this season.
One final thing that should galvanize the Patriots is that it is now winning time. The team pretty much knows that the next loss greatly hampers their chance at a repeat championship. While it is a reach to assume that they can again pull off their late season rally like last year, all the remaining games are winnable, and the Patriots do control their own destiny in trying to win the division. This bunch of Patriots seems to play at their peak in these kinds of conditions. If the Patriots have truly put Super Bowl XXXVI behind them, they have a great chance to win this game.
Pat Patriot was last seen in 1994, at a game at Cincinnati when all the NFL teams wore throwback uniforms in the 75th season of the NFL. Whereas some teams wore the throwbacks all year long, the Patriots only wore them for that one game. The Patriots did win that game, 31-28. Since the switch to Elvis and blue-dominant uniforms, Pat Patriot is 1-0. Sweet, huh?
As much as the Elvis Patriot logo has been accepted across the region, many fans still pine for the days of the red shirts and Pat Patriot. Yours Truly prefers the 1976 models. Whatever the case, Elvis is more modern and here to stay. Enjoy Pat with your turkey on Thursday, and remember the good old days.
And peace to all, of course.
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