December 28, 2002
So Basically, It Comes Down To This
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Still don't know what to make of Sunday? No prob. Who does?
We can't stop the run. But Ricky Williams is a back we can stop if we put our minds to it.
Miami hates cold weather. But it's only supposed to be in the 40s at gametime.
Matt Light can't handle Jason Taylor. But Taylor isn't exactly a stud run stopper.
The Patriots are in a rut right now. But so are the Dolphins.
The Patriots have no momentum. But they do better in December than Miami does.
Miami wants a Vince real bad. But the Patriots actually have one.
So, what's your take on Sunday, folks?
Before you say "Miami wins easy" or "Pats win easy", first do the following:
First, consult those nerds who actually came out with this book called Football Prospectus. These are the same guys who publish Baseball Prospectus, the statnerd bible with algorithms, measurements and formulae (which they tell us is supposed to be the key to winning baseball, and since the Red Sox recently hired Bill James as their new stat maven, we'll actually see if this rings true) that Albert Einstein might have problems comprehending. Do these guys actually hold the key to who will win tomorrow?
Next, you might want to give ESPN's Len Pasquarelli a buzz. He's due to be right about something, maybe this is it.
After this, try Norman Chad. A game with as goofy a lead-in as this one richly deserves Chad's impeccable attention.
I'd also perhaps go research the works of Nostradamus, and see if anything he wrote suggests a winner on Sunday. While we're on the subject, anyone come up with something this guy wrote that explains what happened in February?
Oh, heck. Go to a medium. Hold a sťance. See what Billy Sullivan thinks.
You've got two teams here in a classic season finale matchup. Winner gets the division (the Pack has to beat the Jets, gang, simple as that), loser is out of the playoffs. This is big time football, and a golden matchup for the good people at CBS who will send the top crew out to cover the game.
On paper, it is a Miami mismatch. Williams should gain about 236 yards, Taylor should register 6 or 7 sacks by himself, Chris Chambers will probably torch Leonard Myers for 16 catches for 196 yards and three touchdowns, Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison will shut Troy Brown and David Patten out, and Tom Brady will complete 9 of 11 passes for 24 total yards.
But it won't turn out this way, and the first ones to tell you that will be the good people of Miami.
This is a franchise that hasn't won the Super Bowl since it was based in Rice Stadium for the only time in history. This is a franchise that went to one Super Bowl under Dan Marino, lost it by 22 points to Joe Montana, and hasn't been back since. This is a franchise that has been bedeviled by the Patriots in December on many occasions, and the main perpetrators have been Michael Timpson, Fred Coleman, Patrick Pass, Tebucky Jones and Mark Henderson.
This is a franchise that literally had the division title handed to them on a silver platter by the Patriots thanks to a four-game midseason losing streak. This is a franchise that has responded to that by losing twice to Buffalo and losing to the lowly Vikings.
The Fish stand at 9-6, the Patriots 8-7. If the Patriots win Sunday, the Patriots win the division thanks to a better division record (assuming the Jets lose to finish at 8-8). All those division losses aren't exactly a strong indicator that the Dolphins are a team poised to make a run at the Super Bowl. Miami has lately become adept at puzzling late season collapses, belying the talent this team has.
All that said, here's what this corner of the Nation thinks about Sunday, and this is sort of like spitting in the wind.
It looks like weather won't be a factor, which helps Miami. This means that the Dolphins might try and pass more than they would run. If this be the case, the Patriots need to force Jay Fiedler into bad decisions and interceptions. What they can't do with Chambers and James McKnight, they will have to make up with intense pressure on Fiedler. One quality about Miami that no one seems to bring up is that Fiedler is one of the more overrated quarterbacks in the league. Despite his ability to have a good game here and there, he is not a big time passer in the NFL.
Running the ball at Taylor was a good idea (thanks, Boston Herald). Antowain Smith needs to have a big game, but that's not exactly a novel idea. Since Brown is still hurt, and since Deion Branch is still recovering from his injury and might be back (as opposed to definitely), this is the time for Charlie Weis to finally let Smith air it out. Surtain and Madison should have good coverage all day on the Patriot wideouts, so the Patriots might want to use this as the focus of their game plan.
Naturally, this is predicated upon not falling behind early. This goes back to the first item, and that is to pressure Fiedler as best they can.
One other thing that might bring the Patriots home is to merely play safe and let the mistakes come to Miami. While on the surface this may seem a bit risky and even inane, given the depleted offensive and defensive weapons the Patriots have, and given Miami's penchant for December chokes, it's not that bad an idea. This is sort of how the Patriots won the Super Bowl, by playing close to the vest and letting mistakes come to the Rams. The defense then has to step up and force Miami turnovers, and it should also be noted that Williams, while leading the league in rushing yards, is third in the conference with seven fumbles.
The Patriots received their first good break of the weekend, with Philadelphia losing an overtime thriller to the Giants on Saturday. The Eagles' loss means that the Packers have extra incentive to beat the Jets on Sunday in that Green Bay secures home field throughout the playoffs with a win. Couple that with how poorly the Jets play at home, and a Jet win becomes even more of a reach.
What can't happen is that a Patriot win become a reach also. In a season where everyone has been waiting for the Patriots to regain the fire and fury of last year, this win-or-go-home game should bring to the table a very hungry Patriot team. If the Patriots have the same emotion that carried them to the title last year, and if Miami plays like Miami does on the road and in December, the Patriots have a chance to win the game, a chance that they really don't have on paper.
Trying to make sense out of tomorrow's game is why we writers do what we do. But we really have no clue, especially in a headscratcher like Sunday's game.
The scary thing is that the players and coaches perhaps have no clue, either.
Except for one thing: Gosh, golly, they have to win the game, by gum.
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