August 07, 2003
A Good Start
BY: Kevin Rousseau
The trouble with a pre-season game, and even more so with the first one, is that it is very easy to read way too much into what was seen on the field. Such is the danger with Thursday's 26-6 win against the New York Giants. The Patriots played as flawlessly as a team can play in its first game out of the gate. They created turnovers on defense, ran the ball, and controlled the tempo of the game. But before you get too jazzed up about this win, please keep in mind that come October, you won't remember anything about this game.
Let's face it. From a fan's perspective, there are three things that matter when it comes to pre-season football. First and foremost, did anybody get hurt? The Patriots escaped from the game with no major injuries. August is the annual body count month in the NFL as at least a player or two goes down with a season-ending torn ACL every time you turn around. Secondly, the pre-season is a good chance to gauge the rookie and free agent pick-ups. Rookie defensive lineman Dan Klecko and free agent linebacker Rosevelt Colvin have created an early buzz with their impressive play against the Giants. And lastly, if you are a season ticket holder, this is the time of year that you usually get your nagging second cousin, girlfriend, or friend you haven't heard from since high school off your back by giving them your tickets. Frankly, after the first quarter, I usually find these games about as grueling to watch as a NBC reality program.
Nevertheless, there were some pretty interesting story lines heading into Thursday's game. Without question, the biggest story in the Patriots camp was the surprise starts of rookie cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson alongside the first string defense. Keeping in mind that this was their first professional game, they more than held their own against New York's veteran receivers, Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard. In particular, Wilson made a very impressive open field tackle on Tiki Barber in the first quarter. So far, these two rookies have been the surprise of training camp. If there progress continues, this bodes well for the Patriots' future given the fact that Otis Smith is 64 years old and Ty Law is potentially entering his last season with the Patriots.
Patriot's fans were also looking to see if the team's lackluster defense of a year ago had improved at all in the offseason. Early indications from Thursday's game show that the Rosevelt Colvin pickup immediately makes the Patriots defense faster. Colvin made a quick impression by causing a fumble on the first play from scrimmage that eventually turned into seven points. Richard Seymour was moved to the defensive end and made some beautiful tackles in the Giants' backfield. It was wonderful to see rookies Ty Warren and Dan Klecko flying all over the place and putting all sorts of of pressure on the Giants offense. Gil Santos made the point during his broadcast that Klecko "just looks like a football player. A lot like Troy Brown did." Expect Klecko to become a fan favorite very quickly.
On offense, there were a lot of positive signs as well. It looks like Kevin Faulk is making a serious run to take the starting running back job away from Antowain Smith. Faulk is hitting the line harder than Smith and looked hungry every time he touched the ball. Forgotten man Patrick Pass was also impressive while gaining a ton of yards with the second string. But perhaps the most impressive statistic from the Patriots offense was that the Patriots had no penalties on offense. Penalties killed the Patriots on offense last year and thwarted many drives. So far, this team looks disciplined and ready to shed the baggage that it carried around last year.
Yes, the Patriots were very impressive in all aspects of the game on Thursday night. But please keep in mind that it is only one meaningless pre-season game. It's okay to be pleased with their play against the Giants. Just don't book your trip to the Super Bowl yet.
No pre-season quality Zingers here. Nope, just good quality mid-season Zingers for your dining and dancing pleasure. Okay, here we go:
News item: Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh will join the cast of ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown. What football credentials does this man have? He has about as much credibility to give his opinion about the NFL as a wise-cracking, 30 year-old office worker from Central Maine who has never played a down of tackle football in his whole life! Oh, never mind. Carry on.
Say what you will about Kordell Stewart but Pittsburgh is one blind side hit away from Charlie Batch running the show for the Steelers. Incidentally, the punter for the Steelers is making more money this year than their starting quarterback, Tommy Maddox.
And now, a word of wisdom from his Holiness the Dalai Lama. "Only a fool puts his faith in ESPN-like Power Rankings when trying to predict the outcome of future games."
It happens like clockwork during these dog days of training camp. I would be a rich man if I had a dime for every time I heard "This is the healthiest he has looked in years, so you'd better watch out." Please…….
Did I miss the Carolina Panthers making the playoffs last year? The boys in the writing department at NFL Films have done it again. I accidentally came across their highlight film from last year the other day while channel surfing. You would have thought that the Panthers won the NFC, for Pete's sake. If the gig at NFL Films doesn't work out for these guys, they certainly have a future in political speechwriting.
Don't forget to keep an eye on the Baltimore Ravens this year. The Patriots own their first-round pick next year. The Patriots might be one Jonathan Ogden injury away from a top ten pick.
If you're an old AFL fan, you had to be pleased with Hank Stram's induction into the Hall of Fame on Sunday. His legacy will forever be that he was bold enough to wear a NFL Films microphone during Super Bowl IV against the Vikings and that he was pleased that the Chiefs were "matriculating" the ball down the field on that day. Now if we can only get AFL all-time scoring leader and radio color analyst, Gino Cappelletti, inducted into Canton.
I'll say it again. San Francisco's Jeff Garcia is the most underrated quarterback in the League. Just look at his season-by-season numbers as they compare to the canonized Steve Young and Joe Montana.
One has to wonder if the Raiders will suffer the same Super Bowl hangover that the Rams suffered last year. Just like the Patriots did to the Rams, the Bucs made Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon look like a deer in the headlights in this year's Super Bowl. Bucs' coach Jon Gruden exposed the Gannon pump fake for the whole League to see. Stay tuned.
Don't underestimate the recent pickups of veteran fullback Larry Centers and offensive lineman Brendan Stai by the Patriots. They will provide key depth on the offense. Centers is the NFL's all-time leader in receptions by a running back. Unfortunately, he had the misfortune of toiling his craft for the majority of his career in the wasteland that is the Arizona Cardinals.
So, Brian Griese is the Flavor of the Month in South Florida? As usual, the backup quarterback is always the most popular player on the team. Just ask all those Patriots fans with Michael Bishop jerseys hanging in their closet. The bottom line is that if Jay Fiedler stayed healthy all year, the Dolphins would have easily made the playoffs. Do you ever get the feeling that the Dolphins of the last ten years are the NFL equivalent of our beloved Boston Red Sox?
Detroit Lions GM Matt Millen was fined $200,000 by the League for not adhering to the minority hiring policy for the head coaching job that opened up last winter. The real story here is that the League fined Millen and not his owners, the Fords, as is usually the case. Profootballtalk.com reported that the League did not want to hang the Fords out to dry and thereby angering them enough to pull their advertising away from NFL programming. Stay tuned, there's more to follow on this story as well.
All right, that's it for Zingers this week. Besides, I don't want to show all of my cards the first week of the pre-season. I would be thrilled to hear from you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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