August 16, 2003
Not Bad...But Not Great Either
BY: Kevin Rousseau
Last week, Patriots Nation was awash with euphoria and a heightened state of expectation for the 2003 season based upon the thrashing of the New York Giants. This week, we all come back down to Earth due to the slightly above-average performance in Saturday's 20-13 win against the Washington Redskins. The first team offense and defense were superb in the 1st quarter but downright mediocre in the 2nd quarter against an average at best Redskins team. Perhaps this will be just what the doctor ordered for Head Coach Bill Belichick as he heads into the dog days of the pre-season. No doubt he'll whip out the game film this week and use the 2nd quarter mediocrity to his advantage as he prepares his team for September 7th in Buffalo.
On offense, there were a few trends worth mentioning. The Patriots seemed to go back to their long-lost power running game of 2001 with Antowain Smith in the first quarter. The offensive line, for the most part, looked to be winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and controlling the pace of the game in the 1st quarter. In the passing game, David Patten appeared to put to rest any rumblings that he will be out of the mix at wide receiver with a few spectacular catches. However, the two minute offense looked terrible with two consecutive penalties killing any chance of an end of the half score. And lastly, quarterback Rohan Davey looked lost running the offense with the second team and appears destined for the emergency quarterback slot he held last year.
While we're at it, let's mention Tom Brady hitting Patten with a 60-yard bomb in stride. I have no idea where this whole notion of Brady not being able to throw the long ball came from. But in my view, the debate is a little off the mark. If you solely desire a quarterback who can cannon the ball 60 yards then fine, the immortal Jeff George is your ideal quarterback. However, Jeff George never won a thing because he didn't have the ability to lead a team, read defenses, and make the touch throws that Brady can. I'll take Brady over Jeff George any day.
The Patriots defense, like its offensive counterparts, appeared to be dominating the line of scrimmage in the 1st quarter and physically punishing the Redskins. Given what we've seen in the first two games, this defense is going to be a lot more physical and a lot of fun to watch this season. The big stories on defense were the same three stories from the Giants game. The rookie cornerbacks, Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson, continued to make big plays and look like they belong on the field with the first team. Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin was all over the place making plays. It looked like Colvin had the Redskins snap count down cold as he was constantly hitting the line of scrimmage at just the exact moment the ball was being snapped. And lastly, rookie Dan Klecko continued to impress. Against the Redskins, he lined up with the first team at nose tackle. Last week, it was outside linebacker. When was the last time you heard of a player lining up at nose tackle and outside linebacker? Klecko appears to bring Belichick the defensive flexibility that he so covets.
The fate of a team's special teams packages is often determined in the preseason. It may be incidental but it is worth noting that on all three of Adam Vinatieri's botched field goal attempts new punter Daniel Pope was the holder. This is worth mentioning given the ongoing battle for the punting job between Pope and incumbent Ken Walter. Walter is a terrific holder for Vinatieri and will forever be immortalized chasing down Vinatieri as the clock hit zero in New Orleans two years ago. Not wanting to create one problem by solving another, look for Walter to keep his job as the competition between the two candidates looks fairly close. And also, rookie 2nd round pick Bethel Johnson showed his blazing speed on his kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter. It was good sign to see him bounce back and redeem himself after his attempt to make the next edition of NFL Films' Follies by fumbling on his previous return.
At the end of the day, the bottom line in Saturday's 20-13 win over the Redskins is that the Patriots did not appear to sustain any serious injuries to key players. The Patriots did not embarrass themselves but, at the same time, they have been brought down a few notches. It's my view, and probably Coach Belichick's as well, that this is the perfect outcome for game two of the preseason.
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You won't believe this one. Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported this week, "The Vikings continue to take the fun out of attending their games at the Metrodome. It was bad enough when they decided to modify the piped-in noise to levels that only occasionally cause a spectator's ears to bleed. They have gone too far this time. The exhibition season opened Saturday night with this stunning announcement being blared to the arriving throng outside the Dome: The Vikings not only were banning guns from the premises. They were also banning WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION." Well, I guess that clears things up doesn't it? So, if you are heading to the Metrodome, leave your anthrax at home, please.
We have another example of why the NFL should stand for the No Fun League. Howard Balzer of Sports Weekly recently reported that the NFL has banned a six year-old fundraiser that the Buffalo Bills held once a year to benefit a local charity. The Bills allow fans to watch one road game in their field house on a bunch of screens as well as having interactive entertainment. Last year, the event attracted 3,700 attendees and raised about $30,000. The NFL's reasoning for the ban? The NFL prohibits mass out-of-home viewing of games because those watching are not counted for TV ratings. I agree with Balzer that the NFL has to loosen up on stuff like this.
In each of the last three years, the Patriots have had a veteran free agent offensive lineman quit during training camp. If this wasn't so serious, it would be a joke. It's been Joe Panos, Rich Tylski, and now Brandan Stai. The offensive lineman retirement bug has also hit the New York Jets. Tom Nutten, brought in from St. Louis to replace all-pro guard Randy Thomas, just told coach Herm Edwards that he's all done.
As predicted in this space, once again the Seattle Seahawks have become the fashionable dark horse pick of the NFL aficionados. John Clayton of ESPN was espousing how great they look the other day on the radio. The thing about Clayton is that he looks so geeky that he actually inspires guys like me to write columns and think that they could actually cover pro football.
The New York Jets sent out a letter to all of the 22,000 people on their season ticket waiting list this week. The good news these folks got in the mail was that the Jets were now going to start charging them $50 a year to be on the waiting list so that "they would feel like part of the (Jets) family." Yikes! The Patriots are one of only a handful of teams that charge fans to be put on a waiting list. But in the Patriots' defense, this is a one-time fee and is credited towards future tickets.
Old Patriot and motor mouth Chad Eaton is out for at least a month for the "playoff bound" Seattle Seahawks with a knee injury.
Speaking of injuries, the Dolphins training camp is starting to resemble a MASH unit. Consider this: The Dolphins have had 25 players miss a total of 129 practices for physical reasons since training camp opened. They have had eight players have surgery in the last five weeks. And with an injury to starting left tackle Mark Dixon, rookie Wade Smith is now starting. Confucius would say that starting a rookie left tackle does not bode well for pocket quarterbacks like Jay Fiedler and Brian Griese. If this rate of attrition keeps up in South Florida, you might see Earl Morrall get to take a few snaps.
For $10, the Patriots Media Guide is, by far, the best value for your dollar at the Patriots Pro Shop. This thing is chock full of stats, profiles, and quirky facts. For instance, did you know that the Patriots were 4-0 in the 1981 preseason and then proceeded to go 2-14 in the regular season?
In the very large parking lot where Foxboro Stadium once stood, there is a plaque embedded in the ground commemorating Adam Vinatieri's game-winning kick in the "Snow Bowl."
And lastly, did you know that the convenient staircase to the Patriots' locker room on their sideline gives them an extra five minutes in the locker room during each half-time?
All right, that's it for Zingers this week. I would be thrilled to hear from you. I can be reached at email@example.com
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