August 31, 2003
What's In store For The Pats?
BY: Kevin Rousseau
A year and a half removed from the biggest Super Bowl upset since Super Bowl III, just where do the Patriots stand? Could they be a team that looks good on paper but has trouble putting it all together? Or will the positive signs that have dotted the pre-season continue and take the Patriots on another Super Bowl run?
In this day and age, a team's success greatly depends on how hard the injury bug hits them over the course of a season. Take the last two Patriots seasons as a case study. During their Super Bowl run in 2001, the team stayed relatively injury-free (except, of course, for Mr. Bledsoe). Last year, the Patriots were beaten up down the stretch and it affected the team's late season performance. With the salary cap and the parity currently in the NFL, the margin of victory is thin. Local biases aside, an impartial observer could throw all four AFC East teams into a hat and come out with a finishing order that might turn out to be just as factual as anything that an "expert" might conjure up.
That said; what have the Patriots done to address their shortcomings that brought about their downfall last year? The three major problems that the Patriots had last year were: 1) they had no established running game, 2) they had trouble on third down both on offense & defense and 3) they lacked any decent pass rush or run defense.
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis last week stated that many of the problems associated with last year's offense could be blamed on him. In this era of blaming everyone but ourselves, it's refreshing to read this comment. Having straight-ahead running back Antowain Smith run toss sweep after toss sweep last year was almost as annoying as having to sit through an entire episode of Fox's The Best Damn Sports Show Period. In this pre-season, we've seen Weis get back to basics by calling a lot more "between the tackles" running plays. If Smith can develop a rhythm by getting a good amount of touches during a game, it will help open up the passing game for Tom Brady and force defenses to play honest. And if the offensive line can control the line of scrimmage and open up holes for Smith, it will allow Kevin Faulk to become a bigger part of the team's offense by featuring him as a change of pace, slashing type of running back. There are a lot of "ifs" and "buts" in this paragraph, but the point is that the success of the Patriots this year will depend greatly on how effective they are at running the football.
Turning to the defense, the Patriots got younger and faster during the off-season. Without question, the biggest story has been the emergence of rookie cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson. Of course, past members of the Michael Bishop Fan Club will tell you that playing well in pre-season cannot be an accurate indicator of success in the regular season. However, it is encouraging when you hear veteran cornerback Ty Law state that of all the rookie cornerbacks that he has seen in the nine years he's been around, these guys are the best. Along with the signing of veterans Tyrone Poole and Rodney Harrison, the Patriots secondary has the potential to be one of the strongest in the League. On the defensive line, if first-round pick Ty Warren can develop into the player that the Patriots believe he can be, the Patriots will be in good shape up front with him, Richard Seymour and veterans Ted Washington and Bobby Hamilton.
All of this aside, fans should be most excited about what all-pro linebacker Rosevelt Colvin brings to the table this year. Never known for going out and spending big money on free agents, the Patriots snagged arguably the most sought-after free agent on the entire market. In the four games that we have seen him play in a Patriots uniform, he has made some tremendous individual plays that have shaped the momentum of the game. If he can deliver his 10½ sacks this year as he has the past two seasons, it will make it harder to pass on the Patriots and will certainly help the Patriots get off the field on third down.
Now it's time to play for real. Fall in New England is special for many reasons. The kaleidoscope of colors in the trees. The unexpectedly warm days and the hint of the cold that is coming. But most of all, what makes Fall so special is that football is being played and I begin to remember the connections to years past. I remember talking with my now-deceased grandfather leading up to Super Bowl XXXI against the Packers (his favorite team). I remember going bananas with my other grandfather as Kevin Turner hauled in a Drew Bledsoe pass to beat the Minnesota Vikings 26-20 on a perfect Autumn day in 1994. What about all of those Steve Grogan to Stanley Morgan "long bombs" that my brother and I attempted in our front yard? Or how could I forget my Hugh Millen-like performance that evening in 1991 while teaming up with my roommate Dwight in front of our dorm? I've guess I've discovered that what matters now isn't so much the results of the game, but the memories that I'll always have after a lifetime of following this team. Of course, winning a Super Bowl helps.
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Winning must be a little hard to come by in Jacksonville. Jaguars players recently doused head coach Jack Del Rio with Gatorade after a pre-season win over the Miami Dolphins! Insert your own comment here.
I used to think the guy was an institution but I'm now convinced that John Madden should have followed Pat Summerall's lead and retired from broadcasting. Like a star athlete who plays too long, Madden is in danger of being remembered for the pointless ramblings that are now commonplace.
Bad news for the Dolphins. The Miami Dolphins have announced that they will wear an alternate orange jersey for one game later this year. Loyal Zinger groupies will recall that I mocked the use of orange jerseys last year as the Broncos and Browns went a combined 0-4 while wearing them.
File this under "Be careful what you wish for." Jets coach Herm Edwards wondered out loud a few weeks back about how to get Vinny Testaverde into a game or two this season so that he could pass for 442 yards and thus reach 40,000 career yards. He said this a few days before starting quarterback Chad Pennington went down with a dislocated wrist. Wonder no more, Mr. Edwards.
New Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer was supposed to be the answer in Denver. Was that booing I heard when Plummer resorted to his careless ways in a recent pre-season game?
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