September 07, 2003
A Shocking Start To The Season
BY: Kevin Rousseau
There is no other way to say it. Head Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots front office got exactly what they deserved on Sunday with a 31-0 loss against the Bills. Up until last week, Belichick enjoyed virtually no second-guessing amongst Patriots Nation and the team itself on personnel moves. That may be about to change. There can be no question that Milloy's presence on the other side of the ball had a tremendous effect on the Patriots. In short, this could have been the most lopsided loss by the Patriots that I have seen in at least ten years.
Belichick's teams are historically known for showing up to a game prepared to play and showing the discipline to stay away from mental mistakes and penalties during a game. That was clearly not the case on Sunday and there is one major reason for that. Belichick grossly underestimated how the release of captain Lawyer Milloy and his subsequent signing by Buffalo would devastate and distract his team leading up to the game. Granted, the official crew was "flag happy," but the Patriots' 12 penalties for 121 yards showed a lack of concentration and killed virtually any chance for them to get back into the game.
Whatever secrets Milloy turned over to the Bills, they worked. They worked better than anyone could have possibly imagined. The Bills defense was not fooled by any of the Patriots offensive trick plays, play action, or screen passes. Most of the time, they were right at the feet of Patriots receivers and handed out punishing hits. One play symbolizes the difference that Milloy made. In the second quarter, Milloy didn't bite on a fake end-around and stayed with the Patriots receiver going deep down the middle. The end result was Milloy causing an interception in the end zone. But Milloy didn't stop there. After he arrived in Buffalo, he must have spilled his guts to the Buffalo offense as well. All day long, Bledsoe killed the Patriots by throwing down the middle and making all of us wish Milloy was still patrolling back there. Of course, credit has to be given to the rest of the Bills as well, especially linebacker Takeo Spikes, for all showing up and playing their hearts out. In short, the takeaway lesson here, kids, is that disrespecting a player of Milloy's desire and ability can come back to haunt you.
All the Milloy talk aside, the more troubling long-term issue is that what plagued the Patriots last year was still evident on Sunday. The Patriots were out-muscled and pushed around the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. On defense, they couldn't stop the run and were unable to get any pressure on Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots gave him all the time he needed to pick out the open receiver and finally extract his revenge on Bill Belichick. On offense, Tom Brady was under pressure all day long and was unable to get any rhythm going thanks to Buffalo's swarming pass defense. The offensive line was pushed around just like they were last year and that is very, very troubling.
In closing, let's take a step back and search for some perspective. It can't be all bad. The silver lining of getting killed in the first game of the season is that it is just that. The first game. There are fifteen more to be played. When you look back on the Super Bowl season, do you remember the embarrassing 23-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in week one? And when the Patriots missed the playoffs last year, did you think back to their 30-14 domination of the Steelers in week one. You probably didn't. The point is that, yes, this week's loss was very troubling but there is no need to jump off the next available bridge.
Not yet, anyways.
No restructuring on the terms of my contract for Zingers here. No sir. Not this week.
First off, I am pleased to announce that 620 AM WZON out of Bangor, Maine will be having me on their Monday Morning Quarterback segment every Monday throughout the football season at 8:15 a.m. So if you are within striking distance of Bangor, feel free to give a listen as I break down the Patriots game and the NFL with Dale Duff and Clem LaBree. If you are outside of the Bangor area, you can listen via live audio streaming at www.zoneradio.com
After this year's draft, everybody thought Houston Texans General Manager Charlie Casserly was a fool for "wasting" a late-round draft pick on former Michigan quarterback and current New York Yankees minor leaguer Drew Henson. Well, here we are in September and the Yankees are about to give up on him, despite the huge contract they signed him to. And now quarterback-desperate teams are burning up the phone to Houston to see what it would take to acquire Henson as it looks like he is going to go back to football.
Two rookie players with New England ties have made the San Diego Chargers team this year. Former University of Maine linebacker Stephen Cooper (perhaps the best player ever to go through the Maine program) and Hartford native and former South Carolina fullback Andrew Pinnock.
Sure, Monday Night Football's Lisa Guerrero is easy on the eyes; but she is no Suzy Kolber. Yes, yes. I know I'm going to take some heat for this but loyal Zinger groupies will recall my unhealthy obsession with the Ms. Kolber. The lovely and talented Mrs. Rousseau is aware of this platonic obsession and thinks that I could do better.
ESPN Sunday Countdown replaced Sterling Sharpe with Michael Irvin. They traded one loud mouth for another. But frankly, Sharpe filled that role perfectly and knew his stuff. Irvin is a definite downgrade and will wear on Chris Berman and the rest of the gang by mid-season.
NESN's Sportsdesk has added veteran reporter Tom Larson as its Patriots beat reporter. Given the Red Sox/Bruins-first nature of Sportsdesk, this is a welcome change. Larson is a friendly, familiar voice and it's nice to see him regain a prominent role on NESN.
File this one under: "What do we know?" Two weeks ago, I predicted in this space that fullback Patrick Pass wouldn't make the cut with the Patriots. Then after the final pre-season game, I begged for your forgiveness as it looked like Pass was a slam dunk to make the team. Then Mr. Patsfans.com himself, Ian Logue, a day later writes the infamous column "Pass Entering The Mix?" with the opening line "Heading into his fourth NFL season Patriots running back Patrick Pass may finally be working his way up the depth chart." A few days later, Pass was cut. Please, hold your applause for us.
Maxwell House coffee must be a secret sponsor of Monday Night Football. Raise your hand if you are tired of having to wait until 9 p.m. Eastern time to watch a Monday night game. Especially when two east coast teams like the Buccaneers and Eagles are playing.
On a grim note, former Patriot and current Seattle Seahawk Chad Eaton had emergency surgery last week to clear an infection in his recently operated knee.
That's it for this week. Hang in there. Remember, it's only week one. I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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