September 28, 2003
Tough Team, Tough Loss
BY: Kevin Rousseau
There are a few different ways that you can look back on Sunday's 20-17 loss to the Washington Redskins. You could point to the four turnovers and the failed drive in Redskins territory late in the game as proof that this team is not very good and is heading for a long season. Or the optimist in you might say that despite the loss of nine opening-day starters to injuries and being down seventeen points in the second half, the Patriots roared back, played with pride, and nearly pulled out an improbable victory. Or you could be exactly where I am as I write this. You could be completely indecisive about how to swallow this tough loss that drops the Patriots to 2-2 for the month of September.
Let's start with the play of Mr. Tom Brady. One the one hand, he went 25-38 for 289 yards and two touchdown passes. He seemed to have his accuracy and touch back after a sub-par game last week against the Jets. You could also say that except for a few misguided throws, he played a solid game behind a very, very young offensive line. The offensive line, with three inexperienced starters, gave up only one sack all day long and opened up some nice holes for running backs Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk. But then, you could point to Brady's three interceptions (all in Redskins territory) and question his decision-making and ability to throw the deep ball.
Then, trying to make sense of this game, you re-direct your attention to the way the injury bug has hit this team, and begin to think that it was nothing short of a heroic, gutsy performance that was submitted by this makeshift unit on Sunday. And as if this wasn't enough, the Patriots suffered in-game injuries to key offensive players Kevin Faulk, Bethel Johnson, and David Givens. Given the way things were going, I was half-surprised that running backs coach Ivan Fears didn't try to line up for the offense in the fourth quarter. The Patriots could have used every excuse in the book to take the rest of the afternoon off after the Redskins' Rock Cartwright went in for a touchdown with 5:15 left to go in the third quarter to make it 20-3. But they didn't. They scored 14 unanswered points and could have pulled out a huge road win except for some questionable play calling in the final two minutes (more on that later….). You could convince yourself and others that if you took a poll around the league and asked all of the 32 teams if they lost 9 of their 22 opening day starters to injuries and ended September at 2-2, would they take it? Universally, the answer would be a resounding yes.
But after you have comforted yourself with the knowledge that this is a team that isn't going to quit, you might get a little uneasy when you look at the final stats and see 8 penalties for 64 yards staring right back at you. And it's not just the amount of penalties but it is the kind of undisciplined penalties that hurt the Patriots on Sunday. Let's see. We had false starts on the offensive line, a block in the back, and a foolish late-hit penalty by veteran Larry Centers late in the game that cost the Patriots fifteen yards. In the NFL, to beat a good team like the Redskins on the road while being as injured as the Patriots are, you need three things: few turnovers, control of the clock, and few penalties. And this just didn't happen on Sunday.
But just when you are ready to indict the Patriots, you remember the gutsy performance of the defense against a pretty good Redskins offense. You remember Ty Law playing with one good leg and keeping Lavaranues Coles (5 catches for 62 yards) and Rod Gardner (2 catches for 19 yards) in check all afternoon. You point to the way that Tedy Bruschi stepped up with six solo tackles after getting hurt in the first quarter. And you are heartened and optimistic about the future because of the continued experience that young players like Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson, Jarvis Green and Dan Klecko are all getting due to all the injuries.
But then you finally realize that the bitter taste that you can't get out of your mouth is the play calling at the end of the game. A draw play with 1:09 left on the clock netted two yards, and set up a 4th and 3 at the Washington 38. This is when things surprisingly unraveled. The Patriots chose not to burn their final timeout and talk over different scenarios including the idea of bringing Adam Vinatieri in for 55-yard field goal attempt to tie the game. Rather, the Patriots ran up to the line of scrimmage and ran a mid-range pass to Daniel Graham that fell incomplete to end the game. I'm always reluctant to criticize play-making decisions because a) I've never played the game and b) If it worked, the coaching staff would have looked like a bunch of geniuses. But I have a hard time accepting the fact that the Patriots went into the locker room at the end of the game with one timeout still on the clock.
Remember, there are still twelve games to go. And despite all of its ups and downs, this team is 2-2 and by no means out of the playoff race so early in the season. And if you think 2-2 is bad, be grateful that you didn't wake up this morning a Jets fan. Or a Bills fan for that matter. If the Bills were supposed to be so great this year, how come they have the same record as the junior varsity version of the Patriots after four games with virtually all of their team in tact? The point is that it is a long season, filled with lots of ups and downs. And we are going to find out a lot more about where this team stands over the course of the next few weeks as they have three tough games coming up against the Titans, Giants, and Dolphins in October.
Idle Zinger thoughts while wondering if "The Cosby Show" is the only program ever shown on Nick At Nite:
Speaking of must-see TV, Jets coach Herm Edwards' press conferences once again are becoming some of the most enjoyable time you can spend in front of a television.
If you attend a game in person, you will agree with me that TV timeouts may be the cruelest form of punishment that the NFL inflicts upon its paying customers. The one that bugs me the most is the one right after a field goal or a touchdown. They go to a commercial, come back for the kickoff, and then cut to another commercial. Over the years, I've noticed that by this time, the momentum of the recent score is somewhat diminished as the crowd has waited around for what feels like close to five minutes as the networks "pay some bills."
On the other side of the coin, at home you cannot feel the hair on your arms rise as F-16s roar overhead during a flyover like the one they had last Sunday in Foxboro.
If you are looking ahead to the Titans game, the best fan website that I found out there was www.gotitans.com
I found out this week that the League allows each team to wear an alternate third uniform once every year. Could Pat Patriot make a triumphant comeback to Foxboro later this season? One thing the Krafts know is how to sell merchandise, and bringing back the old uniforms like they did last year for Thanksgiving makes idiots like me want to go out and drop ridiculous coin on throwback jerseys.
Raise your hand if you are sick of hearing about Peter King's daughter's high school field hockey exploits every week in his otherwise terrific "Monday Morning Quarterback Column" on www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com? This would be the equivalent of me divulging the goings-on of the Whitefield 9-11 year old girls soccer team every week in this space. It's times like these when you have to ask yourself "What would Bill Belichick do if his starting goalie went down for the season after a trampoline accident?"
The Buffalo Bills were questioned by many, including this writer, for taking running back Willis McGahee with their first-round pick in the draft. Well, considering that both Travis Henry and now Sammy Morris are now out with injuries, a fresh McGahee coming back around the middle of the season may not look like such a bad move after all. If anything, this goes to show the lack of depth around the League due to the salary cap these days.
During those nauseous television shots of Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder on Sunday, did you notice Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan sitting behind him! He is perhaps the most powerful man in the financial world and Snyder has the audacity to sit in front of him. If Alan Greenspan ever came to a Patriots game with me, rest assured that I would at least have him sit next to me. Given the state of the economy, the last thing we all need is to get this man upset.
That's it for this week. I would be thrilled to hear from you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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