October 05, 2003
Sitting on Cloud Nine
BY: Kevin Rousseau
Wow. Where do we begin? Okay. How about this……It's days like Sunday that make you realize that you might just live in the best sports city/region in the world. Being a Boston sports fan on a day like Sunday reminds us why we care so much. I cannot accurately relay to you the one-of-kind atmosphere that gripped Gillette Stadium during the fourth quarter of the Patriots stunning 38-30 victory over the Titans on Sunday. I swear that the entire stadium was listening to the Red Sox game on the radio and when Bill Mueller caught the final out, Gillette Stadium erupted. "We got one comeback, now it's time to go get another," shouted the guy sitting behind me. Seconds later, rookie kick returner Bethel Johnson blasted a 71-yard kick return and helped send the Patriots on their way to an improbable comeback win of their own.
Perhaps only the most naive or optimistic Patriots fan would have thought that the Patriots could line up and beat the Titans on Sunday. I'll be the first one to admit that I didn't give the Patriots much of a chance to beat this team. Even more amazing is that the Patriots continued to play with one hand tied behind their back due to all of the injuries. Added to the list of scratches this week were offensive weapons Kevin Faulk and Daniel Graham. And besides, the Titans are one of the elite teams of the league and manhandled the Patriots last season on their way to the AFC Championship Game. I mean, this game wasn't even going to be close, right? The Patriots surprised all of us (and maybe even themselves), returned the favor to the Titans, and showed the heart of a team that may be on the verge of something special. Especially if they can start to hold back the injury bug. The Patriots manhandled the Titans all day long and looked to be the hungrier team. The offensive line got excellent push throughout the game and opened up some nice holes for both Antowain Smith and newcomer Mike Cloud. And keep in mind that this is a patchwork offensive line made up of a rookie and two second-year guys who were buried on the depth chart during training camp.
If the Patriots can get back some of their injured veterans, all of the rookies that are playing now are going to make this team a very good one. Bethel Johnson might just be the quickest Patriot I have ever seen in my twenty-five years of watching this team. Ty Warren got the start on the defensive line and was effective. Dan Klecko continues to improve every week and could end up becoming a young Tedy Bruschi-type linebacker in short order. Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson played like they were veteran defensive backs against a very good Titans passing game. And Dan Koppen once again was impressive on the offensive line. And this is only after week five. Can you imagine how much smarter they will be playing by November? All of these guys have the potential to become dominant factors as the season rolls on.
But perhaps the most important trend to come out of Sunday's game is the re-emergence of a very solid running game. Both Smith and Cloud played great and got excellent positive yardage. The ability to open up the run allowed the passing game to be effective as the Titans had to play the Patriots offense honestly. And that allowed Tom Brady to show that any ill effects of his arm injury are behind him. His touchdown bomb to Troy Brown in the first quarter should help to silence all of those critics who keep saying that he can't throw the deep ball.
Each year, as you look back on the season, you can point to one or two games that help to determine how the season turned out. Last year, it was the victory over the Chiefs that exposed the Patriots lack of a run defense and pass rush. In the Super Bowl year, it was Tom Brady coming in and blowing out the Colts to start their magical run. Perhaps, this year it will be a game on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when the Patriots, against all odds, completed the back end of a Boston sports comeback special.
Idle Zinger thoughts while trying to unpeel that darn sticker off the top of my recently purchased "Best of Debbie Gibson" CD:
I am going to attempt to keep this space a "Rush-free" zone since you can go and get that analysis in a million other places. But Michael Felger of the Boston Herald had a terrific quote in Friday's paper from Patriots linebacker Larry Izzo. If you didn't see it, Izzo said "Every week at least one of them (on ESPN's Sunday Countdown) makes some comment that makes him look like a (expletive).'' What did ESPN think they were going to get when they hired him to "spice up" that show?
Did you know that during the Super Bowl week, Bill Belichick responded to players' complaints that their hotel rooms were too small by taking turns giving his own suite away to them? This tidbit is courtesy of the New York Times' Mike Freeman in his excellent new book about life in the NFL, "Bloody Sundays." Still think Belichick is out of touch with his players?
It looks like Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski might be close to retiring due to multiple concussions. Do you think justice will prevail at his retirement press conference and he will apologize to his fellow teammates and players that he has spit on, stepped on, punched, or otherwise cheap shot-ed during his tenure?
Perhaps no other quarterback has shown such a marked improvement from the beginning of the season than Dallas' Quincy Carter. Suddenly that Dallas game in November isn't looking like such the cakewalk for the Patriots. If you thought Tuna Bowl I had some serious hype back in 1997, just wait my friends. Just wait.
Here are my current odds for the first coach to be fired: Chicago's Dick Jauron is the leader at the quarter post at 2-1. New Orleans' Jim Hasslett is at 3-1. Herm Edwards is at 7-1. There are a lot of rumblings that Chicago General Manager Jerry Angelo has his eye on LSU's Nick Saban as his next head coach. The scuttlebutt is that Angelo was forced into giving Jauron an extension after his 13-3 season in 2001 and has been looking for the first opportunity to fire him.
Last year, I constantly criticized the Patriots for not getting off the field on third down. This week, the Herald's Felger pointed out that, going into Sunday's game, the Patriots had quietly allowed opponents to convert just 14 of 52 third downs.
Did you know that the Redskins loss marked the first time in Brady's career that he had lost a game by three points or less? Give the guy a break. He was obviously playing hurt.
The "Bad Cliché of the Week" award goes to the my pal from New Bedford, Jessie, who piped up "Cloud-boy up!" while we were sitting in Route 1 traffic on our way out of town.
That's it for this week. I would be thrilled to hear from you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to check me out at 8:17 on Monday mornings on Bangor, Maine's sports radio leader, WZON 620 "The Zone." Family members and other people forced to deal with my ego can listen over the internet at www.zoneradio.com
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