October 12, 2003
Defense Bending, Not Breaking
BY: Kevin Rousseau
Don't be surprised if your 4-2 New England Patriots all of a sudden become the "flavor of the week" for all of the national media pundits. After all, in the last two weeks they have beaten two quality opponents while playing with a junior varsity defense. Remarkably, this "junior varsity" defense might just turn out to be something special as the season moves on. All of the injuries the Patriots suffered early in the season are turning into a blessing in disguise. The defensive rookies and backups were forced to play a lot sooner than expected. And most of the time, they have played like seasoned veterans. Imagine how deep this defense will be when Mike Vrabel, Ted Washington, and Ted Johnson all come back in a few weeks.
In the last two weeks, the Patriots have contained the Titans and now the Giants with a "bend but don't break" defensive philosophy. The Patriots defense stayed away from giving up the big play on Sunday and rolled to a 17-6 victory in very soggy conditions.
After all of the grief that he took in this space and elsewhere after the Milloy release, Coach Belichick and his staff have proven to be smarter than all of us and have continued to show that they know what they are doing. Despite injuries to a host of starters and key players, each week the coaching staff is devising game plans that are keeping the Patriots in the game and giving their players opportunities to succeed. Last week, the Patriots defense gave up nearly 400 yards passing to Tennessee's Steve McNair but seemed to have the upper hand all afternoon. On Sunday, the defense did it again with smoke and mirrors. Amazingly, they dominated the Giants offense despite allowing Kerry Collins to complete 35 of 59 attempts for 315 yards. And the Patriots did this while hardly blitzing Collins and giving him virtually all day to find his receivers. The Giants dominated time of possession 35 minutes to 25 minutes but incredibly it felt as if the Patriots defense was controlling the tempo of the game.
That said, the victory wasn't a complete performance. The Giants helped play into the Patriots hands by rushing only 24 times for 75 net yards on a rainy, slippery day. Heading into the game, you had to feel the Giants were going to run Tiki Barber right and Tiki Barber left all day long. Also, the Patriots continued to kill themselves with costly, untimely penalties (10 for 110 yards). I counted three big third down conversions that were called back due to offensive penalties. If the Patriots offense continues to show this lack of discipline against a really good team (like Miami this coming Sunday), they are probably going to pay for it with a loss.
All that aside, you should be awfully proud this week if you are a New England Patriots fan. Nobody (and I mean nobody, present company included) would have ever predicted 4-2 after that 31-0 disaster on opening day in Buffalo. Being a football fan has a way of humbling you, doesn't it? If you were a Buffalo fan after week one, you were chest thumping and loud mouthing. But as it now stands five weeks later, Buffalo's team has fallen apart after a crushing 30-3 loss to the lowly Jets. In the meantime, the Patriots are quietly putting the foundation blocks together for another excellent season.
Idle Zinger thoughts while renewing my annual membership in the Tone Loc fan club:
Former Patriot Leonard Myers is now with the Jets. He was quoted in the New York Post as saying that the Jets have put the fun back in football for him. He was quoted as saying that Belichick and the Patriots took the fun out of playing the game. I got news for Myers. With his playing, he sometimes took the fun out of watching the game.
Have you heard about the season-ending injury to Jacksonville punter Chris Hanson? Last week, coach Jack Del Rio put a tree stump and an ax in the locker room to make the point for the Jaguars to "keep chopping wood." Well, when it was time for Hanson to take his swing with the ax, he missed the stump and inflicted a deep gash on his right leg! He had to be rushed to the hospital and have emergency surgery performed to repair the wound. This poor guy can't win. Last year, you may recall that he sustained first and second degree burns when a fondue pot tipped over at his home.
If you ever needed any justification to stay until the end of a game, you got it with Indianapolis' 38-35 win last Monday night against Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay was up by 21 points with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Over the years, I have been maliciously accused by my tailgating crew of waiting until the post-game prayer before making my way back to the car.
Missed in all of the commotion at the end of that game was the ridiculous assertion made by John Madden that there should be no overtime in NFL games, period. Keep in mind, this is the same guy who thought the Patriots should have run out the clock and play for overtime in the Super Bowl.
It has been my observation over the years that Giants fans behave far better than Jets fans when they follow their team to an away game in Foxboro.
It's been pointed out by a loyal Zinger groupie, Scott from Harrisburg, that I have been remiss in not mentioning the passing of former Patriot running back Ron Burton in this space. Since his passing, I have heard numerous stories about not so much what he did on the field but all of the good that he did off of it. He will be missed.
I wonder if the necessity of having a blocking fullback on the roster will begin to wane. Especially for short-yardage situations. We are seeing Dan Klecko with the Patriots, Warren Sapp with the Bucs, and many other teams bringing in a defensive lineman to clear the way on these 1 and 2 yard runs.
That's it for this week. I would be happy 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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