November 03, 2003
Sky High After Mile High
BY: Kevin Rousseau
In what can only be described as one of the biggest regular season wins in franchise history, the Patriots exorcised yet another demon on Monday night by beating the Denver Broncos 30-26 at Mile High. This was only the second Patriots win in Denver since 1968 and it puts the Patriots at 7-2 and arguably at number two in all of those Power Rankings.
Phew. Where do I begin? Okay, let's see. Tom Brady goes 20-35 for 350 yards with three touchdown passes and shows similar late-game poise as his boyhood hero, Joe Montana. Or how about yet another brilliant coaching job by Bill Belichick and his staff? And what about the defense completely shutting down the Broncos offense in the second half?
This was a tale of two games for the Patriots. Amazingly, the Patriots were only trailing by four as the game headed into halftime. Leading up to the half, they hadn't played this bad since the week one debacle in Buffalo. If Jason Elam converts on that field goal attempt in the middle of the first quarter, the game has the chance to be a blowout in Denver's favor. Right after the missed field goal, the pendulum moved back to even when Brady hit Deion Branch on a 66-yard touchdown bomb. Because of the all of the Patriots penalties, the Broncos were being handed the game but they just couldn't put it away.
As bad as they played, the Patriots were incredibly lucky to be only down by four at the half. Eventually, all of these mistakes would catch up to them if they played a better team than the Broncos (like Indianapolis in few weeks). A team cannot expect to win on the road in the NFL if it commits fourteen undisciplined penalties and coughs up two turnovers. Especially in Denver; which is perhaps the most hostile environment in the entire League. On paper, the Patriots should have had no business winning this game.
That said; whatever Belichick told his troops at halftime worked. The defense looked to switch from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 front and proceeded to hold Danny Kannell to only 23 second half passing yards without their best defensive player, Richard Seymour. The Patriots offense controlled the clock in the third quarter and out-gained the Broncos 148-6. Just as importantly, Antowain Smith had a number of great runs that helped to open up the passing game for Brady.
In no other sport is the role of the head coach as important as it is in football. And this was clearly on display in the fourth quarter. Mike Shanahan twice punted to the Patriots late in the game while inside the Patriots 35 yard-line. At the time, it seemed like the Broncos were now trying to hand the game to the Patriots. With his team lining up to punt from the back of the end zone late in the game, Bill Belichick wisely took a safety in order to free kick the ball from the 20 yard-line. I'll make the argument that these decisions by Shanahan and Belichick essentially decided the outcome of the game for their teams.
It cannot be said enough. Perhaps even more so than in the Super Bowl year, Belichick and his crew are putting his players in position to make plays and win games.
Take a deep breath, Patriots Nation. You're team is a stunning 7-2 as it heads into its bye week. The Patriots will use this week to rest up and re-charge for a (yep, it's okay to say it) playoff run. The bye couldn't have come at a better time. The time to heal will be fortuitous as this is the part of the season when teams start to get really banged up. Twenty-eight other teams will have to play this coming Sunday and take an enormous amount of punishment while the Patriots sit and watch. And isn't it salivating to imagine this team when Ted Johnson, Ted Washington, and other injured players hopefully return against the Cowboys in two weeks.
Besides the Kansas City Chiefs, there is no better team in the League right now than the Patriots. There might even be a strong safety sitting in Buffalo right now who wishes that he hadn't left Foxboro. Not that we should start looking ahead to these things but when it comes to head-to-head tiebreakers for playoff positions, the Patriots have beaten AFC playoff contenders: the Dolphins, Browns, Titans, and now the Broncos. In the remaining seven games, the Patriots face a smoke-and-mirrors Cowboys team, the Texans, the Jaguars, the Jets, and score-settling final game with the Bills in Foxboro. Putting aside all of the "any team can beat any team" mumbo jumbo for a minute, only the Colts and the Dolphins stand out as formidable opponents for the rest of the season. On paper, this comes out to a 12-4 finish and a first round bye.
I have one last question for you. Have you forgotten about the Red Sox yet? If not, you should.
Idle Zinger thoughts while wondering if there is a better game show theme song than the one from "The Match Game":
As an aside, did you know that Ravens head coach Brian Billick got smoked as a contestant on that show back in the 1970s?
Is it me or does it seem that Chiefs Head Coach Dick Vermeil is always squinting like he needs a new prescription for his glasses whenever the camera cuts to him.
Anybody else have a nasty flashback when you heard Joe Buck's voice as you tuned into the Fox's Dallas-Washington game on Sunday. Why is this guy following us around? This would be like Vin Scully calling a Patriots game right after the 1986 World Series.
Heading into Sunday's games, Drew Bledsoe had more 3-and-out series (27) than any other quarterback in the League this year. What happened to that high-powered Bills offense?
A desperate plea to NFL owners: Please. Do the right thing and keep the number of playoff teams at 12. Expanding to 14 would dilute the achievement of making the playoffs and further lead to the "NBA-ization" of the NFL.
Even if you are not a sports radio nut, you may want to tune into WEEI 850 AM on Tuesdays between 10-2 to listen to the Touchdown Twins, the Quincy Patriot Ledger's Ron Hobson and the Boston Herald's Kevin Mannix. As Eddie Andelman once said, "Some people devote their lives to curing cancer or some other noble profession, but these men have spent their adult lives covering the Patriots." Given the sometimes whacky history of our local eleven, I wish one of them would sit down and write a book about it all.
For example, anyone remember Head Coach Clive Rush nearly electrocuting himself at his introductory press conference in 1969? It went downhill from there for Rush as he went 5-16 and was fired the following year.
Or how about the stands catching on fire at Harvard Stadium in 1970? If you remember a whacky Patriots moment from yesteryear, send it in to me at email@example.com and I'll be happy to post it in a future column.
The new NFL Network debuts on Tuesday. Among the programming will be the re-airing of the best game from the previous Sunday on Wednesday night in high definition. According to USA Today Sports Weekly, NFL Films will initially supply more than 100 hours of the 168 hours of weekly programming.
Call me juvenile, but I smirk every time ESPN NFL Prime Time's Chris Berman goes "whoooop" when there is a missed tackle.
Apparently my earlier request to withhold your regular donation to public radio and "send along what you can" as compensation for this so-called column have fallen on deaf ears. Even if you are not yet "ready to make that pledge", I would be happy to hear from you and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don't forget to check me out at 8:20 on Monday mornings on Bangor, Maine's sports radio leader, WZON 620 "The Zone." You can listen over the internet at www.zoneradio.com And despite their better judgment, this column also appears in the Waterboro (ME) Reporter, the Twin City Times (Lewiston/Auburn, ME), and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly(Windham, ME).
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