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November 16, 2003
It's Okay To Use The "P" Word--Playoffs.
BY: Kevin Rousseau

The good news (and the bad news, I suppose) is that the 2003 New England Patriots are 8-2 but have yet to play their best game. That said, it is now officially okay to start using the "P" word-Playoffs. Let's face it. The game at Indianapolis in two weeks will most likely be determine who gets a first-round bye for the playoffs. And who among us would have predicted that after the week one shellacking in Buffalo?

Even though they are owners of perhaps the League's best defense right now, the Patriots are having trouble putting together a solid offensive performance at times. Sunday night's 12-0 win over Bill Parcells and the Cowboys left a happy but yet unsatisfied feeling in the gut of many Patriots fans. The Patriots defense was the story in this one. They pitched the team's first shutout in over seven years and dominated Dallas; forcing them to punt seven times and intercepting Quincy Carter three times.

Good defenses make big plays at big times and that's what this team does. Let's see, this week you could choose from Tedy Bruschi's huges stuff of Troy Hambrick on 4th and 1 late in the game. Or how about Ty Law's two red zone interceptions that killed any hope of Dallas coming back? Statistically, the Patriots may not have the number one defense in the League but if you were a coach and had to win one game, which team's defense would you pick? That's right. You would take the Patriots. This team's defense has got the intangible it and I still believe that they are going to get better.

The only blemish on this defense continues to be the poor punting game. After yet another shaky performance, Ken Walter is close to losing his job. The only thing saving him right now is the fact that he holds for Adam Vinatieri's kicks. A memo to backup quarterback Damon Huard: Begin practicing holding for kicks because Walter is costing the Patriots between 10-20 yards of field position on many of his punts.

As good as the defense has been, the offense turned in its second mediocre performance in the last three games on Sunday night. Now this shouldn't send up a red flag in Patriots Nation; but perhaps a light rouge one should be unfurled. The rushing game (25 attempts for 65 yards) was adequate but not great. And let's hope that Troy Brown won't be out too much longer because his absence was quite evident on Sunday night. Without him, the most experienced wide receiver is second-year showboater Deion Branch. And realistically, that is not a recipe for success when January arrives. Tom Brady seemed off his game against the Cowboys. He had a few near interceptions, some short throws, and just some plain missed throws. Perhaps it was the good Dallas defense that caused this and there is nothing to worry about. We should find out if it was an aberration when the Patriots travel to Houston this coming Sunday and play a below-average Texans team.

Maybe I'm worrying about style points. Maybe I should just let it go, sit back and smile, knowing that the Patriots are only one game behind the vaunted Chiefs for the first seed in the AFC. Given the mediocre state of the competition, the Patriots are perhaps as consistent as any team in the NFL right now.

If you are a football fan, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, like having your team in the hunt as the ground freezes and you start to make your Christmas list. Suddenly, you have to tune into any NFL and Patriots program that you can find. You start checking into websites like patsfans.com and profootballtalk.com every day just to get any nugget of information that may affect the stretch drive. And perhaps, even though you know you really shouldn't, you allow yourself to start thinking about travel arrangements to Houston in late January.

Idle Zinger thoughts while thinking "inside the box:"

The special silver jerseys worn by the Pats on Sunday night did nothing for me. It's also difficult to pick up the player's number on them.

What is the deal with all of these new funny-looking facemasks?

If you were wondering why there doesn't seem to be as many Patriots cheerleaders on the sidelines as there have been in the past, it is because sixteen veteran cheerleaders resigned en masse as a protest against Patriots management and Director & Choreographer Tracy Sormanti. Elaine McArdle has a good article about it in the November issue of Boston magazine.

I just finished Mike Freeman's new book about the state of the NFL, "Bloody Sundays." Frankly, it was an ordeal to get through. There was not nearly as much inside info as I expected when I plunked down my $24.95.

What is the point of these League-mandated injury reports that the teams put out every week? They have about as much legitimacy as a Soviet-era Kremlin press release.

With the new scheduling formula, a team will get to see the other teams in the opposite conference only once every four years while alternating home field. As a fan, this is good on one level as it lets you see the entire league in four years. However, it means that if you missed the Patriots home game against Dallas, you are going to have to wait until 2011 to see the silver and blue back in Foxboro again.

Maybe by 2011 the lovely and talented Mrs. Rousseau will run out of issues and complaints and forgo her annual bye week indictment of yours truly. A man can dream, can't he?

Oh, and while we're discussing it; I do not keep the 1970s Sunoco Patriots glasses in our china cabinet. Nor do I think the Super Bowl XXXVII Surfer Boy bobblehead has got to go.

As the season winds down, keep in mind that every Balitimore Ravens loss moves that first round draft pick up the board for the Patriots next year.

If you missed the recent issue of Sports Illustrated featuring every single cover of the past fifty years, go steal it from your doctor's office. It's terrific. And if you're keeping score at home, the Patriots have been on the cover seven times.

Right on cue, McDonalds heiress Joan Kroc's estate unexpectedly donated a cool $200 million to National Public Radio last week. Therefore, there is now no better time to forgo your annual pledge and, in turn, send me "what you can." Please "make that commitment." I can be reached at kevin@patsfans.com.

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 Maine Standard Times (Lewiston/Auburn, ME), and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly(Windham, ME).


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