November 30, 2003
Winning Ugly Looks So Good
BY: Kevin Rousseau
Forget the day at the dentist that the last few games have been. The Pats 38-34 victory over the Colts was a day at the cardiologist.
It was a game of great highs and great lows. It saw momentum go back and forth. And it was certainly the most entertaining NFL game of the year. Few expected this game to turn into the track meet that it ended up becoming. The Patriots blew leads of 17 and 21 points but somehow hung on when they had to and made their greatest goal line stand in recent memory.
There's lots to be concerned about and lots to celebrate as the Patriots head into the final four games and, yes-the playoffs.
The Patriots pass defense had their worst game since the Buffalo opener as Peyton Manning lit them up for 278 yards and four touchdowns. Rookie Eugene Wilson finally started to show his youth as he got beat on a number of coverage assignments and dropped a sure interception that might have put the game away in the first half. Manning also bought all kinds of extra time as he sidestepped Patriot pass rush after pass rush and found an open receiver. After the score became 31-10 in the third quarter, I relaxed and said "This game is in the bag." So as I started watering my neglected houseplants, the Colts showed why they have such a dangerous offense and scored 14 quick points. When Manning hit Marvin Harrison to make it 31-17, I watered the carpet instead of the geranium, proceeded to stop my indoor horticultural tasks, and return my full attention to the game.
Yet, name another defense in this League who could stop the Colts on four downs inside the two yard line with the game on the line? That's right, you probably can't. The defense, physically and mentally demoralized, refused to lie down and lose the game at the Colts goal line. This Patriots defense may not make every play; but they are usually prepared and well disciplined enough to be in the right position to challenge on most plays. From what I've seen this year, few defenses could make that same claim. And that is what makes a defense, by itself, or with a little help from an above-average (but not great) offense carry a team deep into the playoffs.
Like the defense, the offense played a game of Jekyll and Hyde as well. Tom Brady was 16-18 for 161 yards in the first half as they mixed it up with a few draws to Kevin Faulk that kept the Colts honest. But in the second half, Brady was only 10-17 for 75 yards and threw two interceptions. And it should have been three if Colts linebacker David Thornton didn't drop a late fourth quarter gift. And while it's always a cheap shot to question play calling: Why did Charlie Weis call three consecutive passes (that all fell incomplete) with a little more than three minutes left in the game?
I have to believe that the reason he chose to throw three straight times and proceed to take a whopping six seconds off a clock is that Weis does not have a running game that he can trust. Kevin Faulk, as terrific as he has been this year, is not an every down back. Faulk reminded us, and Weis, of his "dropsies" of years past when he coughed up the ball the series before. And if you are not concerned about this lack of a good, solid running game as the weather turns cold, you just maybe whistling past a New Orleans graveyard. How many championship teams can you recall that didn't have a semblance of a running game? Not that many.
A game ball has to go to rookie receiver and kick-returner Bethel Johnson. His touchdown return at the end of the first half stopped Indianapolis' late first-half momentum that saw the Colts bring the game to within a touchdown. Johnson killed another momentum surge after the Colts tied the game in the fourth quarter with his 68-yard return that set up a Patriots touchdown that proved to be the game winner. As Gino Cappelletti says, football is a game of momentum. And Johnson's two outstanding returns may have been the difference that kept this game from getting away from the Patriots.
Despite the fact the Patriots won what could be characterized as another "ugly" game; there is a lot to be happy about. Regardless of the gorey details, the bottom line is this: The Patriots went into Indy, beat the Colts, became 10-2 for the first time in their 44-year history, and may have just locked up a first-round playoff bye. They currently have-okay, I'll say it-the best defense in the NFL. They have a terrific coaching staff and a quarterback that is as good as they come these days. But perhaps most impressive is that six of their ten wins have come against teams currently with a .500 or better record. If that's winning ugly, find me a frog to kiss. Now maybe they'll finally start to get the respect that they deserve from the national pundits.
Idle Zinger thoughts while reluctantly realizing that no matter how many sellouts, how many Super Bowl victories, and how many terrific players the Patriots produce, Boston will always be a baseball town:
I never get enough of watching the reaction of a special teams coach as a big play is called back after a penalty. What can I say-it's a cheap thrill.
"Let me tell you something…" Ever since it was pointed out, ESPN's Paul Maguire's constant use of this phrase is starting to become annoying.
It difficult to admit; but the Dolphins' orange alternate jersey looked pretty sharp. With their win last Sunday night over the Redskins, Miami also broke a five-game losing streak by teams (the Broncos and Browns) wearing an alternate orange jersey over the last two years.
The Boston Herald's Michael Felger had the folks at MIT do a calculation on what the odds are of the Patriots losing 11 straight coin flips. It came out to be one in 2,048. The Patriots won the coin flip on Sunday.
I cannot understand why some fans would hurl such venom at the Globe's Nick Cafardo in his weekly www.Boston.com mailbag. I guess it just comes with the territory. I find him to be one of the most humbled and well balanced sports writers out there.
For two largely immobile quarterbacks, Manning and Tom Brady probably sense pocket pressure better than anyone else in the League.
Don't you think that Keyshawn is going to eventually end up with Dan Snyder and the Redskins?
Gregg Easterbrook and his Tuesday Morning Quarterback (TMQ) column has landed on www.NFL.comof all places. I find it interesting that the image-conscious NFL would bite on him, given his somewhat controversial nature. Last week, I promised to find out why he was fired from www.ESPN.com. According to the Buffalo News' Greg Connors, he was fired after "Easterbrook wrote a Web log for the New Republic. On Oct. 13, he posted a commentary about the Quentin Tarantino film "Kill Bill," which he denounced for its violence and gore. He wrote that the film was distributed by Miramax, which is owned by Disney. He pointed out that Disney's chairman, Michael Eisner, is Jewish, and he wrote a line questioning "Jewish executives (who) worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence." Disney is also the owner of ESPN. It took less than a week for ESPN.com to not only drop Easterbrook, but to remove him from its online archives, making him a non-person. Easterbrook…said he received about 5,000 e-mails of support from readers after TMQ was sacked. He issued several public apologies and mea culpas, and for two weeks his column found a temporary home on an independent site called www.footballoutsiders.com," wrote Connors. Maybe this is a stretch, but I wonder if this is one small way that the NFL is trying to get back at ESPN for airing the "Playmakers" series.
"Give me throwback apparel or give me death" are pretty good words to live by. As an aside, I've often been accused by the lovely and talented Mrs. Rousseau of having a "throwback" dress clothes wardrobe. If you see her, ask her about the paisley blue shirt I wore on our first date. I thought it was my best bet but it was later revealed that I received a first-date demerit for wearing it.
The Indianapolis Star reported that as of last Monday there were still tickets available for the Patriots-Colts game. I found this shocking given how big of a game it was. Perhaps its because the thought of a blackout never crosses our minds anymore here in New England.
Feel free to drop me a line. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And 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 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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