January 09, 2004
The Cold, Hard Facts About Saturday Night
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- You all thought the Raiders would wither in the snow two years ago, and look what happened.
Now here we are, two years later, the Patriots once again are hosting a Saturday night Divisional Playoff Game, and weather is a huge factor. Snow is not in the forecast, but bitter cold is. It won't be like Lambeau Field on New Year's Eve of 1967, but it might feel like it. The visiting team hails from the Deep South, but Tennessee is not as deep south as Florida, and it snowed on Thursday in Nashville. Patriot Nation is rushing to their nearest factory outlet or discount department store for as much warm clothing as they can get their hands on, with delicious thoughts of how those poor frozen Titans are going to get blasted by the Foxborough ice monsters.
Now, ask Steve McNair if he is the slightest bit concerned about any of the above.
The Titans are one of the best road playoff teams in recent memory. They won last week at M&T Bank Stadium against the Lewises, which was remarkable in and of itself. They won at Jacksonville in 1999, and the Jaguars were 14-2 at that time. The previous week, they went into Indianapolis and won. This is a team that scares home playoff teams silly.
Patriot Nation may scowl a bit when everyone praises Tennessee for how tough they are. They win road playoff games because they are just that. McNair is the toughest quarterback in the league, and he showed Ty Law just how hard he could hit last December. Eddie George suffered a separated shoulder last week, but fully expects to play. The front seven of the Titans feature quick and strong pass rushers and run stoppers who won't be intimidated or beaten up by anybody.
And there are plenty of "experts" out there who think that if there is one team who can come into Foxborough and stick it to the Patriots, it is the Tennessee Titans. The consensus is that the Patriots can take either Kansas City or Indianapolis. But Tennessee is the biggest AFC challenge, and the toughest opponent that New England could have drawn out of the entire playoff field.
Nobody on the Patriots has any delusions about what they face Saturday night. They do indeed face a tough team, a team who can win on the road, win through adversity, and win with muscle and determination. The Patriots really do have quite a battle on their hands waiting for them this weekend.
But what few people want to write or go on record as saying is this cold, hard fact: The Titans have a tougher battle on their hands. Period.
Barring an unheard of turnover funk or a rash of calamitous injuries, the Patriots should prevail, and it should be a good, solid win at that. The Titans could very well win, but it says here that if the Patriots play Patriot football, the Patriots will win.
Old legs plus cold legs = Don't worry over kicking game
Some people might be concerned that Vinatieri will not be as automatic as he was in 2001. He nailed a once-in-a-lifetime field goal against Oakland in the snow to force overtime. This year, he has suffered through a subpar season (73.5 percent of his field goals is the lowest of his career). He missed a 24-yard field goal in the last game against Buffalo, but hit one of the same length a bit later.
So, if this comes down to a field goal, advantage Gary Anderson? Don't bet on it. The 44-year-old kicker will be more affected by the cold than Vinatieri might be by the wind tunnel effect at Gillette. Anderson isn't from Poland like Sebastian Janikowski. He played his college ball in a dome. Five years ago, he missed a field goal in a dome that kept a 15-1 Vikings team out of the Super Bowl. This is outside in subzero weather. Vinatieri may not be automatic, but odds are Anderson will be far less.
Who really benefits from the cold?
McNair and George will be as heroic as possible. But the cold weather makes these two key players a lot more vulnerable to serious injury, and McNair's ability to run out of the pocket may be seriously impaired.
That said, if neither running game can get going, the Patriots will likely be more able to generate more of a passing offense in this cold than the Titans will. McNair may have the higher passer rating than Tom Brady, but Brady is healthier and has more experience in leading the team in these kind of weather conditions. On a night where getting open will be at a premium, the Patriot receivers will be more proficient at doing so unless the Titan pass rush forces Brady to rush his throws. Kevin Dyson and Justin McCareins are top-flight receivers, but they simply won't be top flight in the bitter cold.
In an overall sense, while the Titans can brag and boast about how the weather won't affect them, they cannot prepare in Nashville for sub-zero conditions. The bitter cold will slow the fast players down, and those offensive linemen who won't wear extra clothing out of some macho arrangement will hardly be able to play at peak efficiency. These two factors combined will help swing this game in the Patriots' favor all by itself.
Let's say a rush of warm air comes up tomorrow night…
Which it won't, but in case Jeff Fisher makes a deal with the devil…
The running games will cancel each other out once again, and in this case the Patriot passing offense helps the Patriots win regardless of the weather. Without being repetitious from the previous section, the Patriots will have an easier time solving the Titan secondary than McNair will have trying to pick apart the Patriots. The key will be the Patriots not needing to run the ball to win, and the strength of the Patriot offense will be matched up against the weakness of the Titan defense.
Brady will use Saturday night's game to ascend further up the quarterback ladder, and will take more giant steps towards the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks he seems destined to belong in. With each game, Brady gains even more experience in game management, and against this Titan defense which is so strong against the run, he can use this game as his major statement to the rest of the league.
What will that statement be? 2001 was no fluke. Championships mean more than just sheer numbers. Making zero mistakes is far more important than how many touchdown passes you throw. Brady will manage a better game than McNair, who won't have the right conditions to show off his muscle or his scrambling ability.
The key to this game will have to be a very Weis man
So, you want to be head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Charlie Weis? Bully. Here's how:
Devise the exact right game plan for Saturday night. You already know that Brady will execute it. Have exactly the right routes for Troy Brown and Deion Branch and David Givens all worked out, and how and when they will be used. Have Kevin Faulk at the ready to execute the precision screen/dump passes out of the backfield to make up for all the hay Antowain Smith likely won't make.
While you're at it, you perhaps have already done this. Get into Daniel Graham's face and tell him that his manhood will be compromised with every dropped pass. In a frigid game like this, big, tough tight ends are mighty handy. Oh, he'll block pretty well, but Graham will also be needed to make tough third down catches, or even perchance a surprise 30-yard bomb to screw up the defense totally.
If in fact that Romeo Crennel's defense will merely do its thing, Weis needs to come up with the right answer for this cold weather. If there is one key to the Patriots winning this game, it is Weis coming up with the right plan to attack the suspect Tennessee secondary. It unfortunately might pave Weis' way out of Foxborough, but if it helps the Patriots win a second Vince, you have to let things like this happen.
History says it's Patriots, not just the weather
Home teams love the Divisional round. Since 1990, they win about 90 percent of the time. Since Bill Parcells came to town, the Patriots are 2-1 in the Divisional round, with the one loss coming on the road at Pittsburgh and the two wins coming at home. By merely being at home, let alone rested after a week off, the Patriots have a major advantage.
The Titans had to play last week at Baltimore, and expended a lot of energy in defeating an opponent they generally dislike. The Patriots rested, let most of their owies heal, and had an extra week to prepare. Now they get to bust out and smack the dickens out of the Titans, and it will be colder than Siberia outside.
The Titans may have their own history, but the Patriots have theirs as well. Too many things point to a Patriot win. It will definitely be a tough game, but look for the Brady to manage things perfectly and the home team wins by about a 20-7 count.
Now, hurry up and run out to Wal-Mart before they run out of long flannel underwear and snorkel jackets. Bundle up, don't be stupid, and enjoy the cold and the game.
Leave the stupidity to those macho morons for Tennessee who refuse to wear extra clothing, and watch the fun when they freeze to death.
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