January 25, 2004
Quiet Week Ends, Crazy Week Begins
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
HOUSTON -- We are in the right city, aren't we?
Check your airline tickets. If you use Expedia or Travelocity or Orbitz, you need to type in IAH and not MSY. Instead of the Bayou City, we're in a city named after the first president of the Republic of Texas. This city doesn't even have a nickname.
Boston fans have some connections here. Larry Bird won two of his three NBA titles against the Houston Rockets, the 1981 title being clinched right here at the old Summit. In that same arena five years later, cowardly Ralph Sampson slugged Jerry Sichting in the face during the NBA Finals before being whipped to the ground like a toothpick by a real man named Bill Walton. A former Red Sox pitcher has come home, as William R. Clemens will pitch for the hometown Astros in 2004. His new manager will advise you about frogs and something to do with "bumping its booty".
There isn't much to say about Houston except that it's big. And hot. And humid. The latter two won't be factors next weekend. What was the one identifiable facet of this city, the Astrodome, is now a relic and no longer used the way it was. It was so outdated that the Oilers bolted town and lost to the Patriots two weeks ago under the name of the Tennessee Titans.
So, instead of jambalaya, debauchery, jazz music and lots of bon vivant, we have…big. Welcome to Houston, Patriot Nation, and brush up on your Spanish and not your French. You're in a county, not a parish. Instead of the Mississippi River, you have Loop 610.
But the key word is big. Big city. Big stadiums. Big game.
And one more big week to go. Is that good or bad? (Tedy Bruschi's fan club is not allowed to answer this question, we all know their take on that subject.)
In 2001, the Patriots had one week. In 1985 and 1996, they had two weeks. You draw your own conclusions. In short, the Patriots will be trying to win their first Super Bowl with two weeks to prepare. With Bill Belichick doing his Jimmy Neutron imitation in the film room, pity the poor Carolina Panthers, right?
You have heard this before. Give Belichick two weeks to prepare, and God help the opposition. They said the same thing in 1996 with Bill Parcells against the Green Bay Packers. Not much was made of these two weeks in 1985 where Raymond Berry was concerned.
The biggest downside of bye weeks is if the team comes back after the break playing stale and rusty instead of rested and inspired. This will be the third bye week for the Patriots this year, and the Patriots are 2-0 this season after bye weeks. They won both contests by a combined 19-14 count. They didn't need much offense to top Dallas and Tennessee (playoff), both at home. But what if they needed two or three touchdowns from Tom Brady? It's all speculation, of course.
Let's explore the two Super Bowls where the Patriots had the two weeks off, and try and find out what exactly went wrong, and was it the two weeks off that caused it.
Many football pundits will say that the 1985 Patriots were doomed in Super Bowl XX by merely showing up. The Patriots advanced to that Big Show by winning three games on the road, the first time in NFL history that that had happened. The Patriots won those three games against the Jets, Raiders and Dolphins thanks to 16 takeaways in the three games. The deciding touchdown in the Raider game was a recovered kickoff fumble in the end zone by the JeRod Cherry of back then, Jim Bowman. It was stuff like that that got the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
So, what could Berry have done from a coaching standpoint that might have prevented the best one-season defense in league history from blasting the Patriots the way they did? Perhaps nothing. You had the NFL's best guard in history (John Hannah) and a more-than-decent center (Pete Brock) and left tackle (Brian Holloway), but even that was not enough. What could Berry have come up with tactically to avoid the onslaught that happened in New Orleans on January 26, 1986?
If the wait were one week, maybe the Patriot momentum would have not been severed, and if Buddy Ryan had less time to construct his awesome defensive game plan, things may have been different. But when the game began the Patriots lost the game right in the first five minutes under circumstances which really had nothing to do with the 46 defense, nor did it have anything to do with one or two weeks planning.
On the Bears' second offensive play, Walter Payton fumbled and Larry McGrew recovered. Right then and there the Patriots had been given a gift that two weeks of practice could never have begotten. The turnover streak continued. The Bears opened the door for the Patriots, and gave them a chance to make an indelible impression on the game and Da Bears.
So what happens? On their second play, Lin Dawson goes deep on a left sideline pass, tears up his left knee and is gone for the game. The time it took to get Dawson off the field stripped the Patriots of all the momentum they had. After an incompletion, Tony Franklin kicked the earliest score in Super Bowl history, then the Bears scored the next 44 points. Had Dawson not gotten hurt, the Patriots had a chance to at least make the score closer.
Looking back once more on that game, one has to wonder why the Patriot defense wound up cutting just as big a stinker as the offense did. The star of the Bear offense, Payton, averaged only 2.8 yards per carry. The Patriots allowed Willie Gault and Matt Suhey to have big games, and Jim McMahon never should have finished with a passer rating over 100. Two weeks did nothing to prevent this, and it should have.
1996 was completely different. Everyone was saying that two weeks was a Godsend for the Patriots. As long as they had Parcells in their corner, that was their one chance to beat the Green Bay Packers. Unlike 1985, according to former Bears coach Mike Ditka, "the Patriots have a chance in this one!"
No, they didn't. In this case, two weeks meant nothing. One week meant nothing. This was a sad case of a head coach who turned Benedict Arnold. This was a head coach who couldn't wait to become HC of the NYJ. This was a head coach who hated Bob Kraft so much that he sacrificed great personal legacy (he would have become the first head coach in NFL history to win Super Bowls with two different teams) just to make sure that Kraft would not taste the joy of a Super Bowl win.
On Monday of the second week back then (that's today, folks), Parcells told the late Will McDonough of the Globe to "break the story" that he was going to leave the Patriots, and to do it on that day. The rest of the week was ruined thanks to all the distractions the article wrought. And this is exactly how Parcells wanted it. He put on these nice game faces and disingenuously denied all the reports of his leaving, but deep inside he had to be happy as a pig in a pile of you-know-what.
The game spoke volumes of how much Parcells was trying not to win. He made Drew Bledsoe try and win the game himself instead of featuring Curtis Martin. Result: four picks, sacked five times, 46.6 passer rating for Bledsoe. He kicked off and punted to Desmond Howard consistently, with all kicks down the middle and right at him. Result: Howard becomes the only return specialist in the history of the Super Bowl to win game MVP honors. Howard set a Super Bowl record with a 99-yard kickoff return, and the pathetic sight of Adam Vinatieri helplessly pursuing Howard as the last line of defense must have warmed the cockles of Parcells' heart.
Belichick needed only one week in 2001 to lay a licking on the Rams and deliver the mother of all upsets (or, thanks to Super Bowl III, shall we say the "daughter" of all upsets?). What will he do with two weeks to prepare for Carolina? One can only imagine, but if he does indeed come up with the perfect formula to shut down the Panthers, then it will have absolved the ineffectiveness of Berry and the treason of Parcells.
And everything that is Patriots has to wait one more agonizing week until the Big Show. Seven days, 168 hours. So much can happen between now and then. Can't we just kick things off and get this thing over with?
Never mind. When all else fails, in Belichick we trust. Enjoy Houston, everyone, just don't go looking for Bourbon Street.
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