October 31, 2004
Give the Patriots A Break
BY: Kevin Rousseau
Well, that will sober us up from our post-World Series drunken state, won’t it?
It’s been so long for Patriots Nation that we have forgotten how it feels. We have forgotten how to get upset when your team gets outworked, out-hustled, and in short, out-Patrioted. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to have that guy at work that is a fan of the other team rubbing it in our nose. It’s not fun to have your team given trash talk during the final seconds of a blowout. Suddenly, we’re feeling a little vulnerable. It isn’t a lot of fun, is it?
Let’s face it. With the largest bulls eye in the entire NFL painted on their back, it was only a matter of time before the Patriots suffered an inevitable loss. To keep the streak going, the Patriots had to be perfect every week. It had to win the line of scrimmage every week. It had to control the clock. And it always had to turn turnovers into points. Essentially, to keep the streak going, it had to do exactly what the Steelers did to the Patriots on Sunday.
This just didn’t feel right from out of the gate, did it? Dexter Reid boots a ball into the end zone to negate a beautiful Josh Miller punt. Then Ty Law hops off the field. Mix in a Tom Brady fumble and interception and it was 21-3 just like that. At which point, week-and-a-half old Jacob Rousseau points out that his diaper needs to be changed. My sentiments exactly, son.
Give the Steelers credit. Ben Roethlisberger looks just like Tom Brady did in 2001. He replaces a veteran and proceeds to play his team into position for a playoff spot. Roethlisberger wasn’t flashy but he didn’t make any mistakes that let the Patriots back into the game. Then the Steelers get to Brady more than any other team in recent memory. It plows over the Patriots defensive front seven all day long. And just like the Patriots have done in their last 21 games, the Steelers force turnovers at critical times and then turn them into 24 points. So tip your hat to them.
But let’s face a few facts. First, Corey Dillon is a difference-maker. Without him playing, the Steelers had no need to defend against the run. It could blitz Brady or drop extra defensive backs into coverage. But if the choice is to hold him out for one game and get him a clean bill of health or risk losing him for a longer period of time, wouldn’t you have done the right thing like the Patriots did and hold him out? Next, that Heinz Field is atrocious. Ty Law’s ankle injury and Bethel Johnson’s slip that lead to the Steeler interception return for a touchdown can both be attributed to the junior high playground turf that is in Pittsburgh. Doesn’t the League office have the authority to order them to replace the turf? It has in the past with the Patriots and it should do so with the Steelers in order to keep Heinz Field a literally level playing field.
Lastly, for their fans and the team, this was the Steelers’ biggest game since the 2002 AFC Championship game. Steeler Nation has had this one circled on their calendar for a while. Lest we forget how we embarrassed them during that game and on opening night nine months later? For the last couple of years, whether we’ve realized it or not, we have been their Yankees.
Look, if there was ever a team (and I mean ever) that deserved a mulligan, this is the one. Don’t jump off that bridge. This team is not going to suffer a Pete Carroll-era meltdown in the second half of the season. They might suffer a setback from all of these injuries. But they have too much talent, too much good coaching and too much commitment not be a factor late in the season.
All of this winning around here has brought about an interesting phenomenon. Namely, our kids believe it is their God-given right to see their teams win. They don’t know the heartache that we have suffered through over the last 20, 30 or 40 years. Perhaps we should take a page from their naïve playbook and believe that the Patriots will rebound. This is still the team I want on my side when the playoffs start.
It was inevitable that this day was going to come and in many ways we can take away some good things from it. It will humble us a little and hopefully make us appreciate just how hard it is to win a game in the NFL. We can hope that it will make the Patriots practice a little sharper in the coming weeks because they now know they can be beaten. But most of all, we can stop talking about this streak (which they don’t hand out trophies for) and start worrying about winning the next game.
Idle Zinger thoughts while wondering how in the world we survived before the invention of the invisible, yellow first-down marker?
A friend wonders what ever happened to ESPN’s Sterling Sharpe. How is Michael Irvin an upgrade over him?
News Item: The NFL Europe’s Scottish Claymores have folded. Here is my annual plea to bring this developmental league back to our shores.
I have resorted to having my female, non-football following cubicle mate make my office pool picks. She is doing a better job than me. However, come Thanksgiving I will overrule her and pick the Lions. Death, taxes and the Lions on Thanksgiving.
If I had to pick sides in the Peyton Manning/Reggie Wayne shoving match, most likely I’ll take Mr. Wayne.
Is there any other sight in sports (other than Tim McCarver fawning over the Yankees) that is more puke-inducing than being subjected yet again to another Bill Cowher scowl on the sidelines?
While home with the Jake-meister on paternity leave, I have been partaking in a little daytime TV. On ESPN2’s Cold Pizza, some Titan fan from the Virgin Islands was allotted five minutes to state why he is eating nothing but pudding to protest his inability to get DirectTV’s Sunday Ticket in his adopted homeland. Time to turn off the TV and turn on the Sirius satellite radio, Jacob.
For an old guy, NFL.com and former Cowboys exec Gil Brandt knows his stuff and always get my ear when he is on the radio.
There may have been no more amusing moment in the history of Boston sports radio than listening to WEEI’s Big Show the day after the Yankee elimination and listening to them rattle off the New York newspaper headlines.
CBS’ Bonnie Bernstein has to do a better job of picking out hats for her sideline assignments. Did you see that animal that was living on her head during the Pats-Jets game a few weeks ago? And this comes from someone who thinks she does a decent job.
And even if you think Bonnie’s hats rock, I would be happy to hear from you. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Don’t forget to check me out at 8:20 on Friday 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 Twin City Times (Lewiston/Auburn, ME), the American Journal (Westbrook, ME), the Current (Scarborough/Cape Elizabeth/South Portland, ME), and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly (Windham, ME).
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