November 28, 2004
Halftime Adjustments The Difference For Patriots
BY: Kevin Rousseau
There are a lot of bouquets to hand out after this satisfying 24-3 win over the Ravens. We could talk about Adam Vinatieri, Corey Dillon, and the makeshift defensive secondary just like we have been for weeks and now months. Perhaps we can hit upon the Foxboro Faithful and how they just keep rolling with the weather no matter the conditions. Or we can chat about how impressively fast the Ravens defense is; or conversely, just how their awful their offense is.
Like Thanksgiving leftovers, it’s all on the table for your taking. Go ahead. There’s plenty to nibble on.
No matter what you hear about this game, keep in mind one thing above all others.
This game was won by the Patriots coaching staff in the locker room at halftime. Specifically, the adjustments made by the offense got them back into synch during the third quarter and allowed the Pats to cruise towards their tenth win of the season.
You and I have no idea what Bill Belichick, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel & company said at halftime. It probably wasn’t pretty and was filled with plenty of expletives.
Time and again, we have seen this team make the better halftime adjustments and pull away in the second half of games. Are they the best yellers in the League? I doubt it. Are they perhaps the best adjusters to a continually evolving game in the League? I believe they indeed are.
With the Patriots leading 3-0 and less than two minutes left in the half, a perfect storm of circumstances handed the Ravens a gift field goal to tie the game as the teams headed into the locker room. Somehow, the normally intelligent Patriots had a meltdown. How do you explain running the ball out of bounds to stop the clock and save the Ravens from having to burn a timeout? Top that gem with having two personal foul penalties called on a punt two plays later? When’s the last time you saw one of these sins committed by the Pats; much less three of them within seconds of each other?
Their tying field goal gave the Ravens the momentum heading into the locker room and made Patriots fans everywhere begin to feel a little nervous about this game. It had bad vibe written all over it. We thought back to a hurried Tom Brady looking out of synch while chucking inaccurate balls all over the place.
And we witnessed just how fast that Ravens defense was in the first half as it swallowed up running holes and kept the Patriots offense in check. Believe me when I tell you that this is the fastest bunch of laterally moving players I have seen in quite some time.
So as the second half began, it wasn’t just rain dripping down my forehead in Section 327. There was a little bit of sweat thrown in for good measure.
Then almost as quickly as the third quarter began, the game was over. Holes opened up for the running game. The offensive line began picking up the blitzing Ravens and giving Brady the time he needed to hit downfield receivers. And most importantly, as the Patriots won the battle of field position it also won the battle at the line of scrimmage.
So while it is fashionable - and accurate - to praise the Corey Dillons, Adam Vinatieris, Randall Gays and Tedy Bruschis of the world after a win, keep in mind the Dante Scarnecchias and Eric Manginis that you never hear about and certainly don’t talk about around the coffee machine on Monday morning.
Perhaps both Scarnecchia and Mangini should be given game balls for putting makeshift offensive lines and defensive secondaries filled with rookies, practice squadders and no-namers out there every week. How they amazingly just don’t miss a beat, I’ll never know. Rookie free agent Randall Gay plays a perfect zone defense and comes up with another pick. A former pro wrestler, Stephen Neal, starts at guard and can play a little tackle if you need him to.
How do you explain it?
Simple. It comes back to coaching, more coaching and preparation. Belichick, Weis, and Crennel deserve plenty of credit for the phenomenon that is Patriots Hysteria. But I would be willing to bet a drumstick that equally responsible are the Scarnecchias, Manginis and Brad Seelys of the world that you never hear about.
Need proof? Read Michael Holley’s book “Patriot Reign” and you’ll see. These assistant coaches make as many, if not more adjustments, than the big guys but don’t always get the credit from fans and, to a lesser extent, the media.
So as you go to bed tonight dreaming about first-round byes and warm February nights in Jacksonville, silently thank them.
Thank them and the host of other faceless Patriot coaches and staffers for their hard work, intelligence, preparation, and how they adjust to a game at halftime and put their team in a position to win a huge game.
Depth is critical on the field. It’s also key in the coaching booth.
Fortunately, the 2004 New England Patriots have both.
Idle Zinger thoughts while wondering why they don’t make bands like Night Ranger anymore:
Were you watching the CFL’s Grey Cup Championship last Sunday on NESN? If you did, you would have seen former Patriots pre-season MVP Michael Bishop come on in relief for the champion Toronto Argonauts.
Incidentally, NESN should be given props for their CFL coverage this season. It has been a welcome addition for this Canadian-at-heart.
Tuesday is usually a dead news day around the NFL. Perhaps the only thing worthy of your attention is ESPN2 NFL Live’s “What Were They Thinking?” segment where they show the most bonehead plays of the week. It’s usually even money that the Saints will be featured during the segment.
My sources tell me (Sorry, I’ve always wanted to say that…in truth, it was WEEI) that as part of the new television contract, the NFL is going to add a third Thanksgiving Day game at night. I am going to predict right here and now that if you are a Patriots season ticket holder, within the first few years of this new initiative, you will be cutting your Thanksgiving dinner short to head on out to Foxboro. A past history of Devil-may-care January Saturday night games and an owner who is very influential in the League’s television circles are the reasons for my prediction. Sure it would be a feather in the cap for the Patriots organization but conversely it will be a real inconvenience for loyal season ticket holders.
I took in the thrashing of BC by Syracuse last Saturday at Alumni Stadium. Let me say this: Despite the play on the field, it was a refreshing experience to take in this game as I have never been to one there before. Combine the absence of obnoxious music and video clips with the lack of alcohol sales and you have yourself a family atmosphere where the focus is on the playing field and not on the extra-curricular activities we see at the pro level.
The other thought that occurred to me while at the Heights was how nice it was to have a marching band perform at halftime. When was the last time we saw that simple pleasure in Foxboro? As a trivial aside, I once impressed the future Mrs. Rousseau when I disclosed to her early on in our relationship that I remembered the Dennis-Yarmouth High marching band entertaining me during an early 1980s game at then-Schaefer Stadium. The former Dolphin was so impressed that she married me.
Well, maybe it was for more than that……but you never know.
And please don’t write in accusing me of going geriatric on you. I like “Crazy Train” just as much as the next guy. I’m just saying it was a nice change.
A quick thank you to the gang at WMTW Channel 8 in Portland. They made my first live television experience a pleasant and enjoyable one. You’ll have one more chance to see me walk the high-wire this season when “Pats Game Day” makes its return as a pre-game show before the MNF game against the Dolphins on December 20th.
And even if you “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” I would still like to hear from you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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