September 09, 2005
Don't Read Too Much Into Opening Night Win
BY: Kevin Rousseau
Was it opening night jitters or is this a sign that success will be harder to come by for the 2005 New England Patriots?
Who knows? You could slice this Patriots 30-20 victory over the Raiders anyway that you want depending on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.
On the one hand, Tom Brady and the offense were in control of the tempo most of the night and were able to get a couple of key second half scores to put the game out of reach. Yet, conversely, the running game frighteningly looked Cleveland Brown-like. Either the Raiders rush defense has turned into the 1985 Chicago Bears or the Patriots have some problems with their running game. Consider 31 attempts for 73 total rushing yards (a cool 2.4 yard average) and a long run of a whopping ten yards. At one point Corey Dillon had 11 rushing attempts for 11 whole yards. Does that sound like a Super Bowl champ to you?
And when was the last time you remember the Pats defense allowing 5.6 yards per play? On the other hand, they were four-for-five in the red zone and made the game-turning play (the Jarvis Green hit on Kerry Collins and subsequent Vince Wilfork interception) that they have become famous for in the last few years.
Clearly, this wasn’t a Picasso performance by the local eleven but perhaps you can hang it up to opening night jitters. One belief that I hold to be self-evident is that the first game of the NFL season is always overrated. Consider the Lawyer Milloy-lead Bills 31-0 thrashing of the Pats in 2002. History showed us that the Patriots went on to win their second of three Super Bowls that year. Conversely, who could forget the opening night thrashing of the Steelers the year before. The Pats looked like world beaters on the evening that Gillette Stadium opened up. Unfortunately, it turned out that they were not world beaters but just a little above average that season, finishing with a 9-7 record.
The point is this: Don’t read too much one way or another into the first weekend of the NFL season. There are always upsets that surprise us and injuries that turn conventional wisdom on its head. But over the course of the next four months, this stuff has a Darwinian-like evolutionary way of sorting itself out.
Sure, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in first game. After all, if we put it into baseball terms, one football game roughly equals ten baseball games. That is precisely why the NFL is such a decent entertainment value. You’re not wedded to 162 evenings in the case of baseball or 82 in the case of basketball or hockey. All they ask of us is three hours once a week. That’s it. Last time I checked, that was about the equivalent of one God-awful meeting at work.
And then we have all week to break it down and build up the hype for next game.
The trouble with opening night is that this “week” has lasted roughly the previous seven months as we have micro-analyzed every signing, cut and draft pick to a mind-numbing degree. In my view, the first games of the NFL season still feel like Christmas. I have been waiting all year for the gifts and now we get to slowly unwrap them over the course of 16 weeks.
So whether you want to see the good or the bad (or a little of both-my vote) in the Patriots 30-20 win over the Raiders Thursday night, you have to realize that when the story of this season is written in a few months, this game will mean very little.
Are there areas to be addressed as the Pats head into a stretch where they face the Panthers, Steelers and Chargers? Based on what we saw, you bet. The running game stunk about as bad as a fast food restaurant bathroom after an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Special teams looked like a fire drill. And I kept waiting for Tedy Bruschi to make a big play on third and short (He didn’t; and often times his teammates didn’t either).
”Pour me a little more of that Kool-Aid I’ve been drinking, Mr. Belichick. I’d say that glass is half-full.”
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