September 18, 2005
Wake Up, Patriots Fans. We Have Some Issues.
BY: Kevin Rousseau
There’s Patriot blood in the NFL shark tank and the Carolina Panthers made the incision on Sunday with their 27-17 rout of the three-time Super Bowl champs.
Forget champs. The Pats looked like chumps against the Panthers. For sure, there’s quite a bit to chomp on if you are still interested in dissecting this one. Oh, and it doesn’t get any better this coming week as we will be subjected to hyped-up Steeler fans and a warm Heinz Field welcome on Sunday.
So, let me start by asking you this. Just when did the Patriots turn into a JV football team when it comes to team discipline and taking penalties? 12 yellow flags for 86 yards was a maddening site for sure. But what was even more alarming was the fact that most of them were not physical penalties (i.e. pass interference, holding, etc.) but were of the mental/lack of discipline sort. For example, Rodney Harrison makes a key stop on Stephen Davis early in the third quarter but then decides to put a cherry on top of the play by ripping off his helmet for good measure. Or how about more false starts than I had during my dating career when I was single?
In the grand scheme, the result of many a NFL game is decided by, say, ten “big plays” throughout the course of the game. For the past few years, the Patriots usually made far more of these “big plays” than did their opponents. On Sunday (and to a lesser extent against the Raiders), the team looked, well, average.
My, what a menu to choose from. How about an early Duane Starks interception that was negated by a Rosevelt Colvin hands to the face penalty? Or the Chris Gamble punt return that set up a late first half Carolina touchdown? You may want to consider a host of overthrown balls by the normally sure-handed Tom Brady on critical third downs throughout the game.
There is no question that Monsieur Brady has spoiled us when it comes to third down efficiency over the last four years. Last year, the Pats converted 45% of the time. On Sunday, it was a very uncool 29% (4-14). Carolina wasn’t much better at 5-14 for 36%. But didn’t it feel like whenever a conversion had to be made, somehow Jake Delhomme made the plays? Such as a third and 16, third quarter completion to Ricky Proehl that help set up a John Kasay 52 yard field goal.
Conversely, Brady didn’t look his normally sharp self at all. Rather, he appeared hurried, confused and angry most of the day. Passes that he normally makes with ease - like a missed first quarter, third down pass to Ben Watson - were non-existent on Sunday.
Without question, most of Brady’s frustration was due to Carolina’s aggressive defensive game plan. Taking a page out of the Raiders’ game plan, the Panthers shut down Corey Dillon and the Patriots running game early and then did what most teams over the course of the past few years have not been able to do successfully. And that was blitzing a passing Brady successfully.
And then mix in game-ending injuries to cornerback Randall Gay, guard Stephen Neal and punter Josh Miller and it was heckuva way to spend a September afternoon, now wasn’t it?
Perhaps, some good can come out of this debacle. Maybe, we will finally appreciate the near perfection of the last two years. And that, in turn, will realistically lower our standards for this upcoming season. And please allow me to whisper this into your ear: Most fans would be thrilled with an 11-5 team. There’s not a lot wrong with that, you know.
But before we collectively jump off a bridge and proclaim the run of Boston sports nirvana over, let’s remember a few facts. 1) It was a loss to an NFC team on a day when the Pats AFC East rivals didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory either. 2) By the time November rolls around, you’ll hardly remember week 2 of the NFL schedule. And 3) historically, the Patriots under Bill Belichick have responded well after an embarrassing loss. Last year, it was the blowout of the Rams after the Halloween disaster in Pittsburgh and the late-season win at the Jets after the Monday Night Meltdown in Miami.
And finally, just maybe we now care a little bit more than we did before Sunday’s loss. Let’s face it. We’ve all collectively been a little casual about this season. With the Steelers coming up and lots of questions left to be answered, I’m junking the polo shirt and tan slacks for a dark suit and tie.
Hopefully, the Steelers won’t dress down the Pats. If that were to happen this, we would again be subjected to taunting from a fan base that hasn’t seen its team win a Super Bowl since the Carter administration. And we all know how much fun that can be.
Time to get serious, Pats fans. Let me help fix that necktie of yours.
Idle Zinger thoughts while waiting for Roxette to get their rightful call into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame:
Take a time-honored tip from your pal, Kev. Never pick against Tampa Bay or Miami at home in September or Detroit on Thanksgiving. Witness the Denver loss to the Fins in Week One and the Bills loss to the Bucs on Sunday.
And speaking of the Bills, losing never looked so good in those 1965 throwback uniforms. Here’s my vote for a permanent switch from their current Spiderman pajama uniforms.
Incidentally, why do the throwback versions usually look so much sharper than the Madison Avenue modern unis?
For example, the Arizona Cardinals are the latest example of taking a bland uniform and making it worse by trying to make it better.
I suspect that I am not the only American (or Canadian, for that matter) who takes a copy of CNNSi.com Peter King’s MMQB column and heads for the john at about 11 a.m. on Monday mornings.
What would you pay to hook up ESPN’s Steve Young and Tom Jackson to a lie detector and ask them what they really think of their Sunday NFL Countdown colleague, Michael Irvin.
A colleague of mine lamented how Irvin sends the wrong message to impressionable youth - in this case, his son - with his viewpoints and continued defense of questionable player conduct. Wake up, ESPN. He’s dragging the best pre-game show down quickly.
Deion Sanders looks like a 1973 Willie Mays out there trying to cover receivers such as Brandon Stokley on third downs.
Finally, this Tuesday September 20th, Sirius NFL Radio (Channel 124) will be having a radiothon and auction for Katrina victims. Yet another good reason to take the plunge into satellite radio.
This column also appears in the American Journal (Westbrook/Gorham, Maine), the Current (Scarborough/Cape Elizabeth/South Portland, Maine), the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly (Windham/Naples, Maine), the Citizen (Sacopee Valley, Maine), the Reporter (Waterboro/Hollis, Maine), the Sun Chronicle (Saco/Old Orchard Beach, Maine), and online at VillageSoup.com (Belfast, Camden, Rockland, Maine).
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