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October 09, 2005
Ups and Downs Will Be The Norm This Year
BY: Kevin Rousseau

“This is a team that believes a lot in itself, even if other people don’t.”-Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick after his team’s 31-28 win against the Falcons.

If you are going to follow the 2005 New England Patriots for the rest of this season, a good bit of amnesia might help.

You will need to erase the last two years of near perfection from your memory. Forget all of the big plays that the defense typically makes late in the fourth quarter. Forget all of the run stuffing that you have come to expect from the Pats. It’s just not going to be there this year.

While you’re at it, you might want to wipe away the notion of Tom Brady ending the game with a clean uniform thanks to his near-impermeable offensive line. And most of all, erase the memories of easy victories, domination, and first-round byes.

As the Smithereens once hummed, they’re only a memory.

In their place, try to remember that success in the NFL is somewhat a battle of attrition. And be mindful that with all of the injuries the 2005 Patriots have suffered, a lot (and man, do I mean a lot!) of rookies and second-year players are being forced into a baptism by fire. Just how bad is it? Center Dan Koppen, in just his third season, is the dean of the offensive line as presently constituted and two rookies are protecting The Franchise’s blind side. How maddening it must be for a NFL team’s brass to spend all off-season improving their roster and then see it all wiped away thanks to a torn ACL.

Due to the acquired good taste of a Patriots’ fan, it’s hard to keep in perspective that the current lineup in the secondary is an even more hodge-podge outfit than the one we saw last year; especially when they were making Matt Schaub look like Dan Fouts. When you are leaning on rookies Guss Scott and James Sanders to make plays, all you can really do is close your eyes and hope for the best.

I’m afraid that, for better or for worse, games like the 31-28 victory over the Falcons on Sunday are going to be the norm for the Pats this season. It’s just about a guarantee that they’ll give you everything that they got. Some days it will be good enough. Other times, they’ll look woefully overmatched as they did against the Chargers.

Perhaps 10-6 or 9-7 will have to be the revised expectation for this season. Don’t worry. That should still be good enough to win the AFC East.

Of course, the flip side of turning the Patriots trainer’s area into a NFL-style M*A*S*H unit is that when Randall Gay, Matt Light, Richard Seymour, Kevin Faulk and the like do return, the Patriots will have some instant, serious depth at the presently weak areas of the squad.

If the Patriots can go into Mile High and beat the Broncos this coming Sunday (Are they in the AFC East? They play there every year), the team will somehow head into the bye week at 4-2 and in a position to right the ship as the weather starts to turn cold. Keep in mind that a famous philosopher (Chris Mortensen) once said that to draw conclusions about teams before November is a foolish practice to engage in. Listen to the wise man.

As for the game, Falcon fans will surely stream onto message boards and argue “If Michael Vick plays, we win that game running away.” With all due respect to Rick Pitino, Steve Bartkowski and Jamal Anderson aren’t walking through that door. You can try that junk on Bucs or Panthers fans but not on us. Nobody -especially in national media circles - feels sorry for the current health of the Patriots, so why should the Pats have to apologize for winning a game on the road?

This game had something for both the optimists and pessimists among us. We could debate the Patriots inability to hang onto leads of 14 and 15 points respectively. Or we could talk about how they put up 491 yards of offense against a supposedly very good defense in their own house. Let’s have a coffee and chat about the lingering effect of 11 penalties for 84 yards. Take your pick.

Yet despite all that has changed from a year ago, one fact remains self-evident and comforting. Namely, when a game needs to be won on a last-second drive or field goal, you can take anybody else in the 86 year history of the NFL (including Mr. Montana and Jerry Rice); I’ll take Tom Brady and Adam Vinatieri every time.

Brady and Vinatieri - like Big Papi and Larry Bird - thrive for that last shot, at bat or kick. As a fan, it’s a joy to watch such a performance time after time. Such displays are the ones that will stick in our heads for the rest of our lives and will be immortalized on all of those over-priced DVDs that we dutifully buy.

The 2005 chameleon Patriots should be grateful for one cold, hard football fact: The more things change from year to year, some things just won’t change. Just look up T. Brady and A. Vinatieri in your NFL book of truths and you’ll see what I mean.

Idle Zinger thoughts while wondering just how in the world I got hooked on “Martha Stewart Apprentice:”

Mrs. Rousseau had been clamoring for me to take her to a game for some time. I tried to get her to take the bait on a pre-season game, but that dog didn’t hunt. So we proceeded to take in the 41-17 loss to the Chargers a few weeks back. It must be more than a coincidence that the last time the Pats gave up at least 41 points at home was also the last time that she took in a game: 11/8/98, the Falcons beat the Pats 41-10. If you’re keeping score at home, that was 53 regular season games ago!

But don’t cry for her. Her world-famous bye-week guest column is being worked on as we speak and promises not to disappoint. And please, don’t send her any amusing stories about me for her usage as you have done in the past. She has enough indicting material.

Have you seen this NESN program “Tales From Red Sox Nation?” It’s a bunch of teary-eyed, fun stories regarding such things like giving Hawk Harrelson a ride to Anthony’s Pier 4 back in 1967.

Let’s face it. Compared to the history of the Sox, the Pats just don’t stack up. What would we put on the air? How about that time while working at a Foxboro supermarket as teenagers, my best friend Bill and I ran up to Jim Bowman and started screaming like schoolgirls: “Fumble recovery in the end zone against the Raiders in ’85! You were awesome, man!”?

Given the fact that the Patriots franchise is a money making machine, it amazes me that the throwback Pat Patriot uniforms don’t get aired out once a year.

Is anybody else ready to storm City Hall over the fact that the radio broadcast isn’t synched up to the television feed?

Why on a 4th and inches would you not show a five receiver set to spread out the defense?

As time moves on, it gets harder and harder to remember just how explosive that Rams team was heading into Super Bowl XXXVI.


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