December 11, 2005
Charger Choke Prevents Division Clinching
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- This is why Tom Brady took such exception to Marty Schottenheimer back in October.
Whatever Brady might have said to denounce Schottenheimer’s remarks about the Patriots being too injured to beat his San Diego Charger squad in Week 4, here is what he was really saying: You can’t carry Bill Belichick’s jock as a head coach. So shut up and keep your mouth shut until when and if you actually win something someday.
Schottenheimer was merely being polite in commenting on the 41-17 pasting his Chargers laid on the Patriots back on October 2, snapping a home win streak for the Patriots that went back to December 22, 2002. What Brady, and all the Patriots for that matter were thinking, was that Schottenheimer is more of a playoff choke specialist than a good head coach, and therefore has no reason to say anything whatsoever about a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego showed why Brady got mad over those comments. Needing to beat Miami to keep their playoff hopes alive, as well as to hand the AFC East title to the Patriots, the Chargers instead came out like a team looking forward to next week’s game at Indianapolis. Add that to an atrocious decision to go for it on a fourth down late in the first half, and you get a 23-21 Miami win which may have doomed the Charger season. The Chargers should have throttled the weak Dolphin offense at home, but instead Gus Frerotte wound up looking like Peyton Manning for most of the contest, hitting on 14 of 22 passing for 229 yards and two touchdowns.
We make a big deal out of this because this is the only thing that went wrong for the Patriots on Sunday. A division title seemed almost inevitable after a convincing and dominating 35-7 win at Ralph Wilson Stadium over the Buffalo Bills, a team considered dangerous at home but also a team in turmoil, what with the suspension of Eric Moulds and the growing dissatisfaction over head coach Mike Mularkey and general manager Tom Donahoe.
Amidst a gentle snowfall and a playing field more white than green, the Patriots played a near-perfect game and totally put the clamps on the Bills. Only two Brady interceptions, a Buffalo touchdown which featured four missed tackles, and two hideously wrong officials’ calls (including Brady being called for a crackback block) hampered the day for the champs. San Diego’s choke job meant that the Patriots will simply need to win at home next week against Tampa Bay to wrap up the division no matter what Miami does.
Brady had a terrific day despite the two interceptions, which both proved harmless and one of them was not his fault (a tipped ball by Mike Cloud which happened to find its way into the arms of London Fletcher). It was also a painful day for Brady, as he appeared to injure his lower left leg on a three-yard first quarter touchdown run. He hobbled for the rest of the game, and Doug Flutie came in for the final two offensive series with the score 28-0 at the time.
Take away the two interceptions, and Brady’s passer rating was 119.2 (it was really 97.4, which is still good). He found eight different receivers, and was pinpoint accurate in snowy conditions. What made most fans thrilled to death is that Brady outrushed the entire Bills team; he had four carries for 17 yards, while the Bills as a team had 12 carries and 14 yards.
What also helped Brady have such a good day was Corey Dillon and his terrific effort. Dillon rushed for 102 yards on 22 carries and a 4.6 average. In typical Dillon fashion, he got most of his yards when the Bill defense was tired and unable to hit back. On Sunday, the Bills looked tired from the get-go.
Brady scored one touchdown (the previously mentioned three-yard run) and threw for two others. He hit Troy Brown from five yards out in the third quarter to make it 21-0 Patriots, then in the fourth hit Christian Fauria in the back of the end zone from two yards out. The running game helped, but what also helped Brady a great deal was the blocking of the offensive line, which gave Brady lots of time to throw most all game long. This is especially notable since Nick Kaczur was a scratch (replaced by Tom Ashworth at left tackle), and Gene Mruczkowski seeing some playing time at left guard in place of Logan Mankins for a time.
Defensively, it was a total stuff job all game long. J.P. Losman threw three interceptions, completed only 10 of 27 passing and had a rating of 33.6. The 1.2 team rushing average was especially pleasing, highlighted by the self-proclaimed best running back in the league, Willis McGahee, rushing for three yards on eight carries. The same intensity and cerebral approach used last week against the Jets was used again on Sunday, and it paid big dividends.
Once again, Ellis Hobbs played a stellar game before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a minor injury. Hobbs had a terrific interception in the third quarter, matching Roscoe Parrish stride for stride on a left sideline go route and making a leaping pick. Assuming Hobbs isn’t terribly hurt, he and Asante Samuel (who also had an interception) are turning into a nice corner tandem for the Patriots, and are picking just the right time of the season to jell.
James Sanders had the third and final pick. Midway through the final quarter, the Bills wasted a 43-yard punt return by Parrish. Beginning at the Patriot 49, Losman dropped back and fired a pass over the middle. Tedy Bruschi tipped the pass up in the air, and the ball floated into the hands of the rookie Sanders. He galloped untouched 39 yards for the final Patriot touchdown. Brady was so happy after this touchdown that he began dancing Ty Law style on the sidelines.
The only thing that ruined a Patriot shutout was a kooky play two plays after the Sanders pick. Perched once again near midfield, Losman tossed a right flat pass to Josh Reed on second down and ten from the Buffalo 49. He slipped by Michael Stone, blew past Rosevelt Colvin, and took off across the field towards the left sideline. Once there, he cut back right, ran through Samuel and shook off a bump by Eugene Wilson for a 51-yard touchdown to cut the Patriot lead to 35-7.
Again, you can say that this win rings hollow since the Bills are a bad team. This was clearly a better opponent on paper than the Jets, and at home the Bills figured to play the Patriots very tough. What should make Patriot Nation happy is that the Patriots dictated the game to the Bills all afternoon long, and turned it into a rout. It was, as CBS analyst Randy Cross said, “more about the Patriots playing well than it was about the Bills playing badly”.
Tampa Bay will present a much tougher test at home next week. If something special is in the offing, you’ll know by then.
And relying on Schottenheimer’s coaching ability won’t matter at all.
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