December 26, 2005
The Patriots Train Picks Up Steam
BY: Kevin Rousseau
Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.
-- “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J.”
Someone once asked the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, what was the secret that made him so exceptional. After all, he seemingly had the ability to have the puck find him in advantageous spots. His answer to the question was short and simple.
"Don't go where the puck is; go where the puck is going," said the Great One.
Patriot Nation is showing a similar tact over the coming weeks. Monday’s blowout over the Jets was cute, next Sunday’s tilt against the Dolphins will be just fine and a Wild Card showdown at home against the Jaguars should be doable. But aren’t we all collectively skating towards the weekend of January 14-15 and a date with the Colts? Bill Belichick and his players might be taking it one day at a time, but we sure aren’t. Anyone who says otherwise is fibbing.
But before we get to a broader discussion on this January date with destiny, let’s dispose of a few thoughts on the 31-21 domination of the Jets. For all of us East Coasters complaining that MNF end too late, the Patriots did us a favor and ended this one by 9:30 p.m. How about 13 first downs in the first half for the Pats and a big, fat zero for the Jets? Or allowing a cool 40 Jet rushing yards for the entire game? And to think that the Meadowlands banned the sale of beer for the Jets faithful for this game.
The obvious goal of this game was to establish a running game that can be relied upon for the playoffs. Without it, any semblance of a berth in the Super Bowl would be ludicrious. It’s a pretty simple equation, really. It’s not so much the total rushing yardage (50 attempts for 151 yards), but time of possesion (43 minutes to the Jets’ 17 minutes) and the physical pounding an opposing defense takes in the process. The more effective the Patriots running game, the greater the chances for a championship defense to sprout up in time for the NFL’s playoff harvest. As we saw on Monday, a well-rested defense puts pressure on opposing offenses and has plenty of gas for the 4th quarter.
However, the other goal for the Patriots heading into this game was not necessarily accomplished. In an exhibition game such as the one we witnessed, the goal besides tuning up for the regular season-or in this case the post-season-is to remain injury-free. Just when the Patriots’ inactive list was finally a bunch of healthy scratches for the most part, Asante Samuel and Mr. Everything Tedy Bruschi got knocked out of the game with a head and knee injury respectively. Raise your hand if you are comfortable with having Monty Beisel patrolling the middle of the defense against the Jaguars or Colts. Come on, I’m still waiting…
Back to the issue that really matters, it’s destiny for the Colts and Pats to meet again and settle their differences once and for all. This thing between the Horshoes and the Flying Elvii is turning into an Ali-Frazier, Sox-Yankees style rivalry. Like in 2004 when the Red Sox played 162 regular season games and three divisional playoff games all as a tune-up for their rematch with the Yankees, this Patriots season has suddenly turned into a 16 regular-season-and-one-wild-card-game sparring session in preparation for the main event. Anything less than a prize fight with the Colts would be a disappointment because, let’s face it, whoever wins that game (just like in the past two years) will likely win the whole enchilada at Super Bowl XL.
It’s hard to believe that I just typed those previous words. A month ago, the Patriots looked awful in Kansas City and kept crummy teams like the Saints around way too long. Like a lot of you I suspect, I now catch myself thinking the unimaginable just for a second or two before regaining my senses.
“Can this team, despite a questionable secondary and a deep AFC field, make it to the Super Bowl and have a chance to be the first team since the 1967 Green Bay Packers to win three straight championships?” Think about all of the great coaches, teams and players since then that haven’t done it. There’s Don Shula, the Steelers in the 70s, Joe Montana, Joe Gibbs, the Cowboys of the 90s and Bill Parcells to name a few.
Immortality is an often overused, inflated word when used as an adjective to describe sporting events. But I suspect that it won’t be if the Patriots have another duck boat tour down Boylston and up Tremont come early February. Obviously, there’s a lot that has to happen between now and then and there is a good chance the Patriots will come up short this year. This tension in your mind is addictive at this time of the year.
Because when your team is suddenly in the hunt, and with apologies to Andy Williams, it is indeed “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Idle Zinger thoughts while thinking that I’ve seen one too many of those Momma McNabb Campbell’s Chunky Soup ads:
Another thing I’ve had enough of is the overuse of the word “warrior” during broadcasts.
And while I’m at it, I’ve really had enough of the alarming trend of more defensive backs standing with their hands on their hips looking down on a fallen, opposing receiver. That should get fifteen yards every time.
Oh, and one last rant. Owners on the sidelines. Do you realize just how silly you look when your team/investment blows a late lead and is bounced out of playoff contention like it was last Saturday, Arthur Blank (owner of the Falcons)?
One of the nuggets out of David Halberstam’s outstanding new book “The Education of a Coach” is that Paul Brown patented the facemask and got a royalty off of everyone sold.
You know you got it bad this time of the year when AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock” comes on the Sirius satellite radio on the way into work and you stay in your car for an extra minute waiting for the song to finish up.
Nobody wrote a better post-game analysis and story better than Will McDonough. Period.
This trend towards scheduling cold weather night games late in the season may look cute to someone sitting on a barca lounger in Fort Lauderdale but it’s a heckuva way for the NFL to stick it to its paying customers in said jurisdictions. What other business would do this to its customers?
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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