December 23, 2007
Patriots Perched On Doorstep Of History
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Write the second half off as a bad dream. Pretend it didn't happen. Then you'll feel much better over a 15-0 team than you perhaps do right now.
Looking downright hideous in the second half, spending too much time trying to set a litany of NFL records, Tom Brady and the Patriots played well enough against a terrible Miami Dolphins team to be able to win by three touchdowns nonetheless. The Patriots became the first 15-0 team in NFL history (regular season only) thanks to a 28-7 win over Miami on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, and can make NFL history on Saturday night at Exit 16-W with a win over the Giants in the Joisey swamps. The exit number matches the win season total the Patriots have a chance to attain.
This game was a tale of two completely different halves. In the first half, the Patriots administered the beating they were expected to against Miami. But in the second half, an inspired Miami defense led by perennial Patriot nemeses Jason Taylor and Joey Porter kept the Patriots completely off the scoreboard and forced three Patriot turnovers in the process. The Patriots were fortunate that the Dolphin offense is basically two degrees above deplorable, and were not able to take advantage of the Patriot turnovers at all.
Perhaps that is why the Patriots kept taking so many chances in the second half to try and pad stats and break NFL records. They pretty much knew that the Dolphin offense, led by quarterback Cleo Lemon, wasn't going to make a dent in the Patriot defense. Lemon actually did lead the Dolphins on three long drives, but came out of it with two turnovers on downs inside the Patriot five-yard line and one measly touchdown, a 21-yard pass to Greg Camarillo thanks to Ellis Hobbs turning the wrong way in coverage.
This game was basically about two things: getting to 15 wins and breaking as many team and league records as possible. You the Patriot fan might have come away from this game with a better taste in your mouth if the Patriots hadn't looked so bumbling and inept in the second half in trying to finish what they started in the first half. In the end, all the Patriots got for their trouble was the 15-0 record, and all those hallowed records Tom Brady and Randy Moss will try and break will have to wait six more days until Saturday night.
The first half, though, was a thing of beauty. It was so perfect that the one drive the Patriots didn't score on, the second, ended with a punt despite the Patriots having fourth down and only one yard to go from the Patriot 39. The situation screamed for a "go for it". But the Patriots scored touchdowns on all the other four possessions, and did so rather easily each time.
Moss caught the first two touchdown passes, one from 11 yards out and one from one yard out. This brought him to 21 touchdown catches this season, one away from Jerry Rice's record of 22, set in 1987 (and Rice will spare no expense in letting you know that he set that record in only 12 games, since 1987 was a strike season). Two drives later, Brady threw a long pass down the left sideline which Lance Schulters appeared to have a perfect angle to make the interception. But Schulters inexplicably took a bad angle and Jabar Gaffney wound up somehow catching the ball the instant Schulters passed on by. Gaffney took off untouched down the left sideline for a 48-yard touchdown and the Patriots led, 28-0. This touchdown was the 71st of the season for the Patriots, setting an NFL record, the only league record they managed to break Sunday night.
It didn't seem like it was possible at the time, but the Patriots were done scoring for the day. Miami could do nothing at that time to stop the Patriots. Brady's first half numbers were 14 of 18 for 163 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 144.0. Laurence Maroney was getting in on the fun, setting a career high in rushing yards (156 yards on 14 carries), including two carries of fifty-plus yards, including a strange 59-yard touchdown run on third and inches. On the play, Maroney ran off left tackle, Heath Evans sealed off and there was no second level containment whatsoever. Maroney ran the 59 yards completely untouched.
The second half began nicely, with Wes Welker catching his 101st pass of the season, tying him with Troy Brown (who played today and returned six punts with one muff) for the most catches in a season in team history. But even this record would not fall, as Welker was shut out the rest of the way.
The tide turned two plays after Welker's 101st catch. With his team on the Miami 29, Brady dropped back, pump faked to the left, and threw to the right corner of the end zone where Moss was headed. Jason Allen did not bite on the play fake, and he stepped up and made the interception in the end zone.
The Patriots got the ball back after only five Miami offensive plays. Brady misfired on a pass over the middle to Gaffney, then tried to hit Moss in the right flat. The pass caromed off his fingertips and into the arms of Derrick Pope at the Patriot 46. In three passes, Brady had thrown a pick, an incompletion, and another pick.
Again, the pick didn't hurt the Patriots. Miami drove to the Patriot five and had fourth and goal at the one. Lemon tried to scramble right and run it in, but he went out of bounds at the pylon and did not get the ball to break the plane in bounds. He was ruled out at the one-inch line and the Patriots took over on downs for the second time in the game.
What happened next revealed the true Patriot game plan for this game. Inside their own one, the Patriots ran three straight pass plays, all of which went for incompletions, and two of them with an empty backfield. The first of them was particularly galling, as Moss was called for offensive pass interference. With Taylor and Porter applying lots of pressure during the second half (Porter had two sacks of Brady, Taylor had the other), Brady was hurried often and made some bad throws. But not even attempting to run the ball inside the one was a brazen lack of respect for Miami in general, and a clear message to everyone watching the game that the Patriots wanted to throw the ball around, especially to Moss, and get every chance possible for Brady-Moss touchdown connections.
In the end, they still won, so who cares. The Patriots matched their 2003-04 record of 18 straight regular season wins. They now have their coveted chance to go 16-0 in the regular season. The Giants have zero incentive to win, having won on Sunday at Buffalo to lock themselves into the playoffs, and with Minnesota losing Sunday night, the Giants are set as the fifth playoff seed. Most of Patriot Nation might not get to see the game, unless you have a satellite or get Channel 5 in Boston. But at least the Patriots are now poised to run the table for the regular season.
If they want to add three more games to "running the table" should they beat the Giants, at least records won't matter in the postseason. Winning will then be the number one focus, and then you'll see the Patriots as you've always known them.
Give the Dolphins credit for playing the Patriots tough in the second half. But the Patriots did win. On to the Meadowlands, after Santa pays his annual visit, with a real wonderful Christmas present in everyone's dreams.
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