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October 26, 2008
Patriots Overcome Horrific Third Quarter
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

FOXBOROUGH -- Bill Belichick will be thinking about that onside kick for perhaps the rest of the season.

Having just punched the St. Louis Rams in the stomach to end the first half with a late field goal to take a 13-10 lead, the Patriots were all set to receive the second half kickoff. The Rams lined up, but with the kick coverage heading downfield with their backs to the kickoff team, Josh Brown popped up a little pooch kick to the right side with no one noticing. Travis Minor fell on the ball at the Ram 41 and it was the Rams who had the ball to start the second half, not the Patriots.

That the Patriots were able to prevail in the end, 23-16 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium is a testimonial to the team not buckling under or losing their poise over a potentially game-changing play. The Patriot offense basically went into the tank in the third quarter following that onside kick, but of greater consequence was the fact that St. Louis was only able to muster two field goals in the second half when the Patriots were doing everything in their power to hand them chance after chance to open up a big lead.

Following the onside kick, the Rams gained only six yards and went three and out. The Patriots took over and drove 24 yards to their own 34. Matt Cassel then tried to hit Randy Moss on a deep left flat route. The ball, thrown right to Moss, deflected up in the air either by Moss or by defender Fakhir Brown, and settled into the arms of O.J. Atogwe.

The Rams drove only 17 yards, and Josh Brown was able to connect on a 44-yard field goal to tie the game at 13. Cassel got the ball back at his own 25, and three plays later hit Wes Welker on a nice quick screen left for 20 yards to get the Patriots to the Ram 44. On the next play, Cassel tried to hit Welker on a deep crossing pattern going to the left. But Welker fell down just as the ball reached him, and Fakhir Brown was able to make the interception.

Given another gift from the Patriots, Torry Holt dropped a key sideline reception which would have been a first down and the Rams went three and out. The Patriots got the ball back at their own 32 and drove to the Ram 36, facing third down and one.

It is a well-known fact that the Patriots are decimated at running back, and it forced them to use BenJarvus Green-Ellis in situations that either Sammy Morris or Laurence Maroney would be used in. Green-Ellis, who looks like the second coming of Sedrick Shaw, failed twice to pick up the first down on left tackle runs, runs which were there last Monday night against Denver. The three offensive possessions for New England in the third quarter were interception, interception and downs.

After Green-Ellis was stopped on fourth and one by Clifton Ryan, the Rams were able to drive from their 36 to the Patriot 7, and a 25-yard field goal by Josh Brown gave the Rams a 16-13 lead. The ensuing possession by the Patriot offense resulted in only a seven-yard sack of Cassel, by rookie Chris Long (son of Howie). The Rams got the ball back at their own 20, a three-point lead in the fourth quarter, and a Patriot team that was wondering what happened to their offense which had been doing rather well in the first half but abysmal in the second half.

After reading up to this point, you might think that Cassel had a bad day. He actually played well, as neither interception was really his fault. His one and only truly bad throw of the day was at the two-minute warning in the first half, when Fakhir Brown dropped what should have been an end zone interception, and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 30-yard field goal two plays later that at the time tied the game at 10. Otherwise, Cassel threw the ball well all game long, didn't hold the ball as long as he did in the Denver game, displayed good poise and looked very comfortable out there.

In addition to the running back position being depleted, the secondary took some hits on the injury front. Deltha O'Neal went out with a head injury on the first offensive possession for the Rams. Ellis Hobbs, who was torched all game long by Donnie Avery and continues to make Patriot fans pine for Asante Samuel, was hurt midway through the fourth quarter. Avery burned Hobbs on a 69-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the second quarter, and also hauled in a 44-yard bomb late in the third quarter at the expense of Hobbs. The second round pick out of Houston had six catches for 163 yards.

This helped Marc Bulger to amass 301 yards passing, despite completing only 16 of 34 passes. Keenan Burton, another rookie, caught two passes for 41 yards, both in the first half. Another element which helped the passing game was the running of Antonio Pittman, filling in for the injured Stephen Jackson. He rushed 19 times for 83 yards, and helped open up the passing game for Bulger.

The Rams are better since the firing of Scott Linehan three weeks ago, as the Rams posted wins over Washington and Dallas in the last two weeks under former Saints head coach Jim Haslett. But the Rams couldn't close the deal on Sunday against the Patriots, and when things came down to clutch time, the Patriots finally delivered like they are supposed to do, even in their current dilapidated state.

Leading 16-13 early in the fourth quarter and after the Patriots went three and out following Brown's third field goal, the Patriots were able to hold the Rams three and out as well, thanks to a fierce pass rush and a dropped pass by Dan Kreider. They got the ball at their own 48, drove to the Ram 24 and Gostkowski tied the game with a 41-yard field goal.

A sack by Ty Warren on Bulger helped end the next Ram possession without a first down, and the Patriots began the game-winning drive at their own 47, playing the field position game to the hilt. Cassel hit Randy Moss for 23 yards on a quick left slant route following a sack by Long (despite being held by Matt Light), then caught another slant route for 8 yards. Two first down runs by Kevin Faulk set the Patriots up at the Ram 15-yard line. Faulk then lined up at left wideout, ran a go route to the end zone, and Cassel launched a beautiful touch pass to Faulk, who outreached Pisa Tinoisamoa for the ball and a 23-16 Patriot lead.

An interception by O'Neal, who was able to return, ended the subsequent drive and sealed the game for the Patriots.

Cassel had a career-high 267 yards passing on 21 of 33 completions. Moss and Welker each had seven catches, Moss gaining 102 yards. Faulk had 107 all-purpose yards, having to shoulder a lot of the rushing burden thanks to the ineffectiveness of Green-Ellis.

With Miami beating Buffalo, the Patriots moved into a first place tie in the AFC East. The Patriots will head for brand new Lucas Oil Stadium next week for their annual tilt with the Indianapolis Colts, who have to play at undefeated Tennessee Monday night. If nothing else, this win over the Rams in which the visitors played good but just well enough to lose will help buoy them in their annual duel with Peyton Manning, though the Colts haven't been themselves this year due to key injuries.

We know one thing. If Adam Vinatieri tries an onside kick in the middle of the game, Belichick's troops will be ready.


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