August 29, 2009
Dress Rehearsal Plays To Mixed Reviews
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
LANDOVER, Md. -- Naturally, all anyone will be concerned with is the condition of Tom Brady's shoulder.
Never mind that the Patriots really don't run block well. Never mind that the defense could only muster three or so decent stands and looked vulnerable otherwise. Never mind that Kevin O'Connell looked worse than your previous visions of Matt Cassel in August. Never mind that Joey Galloway looks more like the Patriot version of John Smoltz than he does the Patriot version of former Redskin speedster Darrell Green.
No, it's all about Brady's shoulder, and what exactly Albert (Vince Wilfork's market setter/main man) Haynesworth did to it with a massive hit late in the first half.
Brady played the first half and looked pretty well, especially when he was able to find Randy Moss. He threw touchdown passes of 26 and 27 yards to his main man, which should have buried the Redskin first unit with ease had the defense not let the home towners back into the game with some lousy pass coverage at inopportune times. The varsity teams played to a 17-17 tie at halftime, and the Patriots prevailed in the end thanks to a late field goal, 27-24. But the focus in the Patriot locker room will likely be Brady and his shoulder first, and all the other stuff second.
Statistically, Brady had a great night. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 150 yards, two touchdowns and a 122.7 passer rating. Moss led the Patriots with six catches for 90 yards and the two scores. Moss looked like his old self all during the first half, and the two touchdowns looked like vintage Brady to Moss. He outleaped DeAngelo Hall to grab the first score, then outran LaRon Landry to snare a perfect lob toss from Brady on the first play of the second quarter. Galloway, meanwhile, caught four passes for 30 yards and has yet to show off his speed skills or any sense of rhythm with Brady, assuming he has either.
But the Haynesworth play was the evening's most significant moment where Brady threw an incompletion to Greg Lewis in the right flat. Just after Brady released the ball, Haynesworth slammed into Brady and flopped on him as they fell to the ground. Brady's right arm was prone as the two men hit the turf, clearly exposing the shoulder to injury.
On the sideline, Brady looked like a relief pitcher warming up in the bullpen, but he did not exhibit any grief or dejection. Still, he never returned to the game in the second half, and O'Connell played all but the final series. All the Patriots would say officially was that he had a "sore shoulder".
Assuming there is nothing wrong with Brady, and assuming this is the last you will see of him until the September 14th opener against Buffalo, the Patriots had several issues which they need to address before things get real. Other than three straight three-and-outs by the defense in the first half, which helped the Patriots build a 17-7 lead, the Patriots did not play real sharp football. They still cannot get the varsity running game untracked, and the pass coverage is still giving up too many key plays.
Laurence Maroney is still showing the annoying penchant for juking too much behind the line of scrimmage. But Fred Taylor didn't fare much better either, as both Taylor and Maroney averaged under three yards per carry. The Patriots continue to portray themselves as an offense which, in priority order, 1) must protect Brady at all costs, 2) must help facilitate Brady's passing attack, and 3) run the ball once in a while just to show the defense something.
Run blocking is based on attitude, and it requires a solid commitment from all offensive linemen. That said, unless the group is saving something for the regular season, you just don't see that attitude when the Patriots run the ball. Maroney continues to be under the microscope, and rightfully so, but you just don't see gaping holes opened up by the front five hardly at all. Instead you see Brady with time to throw and maybe one sack a game. This is like a Nolan Ryan fastball in that you know it's coming and you still cannot hit it, but at some point the Patriots need to get back to the days of "Clock Killin' Corey Dillon" and be able to at least control the clock if they need to.
The Patriots had their foot on the Redskins' throat, but let them back into the game with two key plays in the second quarter. With just over 5 minutes left in the first half, the Patriots had the Redskins pinned at their own 10-yard line, facing a third and nine and their fourth straight three-and-out. Jason Campbell had been flummoxed by the Patriots defense after leading the Redskins on a nifty opening drive for a touchdown. But on this play, he sent Santana Moss in motion to the far side and hit him in the right flat for an inexcusable 11-yard completion and a first down. Brandon Meriweather was in zone coverage and could not make the stop.
On the next play, tight end Chris Cooley lined up on the right side and ran a crossing pattern. The defense totally failed to account for him, and Campbell lofted a perfect pass deep into the secondary. Cooley caught it with no one within 15 yards of him and ran across the formation to the left sideline, sidestepped Leigh Bodden and took off for the end zone. He was tackled finally at the Patriot 6-yard line, having made a 73-yard gain. Campbell ran it in from four yards out three plays later to make it 17-14 Patriots, but these two pass plays made the game tight the rest of the way instead of a Patriot cakewalk. The Patriot front seven played well, with some ferocity at times, but the secondary showed that it still has cracks and prevented this game from being a comfortable win.
The only positive play of note for the Patriots in the second half was a 99-yard interception return by Jonathan Wilhite, but otherwise it was an expose on how substandard O'Connell still looks. O'Connell threw two interceptions in the second half, one of which was off a tip by Chris Baker, but the other one thrown right at Kevin Barnes who was much more open than Sam Aiken was on the right sideline. O'Connell also badly underthrew Aiken on what should have been a gimme third down pass midway through the fourth quarter. A 33-yard punt return by Patrick Chung helped set up Stephen Gostkowski from 31 yards out, and he nailed the game-winner with 12 seconds left.
Brady will likely not play in the preseason finale next Thursday night against the Giants. But all Patriot Nation will be thinking about the shoulder and only the shoulder. And Bill Belichick will keep you wondering all during these next few weeks, because that's exactly what he wants the Buffalo Bills to be doing also.
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