October 25, 2009
Patriots Pull Off Their Own British Invasion
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
It perhaps wasn't the same when John, Paul, George and Ringo stepped off the plane in New York in 1964 when Tom Brady set foot on UK soil on Saturday morning.
But in USA football circles, Brady enjoys just about the same status as the Fab Four, and on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London, he showed the Britons why he is who he is. Except for two rather ill-advised interceptions, Brady toyed with an overmatched Tampa Bay Buccaneer defense and led the Patriots to a 35-7 win. The Patriots enjoyed another easy match against a winless team for the second week in a row, and while this one wasn't as ridiculous as last week's slaughtering of Tennessee at home in a snowstorm, this one was never in doubt from the start.
In reality, the Patriots did not play a perfect game, and at times looked out of sorts and clumsy. Brady's two picks were lousy throws into double coverage. The Patriots were penalized 10 times for 66 yards, including several holding calls on Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. Though his final numbers were less than spectacular, running back Carnac "Cadillac" Williams might have been used more in the beginning to help establish the passing game. But in the end, Buccaneer quarterback Josh Johnson was no match for the Patriot defense, and Wes Welker was too much for the Buccaneer secondary to contain with any consistency.
The Patriot defense laid down the hammer early on, as both of the first two Tampa Bay drives ended in Brandon Meriweather interceptions. The first one went for a 39-yard touchdown return as he was able to read Johnson in the left flat, step in front of Sammie Stroughter and make the pick and an unobstructed path to the end zone. The second drive ended when Johnson tried to hit Michael Clayton on a deep left sideline pattern, and Meriweather ran it back 31 yards to the Patriot 46.
Following a three-and-out, Brady led the Patriots on a six-play, 67-yard drive thanks largely to a 37-yard deep crossing route to Randy Moss which set up Welker on a left screen pass from 14 yards out to make it 14-0 Patriots in the first quarter. Following another three-and-out, Brady got the ball back and led the Patriots on a three-play, 54-yard lightning bolt drive. After a one-yard loss, Brady found Sam Aiken on a short crossing pattern. Aiken ran all the way across the formation and down the right sideline, where he was able to outrun linebacker Barrett Ruud for a 55-yard touchdown. It was 21-0 Patriots and things were beginning to look like last week's winter wonderland.
But after still another three-and-out by Tampa Bay, Brady got flustered again. On the second play of the next drive, Brady tried to hit rookie Brandon Tate on a deep left sideline route, but again threw into double coverage. Aqib Talib made the interception and returned it 28 yards to the Tampa Bay 41.
But once again Tampa Bay could do nothing with the football, as Johnson was stopped on three offensive plays for the fifth straight drive. The Buccaneers would score on the next drive, as Johnson would lead Tampa Bay on a six-play, 67-yard drive just before halftime. Johnson managed to find Antonio Bryant for a 33-yard score as he was able to beat Darius Butler on a right sideline pattern. It was 21-7 at the half and the Bucs were lucky to not be down worse.
But the Patriots would allow the Bucs no further scoring, and the second half seemed more like a capitulation to the inevitable. The Patriots were able to score on their first possession of the second half despite two holding calls on Sebastian Vollmer, filling in at left tackle for Matt Light. Right after Vollmer's second holding call, with the Patriots facing first and 20 at the Tampa Bay 35, Brady was able to isolate Benjamin Watson on linebacker Geno Hayes for a touchdown. Watson flashed right past Hayes and Brady laid a perfect toss in there for the score.
The Patriots would get their final score in the fourth quarter. This drive went 90 yards in ten plays, with Welker as the featured offensive weapon. Welker caught three second down passes for 13, 15 and 16 yards, and Laurence Maroney ripped off a 13-yard run up the gut to get the Patriots inside the Tampa Bay 5. Maroney scored two plays later on a one-yard run off right tackle, with reserve lineman Dan Connally lined up as a fullback and providing the lead block.
Both teams put in reserve quarterbacks in the fourth quarter, and the game ended with little fanfare other than the better team prevailing in the end. Josh Freeman, the rookie quarterback from Kansas State, played two series for the Buccaneers, while Brian Hoyer did the same for the Patriots.
Despite the two picks, Brady had good numbers on the afternoon (actually, evening in London). Brady was 23 of 32 passing for 308 yards, three touchdowns and the two picks for a 107.3 rating. Welker caught 10 passes for 107 yards. Johnson, meanwhile, had only a 29.2 rating on 9 of 26 passing for 156 yards and three interceptions. Williams had 11 carries for 29 yards, but Derrick Ward outdid him with 48 yards on 13 carries.
Whether or not it is a good idea for NFL teams to come and play here in London is open to debate. It seems like only the league and the owners benefit from this exposure, not the players and coaches. The NFL is trying to expand someday into Europe, but in a part of the world which is more into soccer and cricket than American football, it is hard to fathom what the muss and fuss is all about. Even if London does get an NFL franchise someday, cultivates a fan base and actually becomes a solvent franchise, how will teams like Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco or San Diego feel about a 5,500-mile road trip once every couple of years? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can put one positive spin after another on the supposed benefits from globalization of the league, and Bob Kraft can impress everyone with lavish parties and impeccable schmoozing, but in the end the NFL really doesn't belong here other than in the NFLE.
You might say that, for now, Bill Belichick could care less about the long trip. His team won by 28 against a team it should have beaten by 28. The trip was a success, now his Patriots head home for a week off before welcoming Miami to their crib in two weeks. Belichick gets two weeks to try and figure out the Wildcat offense once again, but at least his trip home from London will be a happy one, if not a completely comfortable one.
A week off. Hmmm. Maybe Brady and his wife Gisele will stay behind just to give the London shutterbugs something to put in their tabloids. A shopping junket at Harrod's, a stroll down the Thames River, a ride on a double-decker bus, sneaking a smooch while checking out Piccadilly Circus. Why not? You might say that Brady has earned a nice little London vacation for his efforts over the last two weeks.
Meanwhile, we assume that all the good people of UKPatriots.com might call this their "finest hour". A great big "Tally ho!" to our brethren across the pond.
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