August 27, 2010
Ever Heard Of A Preseason Trap Game?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Were the Patriots that disinterested in the St. Louis Rams? How else do you explain it?
The third preseason game is the "dress rehearsal" game. It gives the best harbinger of what's to come in the regular season. So on Thursday night, the Patriots give up 426 yards of total offense at home to a 1-15 team which featured Sam Bradford and a bunch of nobodies. Is this what we can expect from the 2010 Patriots?
Bill Belichick was visibly disgusted at the game. In his postgame presser, he came up with 20 to 25 different ways of saying "We didn't play well at all." At times he condemned his coaching, and on another occasion he came up with the line of the evening: "In a game with no defense, we played less." That pretty much summarizes the 36-35 preseason loss to the lowly Rams, a game which really should have been a Patriot win if the scrubs don't allow 9 late points, including a 37-yard walkoff field goal by Josh Brown to win the game for the visitors.
Belichick can put any adverse spin on the game, but there are really two conclusions that can be drawn from a game like Thursday night's.
First of all, the Patriots simply encountered a trap game.
Second of all, as good as Bradford played, if you think the Rams are that much better than last year, you probably also think that the Lions will wind up in the Super Bowl against the Raiders.
For each of the last two weeks, the Patriots played two teams which are far superior on paper than the Rams. You had the Super Bowl champion Saints at home, then you had the Falcons on the road. In both cases the Patriots got to practice during the week with their opponents. Even in steamy suburban Atlanta last week, the Patriots outplayed the Falcons in every way possible.
This week, you got the worst team in the NFL in 2009 (yes, even worse than Detroit) at home without a week to get used to the team in practice. The Patriots simply could not get up for this game. Your team could not deal with such guys as Michael Hoomanawanui, Thaddeus Lewis and Keith Toston, guys who will never remind you of Ernie Conwell, Marc Bulger or Marshall Faulk. If these guys are tearing up your defense, the defense is simply not up to this game or not into it at all.
Playing vanilla? Perhaps. But in years past, you do see more intensity and better games in Week 3 of the preseason. You did see a run of three straight touchdowns by the Patriot offense to assume a 35-27 fourth quarter lead. But defensively, you saw nothing at all. No intensity, no order, no scheming, no execution, nothing other than a bunch of guys who can't wait until September 12th and hoping they didn't wind up like Ram WR Donnie Avery, carted off the field with a serious knee injury in the second quarter.
No. This was not a case of a suddenly terrific Ram offense sending a message to the rest of the league. It was a Patriot team which did not feel like blowing a poor overmatched Rams team off the field. You could have taken the winless 2008 Lions and they would have done well against this Ram team. The Patriots are not going to be among the best defensive teams in the league, but they are not this bad.
What may be going on, and this may be a reach, is that Belichick didn't want to use an inferior team to showcase anything an opponent can gameplan for in the regular season. So they cut a stinker for the most part, let Tom Brady air it out for a little while just to have fun, then bring in Brian Hoyer to help get the game over with. While the rest of the conference may be wondering what's up with the poor Patriots, Belichick may want his conference mates to think just that. The coach then puts on his best poker face in his postgame presser and everyone falls for it, hook, line and sinker.
Oh by the way, on the very same evening, the Indianapolis Colts gave up 59 points to the Green Bay Packers. Make of that what you will.
Bradford may turn out to be the real deal, and good for him. Winning the Heisman Trophy in 2008 and then coming back to an injury plagued 2009 season at Oklahoma, it was laudable for Bradford to return to college for another season (as did Tim Tebow at Florida and Colt McCoy at Texas), but it was a gamble which almost cost him a lot of money. He was drafted first anyway, and showed Patriot Nation quite a bit on Thursday night. He was 15 of 22 passing for 189 yards and two touchdowns, both of them to Hoomanawanui. He passed with confidence all evening long, but with nil for a pass rush, how couldn't he feel comfortable?
As soon as Bradford hits the regular season, and teams come after him in earnest, he will soon find out what he's really in for. And he won't be chirping about how much "fun" he's having, either. The loss of Avery will hurt the Rams a great deal, and make it even tougher for Bradford to break into the NFL not feeling like Matthew Stafford last year in Detroit. This is a Rams team which needs a lot more work and a lot more personnel to come on board.
In addition to Bradford being the real deal, the same can be said for head coach Steve Spagnuolo, coming back to his home turf after helping the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl three seasons ago. Spagnuolo is from Springfield and lists such institutions as Springfield College, UConn and UMass on his resume. Spagnuolo has his work cut out for him, but Bradford is his cornerstone, his key building block. If he can somehow work out a way to not get him killed by his offensive line and build it up over the years, eventually the Rams will return to their glory days of Kurt Warner and The Greatest Show On Turf, or at least close to it.
The Patriots will finish the preseason next week at the Meadowlands, in that brand new New York palace against the Giants. The fourth game is basically a final audition for the scrubs, so don't expect to see Brady, Wes Welker, or anyone of long term significance in the game. This really will be the game you saw last night, or at least it darned well should be.
If you feel worried over the Patriots, in reality you really cannot make much out of last night at all. In a real game, the Patriots probably still play the Rams soft but perhaps don't yield quite so much on defense. It is understandable to watch the Patriots play uninspired in this type of setting, choosing instead to work on certain packages rather than trying to blow a bad team out of Gillette Stadium.
So watch next week if you are a personnel junkie, root for your favorite scrub, and pray for no repeat of 1989, where three starters went out for the season in the exhibition finale.
And relax. Laurence Maroney didn't play, and he's not concerned. Should you be?
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