In this space, I could start off throwing bouquets at the defense. I could even begin by talking about how (finally) the Patriots made a commitment to the running game. Or I could talk about the decent job that the new punter, Brooks Barnard, did under terrible conditions. But instead, I'll lead off by tipping my cap to all of the loyal fans who braved the conditions to support their team as it rose to the occasion and captured their seventh division crown in franchise history.
Days like Sunday are the reason why we overpay for apparel, pay a small ransom for tickets, and invest our hearts into every season, every game, and every down. 40,000 true fans (and many more stuck on Route 1 looking for a parking spot)showed up on Sunday to back their team under the worst conditions that Foxboro has seen in some time. The weather was much worse than the "Snow Bowl" against the Raiders two years ago as there was hardly any wind to contend with on that night. Most impressively, the spontaneity and shear joy that was demonstrated by these fans as they threw snow in the air like confetti was a heartwarming, genuine expression of elation. The rest of NFL saw on Sunday that Patriots Nation is just as tough as its AFC East Division Champs. Now, the Nation must be considered to have one of the best fan bases in the entire League. "It was great to be able to share this division win with our fans at home," Bill Belichick said after the game. Enjoy the rest of the ride this season; because you, the Patriots fans, are loyal, knowledgeable, and un-fickle. When a team and its fans become one like they did on Sunday, it makes sports fill that special place in our life that brings us such happiness.
Sunday's performance by the defense was simply dominating. If the Patriots continue to win, this defense will have to be considered right up there with the 1985 Bears or the 2000 Ravens. They kept Ricky Williams to only 62 yards rushing and Jay Fiedler to 111 yards passing. They won the game for an offense that was mediocre against a very good Dolphins defense, while accounting for 9 of the 12 points. Miami punted 11 times (a franchise record) and were shutout for the first time since late 2001. "Anytime you shut out a team in this League, your playing good defense," said Belichick. This defense is a thinking man's defense as they always are in the right place at the right time. They are also a physical, punishing defense. Exhibit A is the Dolphins' Jamie Nails' helmet that split in two during the first half. This intelligence and physical play is not "luck" or some fluke as they have been accused of being in some circles. Amazingly, they have not allowed a touchdown at home since Gil Santos was a young man and they are going to be very tough to beat in Foxboro come January. It's time to start having an attitude, Patriots Nation.
Sure, the offense was mediocre today as they have been on a few other occasions this year. But they were playing the number one ranked defense in awful conditions. The Patriots finally committed to the run and Antowain Smith on Sunday. Over the next three games, the Patriots have the chance to work on developing their running game for the playoffs as they play three mediocre defenses. They don't have to be great while running the ball; just good enough to keep defenses honest and have them bite on Tom Brady's play action. And let's hope that Troy Brown can get healthy and contribute as he could be an important factor in making big catches on third down in the playoffs.
But the bottom line is that they have won seven games this season against teams with a winning record. Nobody comes close to that stat; not even Kansas City. This team (and its fans) have taken the first step towards a return trip to the Super Bowl. But rest assured that they are not going to be satisfied with hoisting the AFC East champs t-shirts. This team is on a mission and that mission will continue in Foxboro in January. See you there.
Idle Zinger thoughts while realizing I'm still in love with "Deborah" Gibson during VH1's "I love the 80's" marathon: (She'll always be "Debbie" in my 16-year-old heart)
Quietly, heading into Sunday's game, Mike Vrabel lead the Patriots with six sacks.
Peter King broke the story a few weeks ago that there are some rumblings that Doug Flutie might head back to Canada for a few more years after this season is through. Incidentally, Doug Flutie jerseys can be had for dirt cheap at www.nfl.com. Hope someone who loves me is reading this.
Yes, it totally disrupts the momentum of a game; but I have come to believe that instant replay is the right thing to do and the game is better off for having it.
In case you missed it, the Patriots beat writer for the Providence Journal, Tom Curran, stopped by www.patsfans.com for a live chat with a bunch of us last Friday night. Tom was very informative and everyone had a great time. Here's hoping that it was the first of many visits.
I still can't, for the life of me, understand why players try to say hi to Mom or give a dissertation on British politics during the Iron Age to the network camera. Are the players the only ones who don't realize that the microphone is never on?
The Patriots may have a minor public relations mess on their hands as they announced over the radio in the 1st quarter for any fans still on Route 1 to go home as there was no more parking to be had in the lots.
Doesn't all of that Peyton Manning audibilizing at the line of scrimmage drive you crazy?
The bathroom situation at Gillette has improved a million times over last year's Foxboro Stadium-era standards.
If anything else, Ken Walter will always have a income stream from autographing the famous picture of him and Adam Vinatieri at the end of the Super Bowl.
That's it for another week. I can be reached at [email protected].
Don't forget to check me out at 8:20 on Monday mornings on Bangor, Maine's sports radio leader, WZON 620 "The Zone." You can listen over the internet at www.zoneradio.com This column also appears in the Waterboro (ME) Reporter, the Maine Standard Times (Lewiston/Auburn, ME), and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly(Windham, ME).
More News Headlines: