"Nothing worth having is easy. We know that."
-Clark W. Griswold to Ellen Griswold in National Lampoon's Vacation shortly before their ill-fated journey across the country to go to Wally World
Don't worry about how close the final score was. The legacy of the tight 21-16 victory over the Jets will be about closing in on a first-round bye for the playoffs, the re-establishment of a running game, and most impressively, a defensive outfit that is becoming one that comes our way perhaps once a generation. By beating the Jets, the Patriots now have won 11 straight games by 14 points or less. This is the longest winning streak in the NFL since 1999. And now, because they didn't look ahead against the Jets, they most likely won't have to leave area code 508 for the rest of the season unless they are going to the AFC Championship game or even perhaps (gulp….) the Super Bowl.
I don't have to tell you that few of these 11 straight wins have been Picassos. But yet, if you watched the Chiefs-Vikings earlier in the day, you can conclude that defensive play will most likely determine how far a team will go in the playoffs this year. Seeing the stinkers that the Chiefs and some other playoffs teams keep turning in, you have to be excited about the Patriots chances to make a return trip to the Super Bowl. It's time to get excited, Patriots Nation.
And wasn't it terrific to see the Patriots commit to a running game? Antowain Smith looked like his old self on Saturday night by running between the tackles; where he is most effective. Sure, the Jets run defense is ranked 31st in the League; but weren't they the perfect remedy for the Patriots to gain the confidence in their running game for the playoffs? Smith ran for 121 yards on only 18 carries for a whopping 6.7 average. If the Patriots can develop some confidence and commitment to a running game next week against the Bills and in the playoffs, it will open up the play action passes that Tom Brady is so deadly at nailing.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this defense is something special. Five interceptions off of Chad Pennington can only be described as dominant. And it would have been six if Tyrone Poole could have held onto another dead duck in the fourth quarter. Pennington was also sacked four times and had the ball knocked loose twice. Make no mistake. The Patriots defense was firmly in control of the game. Keep in mind that Pennington is no slouch. He is a very good quarterback that was made to look like a rookie by the Patriots. They also contained a very hot Curtis Maritin to only 89 yards rushing. This game wasn't nearly as close as the final score would indicate.
At this point in the column, I usually point out one or two players that had an outstanding game. But how would that be fair? Should I point out only Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, or Ted Washington? Or how about Tyrone Poole, Tedy Bruschi, or Ty Law. But how could I forget Eugene Wilson, Rodney Harrison, or the most underrated defensive stud of them all, Roman Phifer? The point is if I gave the nod to one player on this defense, I would be shortchanging someone else. It would be the football equivalent of choosing a favorite child of yours. You just couldn't do it. The fact that only two of them were selected to the Pro Bowl surely fed into their fire for the dominating performance against the Jets.
And now, finally, the Patriots have a score to settle with the Bills this coming Saturday.
Please don't believe for a minute the canned answers that you'll hear this week coming out of the Patriots camp about "how this is just another game…blah, blah, blah." This Bills game has been circled on their calendar since week one and I can say, with quite a bit of certainty, that it will be a rout by the Patriots. The way this team is playing defense and the fact the Bills will be playing the final game of the forgettable Gregg Williams era is a recipe for as good of a party (if not better) than the Bills and their fans had at our expense on opening weekend.
Idle Zinger thoughts while finally realizing the comedic genius that is Bob Sagat in TV's "Full House":
The Patriots have gone beyond what would be considered reasonable in compensating fans who couldn't make it into the Miami game due to the blizzard. You can choose from among the following: a free standing-room ticket for a future Patriots game, a tailgate party pass, a Patriots Football Weekly subscription, a 50-percent discount at the Patriots pro shop, a 50-percent discount on the Pats' online shop, or a pair of Revolution tickets for an upcoming game and a parking pass.
I think it is safe to say that Joe Namath must have had "a bad ice cube" in his egg nog before going on the air with my beloved Suzy Kolber in the second quarter of the game.
We all know about Joe Horn and his $30,000 fine for his hijinks with his cell phone. But did you know that Cincinnati quarterback Jon Kitna was also fined $5,000 last week as well? According to the Bengals website, by wearing a homemade hat with a bible verse and a cross at his post-game news conferences, Kitna unwittingly violated a NFL rule that apparently prohibits the wearing of non-NFL apparel immediately after a game. Heaven forbid that you don't wear the latest $24.95 Reebok offering. Scandalous!
Ever wonder why the Patriots and Bills so often play in Miami during October? According to Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News since the "Marlins could appear in the baseball playoffs each fall, the Dolphins need to build flexibility into their October schedule. The NFL does not want to schedule Miami to play all four October games on the road. So it has to schedule the Dolphins to play an October game at home every year against either the Bills or Patriots. That way, if the Marlins make the playoffs and need to play a home Sunday game, the NFL can flip the site of the Dolphins game, sending them north in October and having the Bills or Pats go south later in the year. (The Jets don't factor into the equation because they share a stadium with the Giants.)" Incidentally, if the National League had won the All-Star game last July, this scenario would have occurred to the Patriots and Dolphins this year.
I hear there is some talk about extending the goal posts a little higher in order to be able to better judge balls that sail right over the uprights.
Why do embarrassing discipline breakdowns like Joe Horn's cell phone call or Kyle Turley's flinging of his helmet always happen to the Saints on Sunday night and under Jim Haslett's watch?
I wish everyone a safe and enjoyable holiday. Feel free to drop me a line. 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), the American Journal (Westbrook, ME) and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly (Windham, ME).
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