After Broncos Win, Patriots Have Running Start

Bob George
October 28, 1999 at 11:09 pm ET

If Vegas made book on this, think of the fortune you’d now have with just a little capital and a lot of bravery.

They do over-unders at Vegas all the time. It’s usually a 50-50 proposition. In this case, if any Vegas sports book had the guts to offer you a “Patriots to exceed 100 team rushing yards” at decent odds, would you grab it?

Or if Terry Allen tops 100 yards rushing? Any Patriot back tops 100?

You might have to admit that a bet like that, especially against Denver, is brazen stupidity. And you’d be right. But you ought to research and find out how many fortunes were made based on moves that the general public thought was brazen stupidity.

I’ll be honest. Sunday shocked the dickens out of ol’ Bob G.

Beating Denver for the first time since yours truly was in college was amazing enough. But the way they did it still has my head buzzing. How’d they do it? I had to head down to my local neighborhood think tank for this one.

I mean, this was the Broncos. The two-time World Champs. The top rushing defense in the league. Against us, featuring a running attack that has gone from Curtis Martin to Robert Edwards to Allen. Against us, featuring an offensive line that likes run blocking as much as the good people of North Street want this access road.

Martin never beat Denver (as a Patriot). Edwards never beat Denver. Allen did.

As Patriots, Leonard Russell, John Stephens and Craig James never beat Denver. Kevin Faulk did.

I might have to give Mr. Ripley a call. I have a hard time believing this.

Faulk and Allen (in his current physical condition) rank as the bottom two in this list of recent Patriot running backs. Yet they, of all people, behind an offensive line far inferior to the one James ran behind, were able to grind out 133 yards and a 6.0 yards per carry against Denver on Sunday. If you did indeed go to Vegas to lay down a bet on the game, there is simply no way that you would ever bet on this if such a bet was offered.

Allen led the way with 106 yards on 17 carries. Faulk had his best runs of the day on returns, but he managed 24 yards on 5 carries, just under 5 per carry. The Patriots scored three touchdowns, and all of them were rushing.

You also might lop Drew Bledsoe into the “astonished” category. Three touchdowns, and he didn’t figure in any of them outside of handing off the ball. Poor Dan Dierdorf. New England’s harshest critic didn’t know what to make of it.

To better understand all this, let’s go back and review the key runs of the day, and how they came about.

First quarter, 1st and 10, ball at NE 18: Allen runs up the middle for four yards.

This was the first play from scrimmage. It literally set the tone for the whole day. The offensive line actually made a push and drove the Denver front four back. Allen squirted through before rookie LB Al Wilson made the stop. It made you do a double-take and say to yourself, “Huh? Did I just see what I thought I saw?”

First quarter, 1st and 10, ball at DEN 15: Faulk runs off right tackle for a 15-yard touchdown run.

Tell me you didn’t freak out when you saw this. A trap play? Run by the Patriots? Believe it.

Two key moments made this play work to perfection. First, and we’re still wondering how they pulled it off, the offensive line all pulled left as one, and ten Denver defenders went with the pull. Second, the only defender that didn’t, outside LB Bill Romanowski, headed straight for Bledsoe and overran the play.

With Faulk already well past Romanowski, all he could see was an open field, with ten defenders running away from him. He could have walked into the end zone. It is still so unbelievable that Denver went for the trap like a gullible sap who’ll believe anything.

Second quarter, 1st and goal, ball at DEN 1: Allen barrels up the middle for a touchdown.

Terry Glenn had just hauled in a 67-yard pass that fell one yard short of paydirt. Whenever the Pats get into a situation like this, one always thinks about Green Bay two years ago and begins to panic.

Allen quickly took care of things with the one play that can literally define the entire team. The Patriots simply have to show their opponent that they can whack it in from the one at any time. If you watched Atlanta fail at the Pittsburgh one on Monday night, you really begin to understand.

Third quarter, 1st and 10, ball at NE 31: Allen breaks off a 39-yard run on the first play of the drive.

Allen finds a hole in the middle of the line (there’s that word “middle” again…gee, maybe we have something in this Damien Woody chap), and squirts through for about ten yards before the containment stops him.

Or rather, tries to. Allen then puts on this cute little juke, and the next thing we see is him streaking towards the left sideline. This is followed by Allen streaking down the left sideline. Streaking? Yep, and we don’t mean that crazy fad from 1974.

Third quarter, 2nd and 10, ball at DEN 20: Allen runs up the middle for 19 yards, and is stopped just short of the goal line.

Nothing fancy here. Woody plows open another hole, Allen goes through. Strong safety Darrius Johnson is the only person that saves the touchdown. Yes, that was a Patriot running back that got into an opponent’s secondary. It could be anyone’s secondary, never mind Denver’s, this is just too much fun to watch.

Third quarter, 1st and goal, ball at DEN 1: Allen barrels up the middle for a touchdown.

Sorry, had to cut/paste a sentence from a few paragraphs ago. Oh, and this was one play after the previous 19-yard gem. Let’s see, twice at the Denver one, two one-yard plows by Allen that resulted in touchdowns. We are not making this up.

During the telecast, Dierdorf mentioned that a running game is an “attitude”, and that you “can’t just turn it on and turn it off…you have to sell your team on it”. If Dierdorf is to be believed, maybe Pete Carroll should turn to used cars or insurance if he doesn’t keep his current job beyond this year.

What happened with the Patriot running game Sunday is nothing short of amazing. Nobody in their right mind would have predicted it. Nobody had any right to expect it.

There are perhaps two rational explanations for why the Patriots ran so well. First, Denver may have been caught totally off guard and had prepared only for a passing onslaught by Bledsoe. Second, the Patriots may have uncovered a diamond in the rough in Woody, as he may be the key to future running success for the Patriots.

Woody has done most everything good this year except shotgun snaps. If Woody is the main reason why the Patriots made such hay on runs up the middle, then Bobby Grier may have made the best post-Parcells draft selection in plucking Woody. If the Patriots can now run up the middle with consistency, that can take a great deal of pressure off of Bledsoe and the still-vaunted Patriot passing attack.

The Patriots will definitely try and test the running waters at Arizona this weekend. The Cardinals, who have taken a huge tumble from their watershed year of 1998, will not be nearly as imposing as Denver was on paper. Look for Woody versus Eric Swann as one of the key matchups on Sunday in Tempe.

And if you’re heading to your nearest casino, I’d still hold off on a side bet on Patriot rushing yards. But maybe not much longer.

Just tell your bookie to keep a “running” tab. Just in case.

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