Patriots Look to Answer Question: “Who’s Better Off?”

Bob George
November 13, 1999 at 8:43 am ET

FOXBOROUGH — My, my, how things have changed.

Take Pete Carroll and Bill Parcells. Carroll has gone from the soft, mellow coach of the Patsies to a firm, strong leader who looks like a genius at present. And Parcells has gone from the pantheon of the greatest of the great NFL coaches to an overstuffed buffoon who is living down to his inability to be as good a GM as he is a coach.

If Drew Bledsoe, God forbid, should go down again with an injury this year, there are John Friesz and Michael Bishop to fall back on. Vinny Testaverde went down in Week 1 against the Pats, and the Jets have been staggering and swooning with a ghastly quarterback rotation of Rick Mirer, Ray Lucas and Tom Tupa.

Despite a few draft doinks, the Patriots have a decent core of young players who will figure prominently in the next several years. The Jets have Parcells and Curtis Martin. And about zip for youth. They gave it all away to New England.

Carroll thus far has taken this “make or break” year for him and made the most of it. Parcells may call it quits after this year.

The Patriots have ridden the injury bug the last two years to consecutive playoff berths. The Jets lose a quarterback and their entire season is shot.

The Patriots are 6-2. The Jets are 2-6.

There are five teams in the AFC East. Four of them have six or more wins. The Jets are the team that isn’t one of them.

Gee, it kind of makes all of us whining in January about how the Jets fleeced us with the Tuna exodus look rather foolish today.

Right now, the scales of Kraft v. Parcells is tipped greatly in favor of New England. It may not last for long, especially if the Jets can rise up and kick the Patriots in the teeth Monday night. But at the moment, Bob Kraft will have a huge grin Monday night when he sees Parcells lead his back-to-their-old-selves Jets into Foxborough Stadium.

Naturally, the question at the center of the issue remains: how would things be if Tuna had stayed here? The answer right now is, simply, who cares?

If the Patriots can play a decent game and not let the Monday night aura or Parcells’ presence psyche them out, there won’t be too many more folks out there who still wish that Parcells was their coach. And you may also lop Jet fans in that category.

Parcells left New England because Kraft wanted to strip him of his personnel powers. It began with Terry Glenn v. Tony Brackens. That was it as far as Tuna was concerned.

The merry follies that have ensued on both sides are the stuff that some enterprising author ought to write a book about. Three rulings by Paul Tagliabue. Is Carroll nothing more than a defensive coordinator? Martin is leading the league in rushing while Robert Edwards blows his knee out on Waikiki Beach. The Jets come within a game of the Super Bowl in just Parcells’ second year.

And now, just ten months later, the entire eastern seaboard has turned upside down.

The Jets are back to sad sacks, while Bledsoe is vying for league MVP. The Jets are getting killed by injuries and penalties, while the Patriots are playing reasonably well despite being down to really only two healthy linebackers and a running game still groping to find its way. The only thing these two teams have in common are pass receivers who melt down in front of the media.

But if you separate everything and put them in their proper place, the heart of the Jet problems, as well as the reason for the shift in balance, points directly at Parcells and his inability to be a general manager.

The quarterback situation of this year is the defining moment of Parcells’ Jet reign, not the playoff run last year. How a team can collapse so dramatically at the loss of their starting QB is a reflection on Parcells’ bad judgement and poor planning.

How come Parcells signed Scott Zolak and cut a guy who completed 14 passes in a row against the Patriots two years ago (Glenn Foley)? Why did Parcells go after Mirer and ignore Jeff George? How is it that Parcells almost mismanaged Week 1 so much that Tupa was nearly an ineligible player before the fourth quarter?

The Patriots lost Bledsoe for the final four weeks of 1998 and still made the playoffs. The Jets lost Testaverde this year and have dropped out of sight. End of discussion.

It isn’t just the quarterbacks. Why jettison Kyle Brady? Why sign a possibly washed-up Steve Atwater? Next thing you know, Aaron Glenn will be let go just to find a place for Otis Smith to play.

The Jets mortgaged their future in getting Parcells and Martin to come to New York. True, the draft picks New England received included some rather questionable choices (Sedrick Shaw, Damon Denson), but there is no question that the Patriots have a much brighter future than the Jets do right now.

On paper, Monday night’s game looks like a cakewalk for the Patriots. One could not blame them for wanting to look past this game and focus on their rematch next week with the Miami Fish in Crockett ‘n’ Tubbs country.

If the Patriots feel this way, the Jets will win Monday night.

Like last year, when the 1-4 Jets came in and smacked the 4-1 Pats 24-14 on a Monday night at the Fox, the scenario this year is similar. Sky-high Pats, destitute Jets. The two teams’ fortunes dramatically changed courses after last year’s debacle. Those 1-4 Jets went all the way to the AFC title game.

This year’s Jets still think they can salvage this season. A win over the Patriots gets them back in a great frame of mind. Despite the languid offense, the defense still remains strong and could hold the Pats under 20 points. Any team coached by Parcells will never be wanting for motivation or preparedness. Not to mention defensive maven Bill Belichick, who looks more menacing on the Jet sidelines than Parcells does.

Another thing to consider is the fact that the Patriots did not blow the Jets out in the opener when they had the chance. Despite the injuries to Testaverde, Leon Johnson and Jason Ferguson, it still took a field goal with three seconds left by Adam Vinatieri to rescue the Patriots from defeat. The fact that they did not take better advantage of all those injuries might bode well for the Jets Monday night.

The Jets will start Lucas at quarterback. The former Patriot would love nothing better than to stick it to his former team, which he harbors bitter feelings towards. If Tupa weren’t so valuable as a punter, he might be a better choice if the offensive line can protect him better than they did in Week 1. Right now, anything but Mirer is good for the Jets.

Finally, the Patriots simply don’t play well on Monday night. They are 7-16 lifetime on Monday nights. Yes, they did beat Miami in scintillating fashion (the night that Bledsoe broke his finger) in their last appearance on ABC, but they overcame a myriad of penalties in order to come away with a win. The usual order of business is that the Patriots go into a funk when anyone who works for Roone Arledge happens to be behind the mikes. Just thank goodness it isn’t Howard Cosell.

The Fox will rock Monday night. Tuna will be booed, emotions will be high, and the “silent fans” (really? C’mon, now…) will be silent no longer.

It’s the Jets. As long as Parcells roams the sidelines in the hideous green Jet colors, it’s a huge game for the Patriots.

And a huge Patriot win makes “As The Tuna Turns” a slam dunk for the good guys.

But a simple win would also do just fine. That will be enough for Parcells to sulk back to Sea Girt, N.J., wondering why he was so stupid to have to fight Mr. Kraft after all.

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