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Patriots Could Fall Into Trap

Bob George
Bob George on Twitter
21 years ago at 8:00 am ET
Posted Under: Uncategorized

If nothing else, just saying the words “trap game” is significant in and of itself.

For instance, name the last time the Patriots played in a potential “trap game”. By definition, a “trap game” is “a game in which a good team is upset by a poorer team usually because the good team is looking ahead to a future opponent rather than concentrating on the poorer team”. This would suggest that the Patriots have become one such “good team”, otherwise using the trap game moniker would not hold water.

At the midpoint of the season, the Patriots are 4-4. Actually, most Patriot fans think of their team as 4-2 instead of 4-4, largely due to the fact that the 4-2 is within the Tom Brady era. But it’s this 4-2 mentality that has everyone thinking playoffs, and thinking that the Patriots are now a major rising force in the NFL.



Patriots/Bills
Close-Up

Where:

Foxborough Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.

When:

Sunday 11/10/01
1:00 PM EDT

Television:

WBZ Channel 4 in Boston

DSS:

DirecTV
Channel 708, 940

Team Records:

Patriots 4-4
Bills 1-6

Latest Line:

Patriots by 6

Their November 18th game is a home date on national TV against the St. Louis Rams. Kurt Warner will make his Foxborough debut, and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN. All fans can think of is the greatest circus act coming to their home town, and to see if the Patriots can somehow derail the best passing attack in the NFL.

The problem is that they have a November 11th date at home against the 1-6 Buffalo Bills before this game. Not too many folks before the season started would have thought that the Patriots would be 2 1/2 games ahead of Buffalo at this point in time. Buffalo, always a fierce divisional opponent, has been ravaged by bad to lousy personnel decisions, leaving behind a team that is almost brand new to the Patriots.

You the Patriot fan need to be concerned about this game. These 1-6 Bills could knock the Kurt Warner dreams right out of these guys’ heads in a hurry.

Will they? Bill Belichick is not going to take Buffalo lightly, and the players all claim that their focus right now is on Buffalo. It is a divisional game, and the Patriots would benefit greatly with a win in case tiebreakers come up at season’s end.

But calling this a trap game pays huge props to the team in general. It says that this team, on paper, should handle Buffalo with ease, but that Buffalo might win if the Patriots don’t totally focus on them one hundred percent on Sunday. The Patriots have come suddenly this far that they might get “trapped” by someone.

Last trap game? If you want to take a good stab at it, it might be December 13, 1998, against the pre-Warner Rams. The 8-5 Patriots, fresh off of a 23-9 smacking of Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium, had a home date on December 20th against Pete Carroll’s old team, San Francisco. The week prior, they had 3-11 St. Louis to deal with. Drew Bledsoe had to leave the game with his broken finger (a three-week-old injury), and the flat Pats stunk out the joint at the Trans World Dome. The Rams prevailed, 32-18, and Patriot Nation was disgusted.

That game, like this game Sunday, featured the Patriots going to a backup. But Scott Zolak is no Brady.

And fortunately, for the Patriots, Rob Johnson is no Doug Flutie.

In what will go down as one of the most short-sighted personnel decisions of recent times, Flutie was let go from Buffalo in favor of Johnson. While Flutie has flourished down in Mission Valley, Johnson has had a chilly time astride Lake Erie. The enmity between the two quarterbacks is legendary, but GM Tom Donahoe and coach Gregg Williams simply made the wrong choice.

In addition to losing Flutie, the list of key losses is staggering. Players such as Jonathan Linton, Chris Mohr, Sam Rogers, Marcus Spriggs, Ted Washington, John Holecek, Sam Cowart and Marcellus Wiley all departed the team. So did Joe Panos and Antowain Smith. Panos retired in camp at Smithfield, but Smith will face off against his former mates on Sunday.

Buffalo is left with only a shell of its former self. Eric Moulds, Peerless Price and Jay Riemersma make a decent receiving trio. John Fina and Ruben Brown anchor the left side of the offensive line. Phil Hansen is the only remaining defensive player of repute.

But this is exactly the right situation for Buffalo to rise up and cut down an unfocused team.

The Patriots would look much better winning a game like this versus the physical licking they laid on Atlanta last week. Sometimes teams that aspire to be great don’t win the easy games like they should. Or rather, they turn easy wins into close struggles because they just don’t get up for this opponent.

If the Patriots are looking forward to the Rams, which they probably aren’t, that is both imprudent and illogical. What is it about the Rams that they are looking forward to? Giving up 400 some-odd passing yards and 45 points on national TV?

The smart thinking here is that, unless injuries are too much to overcome, the Patriots will play a sound game against Buffalo on Sunday. If Buffalo is to win, it will likely be because they played more inspired football, or that Belichick wasn’t kidding about his injury report. Half the team is listed as “questionable”, or so it seems.

Smith will likely get every opportunity to stick his old mates. With both starting tackles possible scratches (Belichick projects Grant Williams and Kenyatta Jones starting at tackle on Sunday), the Patriots may try to run Smith up the middle as much as they can. If the Patriots have to go through the air, Brady will likely look for quick completions rather than deep pocket dropbacks. If the running attack can somehow soften up the Buffalo front seven, the passing philosophy could then change.

Look for the defense to have another great day. The pressure will be on the secondary to not let Moulds beat them deep. If the Patriots can blitz Johnson like they did Chris Chandler and Michael Vick, Johnson could be in for a long afternoon.

But if the overall intensity is not there, an upset could be in the offing. One sure sign of trouble is if the passion from last week is either greatly reduced or totally non-existent. Patriot Nation might breathe a collective sigh of relief if someone like Lawyer Milloy lays a stick on someone early on, a la Jerome Pathon.

The Patriots have done very well for the words “trap game” to be mentioned. They will do themselves even better if they do to Buffalo what any good team should do to an 1-6 team at home.

Another nice thing is that Flutie won’t be here today. Come to think of it, the Patriots are 1-0 against Flutie this year already.

That thought alone should concern Johnson just a bit.


Posted Under: Uncategorized

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