FOXBOROUGH — Adversity? Bring it on.
How about CMGi folding up stakes, leaving the Patriots without a name for their new crib? Or perhaps Bryan Cox kicking Terry Glenn’s fanny in a “gentleman’s fight” (go watch a John Wayne western)? Maybe Myra Kraft will decide that gentlemen on her husband’s football team ought not to style their hair in those icky-looking dreadlocks, and has ten or so barbers brought in for a team-wide buzz job.
The Patriots, their adversity wheelbarrow already overflowing with dirt, garbage and lots of mud and muck in general, graphically showed the poor New Orleans Saints exactly how they plan to deal with adversity for the rest of this year. On a field of mud and muck thanks to a daylong driving rainstorm, the Patriots stuck it to the Saints more than perhaps any previous opponent so far this year. It is getting to the point that these Patriots are looking like the Oakland A’s or the New York Yankees of the 1970s, and that is the more adversity you dump on them, the better they seem to perform.
In doing so, the Patriots sent a clear message to the rest of the league in general, but hopefully their next opponents in particular. With the archrival Jets next on their docket (the Jets were idle today, and maybe sitting at home watching), the Patriots could not have picked a better time to have an “attitude game”. Their 34-17 pasting of New Orleans was a thing of rugged beauty, like a rocky Maine cliff by the seacoast.
It wasn’t completely dominating, as Aaron Brooks managed to amass 307 passing yards. And New Orleans was at a distinct disadvantage with the weather (John Carney missed two field goals from beyond 40 yards), being a dome team playing outdoors in the middle of a Nor’Easter (where was this weather last week against the Rams?). But the Patriots left no doubt as to their state of mind during the game, and how it translated into victory.
Everyone who had to have a big day had one. It started with the head coach, and went on down the line from there.
Belichick made his crucial quarterback decision on Tuesday, and let Brady take all the practice snaps this week. It actually helped lend credence to Belichick’s rather outlandish theory that allowing Bledsoe some practice snaps the preceding week contributed to the 24-17 loss against the Rams. Brady was Da Man this week in practice, and the results speak for themselves. More on Brady in just a bit.
Belichick also made his team work out all week long with no pads. He challenged them to save all their hits for Sunday. Talk about a bold gamble, and the possibility that your team might play soft against a tough Saint squad.
But the Patriots outmuscled the Saints at every turn. Losing William Roaf for the season hurt the Saints even worse than the weather did, but Jim Haslett was in great mental pain on the sideline watching his tough team get out-toughed. Without Roaf to open holes and to stem the pass rush, Brooks was on the run all night long, and Ricky Williams was held to only 56 yards on 15 carries.
What you needed to see most was definitely out there. Players were flying all over the place at full speed. Everyone was playing hard out there. This kind of play has Belichick’s name written all over it. In the big picture of this season, this fact cannot be bigger in importance or significance. The players sold out for Belichick, and made a statement for themselves and their head coach.
Brady returned to the surreal form he has shown at times this year, and maintained that form all game long. His passing efficiency returned in full bloom, as he hit on 19 of 26 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns. All his passes went to blue shirted men. Brady exuded as much cool as he has all season long.
Quarterback controversy? The devil we say. Brady looked like a seasoned veteran out there. Drew Bledsoe was all smiles on the sideline, and repeatedly clowned with Brady after each touchdown pass. Six different receivers caught a pass, and four different men caught a scoring pass.
But Brady’s best play of the day wasn’t even a pass, or a pass play. In what will go down as the “Block Of The Year”, Brady leveled Sammy Knight with a John Hannah special that had to cause you to jump right out of your seat.
The Patriots were eating up clock in the fourth quarter. With 4:17 left in the game, the Patriots were facing a second and eight at the Saint 24. Brady pitches the ball to Antowain Smith, who ran right, then had to cut back left. He took off on a left end run, and had Knight with a clear angle at him. Brady turns up field, then dives at the feet of Knight and cuts him down just as well as Hog used to. Smith was sprung on a 14-yard run that shot him over the century mark (he finished with 111 rushing yards), and the Patriots scored three plays later on a two-yard run by Smith.
Smith’s touchdown drove a stake through the heart of the Saints, but Brady’s block will be talked about all week long. When teammates see the quarterback do something like that, more good things will naturally follow. At the top of the list of those “good things” is something called “respect”.
The defense was also tested today, with Ted Johnson again a scratch for today’s game. Fearing that Williams might run wild without Johnson out there to stop him, Belichick and Romeo Crennel went to a 4-3 and left run stoppage largely up to Richard Seymour and Brandon Mitchell.
Those two were right up there among the unsung heroes of this game. Williams gained very little up the middle. Haslett stayed away from a platoon of Williams and rookie Deuce McAllister, and used only Williams and Brooks on running plays. Ironically, Williams wasn’t his team’s leading rusher; Brooks was, with 65 yards rushing (most of those yards coming on scrambles), nine more than Williams.
Penalties and some coverage mistakes prevented this game from being a total blowout. The Saints had six plays that went for twenty yards or more, and the Patriots were tagged for 64 penalty yards. Joe Horn and Albert Connell each averaged over 24 yards per catch.
But the Patriots had Brooks on the run most all day, which contributed to his lousy final passing stats. Despite the occasional big plays by the Saints, Brooks finished with a passer rating of 56.2 for the game.
Brady’s rating? 143.9.
All in all, the Patriots got exactly what they wanted out of today’s game. They got a win, got into the Saints’ heads, and hopefully got into the Jets’ heads as well.
The Patriots have to be at an all time high in confidence right now. To withstand the media blitzkrieg all week long concerning Bledsoe, and to see the kind of game Brady and his teammates had, Belichick could not have wished for anything better.
Maybe, just maybe, this Belichick guy can coach.
To quote Mulan’s father, “The rose that blooms in adversity is the most beautiful of all.” The game wasn’t beautiful, but the result was.
So was the team’s attitude. Just beautiful.
More adversity, please. If this is what the Patriots do with it, keep it coming.
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season