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11-5? It’s a Longshot, But Doable

Bob George
Bob George on Twitter
22 years ago at 8:30 am ET
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season

Honk if you discussed the words “Patriots” and “playoffs” in the same sentence, and the person(s) you were talking to you snuck out to begin lunacy hearings on your behalf.

You want lunacy? Here’s a good dose of some outlandish logic for you.

The Patriots might just run the table and finish 11-5.

No, really. I’m serious. Tell those guys in the white jackets to get lost. It’s Christmas time, and there’s some guy on Long Island that thinks he’s Santa Claus. Go after him, not me. Answers to the name of Kringle, I understand.

Lunacy? Not on your arrogant Curtis Martin quotes.

The Patriots have shown everyone on the planet that they can win in most every way imaginable. They win at home, on the road, when trailing after three quarters, against Doug Flutie, and now against the NYJ. They win without Ted Johnson, without Bryan Cox, without Terry Glenn, without Willie McGinest, without Matt Light, without Richard Seymour, and most of all, without Drew Bledsoe.

This team has gone from two steps beyond destitute to being a serious playoff contender. But a case can be made that the Patriots are not just a contender. The Patriots, given one of the easiest finishing schedules among their playoff rivals, can win out and finish the season at an unheard of 11-5. A 10-6 mark is a bit more realistic, and a 9-7 record would actually be a disappointment.

9-7 a disappointment? Again, I don’t need those sanitarium dudes.

To even be talking in these terms is really something. What the Patriots have been able to accomplish this year is mind-boggling. Beginning with that awful hit Bledsoe took from Mo Lewis, Tom Brady has come in and cattle-prodded this team into playoff contention. It is a miracle a hundred times over, made even more so by a quarterback who is enjoying one of the most storied baptisms in recent NFL history.

Brady has done the impossible. He has taken a franchise quarterback and played him out of a job. Usually you don’t lose a job to injury, but things are such that Brady cannot be pulled and Bledsoe is likely to be on the trading block come season’s end. Given the financial commitment the Patriots made to Bledsoe, what Brady has done to Bledsoe’s Patriot legacy is more amazing than the wins and passing stats he has put up while under center.

So Brady has totally changed everyone’s mindset. We’re now thinking like 1994, 1996 or 1997 again. Sure beats talking about Draft Day right now, though whomever coughs up that king’s ransom for Bledsoe had better give Patriot Nation lots of fodder for Draft Day chitchat.

That said, let’s peer into our crystal ball and see how these last four games might play out. Running the table would be the biggest Patriot accomplishment since Super Bowl XXXI.

Sunday, December 9 Cleveland

There’s a revenge factor here, which right there gives the Patriots a huge edge. They were embarrassed at Cleveland Browns Stadium last year, 19-11. Someone named Doug Pederson was made to look like Otto Graham by the pitiful Patriot defense. Tim Couch is fully entrenched in the job he was groomed to have when he was selected as the top pick in the draft a few years back. But is Couch an upgrade over Pedersen?

Cleveland fans are actually screaming, “quarterback controversy”. You wonder how and why, but the Browns looked downright pitiful in their 31-15 loss to Tennessee at home on Sunday. Couch threw for only 110 yards passing, and some of his tosses looked like water balloons. Kelly Holcomb relieved him, and rang up four more passing yards on 14 fewer attempts. There’s your controversy.

Courtney Brown, the top Browns draft pick a year after Couch, suffered a severely sprained ankle in the first quarter and had to leave the game. Reports said that he might miss 4-6 weeks, but new reports say that the ankle might be less severe than feared. Head Coach Butch Davis will evaluate on a day-to-day basis, and could be available to play Sunday at Foxborough.

Even if Brown plays, the Patriots should win this game unless they are careless and don’t practice well this week. There is a potential for a “letdown” following the huge win Sunday against the Jets. But the Browns have a pass rush that the Patriots can deal with, and neither Couch nor Holcomb should riddle the Patriot defense. The Browns’ running attack is led by someone named Ben Gay, and here’s hoping that the Patriots cause the Browns to need lots of the stuff by game’s end.

Sunday, December 16 At Buffalo
Of all the games remaining, this one is the most losable. But Buffalo is currently 1-10, and got pasted Sunday night by San Francisco, 35-0. How is this game so losable?
Trap game. Road game. Division game. Grudge game. Take your pick. They all spell trouble for the Patriots.

If the Patriots can forget that the Miami Dolphins even exist that week, they will have passed their first test. Winning at Buffalo any time is a tough task. The Bills have the familiarity with the Patriots, even though the Patriots have them by a mile on paper. The Bills fought the Patriots tough a few weeks back and only lost 21-11. The Bills hung close until Antowain Smith’s late touchdown sealed the deal.

The possibility exists that Buffalo can jump up and bite the Patriots on the ankle. If that is the case, it will not be because Buffalo took it to them. The Bills simply don’t have the personnel to dictate the game to the Patriots. The Bills will win if the Patriots take them lightly and look ahead to Miami the next week.

What New England needs to do is to hit the Bills hard early and get a lead quick. It will take the crowd out of the game, and demoralize the downtrodden Bills. If the Patriots let the Bills hang around, they’ll be in for a tough battle. Until the previous meeting this year, the last three previous games were three-point margins and two of those three games went into overtime.

Saturday, December 22 Miami
Everyone thinks that this is the one losable game. Nah.
When Miami comes to Foxborough in December, good things tend to happen. Okay, just not in 2000. But good things happen. Trust me.

1982. Mark Henderson. Snowplow. Nuf ced.

1993. Michael Timpson. Overtime.

1997. Playoff game. Todd Collins pick for a TD. Defense knew the Miami offense better than Dan Marino did.

Since the merger, the Patriots are 5-3 against the Fish at home in the month of December. The cold weather is always a plus for the Patriots against a team based in Florida. Yes, we know it didn’t help last year in that goofy 27-24 loss that took 45 minutes to run the game’s last play, but this year’s Patriot team wins that game.

You might expect a similar game this year. If the weather cooperates and puts the clamps on the Dolphin offense, the Patriots will be in a position to take charge of the game. The Dolphins don’t have a top flight quarterback (the third string Patriot quarterback should be the Miami starter, except that Dave Wannstedt will never listen to me), and the Patriots will be much better equipped to deal with Jay Fiedler this time around.

The Dolphins beat the Patriots with Brady at the helm in Week 4, 30-10. That game was in humid Miami. At Foxborough in December, with a division title possibly at stake, look for the Patriots to play the frozen Fish tough and grit out a win.

Sunday, January 6 At Carolina

This is the makeup game from the September 11 attacks. The Patriots have the previous week off as their bye week. The Patriots will have time to heal up and rest up, and perhaps use the game as a playoff tune-up.

The Panthers are 1-11 right now, and are a decrepit team. The Patriots could view this as a trap game if they are looking ahead to a playoff game, especially if they happen to go into this game with a playoff berth clinched. But if the Patriots need to win this game to get in, or to improve their playoff position, they should be focused enough to come out with a win.

If they do indeed win the previous three games and need only this game to run the table, the more riding on the win the better. It is not likely that the Patriots would go into this game as division champs already clinched (Miami has two tough games left, but should finish at least 11-5). New England might be playing for the fourth playoff spot at the very least. The worst thing to happen to the Patriots would be to have their fate sealed and unimprovable, and play flat against Carolina going into the playoffs.

If New England and Miami were to finish 11-5, and if Miami’s two remaining losses would be to San Francisco and New England, the Patriots would win the division based on a better division record.(6-2 to 5-3). Too many other permutations exist that could alter this equation. Miami’s other three games are home dates with Indianapolis, Atlanta and Buffalo, and the Fish should win all three of those games.

The Jets? At best they finish 10-6. They lose at Pittsburgh and Oakland, win at Indianapolis and win at home against Cincinnati and Buffalo. The Colts game could actually go against the Jets if Peyton Manning and crew are testy enough, but without Edgerrin James and with their lousy defense, the Jets look good in that game.

Ahhhh. Man, this playoff talk is the greatest. Brings back memories of the good old days.

Naturally, first thing’s first. One week at a time. Beat Cleveland. Think about nothing else.

Because without a win Sunday, there is no 11-5.

Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season

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