Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Game O'DaYear

This past Sunday's game against the Vikings was supposed to be "the Test."

It was supposed to be "close."

It was supposed to be a measuring stick for both teams.

The measuring stick was shattered across the collective rears of the Vikings. While Minnesota is taking a long look in the mirror this week, the Patriots sent a message to the rest of the league; After a year of injuries that would have devastated other teams, after a year in which we were ousted from the playoffs short of our goal, after a year in which some of our most important leaders on defense and the offensive line were lost for the season....we're back.
Charles Robinson wrote this week, "They weren't supposed to be an elite team. Not after losing one of their biggest locker room leaders in Willie McGinest, their top two wideouts in Deion Branch and David Givens, and yet another coach in former defensive coordinator in Eric Mangini." It has been the mantra of the press since the beginning of the 2003 season.
A reminder from Peter King - back then Tom Jackson of ESPN "looked straight into the camera and said the New England players hated coach Bill Belichick... after cutting [Lawyer] Milloy." Jackson claimed that Belichick had lost the locker room and that it was going to be a long season for the Patriots.

Since the 2001 Super Bowl, the Patriots that have left the team could make the core of a half-way decent team themselves - among them; Drew Bledsoe, Terry Glenn, Damien Woody, Mike Compton, Tom Ashworth, Milloy, Ty Law, David Patten, Antowain Smith, Ted Washington, Ted Johnson, Deion Branch, David Givens, Adam Vinatieri, Willie McGinnest, Keith Traylor, Jermaine Wiggins, Brian Cox, Joe Andruzzi and Doug Flutie as well as coaches Charlie Weiss, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Jeff Davidson, and Rob Ryan.
That means that since their first Super Bowl win, they have lost 80 percent of a starting line, a starting and back-up QB, two number one and two number two wide-outs, a potentially starting tight-end and a starting running back. On defense they have lost three linebackers and three linemen that could all start and half a starting defensive backfield. That doesn't even account for the the other important roll players that contribute on special teams like Sean Morrey.
Every year since 2001 the message from the press at the beginning of the season has been the same - the Patriots have lost too much to be a contender. This year it was Givens, Branch, McGinnest and Vinatieri.
With Branch and Givens - The myth: there's no way they can make up for the shortcomings in the passing game.
The reality - early in the season the team relied on its resurgent running game to win, now, Brady seems to be finding a comfort level with his new toys. Against the Jets they rang up 24 points with a bruising running game that gained 147 yards; against the Bengals they put 236 rushing yards in the books, almost as many as Cincy QB Carson Palmer threw for (245), while ringing up 38 points; in the first game of the season, the team gained 163 yards and got 2 points from the defense en route to a 19-17 win.
On Monday, Tom Brady and his wideouts lit up what was previously ranked as one of the league's top ten defenses to the tune of 372 yards passing and 31 points. Most of that came before the fourth quarter.
With McGinnest - The myth: Patriots are losing a locker room leader. They are losing chemistry and cohesion on that side of the line and they lack the depth at linebacker to compensate.
The reality - Only two teams have given up fewer points per game than the Patriots who are averaging a stingy 12.4 after the defense shut out the Vikings offense on Monday and only two teams are giving up fewer rushing yards per game (Pats - 78.3). They are tied for ninth in the league in interceptions, and most of them have come in the last couple of games.
With Vinatieri - The jury is still out on rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski, but the Patriots were supposed to lose the close ones this year and right now, they're 1-0 in the close games. If Sunday night's game comes down to a field goal, it might be a nice measuring stick.

The big myth in the AFC East that the majority of the press bought into - with the addition of Duante Culpepper the Dolphins are ready to take the AFC East. The media typically pointed to Miami's end of the year win streak during which they defeated the Patriots. They either forgot, or for the purposes of supporting their position, conveniently leave out the fact that through most of the game, the Patriots played their third string quarter back (who nearly tied the game at the end), second string linemen on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball - and second stringers at other positions (hell, the second string quarterback drop-kicked for three)
So the truth was that the media was propping up a win last year against the division's number one team as proof of the advancement of the Dolphins. A win in which the Patriots back-ups played the Dolphins to what came down to one errant pass at the end of the game to send it into overtime.

What does all this mean for Sunday night against the Colts - possibly nothing. The Patriots have played one truly good offense - Cincinnati - and made it look bad. The Colts smoked the stingiest defense in the league (in regards to giving up points) last week when it seemed that Peyton Manning marched up and down the field at will against the Broncos. And they beat the Patriots last year, finally getting the monkey off their backs.
Why will Sunday night be different this year than last year? The Patriots will have their defensive leaders on the field this year. The Colts running game isn't as good as in years past. The Colts defense has slipped, becoming the worst rushing defense in the league, and the Patriots have established on more than one occassion this season that they can put points on the board in just about any manner imaginable.
Unlike last year's squad, this is a Patriots team that has found its identity and knows who it is - it is tough, it is resilient, and it is intelligent. They can beat you on the ground and in the air. right now, the Colts can beat you in the air - and when a team is one-dimensional like that, there is always a way to stop them. When a team is one-dimensional, I like the Patriots chances of finding a solution.

No comments: