Nothing But Blue Skies
Revenge Was Served Cold and Rainy
The defense of the undefeated New England Patriots is finally getting its due in the national media. Pats Pulpit has been touting the defense since the Patriots dominated San Diego in Week 2, baffled Buffalo in Week 3, and stymied Cincinnati in Week 4.
With the offense "struggling" -- that is, they're not pummeling teams into submission -- the defense is starting to get some credit for that 291-point differential -- that is, they're pummeling teams into submission.
Sunday, the Patriots defense held the New York Jets (yeah, back to the official name) to less than 100 yards rushing and less than 200 yards passing. Those are nice numbers, but they don't tell the story of how great this defense played.
20 - - - 10
In the first half, that defense allowed 63 yards rushing on 7 carries, 49 of it on one freakish play. You can't take that play away, but if you could, that would be 14 rushing yards. So 49 yards on one carry, 14 on the other six. The scoresheet says 9.0 yards per carry, but it was more like 2.33.
The defense also allowed 39 passing in the first half. That's 102 combined, 53 if you discount the one long run.
The Hand That Rocks -- Patriots special teamer Kelley Washington (his hand at right) found a special place in fans' hearts when he blocked New York punter Ben Graham's punt attempt deep in Jets territory Sunday. New York covered, but New England soon turned the miscue into a touchdown.
Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe
Sure, the Jets had 149 yards passing in the second half, but 108 of those came in the 4th quarter and resulted in 3 points. These are also known as "Bledsoe Stats" -- good numbers that are ultimately meaningless in the final outcome.
You see, it was more "bend, don't break" from the team that has long embodied the cliché.
The first order of business was putting points on the board, which the defense did more quickly and more efficiently than the offense. On New York's second play from scrimmage, Eugene Wilson returned an interception 5 yards for a touchdown. After that, the Jets got nothing going offensively for the remainder of the first half.
Forcing the Issue -- When Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour put pressure on Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens, Clemens sailed a pass easily intercepted by Eugene Wilson and resulting in a defensive touchdown.
Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Matthew J. Lee
The half ended with the Jets on their way to another 3-and out.
So there was the Patriots first half defensively: two first downs allowed. Zero points.
More Defensive Dominance
Before the Patriots D "allowed" New York to move the ball in the fourth quarter, the third was just a continuation of the previous 30 minutes. Three drives, three first downs, zero points.
Receiving the second half's opening kickoff, Chad Pennington completed a pass to Jerome Cotchery for 11 yards. Four plays later, they punted. New York had great field position after intercepting Tom Brady in Patriots territory for their second drive. Jones picked up the necessary yards on second down, but Adalius Thomas forced a fumble on the later third down. New England probably would have held the Jets to a 3-and-out the third drive, but a(nother) questionable pass interference call gave them a first down. Four plays later, the Patriots forced another punt.
It was a veritable defensive clinic put on by a defense that's been "dissed" by the likes of Dallas wide receiver Patrick Crayton among others, said to be "not that good." Those comments usually come among the litany of "the best team didn't win" remarks teams have been making about New England since 2001.
Those three "long" fourth-quarter drives looked more like a cat toying with a mouse, letting the rodent run so far before clamping down a mighty paw. The first two of those drives resulted in field-goal attempts, one good, one wide left. The last ended on a 4th-down sack that would have been a turnover on downs had it not ended the game.
Wasn't All About the O
That defensive performance was key, because the offense inspired few people.
It's not entirely fair to say the offense went nowhere. They moved the ball. Laurence Maroney has his best game of the season with 104 yards on 26 carries. (Maroney had 103 yards against Buffalo in Week 3 before he sat out three games. He had 20 carries against New York in Week 1, his only other 20-carry game this season.)
4 Yards And ... ? -- Patriots running back Laurence Maroney did what many Patriots have done in the last six years: He got the job done. Far from spectacular and reminiscent of Antowain "3 yards and a cloud of dust" Smith, Maroney gained 104 yards on 26 carries Sunday.
Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Jim Davis
Brady made one big mistake -- the interception -- but many of this throws were off target. Up 7-0 with a 1st down on New York's 28, Brady threw deep to Randy Moss in the left side of the end zone. Moss and Jets defensive back Eric Smith were face-to-face in the end zone. The ball was closer to Smith than it was to Moss. If Brady throws to the other side and leads Moss away from Smith, it's a touchdown. A lot of other receivers were reaching for passes at their ankles. Catchable on some fields under some conditions. Not catchable Sunday in Gillette.
Moss led the team with 5 catches and 79 yards. No one else came close. Even Wes Welker, who has shocked most of the pro football world by trailing just Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh for most receptions in the league, had just 3 catches for 30 yards. Kevin Faulk also had 3 catches, but for 19 yards. Jabar Gaffney caught a pair of passes, and Heath Evans caught one.
That's it. Just five different receivers, and none with more than 5 receptions. Very un-Brady-like.
A Few Team Stats
Oddly enough, the Patriots still gained first downs eight times by passing, one more than by rushing. All things considered, they were better than they had been in some recent games with 38 percent converting 3rd downs (6 of 16), and they did convert their one 4th-down attempt. (The defense held the Jets to just 1 of 3 on 4th down and 3 of 14 (21 percent) on 3rd down.
New England was just 1 for 3 on red-zone attempts, but the D held New York to an 0-fer again (4).
The officials had a pretty good game, but for the one ticky-tack interference call on Wilson and the badly missed interference call on a Jets defended who had wrapped Welker around the ankles long before the pass arrived. There were some questionable ball spots, but that's difficult to spot from my location in those conditions. (I'm usually spot-on, but it could have been me having a bad day.)
Genius, Man -- So much for media-assigned nicknames. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has shown repeatedly who the true root of the Bill Parcells coaching tree is.
Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Jim Davis
Both teams had six penalties enforced against them, 48 yards against New England, 42 against New York.
The Patriots dominated time of possession through three quarters. Again, while the defense "allowed" the Jets to move the ball in the fourth, New York held the advantage in the quarter, 10:31 to 4:29. For the rest of the game, it was all Patriots, 29:08 to 15:52.
You can't win if you don't have the ball. Unless you score 40 or 50 points very quickly.
Eugene Wilson and James Sanders
Wilson started the first five games of the season before playing sparingly against Dallas and Miami. To that point, he was playing very well, among the team leaders in tackles. Wilson first appeared on New England's injury report prior to the Patriots' Week 8 meeting with Washington, and he sat out six straight weeks with an ankle injury.
For a few more recent weeks, he was not listed on the injury report, but he was inactive until he returned to limited duty against Pittsburgh. Sunday, he returned to the starting lineup, while James Sanders, who played admirably -- truly one of 2007's pleasant surprises -- in Wilson's absence, is now nursing a knee injury and was listed inactive. (Sanders played all 68 defensive snaps against the Steelers.)
Wilson, playing significant time in just six games and sparingly in three others, has 26 solo tackles (30 total). Sanders, meanwhile, is 7th on the team with 44 solo tackles and tied with Junior Seau for 4th in total tackles with 63. Tedy Bruschi has 80, and Adalius Thomas and Mike Vrabel both have 69.
The Gillette Experience
It took Gillette Stadium quite a while to fill in, but most Patriots fans would not be denied. I can vouch that the MBTA's special commuter train to Foxboro was overflowing with faithful eschewing tailgating for safety.
But there they were, some stupidly throwing snowballs randomly. (I didn't understand that at all. Why would you throw snowballs at other Patriot fans?) Some had signs, like the ones mocking those popular in New York, but these read R - A - T - S. Another said, "Hey Mangini, Film This, 13-0"
R-A-T-S, Rats, Rats, Rats -- Patriots fans know the truth about videotaping in the NFL. Heck, plenty of former players and coaches have verified such. Those who don't believe it probably also think Roger Clemens is clean and O.J. Simpson is innocent.
Photo courtesy: Boston Herald / Matt Stone
But the fans did gear up, as few they were, for the early defensive series, and when the stadium was more full, they were quite loud for the big third downs. If they weren't entirely as enthusiastic as they were for Pittsburgh, it's understandable. It was miserable out there.
Some people seemed more interested in the post-game midfield meeting between the head coaches. There were sports books taking bets on all manner of possibilities, including that Patriots coach Bill Belichick would skip the "tradition" altogether.
As it turns out, Belichick did meet Eric Mangini somewhere about midfield with a wry smile. He extended his hand and said, "Great game. Awesome."
The gesture, the facial expression, the few words (I don't know if Mangini said anything), have been over-analyzied and dissected in the ensuing 24 hours. What all the "experts" have left us with is essentially, "I don't know what it means." Brilliant.
Personally, for what it's worth, which is absolutely nothing in the greater scheme, I think that the grin said more than anything. It said, "I'm surprised to see you here. I can't believe you're showing your face. I guess rats really are vertebrates. Anyway, I'm 14-0, and you're 3-11."
Notes From Other Games
Maybe I haven't been watching and listening to the right people, but I haven't heard a single person say that the Philadelphia Eagles created a blueprint to beat the Dallas Cowboys. I find this strange, because everyone (well, all the national media hacks) was saying they created a blueprint to beat the Patriots after Philly lost to them. Now they beat the Cowboys, and not a single mention of blueprints. Poor Andy Reid.
Speaking of Teams That Came Up Short
Baltimore would be the beneficiary of the alleged blueprint. Like a half-dozen other teams, they gave New England their absolute best. New England beat them. And Baltimore's players publicly blamed the officials for their own ineptitude. Then the Ravens, like a half-dozen other teams, resumed their futility against the rest of the league. They didn't even show up to play Indy, and they they caved to the only winless team in the league. I wonder who the players are blaming today?
Dawson Vs. Vinatieri
Looks like more than one kicker can kick in the snow, but only one is making $3-plus million a year.
Cleveland's Phil Dawson nailed a pair of field goals in blizzard conditions reminiscent of New England's playoff win over Oakland in 2001. Dawson connected from 35 yards in the first quarter and 49 in the second. Vinatieri made field goals of 23, 45 (with 0:27 left to tie) and 23 (in overtime) in the Raiders game. Sebastian Janikowski also kicked a pair (38, 45) in that game. Vinatieri's just came at much bigger moments.
This season, Dawson is out-kicking Vinatieri. He's 24 of 27 -- 10 of 10 from inside 30, 7 of 8 from 30 to 39, 6 of 7 from 40 to 49, and 1 of 2 from 50 and beyond. Vinatieri is 21 of 27 -- 14 of 15 from inside 30, 7 of 9 from 30 to 39, 0-fer 2 from 40 to 49 and 0-fer 1 from beyond. Vinatieri has also missed a pair of extra points. Dawson has missed 1. (Just FYI, Stephen Gostkowski is perfect on 67 extra points. That has to be close to another record.)
Roy Williams, Far Dirtier Than Harrison
For all the whining you hear elsewhere about Rodney Harrison being a dirty player, and voted so in informal polls of NFL players (all long before he wore a Patriots uniform), he's nothing compared to Dallas safety Roy Williams.
Williams, who has a rule named after him and who has injured several players, has finally been suspended by the league for repeated violations of the "Roy Williams" horsecollar rule. Sunday, Williams dragged down Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb from behind by hauling down inside the collar of McNabb's shoulder pads. After four fines for the same, two earlier this year, Williams stands to lose $37,187 (one game's salary) while also causing his teammates to need to play without him next week at Carolina.
Now, if only the league will crack down on Bob Sanders's helmet-to-helmet hits.