One year when I was a kid, my mother took me to the mall to see Santa Claus. This was back in the mid-80s, before mall Santas formed their own union and the competition for the job was as stiff as it got. Back then, pretty much any schlub with a paunch, a fake beard, and a clean criminal record could handle what was likely the keynote event of any child’s year. And little Alec, far too young to know that the Santa Claus I was going to see was not in fact the real McCoy (I have since learned the truth – that the real Santa Claus contracts fat bearded men out every year to help him manage the workload and report any surprise changes back to him), and thus I was quite understandably on edge. Telling Santa what you want is not a decision to be taken lightly, and there were a lot of hot items to choose from that year. Light Bright and Mousetrap had just hit the market, and there was a lot of buzz on the playground surrounding Teddy Ruxpin. All would have made solid requests, but I had my sights set on something bigger. I wanted a Power Wheels, and I knew that the only shot I had at getting one was going over my parents’ heads and hitting up The Big Guy.
I spent my entire wait in line rehearsing what I was going to say. By the time I got to the front, I was completely prepared and in full on Cute Mode, confident that I could put a positive spin on any potential transgressions that might land me on the Naughty List. I strode right into The Workshop and plopped myself squarely on Santa Claus’s lap with twist and landing that would have made Kerri Strug proud.
And there, staring me right in the face, was a very large piece of what I can only assume was nacho cheese wedged firmly between Santa’s front teeth.
I was dumbfounded. I mean, this was Santa Claus. Santa doesn’t eat nachos! And if he does, he certainly doesn’t just leave a massive wad of cheese there hanging off his teeth. I just sat there for a second trying to regain my grip on reality, and I’m not going to pretend that there wasn’t a moment when all my prior preparations didn’t go up in smoke. I recovered, though - pretty well for a seven-year-old, I should say - and delivered my request to Santa with a straight face and steel resolve. I sat for the obligatory picture, and then my mom and I left the mall. On the ride home, all I could think about was how overall, my visit to Santa was a success – but something simply wasn’t right.
And that’s how New England’s win over the Oakland Raiders yesterday felt for me. At the end of the day, the Patriots got a solid victory on the road against a very hard-nosed, tough team, and I was ecstatic to observe that most of the offensive miscues that cost the Pats last week’s game were fixed. And ultimately, I feel really good about the win and confident going into October, where the Patriots have historically been dominant. Still, though, I can’t shake this feeling that New England is playing each week with a massive piece of nacho cheese between their teeth, and unless they can find a way to pry it out, there just may be a lot of crying children in New England this December. Game notes after the jump.
- The Patriots played this one like Rocky Balboa played his rematch with Clubber Lang in Rocky III. Got them all worked up into a frenzied rage and then went for the knockout when they were tired. When you go up against a bully, turning his anger and mommy issues against him is always the recipe for success.
- As he has for us so many times in the past, Richard Seymour came up huge for New England yesterday.
- When Tommy B plays well, the Patriots are going to win games. I know it sounds simple, but it needs to be stated. This offense is absolutely loaded and Wes Welker is having a season for the ages thus far.
- Along those lines: get Wes Welker a new contract RIGHT NOW.
- Oakland 9-5 at home all-time vs. NE. Tom Brady no sacks in 90 pass attempts. I wonder if the NFL employs someone whose sole job is to look up jinxing stats for The Pats.
- Oakland’s opening drive: 3rd and 19 from the 22 yard line. Patriots only rush 2 and one of them is Rob Ninkovich. At least it was something different.
- Why does New England ever line up Julian Edelman in the backfield? Is that supposed to confuse defenses?
- I told the girlfriend, as she was sitting on the floor, legs crossed, chin resting on her hands while she hung rapt on every word I said, that if Pat Chung doesn’t start, Patriots lose. Luckily for us, Chung got the start. He really is a good safety.
- However, it's hard to give Chung too much credit on the Jason Campbell interception. I have no clue what he was thinking there, but I'm glad he thought it. Oakland was primed to go into halftime up 17- 14, which would have changed the whole feel of the game. Instead, that pick represented a 10 point swing and put New England in the driver’s seat.
- New England’s defense is like that guy we all see at the gym with a massive upper body and really skinny legs. Impressive to look at, and once in a while does something really remarkable, but is pretty much only good for flexing in the mirror.
- Maybe Stephen Gostkowski should just go for the onside kick every time he kicks off. It’s not like we can stop anybody before they get inside the 35 anyway and at least this way there’s a chance we get the ball back.
- In spite of the numbers, I was impressed overall with the run defense sans Albert Haynesworth. Benny outrushed Run DMC yesterday and Brandon Spikes was solid up the middle. Yeah, we gave up some big runs, but that’s to be expected from a monster like McFadden and we didn’t let him really get going.
- Jerod Mayo was carted into the locker room at halftime. Word is that the injury is not season ending, but we really can’t afford to lose Mayo for an extended period of time. Wanna know why?
- If Mayo goes out, Guyton comes in. Cue the duckboats!
- How sexy does Tommy B’s new haircut look? Seriously! It’s all business now.
- What a breath of fresh air BenJarvus Green-Ellis is over Laurence Maroney. Instead of holding my breath every time the running back gets the ball for the inevitable shuffling and ensuing fumble, I know the worst that’s ever going to happen is a no yard gain.
- I’m happy to say that I found a way to enjoy watching the game when the Patriots are on defense: mute the TV and play the Benny Hill theme instead. It’s amazing how often whatever bonehead play we make cues up perfectly with it.
- What really concerns me most about this defense is no longer our Olive Oyl-esque pass rush; it seems as if New England is lacking the very basic fundamentals of taking good angles, getting the head around in coverage, and finishing tackles. That’s just basic football that the Patriots aren’t doing well and I’m now genuinely worried.
- Prime example of bad fundamentals: Gary Guyton was in prime position to blow up the Michael Bush touchdown run, but he completely over-committed and Bush walked in untouched.
- Did Bill Belichick lose Brandon McGowan’s number? Wouldn’t mind seeing him back.
- And James Sanders had a good day for Atlanta yesterday as well. Sigh.
- A lot of game tape of Tommy B hitting Rob Gronkowski up the seam is starting to pile up. Gronk was covered on a lot of those throws.
- No catches for Gronk, and no penalties on Chad Ochocinco. I actually think that these are two good signs.
- After the Danny Woodhead injury, I spent the rest of the game hoping for a shot of Nate Solder on the sidelines putting a band-aid on little Danny’s ankle, kissing it better, and ruffling his hair as he ran back out into the huddle. No such luck.
- I’m taking full credit for Stevan Ridley’s big game. On Sunday morning I dropped him from my fantasy team in order to pick up Steve Breaston. You’re welcome.
- It got to the point in the 2nd half where Jason Campbell didn’t even try to look off the safety. Just stared his primary target down from the snap and threw at will. It was almost as if Campbell had harnessed Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn, and I was half-expecting him to look across the line at New England’s defense and say, "Well, here it comes, Parkman. The ol' number 1, the Terminator. You get a piece, you can rename it."
- Someone needs to explain to me what constitutes Pass Interference in this league. It seems to be called differently game to game and I have no idea what a good call is anymore.
- Same goes for Roughing the Passer.
- What do we have to lose by blitzing more? Seriously – why not give it a shot?
- If your defense can't stop a nose bleed, you need to find another way to protect the lead. I was glad to see a commitment to the running game, and having balance on offense is going to be more important than ever as this team tries to find a pass rush.
- One of the reasons that the running game worked so well yesterday was Brian Waters. I'm liking him more and more each week. He had a couple of great pulling blocks that set up a few of Benny’s runs. Bruschi’s old number is serving him well.
- A 31-13 4th quarter lead should be enough to ice the game against a run-heavy team. But how many of you felt truly comfortable after the Deion Branch touchdown?
- Thank God Pat Chung committed that unnecessary roughness penalty late in the 4th quarter. For a second there I thought we had managed a 3rd down stop.
- Vince Wilfork has more interceptions this season than Darrelle Revis. This means nothing, but I find it funny.
- Watching Darren McFadden try to tackle Big Vince reminded me of fireman Goofy hanging off the back of the truck in that Walt Disney classic "Mickey’s Fire Brigade." I spent hours looking for an accompanying image to this note, but came up snake eyes.
- Don’t get the decision to keep throwing with 6 minutes to play in the game. I felt like that was a great opportunity to put Stevan Ridley in to see how he does as a clock-killer.
- Talk about putting a damper on the win with that final Oakland drive. 99 yards in just over a minute for a meaningless score like it was nothing. Absolutely unacceptable.
- I watched Ed Reed’s strip sack of Mark Sanchez last night, and immediately the song "Jesse’s Girl" started playing in my head. Why can’t I find a pass rush like that?
All in all, another solid outing. It was especially important to right the ship this week after blowing such a large halftime lead last week, and we are going to need all the confidence we can muster this week when the New York Jets come to Gillette. New England made the statement yesterday that it can hang with the toughest opponents, and the Patriots are still one of the best teams in the NFL. It's always good to get a win on the road, particularly a West Coast win, and the eventual return of Vollmer, Haynesworth, and Hernandez is going to provide a nice boost on both sides of the ball. New England hasn't even played their best football yet, which I'm sure keeps a lot of head coaches up at night.
Still, though – nacho cheese.
And in case you were wondering – I never did get that Power Wheels.