Well that was no fun.
The storm windows were up, the bathtub was filled, and I was hunkered down with my bottled water, my week's supply peanut butter and beef jerky, and 3 handles of Jack Daniel's. I turned on my television on Saturday night ready for the worst that Hurricane Irene had to offer and excited to watch the New England Patriots unstoppable offense and terrifying pass rush take on the budding young Detroit Lions in the most important game of the preseason. Better yet, the game was on national television, giving the rest of the country a chance to see exactly what they were going to be dealing with as the Patriots' revamped pass rush and ever-dynamic offense prepared to decimate every team in their way.
Um, not so much.
Lo and behold, the Patriots - much like this bad-ass storm New York was supposed to get - crapped out before I even had a chance to get drunk.
The Patriots lost, and they lost bad. On Sunday morning, after looking out my window to see nothing but some deep puddles and a bunch of scattered leaves, I quickly realized that the only real disaster on Saturday night occurred at Ford Field. That game was painful to watch. And of course, as usual when it comes to the Patriots, media reaction to it was swift and merciless. The pass rush was pitiful. The O Line had more holes in it than my lucky pair of boxer shorts. The secondary gave up 7 plus plays of over 20 yards, and superstar Devin McCourty looked like he left his spatial awareness back in Foxboro. Wes Welker hurt his neck and Dan Connolly hurt his ankle. There were more flags on the field than at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. In short, this game was an absolute mess from start to finish.
But honestly, that's OK. I'm not too worried about any of it.
I know, I know. I've already admitted - several times -that I am the KING of overanalyzing the preseason. Every August I turn into a Jewish mother and I don't stop until early September, where I seamlessly transition myself from overbearing fussbudget into my more natural state of arrogant, obnoxious buffoon, much to the delight of my friends and family. By all accounts, I should be absolutely freaking out right now. After all, this was Week 3. I mean, come on - WEEK 3! This is the game that completely dictates what kind of season a team will have and is the foolproof gauge for whether or not the starters will be ready for Week 1. How can I not be concerned right now? What the hell gives?
The answer, my friends, is Immersion Therapy. It's all the rage right now, and I figure if it can help Tracy Morgan get over his fear of midgets (source needed), it can help me get over this scorching case of OverAnalytis. I figure if I can take what can only be described as a crapfest and put a very pacifying, very Zen spin on it, I will be one step closer to actually being able to enjoy the preseason for what it is. And honestly, what better place to start than the one week of the preseason where it's all supposed to come together and the Patriots are supposed to be firing on all cylinders?
[NOTE: I'm fairly certain that what I'm doing is nowhere near what is considered Immersion Therapy. I think the technical term for it is Delusion. But today it's going to be Immersion Therapy, dammit, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.]
So here goes nothing. The way I see it, there were several mitigating factors that played a major role in Saturday's loss, and here are 3 of them.
The Lions were fired up. The difference between the Patriots' and the Lions' emotional states were glaringly apparent from the opening kickoff. The Lions wanted this game, and they wanted it badly. I've never seen a team- or a fanbase - so fired up over a preseason game before. Players were celebrating big hits, first downs, and trips to the end zone like they were in a playoff game. Fans were ballistic. Detroit's sideline looked more like they were watching two cheerleaders Jello wrestling for the right to hand wash Tom Brady's jock strap than a meaningless football scrimmage.
But so goes the life of the New England Patriots. When you are widely considered the best franchise in the NFL, up-and-coming teams are going to get jacked up to face you regardless of how little the game matters. The Pats are the benchmark by which all other franchises measure themselves, and so it's no surprise that the atmosphere at Ford Field was so electric. If the Lions want to hang with the best in the NFL, they have to bring it and treat this game like it's their American Idol audition. I'm actually surprised that Jim Schwartz didn't get a Gatorade bath afterwards.
The Patriots were NOT fired up. This seems to happen 2 or 3 times every year. It happened at Cleveland last year, and then (inexplicably) happened again against the Jets in the Divisional Playoff round. Right from the getgo, the Pats come out sluggish and lackadaisical, looking like they have no desire to be there. Tom Brady looks like he'd rather be at home with his scalding hot wife (tough to blame him on that one). Drives sputter out, miscommunications abound, penalties rack up, players don't fight for extra yards, and the offense and defense seem to meander on and off the field like they are chasing an escaped cat they have no real desire to ever see again. It usually happens against inferior teams that have had the game circled on their calendars for months, and the Pats predictably get manhandled.
Good. Glad it happened on Saturday. Better, to get it out of the way now, I say. This was the perfect week to play like a bunch of bums. Play bad in the preseason, get it all out of your system, and come into the regular season ready to go.
Of course, I need to give credit where credit is due. The Lions had a great pass rush and they got to Brady early and often during the first half. Tommy B is known to get rattled and stay rattled when you hit him early; it's one of his only weaknesses as a quarterback and one that the Jets exploited twice last season. Detroit clearly had a game plan to get into the Patriots' backfield and stay there, and they executed it masterfully. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are going to anchor a fairly solid front four this year; add Kyle Van Den Bosch to that, and you have the makings of a very formidable defense capable of going Charlie Sheen on opposing QBs. I'm actually fairly happy that the Patriots don't play the Lions this season.
Never thought I'd say that.
Matthew Stafford had a lot to prove. Stafford, despite entering into his 3rd year, has only played 19 of a possible 32 NFL games. He is quickly earning a reputation as brittle and has yet to prove he is worthy of the #1 pick in the 2009 Draft. While Jim Schwartz has said several times that the starting job is Stafford's to lose, I don't think his spot on the team is as secure as it has been made out to be. This preseason is his time to prove that he is the kind of durable quarterback that can lead his team into the postseason. And so far he has been on fire, racking up 256 passing yards and 5 touchdowns with no picks. Saturday night's game was his chance to prove he could hang with the big boys and take his licks, and Stafford took advantage of the opportunity. This is much more than a few weeks of worthless games to the Lions young quarterback, and his performance dictates that. It was good to see, in a lot of ways - it's always encouraging to watch young hungry players test their merit against the world's best.
So those are my big 3. The reasons that I slept like a baby on Saturday night while the winds blew mildly outside my window and the rain was rapidly and efficiently channeled into one of New York City's many drainpipes and gutters. Not only that, but Saturday night's game wasn't even all bad - it was just mostly bad. There's a big difference between mostly bad, and all bad. There were actually a few bright spots that I was able to take away. Not many, but a few.
Back down to earth. The Patriots needed this loss. They won their first two games handily and looked absolutely dominant up until Saturday night. Getting their asses handed to them by Detroit puts things back in perspective and helps them to realize that they still have a long way to go. There were more teachable moments in this last game than the first two put together, and Bill Belichick is going to have Week 3's game footage on repeat like a teenager with a bootleg copy of Pamela Anderson's sex tape. There is no way that the Patriots will be forgetting about this loss anytime soon. A whupping like this is exactly what the team needs to get themselves motivated.
Hell, I needed this, too. I've been trying not to, but I've been getting downright giddy these past few weeks thinking about how good the Patriots have looked so far in the preseason. Saturday's blowout gave me the proverbial slap in the face - a refreshing change of pace from an actual slap in the face - and reminded me not to start growing my playoff beard just yet. And that should make the girlfriend happy. She hates my playoff beard.
Julian Edelman. Edelman is quickly becoming my favorite short white receiver named Julian. Maybe it's just me, but I get excited every time he touches the ball, as he is very good at creating plays and making defenders miss. While people often compare him to a younger, greener version of Wes Welker, Edelman has his own set of weapons that he brings to the table. He lacks Welker's quick cuts and ability to create separation, but Edelman has excellent hands and is extremely dangerous in the open field. It is also important to remember that Edelman played quarterback all through college and is still coming to grips with the nuances of the receiver position. Although Edelman only had 2 receptions for 12 yards, he displayed excellent return skills and has big-play potential every time he fields a punt. Edelman is also very hard to tackle and amazingly quick on his feet; while the roster may be packed with receivers at the moment, there will definitely be a spot for Edelman as a return man/pass catcher.
Danny Woodhead. Danny had to fight for every single inch he got on Saturday, and he was the lone bright spot in a fairly stagnant running game. Woodhead's shiftiness continues to offer a nice alternative when the conventional rushing attack gets no traction. Woodhead finished with 28 yards on 4 carries, including a nice 3rd down conversion and a beautifully timed 17 yard run. I'm always impressed with Woodhead's ability to move in tight spaces and pick up extra yards, oftentimes by diving between linemen's legs. I'm very excited for the combination of Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Woodhead, and Stevan Ridley, as each back has a unique skillset and can be utilized in any number of formations. That Woodhead could continue to show his agility and burst against Detroit's big front four is an encouraging sign.
There is also, of course, the most important piece of news: now that Week 3 of the preseason is in the books, we can start to think about the regular season and the first meaningful game against the Miami Dolphins on Monday, September 12th. While the Patriots clearly have their work cut out for them before they fly down to South Beach, I think they got more practice out of Saturday's game than both of their first two combined. It's time to get back to work, review the game tape, correct the mistakes, and turn the page towards finalizing the roster and preparing for the regular season.
So let's all relax. There's absolutely nothing to worry about. Everything is going to be fine. No need to stress. We can all chill out. Take her easy. Let's not read too much into things.
Now all I have to do now is repeat that last paragraph about 50 more times, and I think I'll be able to get out of bed.