Clint's Corner Archive

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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 9/12/2000

Different Story...

...same unhappy ending. In a game that in many ways was more a reciprocal contest than the opener against Tampa Bay, the Patriots still failed to earn their first victory of the 2000 season, dropping to 0-2 to remain all alone in last place in the AFC East.

Last week the Patriots were outplayed in their home stadium for 58 minutes. The defense and offense finally made some big plays, securing themselves the opportunity to win a game they previously had no business winning. Tampa Bay squandered numerous opportunities to drive the final nail in the Patriots coffin, and they almost paid dearly for that. The Patriots failed to take advantage of that window of opportunity, and fell 21-16 in the final seconds with a Drew Bledsoe 4th down pass falling incomplete outside the end zone.

This week it was the visiting Patriots outplaying the heavily favored Jets deep into the 4th quarter on national television. All around me the Jets fans were booing the play calling, head coach Al Groh, and even calling for Ray Lucas to come off the bench to replace the ineffective Vinny Testaverde. When the Patriots scored their only touchdown to take a 12-point lead with just under 10 minutes to play, the Meadowlands began to empty out. In those remaining 10 minutes, the Patriots, like the Buccaneers the week before, failed to capitalize on their numerous chances to end a game they resoundingly earned the chance to win.

First there was the Jets converting on 4th and 7 from the New England 35-yard line. Then the would-be interception that went right through Antonio Langham's hands for the first Chrebet touchdown, and finally the botched recovery of a loose football on special teams deep in Jets territory with just under three minutes remaining. These were single plays that were all a matter of inches from securing a hard fought New England victory.

Like the Patriots in week 1, the down-and-out Jets offense found themselves on the field in the closing minutes with a chance to win a game considered over just moments before. Unlike the Patriots, however, the Jets did not let opportunity pass them by. Much to the delight of a reenergized Jets bench and a raucous Giants Stadium crowd, the Jets offense made the big plays late in the game that made the difference between victory and defeat.

Whether you're outplayed for 58 minutes or just 2, the team that makes the big plays at the end of the close games usually walks away the winner. The Patriots blew the chance to steal a win last week, and watched in horror as the Jets stole a win Monday night.

Don't be fooled...

While it appeared that early in the game the Patriots had solved their protection problems along the offensive line, the only difference was that the defense across from them was the Jets and not the Buccaneers. Newly acquired Sale Isaia and Derrick Fletcher were new to the starting lineup at the guard spots, but the overall performance of the offensive line was no better despite Bledsoe having more time to throw this week than last. Had Warren Sapp and friends been wearing Jets uniforms, the results would have been no different than last week at all. In fact, if not for the horrid performance of the line last week to compare this week to, we'd all be talking about how awful the line played Monday night.

Although the Jets are a good defensive football team, they are a shell of what the Buccaneers present in terms of a pass rush. Despite this, the Jets were still able to sack Bledsoe 6 times, 3 times coming late in the game on critical situations. On the final offensive play of the night for New England, Jets rookie John Abraham badly beat Bruce Armstrong, sacking Bledsoe from his blind side before he could even look up to survey the field.

Is there any question at all now why Bruce Armstrong went unclaimed after the Patriots cut him? Bruce Armstrong is one of the greatest players in the history of the Patriots franchise, but it's both painful and sad to watch his lunch get handed to him by a rookie in game breaking situations. This is the 2nd poor performance in as many games turned in by heroic #78. If Armstrong's game, or the teams position in the standings, does not turn around in the next few weeks, it will be time to let (currently injured) rookie 2nd round draft choice Adrian Klemm take over the starting LT spot and earn his lumps.

Dead Zone...

On both sides of the ball, the Patriots for 8 quarters now have had major problems inside the opponent's 20-yard line. In 5 red zone possessions this season, the opposition has yet to even attempt a field goal this year. The Bucs were a perfect 3 for 3, and the Jets yesterday a perfect 2 for 2 in converting red zone possessions into touchdowns.

On offense the Patriots have converted just one of 7 red zone possessions into a touchdown, settling for 5 of 6 good field goal attempts on the other 6. It's easy to point to Vinatieri missed chip-shot 29-yard field goal as the difference in the Jets loss. However, had the Patriots found the end zone on just ONE their other 4 red zone possessions, the Jets would have needed to score 3 times instead of just twice to complete their comeback victory.

Of particular disgust was a 30-yard Vinatieri field goal early in the 2nd quarter. Trailing 7-6, an Antonio Langham interception put the offense back on the field on the Jet 14-yard line. Three plays and two yards later, the Jets had held once again. The Jets coaches and their fans will credit their red zone defense, but we in Patriot Nation know better than that.

The Patriots did everything they had to do to win except score touchdowns. Sounds like a stupid statement to make, but it's very, very difficult to lose a game in which you control the clock for 38 minutes, convert 11 of 22 3rd downs, rush 34 times for 100 yards, garner 21 first downs, and commit zero turnovers.

So now what?

In and of itself, starting off a 16 game schedule 0-2 is not the end of the world. The 1996 AFC Champion Patriots began 0-2 with consecutive divisional road losses before finishing the season 11-3 and advancing to the Super Bowl. At the risk of sounding like Lloyd Bentsen, I followed the 1996 Patriots very closely. I knew the 1996 Patriots team very well. This 2000 team, my friends, is not the 1996 Patriots.

While the Patriots are likely to be favored for the first time this season at home against the Minnesota Vikings, what follows is a grueling stretch of 5 games leading up to the bye week. The Patriots will travel to Miami and Denver, then play at home-and-away series against the Colts sandwiched around the Jets visit to Foxboro, where Gang Green has beaten the Patriots for 3 consecutive years.

Even if the Patriots are able to win next week at home, what can even the most daring optimist among us hope for at the bye week? As a die-hard Patriots fan, I dare not answer that question myself. Although the second half of the schedule is a lot kinder to New England, if they don't have at least 3 wins after 8 games, their season is over. If the Patriots are able to get to 3-5 or 4-4 at the break, there will be good reason for hope of a post-season birth. They operative word in that last sentence, of course, was if...

Final note...

While the bad-rap Jets fans certainly had a few choice words for me as I excited the stadium in my Bledsoe Jersey, this is the 5th consecutive year I have traveled to Giants Stadium and sat in the upper deck without incident. In fact, the Jets season ticket holders in section 306 have come to expect me at the annual Jets-Patriots game, which over the last 5 seasons has gone New England's way just twice. Regardless of the outcome, there's always been a friendly goodbye, a "have a safe trip home," and a "we'll see you here next year."

A lot of negative things have been said and written about the Jets/ Patriots border wars over the past 4 seasons, but in reality it's what makes these game so much fun to watch and attend. Who in Patriot Nation did not circle October 15th on their calendars after the final seconds ticked away Monday Night? I know I did.

See you next week.