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 11/27/2000


The only thing worse than trying to digest my Thanksgiving Turkey while watching the Pats get run over in Detroit was trying to hold my dinner down during the Belichick post-game press conference. Admiral Stockdale was more clued in at the podium in the '96 Presidential Campaign than Bill Belichick is this season. His comments following the 34-9 drubbing were eerily reminiscent of Rod Rust's comments following yet another embarrassing loss in the 1-15 train-wreck season of 1990. Not once did Belichick ever criticize his team. He instead went out of his way to praise the efforts and courage of some of his players, and dismissed the loss to "a few plays that got away from us." Are you kidding me? Following the live coverage of the press conference on Channel 4, the cameras went back in studio to catch Bob Lobel, Will McDonough, and Steve DeOssie with their jaws hanging wide open in disbelief.

Just 12 games into his tenure as Patriots head coach, it absolutely horrifies me that a #1 draft pick was surrendered to the New York Jets to land this guy. Bobby Grier is now officially off the hook for wasting a #1 on Chris Canty. It's not that the team is 3-9 that bothers me, it's that the team has too often taken the field with no desire, no direction, and no heart. The 0-10 San Diego Chargers went down to the wire two weeks ago in a 38-37 loss at Denver, yet a still inspired 0-11 Charger team took the field at home the following week to defeat the Chiefs for their first win of the season. When the Patriots were 5-11 in 1993 and 6-10 in 1995 under Bill Parcells, one never had the sense that Tuna didn't know what was going on. There was also never a question as to who was in charge, nor whether those Patriots teams would show up to play week in and week out.

No excuses accepted...

While it is true Belichick did not exactly inherit a gem from Bobby Grier and Pete Carroll, he at the very least was brought here to improve the team. Taking the team from a 2-6 slide in '99 to the playoffs in '00 may be too much to ask. But is it too much to ask to at least show some improvement? Even just a little? I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the Grier-selected and Carroll-led squad of 1999 would defeat this 2000 edition led by Bill Belichick. It would be a close game, but the 2000 team would find a way to lose it in the end. Not only is this team far worse than last year's, it is the worst team ever to wear the new Patriots logo.

Over the final 8 games of last season, Pete Carroll supposedly had "lost control" of his "undisciplined" team. The word on the street was that his players had quit on him in the midst of their slump when they lost in Philly to the Eagles 24-9 in week 15. As bad as those 8 games were, this season has been far worse. Aside from the loss to the Eagles, the '99 Patriots' other 5 losses in that slide were by a combined 32 points. At home, the Patriots lost by 7 to the Jets and by 3 to Buffalo in overtime after Vinatieri missed a 32-yard field goal at the end of regulation. They won two games at home defeating Dallas on national television 13-6 and a streaking Ravens team 20-3 in the final game of the season. Compared to what's going on now, those 1999 Patriots don't look so bad anymore.

Now every time I mention Pete Carroll in one of my columns, I get feedback indicating I must be one of his relatives or something. For the umpteenth time, Grier and Carroll deserved to be fired. I only refer to Carroll and the 1999 team as a comparison because it was only a year ago that the Patriots were considered a "disciplinarian" away from going to the playoffs. Despite comparable talent to this year's team, all that the '99 squad supposedly lacked were toughness and discipline. Before the season started, even the most pessimistic NFL observer had the Patriots at 6-10 with Carroll and Grier out of the picture. No one envisioned what had transpired thus far. This team has not simply gone from bad to worse, but from bad to much worse.

As I pointed out three weeks ago, 5 other new head coaches took over teams that were about the same as or worse than the 1999 New England Patriots. Each also inherited built-in excuses in case they failed to succeed. Al Groh lost half of his would-be staff of assistants to the Patriots, and the best WR in the NFL to the Buccaneers. Dave Wannstedt had to deal with life after Dan Marino with an NFL Europe-like core of QB's on his roster. What about Jim Haslett? Not only does he have the Saints in first place in the NFC West, but his team just beat the Rams 31-24 in St. Louis with his starting QB and star running back on the injured list. Below is an update on how some of the other first year coaches are doing after taking over some mediocre teams.

Team New Coach 1999 2000
Jets Al Groh 8-8 8-4
Dolphins Dave Wannstedt 9-7 9-3
Cowboys Dave Campo 8-8 4-8
Packers Mike Reilly 8-8 5-6
Saints Jim Haslett 3-13 8-4

Belichick, to his credit, has performed the necessary house cleaning to tidy up after the previous regime. Gone is the aged Ben Coates (7 catches, 0 TD's in 12 games w/ Baltimore), and the overpaid Todd Rucci (still out of the NFL). Zefross Moss was not resigned, and he opted to retire. Bruce Armstrong was cut and later resigned at a significant cap savings, and the $3 million Max Lane has spent most of the season on the bench while younger players man the guard and right tackle positions. The Patriots do indeed miss Shawn Jefferson and Steve Israel, but they were free agent casualties of the money dished out to retain the services of Lawyer Milloy, Troy Brown, and Tedi Bruschi. Can this roster turnover be the reason the team is 3-9 today? No way. There is still way too much talent remaining on this team, particularly on defense, to be a doormat. Buffalo jettisoned Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas after last season. Did that stop the Bills from beating the Jets at home and New England on the road?

Yes the offense is severely talent starved, but that's because so much money has been thrown at the defense in the past 3 to 4 years. Even among the playoff contenders this season, which ones have a balanced team? The Rams and Colts have no defense, and the Dolphins and Bills have no offense. There are only 2 or 3 teams in the NFL each year that have the complete package. It is not at all beyond fair to have expected a Bill Belichick-led Patriots defense with this much talent to carry the team to at least 6 or so wins on their own. The defense has indeed been the strength of the team this season, but they are never good when they "have to be." In close loses earlier this season to the Jets, Colts and Bills, the defense has vanished in crunch time.

The tough schedule excuse also has got to go. Aside from the Minnesota Vikings, each of the opponents the Patriots have lost to this season has looked very human in other games. In fact, if you take the games against the Patriots out of the equation, here's how the Patriots' opponents would stack up:

Team Current Record W/O Patriots
Minnesota 10-2 9-2
Miami 9-3 8-3
New York 8-4 6-4
Indianapolis 7-5 6-4
Buffalo 7-5 6-5
Detroit 8-4 7-4
Tampa Bay 6-6 5-6
Cleveland 3-10 2-10

Again, aside from Minnesota, I don't see anyone on that schedule that the Pats should not be able to beat. After Minnesota and Miami, you have essentially a collection of middle tier teams who are barely above .500. (Also note that Miami is 9-3 averaging a whopping 3.75 more points per game scoring than the Pats - who says you need an offense?). In fact, given what we've seen in recent weeks, the Pats could play all 16 games against the Bengals and Browns and still have a tough time winning half of those contests.

Now or never...

Forget about playing for a 2001 draft choice, this team needs to start winning now. Even at 3-9, a 4 game win streak to end the season would do wonders for the 2001 season, not to mention put a nail in the tires of the Buffalo and Miami playoff express. We already know that this team is not going to the playoffs, but how they play over the final 4 weeks of the season will be a direct reflection of their head coach. If they continue to play like they have since the bye week, it will be clear that the white flag has been raised, and the players have no respect for Bill Belichick. Suck in up in the cold weather and win 3 or 4 games, and we'll know the players are on board with Coach Belichick and the continuation of his rebuilding project.

There are those that say Bill Belichick should be given more than one season to prove himself. One year is not enough time to right a sinking ship. Should the Patriots finish this season at 3-13, Bill Belichick should not get that chance. It will be very clear then, if it isn't already, that Bill Belichick is not the right man to lead the Patriots back to being a playoff contender. Bob Kraft will probably give Belichick at least through the 2001 season before he makes any such harsh decisions, but I can tell you right now that the man who took the post-game podium in Detroit last Thursday is not a championship caliber coach. Good coaches take lemons and make lemonade. Bill Belichick has proven over the course of his career that he can lead the horses to the water with the best of 'em, but can he make them drink? That's the difference between a coordinator and a head coach. And to think the Saints pried Haslett from the Steelers for nothing more than a phone call!

Are you getting sick of reading my bashing of Coach Belichick these past few weeks? Well frankly I'm getting sick of writing it.

See you next week.