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 10/4/2001

Hold your horses...

When the Patriots started out the season with consecutive losses to "beat-able" opponents, Patriot Nation, myself included, was having flashbacks to the 2000 season. With returning AFC East favorites Indy and Miami next on the schedule, 0-4 was looming large.

Ever since the Bill Parcells was here, Boston sports writers seem to have developed a penchant for quoting him. I wish I had a dollar bill for every time I have read, "You are what you are" in a Boston sports section since the 6-10 season of 1995. That quote is often put to use in response to the standard locker room "We're better than our record" mantra of losing teams, especially losing teams who continually lose close games. When the Patriots dropped close contests to the Bengals and Jets, that quote was once again resurrected.

I, however, would instead like to quote the Tuna on a phrase I do not recall seeing in print since he was originally quoted. I forget what season it was, but it was early on in that season and the media was beginning to make assumptions of where teams were headed based on the first two or three games played. Parcells, rolling his eyes (you all know the look), went on about how every season people think they have it all figured out after two or three weeks. Parcells maintained that it's not until around mid-season that one can more safely begin to assess the fortitude of the teams around the league. His exact words were something to the like of "…you're all saying this team is this and this team is that when the truth is nobody will know a damn thing until we're half way through the season."

If we are to believe that advice, then it should be no huge surprise that the 0-2 Patriots manhandled the 2-0 Colts last Sunday in Foxboro Stadium. Based on just two games, the Colts entered a divisional road contest as 13 point favorites in a stadium where Peyton Manning was previously 0-3. So who are the 2001 New England Patriots? John Q. Public is convinced that they're the same team that lost to the Bengals and Jets, as they are currently 10 point underdogs in Miami. This despite the fact that the Dolphins are coming home off of a humbling 42-10 defeat in St. Louis, with all of those 42 points being scored against the vaunted Miami D.

The Pats have not lost by more than 10 points to the Dolphins since September 1,1996, dropping a 24-10 contest on opening day in Miami. In the 9 games played since, the Patriots are 4-5 with 6 of those 9 games being decided by a field goal or less. The 11-5 Dolphins swept the 5-11 Patriots last season, but those who watched both games know that a single play was the difference in each, with the Patriots arguably outplaying Miami both times.

While the "fan of the year" in me wants to believe Tom Brady when he says "that was the real us" following the outburst against the Colts, the battle scared New England sports fan in me needs look no further than last season for some perspective. The then 0-4 Patriots did the unthinkable in beating Denver in Mile High Stadium for their first victory of the season, and then came home to upset the Colts to get to 2-4. Those two teams finished the season with 11 and 10 wins, respectively, and went on to the playoffs.

Just like today, those wins had us wondering who the real Patriots were. With 0-4 having turned to 2-4, perhaps the Patriots were not as bad as we had thought, and things were really looking up with home games against the Jets, Bills, and Bengals sandwiched around road trips to Cleveland and Indianapolis on the immediate horizon. Just when we all had 6-5 pencilled in for the home stretch, the wheels came off the wagon for good. 2-4 was quickly 2-7, and the season was over.

Looking ahead this time around after the season's first victory, the Patriots only play at home once in their next 5 contests. The Pats will pay visits to Indy, Denver and Atlanta following their trip to Miami and a home date against the resurgent Flutie-led San Diego Chargers. What will the Patriots record look like when they return home from Atlanta and prepare to face the Bills on November 11? Tom Brady's comments would lead us to believe the Patriots could be 5-3, while those of us who still have last season fresh in our minds are thinking more along the lines of 2-6. How could a team that beats the Colts 44-13 go 2-6? How could a team that loses to the Bengals and Jets get to 5-3? As Bill Parcells tells us, it's simply way too early to start making predictions.

The Patriots have already got us hoping that this is not a replay of the 2000 season by actually winning a game in September. With a projected 12 players of this Sunday's starting 24 not even being on the Patriots' roster last season, I for one am optimistic that this can in fact be a new season. A win in Miami next Sunday would prove that. While I won't make any predictions on the outcome of the game, I will go out and a rare limb and say that one so inclined to wager on this game would be nuts not to grab New England getting 10.


Drew Bledsoe had to be wondering where the scoring defense, running game, and capable offensive line that we saw last Sunday have all been hiding for the past three years. Why does the rest of the team finally step up with the 100-Million-Dollar QB sidelined with an injury? When Scott Zolak won a start at home against the #1 NFC seeded 49ers in week 15 of the '98 season, he did so while completing less than half of his passes. Why? The defense came up huge in slowing down the 13-3 '9ers, and rookie RB Robert Edwards had a big day with over 100 yards rushing and a slew of yards catching the ball out of the backfield as well.

Is it that Bledsoe fails to bring out the best of those around him, or is it that given Bledsoe's early successes in his career with single-handed 4th quarter comebacks, the other guys are too often counting on #11 to win the game for them? Either scenario is unacceptable. If Bledsoe's teammates could put forth that type of effort with him on the field, Bledsoe-bashing would quickly become extinct.

While there are those who will say that the 44-13 pounding of the Colts was because Bledsoe was replaced by Tom Brady, I counter with arguing that the score may have been 64-13 with Bledsoe in the lineup. Brady had himself a blue-collar game in going 13 for 23 for 168 yards, but he clearly wasn't THE reason the Pats won the game. Brady was very poised in making the big play when he had to, yet even the biggest plays in the passing game were not made by Brady, but by Smith and Faulk, who scampered for a combined 66 yards on two swing/screen passes.

While Brady did not show enough to make Bledsoe fret his return to the starting lineup when he's healed, there was one thing I noticed that Brady clearly does do better, and that's staying cool in the pocket. The pounding that Bledsoe has taken in recent years had begun to show its effects, as he has seemed jittery in the pocket even when not in immediate danger of being sacked.

Former Redskin QB Joe Theisman refers to this phenomenon as the quarterback's "internal clock" being set back. While the central nervous systems of most QB's around the league begin sending the "pass or run like hell" signal to the body at around 3-Mississippi, Bledsoe's clock has been set back to about half that. When pressure is looming, Bledsoe's feet begin dancing and he pats the football feverishly. Brady, on the other hand, seemed more Grogan-esque on Sunday as he stood in the pocket delivering passes as if he were wearing his red "no contact" Jersey on the practice field. Brady also seems to have that ability to just move 6 to 12 inches in the right direction at the right time to buy himself the precious extra second he needs to spot an open receiver.

It was also refreshing to see a more outward display of enthusiasm on the field and after the game at the press conference. Rather than monotone Drew, we saw a young kid ready to jump out of his skin after playing well and getting his career off on a 1-0 start. If all it took was "rah rah" to win games, however, Scott Zolak would still be playing, but it's still nice to see nonetheless. If Brady can continue to hold down the fort and win a couple more games, I'll be looking even more forward to Drew's return rather than wish for Brady to remain as the starter. The way I look at it, if the Patriots can learn to win without Drew Bledsoe, how good will they be when he returns?

While I doubt Drew is even a bit upset at reading or hearing of any talk of the Patriots being better off without him, he can take some solace in knowing that even the great Larry Bird had similar critics. In one season in the early 90's, Reggie Lewis and the Celtics were winning games at a feverish pace while Bird was sidelined with back problems toward the end of his career. There was much talk that Bird's targeted return to the team a few weeks before the playoffs would ruin the momentum that the team had built with him out of the lineup, and that the Celtics would be better off if Larry did not return in time for the post-season. Sound ridiculous? Not in New England.

See you next week...