Clint's Corner Archive
Clint's Corner Archive
The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.
Trick or Treat...
What else do Tom Brady and the "new" New England Patriots have in their goody bag? After an 0-2 start, the Patriots dismantled the Colts at home behind a smothering defense and potent running attack. All Tom Brady was asked to do was hand the ball off and not do anything stupid.
The following week the Patriots offense was completely smothered in Miami. The running game was completely shut down, and Brady was no match for a Dolphin D who knew the Patriots had to throw the ball to win. In just his 2nd start, Brady was thrown around like a rag doll and passed for only 86 yards. If the offense stunk, then the defense reeked as they allowed the Dolphins to run up the middle all day long, seemingly unchallenged.
Next came a home date against the 3-1 Chargers. If the now 1-3 Patriots were to make anything of their season, they could not lose at home to fall to 1-4 before heading out on a 3-game road trip. It's surprising enough that Tom Brady single handedly took apart the vaunted Chargers defense, but what's more surprising was that that was the game plan heading in. Despite the forgetful performance the previous week, the coaching staff showed tremendous confidence in their young signal caller in preparing for the Chargers, and he answered the bell big time. Brady threw 54 times in that game for 364 yards.
The Patriots offense did everything right in that game. They did not run the ball well, but that was not in their plans. Brady flawlessly executed a ball-control passing game that amassed 30 first downs and maintained the edge in time of possession against a Charger team who out-rushed them 85-29. Like the Miami defense, San Diego knew Brady would be dropping back to pass, but the offensive line did an excellent job in giving Brady time to throw. Brady spread the ball out to 9 different receivers, including LB Bryan Cox.
The Chargers have proven that you need to play a solid game to beat them in 2001 (They headed home after their loss to the Pats and trounced Denver 27-10), but how good a team must one be to win while handing them a free touchdown with less than 9 minutes to play? Punter Lee Johnson's now infamous blunder spotted the Chargers a 10-point lead with 8:48 left to play. The Patriots had less than 9 minutes left in their season, not just the game. Brady calmly directed the Patriot offense on 60 and 69 yard scoring drives to make up the difference and force overtime, where Brady again passed them down the field to set up the winning field goal. The Patriots aren't good enough to overcome mistakes? Apparently they are now.
Just when we thought we had seen it all from the re-born Patriots offense, out of nowhere last Sunday came the "big play". When was the last time you saw the Patriots look like the modern day Rams? Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis left no page unturned in the play book as the Patriots scored touchdowns on plays of 29, 91, and 60 yards in the first half en route to an early 21-3 lead in the RCA Dome.
Even better was that the Patriots offense did not retreat into the 3-and-punt shell that was often the case last season when the 5-11 Patriots blew memorable 4th quarter leads to the Jets and Colts on the road. After the Colts drove 68 yards in 10 plays for 8 points to begin the 3rd quarter, the Patriots offense answered with drives of 44 and 64 yards to put 10 more points on the board and put the game away. Sure the Patriots scored 44 points the last time these teams hooked up, but 14 were scored by the defense, and the final offensive touchdown came in garbage time. These 38 points were all by the offense, and all 38 were scored before 1 minute had expired in the 4th quarter.
On the Patriots first possession after the Colts touchdown, Antowain Smith had runs of 19 and 12 yards, helping to consume nearly 4 minutes of the 3rd quarter and reminding the Colts that they could run the ball as well as pass it. The box score will tell you that the Pats rushed 30 times for a 4.1-yard average. Factor out Brady taking a knee twice for -2 yards, and New England finished the game with 28 rushing attempts for 125 yards, an impressive and far more tell-tale 5.4-yard average.
So what's next in Denver? In order the past four weeks we've seen Brady play the roll of custodian, hapless and harried, one-man offense, and quick strike surgeon. Who do the Denver Broncos prepare for? To say "Tom Brady" hardly begins to answer that question.
The other 21...
While most of the praise and 99% of the chatter has gone Tom Brady's way with the Patriots winning 3 of their last 4 games, credit has to be given to the rest of the team. The entire roster has really stepped up following the 0-2 start to the season.
It wasn't Drew Bledsoe who let Corey Dillon and Curtis Martin rush for a combined 210 yards in those games. It wasn't #11 who allowed journeyman QB John Kitna to put on his best John Elway impersonation, and it wasn't the $100 Million Man who continually allowed pass rushers into the backfield unabated.
Aside from the Miami game, all facets of the Patriots team play, not just the QB position, have been improved. The Patriots offensive line has done a complete one-eighty. Rookie LT Matt Light has manned the blind side better than anyone who has played there the past two seasons, and that includes Bruce Armstrong. Damien Woody is all over the field from the center spot, and guards Mike Compton and Joe Andruzzi are not allowing the pocket to be collapsed up the middle. We haven't heard RT Greg Robinson-Randall's number called too often the past few weeks, and that's just the way a tackle wants it.
WR David Patten has picked his game up a notch after the loss to the Jets, and that has helped take some of the load off of Troy Brown. Jermain Wiggins is quietly re-establishing the existence of a TE in Patriot offense in the red zone, and running backs Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk have gotten the tough 1 and 2 yards when needed as well the occasional big play, be it on the ground or via the pass.
On the defensive side of the ball, the no-name defensive front-7 has continually stiffened up in the red zone, and the play from the secondary has been outstanding. Even when they make a mistake, a teammate is usually there to help out, as was the case with Tebucky Jones chasing down Marvin Harrison at the 2-yard line after he had spun around Ty Law for a 68-yard gain. The defense has been far from perfect, but they are playing a physical, opportunistic style that has not been seen around here since the 1998 season.
So the old adage has proven true once again. A quarterback always seems to get too much blame when a team losses, and too much credit when they win. This is why I still don't feel we have a quarterback controversy here in New England. Am I still anxious to see Drew back in the lineup? Not exactly, but I find it nothing short of insane that people feel Bledsoe should be on the trading block after comparing Brady's 3-1 record to an 8-year career.
If the team continues to win under Tom Brady, then there is no reason to upset the apple cart and rush Drew Bledsoe back into the lineup. This is not to say I feel that Brady is a better quarterback, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. A lot has gone right in Brady's 3 wins that simply has not even come close to going right in the past two seasons for Drew Bledsoe. The Miami game, where Brady was sacked 4 times and knocked down countless others, is a better apples-to-apples comparison between the two. When you aren't even given a chance to set your feet, it's difficult to be a quarterback in the NFL.
Sure there are some things that Brady does better, and I for one also do not underestimate his value as an enthusiastic leader and confidence builder in the huddle. However, be reminded that Bledsoe owns virtually every passing record there is to own in the 42-year history of this franchise. Bledsoe is 1st through 7th in attempts, and 1st through 6th in both completions and total yards in a season. Had he not been injured, Bledsoe in his 9th year likely would have amassed the 19 touchdown passes needed to surpass Grogan's standing franchise record of 182 in 16 seasons.
Bledsoe's seasons of 1994, 1995, and 1996 saw him attempt the 1st, 3rd, and 4th most passes in NFL history, with his '94 and '96 seasons also being good for 2nd and 6th on the all time completions list. Drew's 4,555 passing yards in 1994 were 8th most all time in league history, trailing the likes of Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, and Warren Moon. Of all the great quarterbacks to have ever played in the history of the NFL, only Dan Marino had more passing yardage than Drew Bledsoe after 8 seasons. John Elway is a very distant 4th, with Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas neck-and-neck in 6th and 7th place.
All of this has been accomplished without the benefit of a running game. Remember that Bledsoe only played with Curtis Martin for three years, and even then the Patriots were not among the league leaders in rushing offense. Even in the 11-5 AFC Championship season of 1996, the Patriots relied on Bledsoe and the passing game to set up the run. When Bledsoe was breaking into the league in 1993 and 1994, he was handing the ball off to Leonard Russell and Marion Butts. Scary.
Instead of arguing over who should stay and who should go, why can't fans (and the wanna-be's) simply be happy that for the first time since 1986, the Patriots have two quarterbacks on their roster they can win with? Did the 49ers rush out to find the highest bidder for Joe Montana while Steve Young was the backup? While that may not be a fair comparison, I am not yet ready to cut ties with a proven 8-year veteran. I'm also far from pulling the trigger on shipping off the first decent backup quarterback we've had in the past 15 years to Houston for the 33rd pick in the 2002 draft.
Tom Brady deserves every ounce of the praises he is receiving, but even if he'd gone 4-0 while throwing 16 touchdown passes, you don't put your injured franchise quarterback in the want-ads. In 1993 it was, "we should have drafted Rick Mirer." In 1994 Patriots fans would not have traded Bledsoe for 3 1st round picks. In 1995 the complaint was, "why can't Bledsoe be more like Mark Brunell?" In 1996 Bledsoe was great, but no Brett Favre, and in 1997 and 1998 talk show call ins were trying to propose a package to send Bledsoe to the Steelers for Kordell Stewart. In 1999 Pats fans wished we had 23-year old Pro-Bowler Peyton Manning (yes, that same Peyton Manning). Last season Duante Culpepper and Donovan McNabb were the comparison du-jour, and now the comparison is to his teammate, Tom Brady.
Every season since I've been writing this column I've had to step up on my soapbox and defend Drew Bledsoe. Having to use the word "defend" for a guy who is already a lock for the Hall of Fame is absurd. While my defenses have been constant, who it is I'm defending him against or comparing him to has been far from constant. Picking a quarterback who's enjoyed recent success and comparing him to Bledsoe over the same time period is like shooting ducks in a barrel if the hunter is able to choose a new weapon every season. Go ahead and pick a quarterback to compare notes against the last 8 seasons. Rick Mirer? Kordell Stewart? Peyton Manning? Tom Brady? Ok - I'll give you Brett Favre.
If Tom Brady and the Pats continue to ride this recent wave of success with a win in Denver next week, I'll have no problem waiting for Bledsoe to return to 100%. If Brady and the Pats are in the playoff hunt at 6-4 or 7-3 when Bledsoe is ready to return to action, I still say don't mess with success. If Bledsoe were to return next week in Denver and threw for 600 yards in a 63-61 loss, it will still be somehow his fault they didn't win. Unless Brady begins to struggle, Bledsoe should continue to wear the headset.
Who's my opening day starter in CMGi Field? A healthy and rested Drew Bledsoe, with the NFL's best backup ready to step in to ensure the playoff bound Patriots of 2002 don't miss a beat should their starter be forced out of action or is suffering an off-day. People have said that John Elway would never have won his back-to-back Super Bowls without Terrell Davis. What about without Bubby Brister? You think about that.
See you next week.