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 11/28/2001

Stepping up...

In last week's column, I termed Bill Belichick's decision to not allow Bledsoe to compete for his job as "lunacy." I also said I hoped I was proven wrong. I'm now hoping that my preseason prediction of a 7-9 finish will prove to be equally prophetic.

Bledsoe or Brady was the hot topic with the Saints due in town for a crucial game. The issue was not who should be starting the game against New Orleans, but that barring "unforeseen" circumstances, Drew Bledsoe would be the backup for the remainder of the season, not even getting a chance to work with the starting unit in practice. If you can't take snaps with the first team in practice, you can't compete for the starting job, and this is not something many Hall of Fame shoe-in quarterbacks have experienced in the past.

While Beantown was abuzz in controversy, Brady was preparing to start his first game as the official #1 quarterback, and Bledsoe was preparing for the first time in his career as the certified #2. The "controversy" seems to have effected everyone but Brady, Bledsoe and their teammates and coaches, for while the fans and media bickered back and forth, the Patriots and their quarterbacks were focused on beating the Saints.

A ton of credit has to go to Belichick and his staff for keeping the team's focus on the matters at hand. Brady did not let the pressure get to him, and Bledsoe put his personal feelings aside and focused his attention on helping Brady and the team. You will be hard pressed to find a better example of sportsmanship, class, and the "team first" attitude than what we've seen from Drew Bledsoe the past two weeks. He's clearly miffed that he's lost the job he's held since 1993, but when he said that he'd put that aside to help the team, he wasn't just talking the talk.

How did the team respond? They beat a 5-4 Saints team that needed a win as badly as the Pats did, 34-17. Not just that, but in the opinion of yours truly who has seen every snap of Patriots football since 1984, they played one of the best games I have ever seen a Patriot team play. The only game in recent memory that comes to mind where the Pats were that dominant against a quality opponent was the 1997 win at Jacksonville.

Yes the Pats blew out the Colts twice earlier this year, but the first game saw many dropped balls by the Colts and two scores on defense. The second game was dominating only on the scoreboard, with the Pats scoring 3 TD's on 1-play "big play" scoring drives. This game was won in the trenches. The Saints are known for their physical style of play, and were blown off the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball by the Pats.

The defense, short Ted Johnson and Bryan Cox in the middle, held Ricky Williams to 56 yards on 15 carries. Those were the only yards gained by a Saints running back on the day. This forced the Saints away from the bread and butter of their offense, as Aaron Brooks attempted 39 passes on the day, completing just 16. Brooks did manage to burn the Pats secondary deep on a few occasions, but only once did the Saints parley a big play into a touchdown on the same drive.

On the other side of the ball, Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk combined for 147 of the team's 191 rushing yards. The Patriots ran the ball 38 times, averaging 5 yards per carry. These numbers are not skewed by a long run or two, as the longest rush on the day was 24 yards by Kevin Faulk on a direct snap from center. The dominant rushing attack combined with Brady's precision passing enabled the Patriots to score 5 touchdowns on long drives. In order, the Patriots marched into the endzone on drives covering 85, 93, 78, 80, and 68 yards. These drives took 6, 8, 6, 9, and 10 plays respectively, chewing up a grand total of 18:48. That's amazing.

Tom Brady had a game to rival some of Bledsoe's best over the past 8 seasons. In going 19 for 26 for 258 yards and 4 touchdown passes, Brady earned a staggering QB rating for the game of 143.9. The effort has boosted Brady's overall rating on the season to 93.5, good for 4th in the entire NFL, less than a full point behind #3, Brett Favre. Throwing 4 TD passes in a game is impressive enough, but 3 of them were highlight film material.

His 8-yarder to Troy Brown in the 2nd quarter was thrown perfectly over two defenders toward the back of the endzone where only Troy Brown had a chance to make the catch. Brady had to move slightly to his right in the pocket to buy time and create the passing lane he needed. His 24-yarder to Charles Johnson came with just 10 seconds remaining in the half. The Saints applied good pressure on the play, and were in a deep zone coverage. Brady rolled to his right, stepped up and fired a dart over the fingertips of the midfield defender and right into the receiver's hands at the goal line. His 2-yarder to Mark Edwards came off a beautifully executed play-action fake, and his touch on the lob pass was perfect.

Even though Brady threw for more yards in the Chargers game and executed a 4th-quarter comeback, this game was the best of his young career. This was perhaps his first performance reminiscent of those gems in the past that earned Drew Bledsoe his current 10-year $103 Million contract. Do I still think Drew Bledsoe is being given a raw deal? Absolutely. Am I upset that Tom Brady will be the starter in the Meadowlands next Sunday? Next question.

Pinch me...

Are you kidding me? The Patriots are headed on the road to play the 1st place Jets, and are just 3 point underdogs as the lines opened up early in the week. A win would put them in a good position not only to make the playoffs, but to win the AFC East. Who would have thought this back in September after an 0-2 start with Bledsoe in Mass General Hospital and Terry Glenn back home sulking in Ohio?

The Patriots were 6-5 after 11 games in 1999 under Pete Carroll, but the feeling back then was that the Pats were heading downward, as was proven in their final record of 8-8 after starting the season off 4-0. Patriot Nation is not normally known for it's optimism, but the feeling around town these days is the Pats have a great shot at beating the Jets on the road, and are headed for the post season.

A win would put the Pats at 7-5 and improve their divisional record to 4-2. They'd still trail the Jets by ½ game in the standings, but the Jets have a tough road ahead with visits to Pittsburgh and Oakland upcoming. The Dolphins could potentially sneak back into 1st place, but the Pats will get their chance to even the score with Miami in a nationally televised Saturday afternoon contest in Foxboro on December 22nd. A win there would give Miami at least their 3rd loss in the division, and they'll be coming to town off a tough road trip to San Francisco.

Not that one can do anything about the past, but looking at the importance of this weeks game, one can't help but recall the lost opportunity back in week 2 when the Pats outplayed but lost to the Jets 10-3 in Foxboro Stadium. The Patriots lost the turnover battle in that game 0-4, with all 4 turnovers coming in Jets territory, 2 inside the 10-yard line. The Jets offense was the proverbial poster-child for 3-and-out for much of the 2nd half while the Pats offense marched up and down the field before turning the ball over. Had the Pats won that game they'd be 7-4 right now looking to sweep the Jets and leave them in their rear-view mirror. It's the Jets, however, who will be looking for the sweep for the 2nd straight season.

Even with that week 2 loss to the Jets, the Pats would really be in a good position for the stretch run with a win on Sunday. For outside of their big games with the Jets and Dolphins, the Patriots will host the Browns and travel to Buffalo and Carolina. There is no such thing as "winnable" games in this league, and five weeks is long way to go, but it's great to even be thinking about such matters this late in the season.

All good things...

The Patriots will be looking to snap a 3 game losing streak to the Jets on Sunday, and break out of 4+ season slump in which the Pats have only won 1 of the past 8 meetings between these teams. Their lone win in that stretch was the last minute victory on opening day in New York in 1999 after Vinny Testaverde left the contest in the 1st quarter with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

All streaks must come to an end however. This will be the first game in the past 6 seasons that I will not be in attendance in the Meadowlands. Even worse, I very likely will miss my 1st home game since 1991 and 6th since 1984 when the Pats host the Browns on December 9th. Why? My wife of 4+ years is due with our 3rd child on December 11th, and I can't be too far away from the house these days.

Our first child was born during the football season in 1998. She was born on a Wednesday following the season opener in Denver, so I was still able to make the home opener against the Colts the following Sunday. To be as lucky this go around, baby #3 will have to come into the word sometime between tonight and Wednesday the 6th.

If I do end up missing the Browns home game, it's certainly for good reason. Not only is having a child reason enough to end my current attendance streak, but after two daughters we're having a boy. It's good to know that will live on well after Mike and I are long gone.

Did I mention I'm off to Buffalo on the 16th as long as the new baby is home safe and sound? No one ever equated "Fan of the Year" with "Husband of the Year" during football season. Needless to say my wife is not too sympathetic to my "problem" at 38+ weeks right now, chasing a 3 and 1 year old around the house every day.

See you next week.