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 12/3/2001

Hanging on...

They say it was a tale of two halves, but the turnaround in this game came with 5:46 to play in the 1st quarter. That's when Curtis Martin was stuffed for no gain by Tedi Bruschi and Bryan Cox on 3rd and goal at the 2. The Jets were forced to settle for a 19-yard field goal, which made the score 10-0 Jets.

The Jets had gained 125 yards on their first two possessions with Vinny's arm carrying the load for 115 of those yards. However, in their next 8 possessions in the final 50:14 of the game, the Jets managed just 163 yards and 3 points, with Testaverde cooling down to throw for just 54 more yards with two interceptions.

While it's true that the Patriots offense looked lost until scoring on three consecutive possessions in the 2nd half, the Jets offense had long since run out of steam as well following their quick start. When the stats and points accumulated in the first 10 minutes of the game are considered, the Jets did indeed dominate the 1st half in the box score, but few games in the NFL are decided with over 5 minutes left to play in the first quarter. The following numbers say it all. On the Jets first drive of the game, Testaverde completed two big passes to Moss and Coles totaling 67 yards. As a team, the Jets had fewer total yards in the 2nd half than they did on just those two plays on their first drive.

Tom Brady was totally ineffective in the 1st half, completing just 5 of 11 passes for 53 yards. Brady was sacked twice, fumbled once, and nearly fumbled a 2nd time at his own 10-yard line, but the play was (correctly) ruled an incomplete forward pass resulting from a John Abraham blind side hit. In sharp contrast, following a Testaverde interception on the Jets 1st possession of the 2nd half, Brady went on to complete 14 of his next 16 passes for 164 yards, including 3 for 3 on 3rd down for 88 yards.

Brady's 2nd half, and the game for that matter, may have gone much differently if not for the heads-up play of Jets defensive end Shane Burton. Leading 13-0 and facing a 1st and goal at the 4, Burton batted down a Tom Brady pass at the line of scrimmage. What Burton didn't realize at the time was that teammate James Farrior was the would-have-been recipient of that pass. Brady was attempting to hit TE Jermain Wiggins on the play, but Farrior anticipated the throw and had gotten himself into perfect position for the interception. On the replay, Farrior and Mo Lewis were visibly upset when Burton knocked down the pass. If you're looking for a play of the game, that may be it. Antowain Smith scored on the next play to cut the Jets lead to 13-7.

For the Jets, main man Curtis Martin had a very quite 87 yards rushing, and was never a factor. Of his 19 carries, 10 went for 3 yards or less, with half of those going for 1 yard or less. Martin's only runs of significance came back-to-back in the 3rd quarter. On consecutive 1st down carries, Martin ripped off 13 and a 17-yard runs to help set up John Halls 50-yard FG, putting the Jets up 16-7. Martin did have a 16 yard scamper with 29 seconds left in the 1st half, but the Pats defenders were hardly playing the run with the Jets at their own 38-yard line.

The Pats' Antowain Smith may have lost the tale of the tape to Curtis Martin, but Smith was infinitely more of a factor for his team than was Martin for the Jets. On 2nd and goal from the 4, Smith bulled his way up the middle for the Patriots first points of the game. On the Pats next possession, Smith took a short 3rd and 9 pass from Brady, turned on the afterburner, and burst through the Jets defense for 40 yards. Not to be overlooked, Kevin Faulk then entered the game and on 3 consecutive handoffs gained 23 yards down to the 4-yard line, setting up Marc Edwards's rushing TD on the next play.

Perhaps Smith's biggest contributions on the day, however, came on the Patriots final possession. Facing an 8-man front and needing a first down to clinch the win, Smith twice carried for 4 yards to set up the game ending Tom Brady 3rd and 2 QB keeper. On those two carries and his short touchdown run, Smith picked up nearly half of his 28-yard rushing total on the day, but that didn't seem to matter as the Pats then went to a knee three times to officially establish themselves as contenders in the AFC East.

The real deal...

In my past few columns, I for the first time in three seasons ventured into the brave new world of post-season possibilities. At first I was hesitant to bring it up, for the Pats at the time seemed as likely to fade into the sunset (re: San Diego) as they were to surge ahead. Now at 7-5 and in great position to make a run at the division title, any columnist would be remiss to write about the Pats without mentioning the 2001 playoff picture.

For the first time in the Belichick era, the Pats are in the thick of it. The Pats are alone in 6th place in the AFC, and would qualify for a trip to Oakland if the playoffs were to begin today. Going forward, it's up to the Patriots, no one else, to determine if they'll make the playoffs. While I've said before and I'll say again that there are no sure things and no "winnable" games in the NFL, looking ahead the Pats are relatively good shape when compared to the upcoming schedules of Miami and the Jets.

The Dolphins are currently 8-3, 3-2 in the AFC East. Next week they will host a Colts team on life support on Monday Night Football, but then must travel their next two weeks to face the 49ers and Patriots on consecutive 6 day weeks. The Patriots game is slated for a national TV audience on Saturday, December 22.

The 49ers are currently tied with the Rams at 9-2 atop the NFC West, and will face the Rams next week in St. Louis seeking to avenge their week 2 loss at home. A 2nd loss to the Rams and the 49ers would likely have to run the table to win the division. Should the '9ers beat the Rams on the road, they would then be very mindful not to give up their lead in the division the following week at home. So win or lose, the 49ers will return home in a must-win game to face a Dolphin team traveling across the country following a MNF contest that will likely end around 1am ET the previous Tuesday. Could you envision a worse scenario for the Dolphins?

After flying home from the West Coast, the Fish again have a short week to prepare for what should be a frigid showdown against a revenge minded Patriots team that was thoroughly embarrassed in Miami in week 4, 30-10. The Dolphins will close out the season with home games against the Falcons and Bills, but at that point may be forced to do some scoreboard watching.

The Jets next week must travel to Pittsburgh, who like the Jets have won ugly en route to their current 9-2 record. The Steelers currently have the inside track to the #1 seed in the conference, but a loss to the Jets at home would set the table for Baltimore to reclaim the Central division lead by completing the season sweep of the Steelers in Baltimore. Pittsburgh cannot afford to go into that key road showdown at 9-3, so expect the Steelers to continue their strong play at home, riding far and away the NFL's best rushing offense spearheaded by Jerome Bettis. Even though Bettis is currently nursing some injuries and may not play on Sunday, coming off this crushing home loss to the Pats, could the Jets possibly find themselves with a less desirable opponent next on their schedule?

The Jets schedule softens a bit over the next three weeks with home dates against the Bengals and Bills sandwiched around an ESPN night game visit to Indianapolis. The Jets then conclude their season with a trip to Oakland. Oh what a dandy of a 4pm game that will be to watch following the Patriots 1pm contest in Carolina. The Jets will also have to make due over the next 3 to 5 weeks without the services of All-Pro cornerback Aaron Glenn, who suffered a knee injury against the Patriots.

Unless the stars realign, the Patriots will be favored to win their final 4 games of the 2001 season. Record wise, you could not ask for better road trips than to 1-10 Buffalo and to 1-11 Carolina. Each of these teams has proven to be extremely competitive at home, but if you have to go on the road, only Detroit would appear more inviting this season. Their remaining home games are against the Browns and Dolphins. Add into the mix a week off to enjoy Christmas, and the Patriots have what appears to be a very favorable schedule. Again, that's assuming there even is such a thing.

At home next week the Patriots will face the 6-5 Cleveland Browns. The Browns inept offense relies on their aggressive and opportune defense to keep them in games, and even to win games for them.

The Browns have had success on the road earlier this season in Baltimore and Jacksonville, and should have beaten the 9-2 Bears in Soldier Field in week 8, leading 21-7 with 30 seconds left in regulation. The Browns will come into next week's game just as the Patriots approached their game in the Meadowlands - underdogs who must win to make something of their season.

Should the Browns fall to 6-6, their season will be all but over with 3 of their final 4 games on the road in Green Bay, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh. The Patriots were able to play less than their best earlier this season in a home win against the Bills. If they play like that again, they won't beat the Browns, who figure to keep Tom Brady and the offense in check, even in Foxboro. Not that the Pats would rather be in Pittsburgh next week, but this is hardly a game where the Pats can let their guard down.

The following week's game in Buffalo scares me. The Bills played two very competitive games at home with Van Pelt at the helm, and should have beaten Miami two weeks ago. The Bills looked horrible last night on ESPN, but with Van Pelt likely to start for the remainder of the season, don't expect the Bills to pack it in. The Bills offense has shown signs of life under Van Pelt for the first time all season, and the team is likely anxious to win a few games before heading into an off season where the future of Rob Johnson will once again be headlines. This is the textbook trap game - and frankly the one game of the Patriots next 4 that has me most concerned.

At home against Miami? The Dolphins have no chance in that game whatsoever, so lets move on to Carolina. The Pats will have had the week off to prepare, and if things have gone well the previous few weeks the Pats may enter this contest seeking to clinch a playoff birth, or perhaps even the AFC East title. This is a far cry from going on a 2nd straight road trip to start the season, facing a 1-0 Panther team in their home opener fresh off of an upset win in Minnesota. Coming off a lackluster performance in Cincinnati, things were not looking good as the underdog Pats were headed south to play the Panthers.

I may be looking ahead a bit prematurely here with 4 weeks to play, but you have to admit things are looking up in Patriot Nation. As long as the players continue to remain focused on only their next opponent and leave the looking ahead to the fans and media, Foxboro Stadium may just live to host another game after December 22.

By the way - still no baby yet, and I'm already working on "Mommy" coverage for next Sunday just in case.

See you next week.