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 12/19/2001

No such thing...

If you've been reading my column even sparingly over the past few years, you probably know what I'll have to say about the overall poor play of the offense against the 2-11 Buffalo Bills last Sunday: Nothing. When you can win games in December on the road, it matters little how you do it, or whom you do it against. Had the Patriots lost this game, I'd have plenty to say about the performances of Tom Brady and the Offensive line, but they didn't, so I don't.

I did not write a column last week following the birth of our third child, but when I last wrote a column, I singled out the upcoming Bills game as the one that most concerned me of the four contests remaining on the schedule. This game scared me even though (then) playoff hungry Cleveland and AFC East leading Miami were on the schedule.

Buffalo had played New England very tough at home earlier in the season. With Van Pelt taking over after the New England game, the Bills moved the ball very effectively in their next 3 home dates, averaging 24 points per contest. One of those games was against the Miami Dolphins, where Van Pelt completed 21 of 34 passes for 309 yards and 3 TD's. Buffalo backs Henry and Bryson combined for 123 yards on 23 carries.

Yes the Bills are now 2-11, but this win was big nonetheless. When the Patriots were 5-11 in 1993, they were a team no one wanted to play, especially down the stretch when they turned a 1-11 campaign around in the other direction by winning their next four in a row. Even last season's 5-11 team lost a host of very close games. Losing close games does not make one a good football team, but there are no teams in the NFL who are not a threat to win each week. That includes the Detroit Lions as well as the Patriots' week 17 opponent, the Carolina Panthers.

Does squeaking by the 2-11 Bills mean that the Patriots are not a playoff caliber team? The '85 Patriots entered week 16 needing a home win over the Bengals, who were on the road in frigid Foxboro playing out the string. Not until Robert Weathers broke a 4th and 1 play for a 42-yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter was that game decided.

In '96, the 10-6 Patriots under Bill Parcells traveled to the Meadowlands for a Saturday contest against the lowly New York Giants playing their final game under lame duck head coach Dan Reeves. After falling behind 22-0, the Patriots relied on a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown from Dave Meggett and a 4th down TD pass from Drew Bledsoe to Ben Coates to clinch the AFC East with a hard fought 23-22 victory.

In '90, the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants entered Foxboro Stadium to face the 1-14 Patriots with Giants fans outnumbering Patriots fans 2-1. Not until a last minute Jason Staurovsky FG sailed wide did Tuna's Giants secure their 13-10 victory.

The '85 and '96 Patriots each advanced to the Super Bowl, and the '90 Giants won the Super Bowl, all after struggling mightily against their prior day counterparts to today's 2-11 Buffalo Bills.

To say that the Patriots needed to rack up 400 yards of offense and blow out the Bills 35-6 to prove they are for real is nonsense. Sure they could have played better, but as the slumping Tom Brady aptly pointed out, when you can still manage to win while playing far from your best, that's a good sign. Last season's team could only win when they played to near perfection, and few teams are able to do that week in a week out.

The Pats are now 9-5 and have a very real shot at winning the AFC East. You won't find me complaining about Tom Brady air mailing his receivers or the offensive line and running game being stymied by a very weak Buffalo defense. Did I just say that out loud?

Who cares?

With the team on the verge of their biggest regular season game in at least 3 years, I for one could care less if Tom Brady or Drew Bledsoe starts the next game. Way too much time has been dedicated to this subject over the past few weeks. If Bledsoe, Brady, the coaches, or players spent as much time worrying about this subject as the fans and media, there's no way the team would be 9-5 at this point.

Brady supporters point to the team's record since he's taken over, while Bledsoe supporters are doing what Bledsoe bashers have done for the past 9 years - point out every shortcoming of the QB's performance in every single game. To the Brady supporters who think #12 can do no wrong, ask yourself this question: What if last Sunday's game was played exactly the same way with #11 back at quarterback making his first start coming back from injury? How would you have graded Drew's performance?

I'll still stand by my opinion that while Tom Brady has played very well overall and has vastly exceeded expectations, it's way too early to put Drew Bledsoe up for auction. I'm not saying the Patriots would have a better record today had Bledsoe not been injured, but to me 12 games, or even a full season, is not enough evidence to make such a decision no matter how well the "new guy" is playing.

While Bledsoe indeed has his drawbacks, how do we know beyond a doubt that Tom Brady is not the next Rick Mirer? Jake Plummer? Gus Frerotte? Kerry Collins? Todd Collins? Charlie Batch? The list is endless. Back in 1984, then struggling veteran Steve Grogan was benched at halftime in week 3, down 23-0 at home to the Seattle Seahawks. In came 2nd year QB Tony Eason, who led the Pats back to a stunning 38-23 victory. Eason started the remainder of the season, completing over 60% of his passes while throwing for over 3,200 yards, 23 touchdowns, and just 8 interceptions.

What if the Patriots had elected to rid themselves of Steve Grogan after that season? That's an easy question to answer, for after Eason started the 1985 season in a major slump and a 2-3 record, Steve Grogan was forced back into action in week 6 after Eason was escorted off the field in Foxboro with a separated shoulder. The Patriots won that game, and did not lose another until week 12, when Grogan broke his leg, forcing a rejuvenated Tony Eason back into action.

Prior to and after his first play from scrimmage in week 6, Grogan was booed heavily at home after he fumbled his first snap from center in over a year. Six weeks later, Grogan was once again New England's darling, and perhaps the single biggest reason the Patriots made their first ever appearance in a Super Bowl that season. Grogan and Eason each went on to play 4 more seasons in New England, with Grogan topping Tony Eason's numbers in each of their final three years. In his final game as a New England Patriot in 1989, Steve Grogan was the starting quarterback.

I said this about 6 weeks ago and I'll say it again: Ask me who should start next week and I'll say Tom Brady. Ask me who should start in CMGi Field on opening day and I'll say Drew Bledsoe. I've been a Bledsoe supporter since day 1, even through his recent struggles, and the remarkable Tom Brady story has not lessened my opinion of Drew Bledsoe.

Again as I've mentioned in earlier columns, Bledsoe bashers have annually compared Drew's performances to the QB-du-jour. While those he's compared to have for the most part come and gone in the past 9 seasons, Drew has remained a starting quarterback, amassing nearly 30,000 passing yards. That cannot be dismissed after just 12 games because the Patriots are 9-3 under Tom Brady.

Perhaps over time, with time being the operative word, Tom Brady will indeed prove to be the better quarterback. The Patriots have that time as both QB's are under contract in 2002, and Tom Brady could not be easily lured away from the Pats in 2003 as a restricted free agent with a decent tender offer. Tom and Drew have proven that they can co-exist, and any team with serious aspirations of contending benefits greatly by having more than one "starting" quarterback.

Brady has been slumping a bit as of late, and his performance in Buffalo was very sub-par. However, I'm squarely in his corner for the rest of this season as he and the team continue to defy preseason predictions and march toward the post-season. However, and don't take this comment as hyperbole, I'll be sick to my stomach if Drew Bledsoe is not in a Patriots uniform in 2002.

See you next week. The Fish have no chance.