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 11/12/2002

Time eternal...

Since I missed writing a column following my trip to Buffalo, I'll have to tweak one of my favorite sayings to begin my column this week. What a difference two weeks makes.

My last entry came on the heels of the Patriots fourth consecutive loss, and second straight defeat at home. Visions of doom and gloom were prevalent with the Pats at 3-4 and heading on the road to take on the 5-3 Bills. The lead sports writer for my local paper, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, had declared the Patriots season officially over.

Today the Patriots are in a 3-way tie for first place in the AFC East, and are sitting in the drivers seat with a 2-1 divisional record without having hosted a divisional opponent. Better still, only two teams in the entire conference have more wins than the Patriots with 7 weeks to play in the season. I went to great lengths in my last column to explain how big a victory in Buffalo would be in getting the Pats back on track. If you thought I was nuts to suggest that, what would you have thought had I predicted on hallows eve that the Patriots would be exactly where they are today?

Season over? What a complete joke that statement appears to be now, and it's only been two weeks. Given how the Patriots struggled against a very depleted 2-7 Bears team, however, it's not out of the question that two weeks from now the doomsayers could be back out in full force. Easy 2nd half schedule you say? It doesn't get any easier than the Bears, and the Patriots escaped the Midwest by the skin on their teeth. It would be equally foolish to chalk up wins against the Vikings, Lions, and Titans as it was two weeks ago to have resigned the Patriots to playing out the string.

Enigma...

Of all the differences one can speak of between the 2002 Patriots and the 2001 Super Bowl Champions, no difference is more glaring than consistency, or rather lack thereof. Following their loss in Miami in week 4, the 2001 Patriots went on a 9-2 run in which they played "Patriot Football." Even in their losses to the Broncos and Rams in that stretch, they did not play poorly. When facing inferior teams there was little doubt as to the outcome midway through the 4th quarter. The one exception there was the OT win over the Bills, but division games are often hotly contested regardless of the won-loss records of the combatants.

How can one characterize the 2002 Patriots? What exactly is "Patriot Football?" In three situations where no one was giving the Patriots a chance in hell to win, they won in blowout fashion over the Steelers, Jets, and Bills. All three of those teams are still very much in the hunt in the AFC. In games in which the Patriots were favored and "expected" to win, the Pats are 2-3 with both wins coming by the slimmest of margins over the Chiefs and Bears, teams who today occupy the cellars in their respective divisions. The only time the Patriots have lost as underdogs this season was in Miami, and let's not revisit that horror show.

For the most part, the Patriots have looked very much like defending Champions when they're written off, but then turn around and look like shoe-ins to miss the playoffs immediately after everyone jumps on the bandwagon. A lot of good can be said about the way the Patriots came back to beat the Bears last Sunday. I for one will never complain about a win in this league, especially one on the road. However, Patriot Nation has to be scratching their heads when for the first 40 minutes of the game the Patriots made a very poor team look like the reincarnation of Da-Bears, circa 1985.

Stay scared...

The Patriots need to approach the rest of their season one game at a time, with the same sense of urgency as they did when facing the Bills in Buffalo, and with the same sense of 'disrespect' they had when heading into the first two games of the season against thought-to-be superior opponents.

This weekend's game in Oakland plays perfectly into the Patriots psyche. It's the grudge match that Oakland and their fans have had circled on their calendars since the schedule was announced last spring. With the Raiders coming off a very impressive win in Denver to get the monkey off of their back, very few pigskin pundits will be giving the Patriots any chance whatsoever to pull the upset on the road in (very) hostile territory before a national television audience.

The early line has the Patriots as 4-point underdogs, meaning the Patriots are bigger underdogs this week that at any time this season. You can bet that what's being said in the locker room, however, is that the line represents the "the least amount of respect" the Patriots have received this season. Knute Rockne himself could not provide the Patriots with more inspiration. They'll be ready.

Win or lose in Oakland, however, the preparedness had better be the same for the Vikings and Lions. We've seen what the Patriots at their best are capable of, and we've also witnessed the effectiveness of their "B" game. If they bring the "B" game to the table against either the 2-7 Vikings or 3-6 Lions, they will lose. Long gone are the days when the better teams in this league can beat the cellar dwellers simply by showing up, and the Patriots damn near learned that the hard way last Sunday in Illinois.

Think that home games against the Jets and Bills will be "automatic W's?" Think again. With the way things are going in this division, and in the conference for that matter, a win in Foxboro could prove to be a difference maker for either or those teams, so expect nothing less than a classic divisional battle in both cases. Fans looking ahead and assuming a 4-0 December had best rethink their logic.

The Patriots deserve a world of credit for winning on the road the past two weeks, good fortune in Champaign duly noted. What that's done is put the Patriots right back in the drivers seat, but doesn't do a damn thing to ensure they'll stay there. Is Oakland a "must win?" Hardly, but 6-4 would give the Pats a bit more breathing room than 5-5 after the Dolphins host the Ravens, the Bills travel to Kansas City, and the reenergized Jets pack their bags for the Motor City.

At this point in the season, how can anyone predict anything less than the season finally against the Dolphins to be a winner-take-all scenario? I hate to make useless and unfounded predictions when the Pats, and the entire league, have been so volatile, but my guess is that 10-6 will win the AFC East given that the Patriots would own all the tiebreakers. For the Dolphins, Bills, or Jets to win the division, they'll have to win at New England, and likely have to finish with 11 wins to avoid the tie-breaking scenarios which currently favor the Pats.

Can the Jets run the table to finish at 11-5? Can the Dolphins or Bills finish the season on a 6-1 run including a win in New England? The Patriots clearly are in the best position here. They can enter the final month of the season in last place and still win the East by winning their home games.

Season over you say? Not so fast.

See you next week, and Go Pats!