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 12/12/2002

Pure genius...

If you're a Patriots fan, regardless of how you felt about Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe back when "The Trade" took place last April, you have no choice but to admit that 14 weeks into the 2002 season, the decision to trade Bledsoe within the division could not possibly look any better.

Yes the 6-7 Bills, despite their lingering problems on defense, are vastly improved over the 2-14 edition from 2001. How does one explain, therefore, why the Patriots struggled against them in both games last season yet won each game walking away this time around? On the other end of the spectrum, long-range lethal strikes from Bledsoe were the reason that the Bills were able to sweep the Dolphins this season. Could Belichick have known that Bledsoe would play such a key role for the Patriots in those 4 games? That's 25% of the season!

Drew Bledsoe is having a great season, and will likely be playing in the Pro Bowl this February. How then can one explain how the Patriots dominated in each contest? Bledsoe was not only a non-factor, but you could argue that in last weeks contest he was the reason the Patriots won the game. Although the 27-17 score looks a lot more respectable than the 38-7 spanking the Pats laid on the Bills in Buffalo, this game was not as close.

The Bills did nothing offensively in the 1st half, and were even turned away after a goal-to-go series began at the 1-yard line thanks to a very ill-timed interception thrown by Bledsoe directly to Tebucky Jones in the endzone on 2nd down. The Patriots 1st touchdown came after a Bledsoe pass was tipped and intercepted inside the Buffalo 15-yard line. The Patriot offense fed off the defense's effort and was able to score on their first 4 possessions of the game, with the 5th being a kneel-down to run out the 1st half game clock.

The Bills made a run in the 2nd quarter to close to within 20-10, but once again the Patriot defense kept forcing turnovers. The Patriot offense turned those 2nd half opportunities into just 7 points, but it was more than enough on this day. Be reminded that the Patriots had 3 touchdowns called back due to penalties, having to settle for 6 points rather than 21. Granted the correct call was made in each case, but likewise in each case the guilty Patriot's mistake had nothing whatsoever to do with the success of the play.

Matt Light was called for holding on a touchdown pass to Deion Branch in the first quarter. The call was an obvious one, but what Light didn't know was that Brady would have had the ball away long before the defender could have gotten to him on the play. On both the halfback pass to Brady for a TD and Faulk's 34-yard TD run, illegal motion nullified otherwise beautifully called and executed plays.

Normally having 21 points taken off the board and settling for 6 would kill a team. With Belichick's defense turning a Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame-bound quarterback into a handicap to his own team, however, the Patriots were just fine. When your opponents score 17 points (7 in garbage time), it matters little that 27 could have been 42.

I fully expect Drew Bledsoe to rebound, and for the Buffalo Bills to finish the 2002 season no worse than 8-8. Although they'll miss the playoffs, Bledsoe made a much bigger difference in Buffalo on day 1 than any 1st round pick could make in the April 2003 draft. This was still a great trade for Buffalo, and so far at least, a great trade for the Patriots as well, even with the Pats still 4 months away from utilizing Buffalo's draft pick.

Level Setting...

The Wednesday Boston Globe ran a brief write-up on a few scenarios that would enable New England to win the AFC East regardless of what the Jets and/or Dolphins do in their games outside of Gillette Stadium.

One such scenario had the Patriots beating Tennessee and Miami, but losing to the Jets and still winning the division. Unless I'm missing something, that scenario is not good news for the Pats.

Should the Jets defeat New England on December 22, the Jets would wrap up their divisional slate at 4-2, having swept Buffalo and split with Miami and New England. The loss would drop the Pats from 3-1 to 3-2 in the division, therefore losing all tiebreakers with the Jets even if the Pats defeat Miami to also finish 4-2 in the East.

Should the Patriots finish 10-6 (losing only to the Jets) in a tie with the Jets for 1st place (or even a 3-way tie with Miami as well), the Jets would win the AFC East, and the Patriots could possibly find themselves on the outside of the two-team wild card qualification.

Miami has already lost 3 divisional games, so should their only loss the rest of the way be to the Pats, they would finish with a 2-4 divisional record. Since each of these teams will have split the season series with one another, the 2nd tiebreaker, divisional record, takes effect. This would eliminate the Dolphins, and move the Jets and Pats to the 3rd tiebreaker, which is record against common opponents.

With equal records in the division, this tiebreaker would move onto common games outside the division, of which there are 8. The Patriots finished 4-4 in those contests, and the Jets are currently at 4-2 with a road game in Chicago and a home game against Green Bay to round out the slate. If the Jets go 1-1 or 0-2 there, they'd have 7 or 8 losses and tiebreakers wouldn't matter anyways. If they run the table to finish 10-6, the Jets would take the division in either a 2-way or 3-way tie at 10-6 by virtue of their 6-2 record in those common games outside the AFC East.

Bottom line is that win or lose on Monday night in Tennessee, the Patriots would dig themselves a huge hole should they lose to the Jets at home the following Sunday. The Patriots could get a world of help from the Bears, who host the Jets this Sunday and could hand Gang Green their 7th loss of the season. Don't hold your breath on that one.

As for the Miami game, a loss there would kill the Patriots unless by some miracle of miracles the Dolphins enter that game at 8-7. Should the Patriots suffer a season sweep at the hands of the stink-fish, they would lose the 1st tiebreaker in either a two-way tie with Miami or the three-way tie scenario I mentioned above.

If you're following along, you will realize that should the Patriots win or lose at Tennessee on Monday night, the home games against the Jets and Miami are "must" wins regardless. This does not mean the game at Tennessee doesn't matter, for a potential 1st round bye or perhaps even a wild card seed is at stake here. One could argue that the Titans need this game worse than the Pats do, but the Pats would be wise to realize that the defense of the 2001 World Championship, in earnest, begins on December 16th in Tennessee.

Who do you root for in the Oakland vs. Miami game this weekend? I'm still rooting for Miami. The Patriots will likely need to win their final two home games no matter what Miami does against Oakland, so like I wrote last week, why not root for the AFC West to be knocked down a peg? Should the Pats finish 11-5, they will clinch at least the #2 seed in the AFC. Should Oakland stumble in Miami and then again at home against either the Broncos or Chiefs, Gillette Stadium could find itself hosting two home games in its inaugural season.

Let me be clear again on one more point which I made last week as well. Despite my objectivity above, there is no frickin' way the Dolphins will win in Foxboro in December. No way at all. The Jets will head to town fully expecting to win. The Dolphins will head to town wondering if they can. Game over.

As for Monday Night, the game is big for me personally for a reason other than the obvious. As I mentioned back in a September column, my sister and I chipped in for Club seats to the Titans game for my parents' 35th wedding anniversary. If you're reading this on Thursday morning, my 60-something Mom and Dad are in flight. Trust me when I tell you the tickets are not gift enough. The Patriots need to win this game or my sister and I may never hear the end of it, even though "Big Clint" will finally get to take a tour of the Jack Daniel's distillery. You didn't think I was the only Pats fan in the family did you? The apple truly does not fall far from the tree.

Make no mistake. For 13 of the 16 teams in the AFC, the playoffs start this Sunday. Let the games begin!

See you next week, and Go Pats!