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 12/17/2003

All downhill from here...

If forced to bet your paycheck that the Patriots would win a game, would you rather bet on them winning in the Meadowlands against the 6-8 Jets in prime time, or would you take your chances on the Pats at home against the mettle of the AFC - say the Chiefs, Colts, or Titans?

My money would be on the Pats at home - no matter which team they're playing - rather than on the road against a divisional opponent. The betting public seems to agree as well, for the Pats are only 3-point favorites this weekend on the road. There is not a single team in the league right now that would get fewer than 3 points traveling to Foxboro in the winter months.

What's my point? Although I'm a card carrying member of the "any given Sunday" theory in this league, I am looking at this Saturday's contest in very simple terms - win and they're going to Houston. The only way the Patriots would not get to the Super Bowl following a win on Saturday would be for something to happen that hasn't happened since December 22, 2002. The Patriots would have to lose a home game, with Buffalo the first challenger on deck the following Saturday.

The Jets pose a major challenge. No matter what division you play in, records can be thrown out the window when rivals clash. Upsets are far more prevalent within a division. Look no further than this season at what happened when contending playoff teams went on the road in their division. Like the Patriots, the Rams in the NFC are in line for a first- round bye. That did not intimidate the division cellar dweller Cardinals one bit. While the Rams did emerge victorious three weeks ago, they needed overtime to do it. The spunky Cardinals then went on to lose their next two games to teams out of playoff contention by a combined score of 78-17. Vikings at Bears. Packers at Lions. Panthers at Falcons. Colts at Jaguars. Rams at 49ers. In each of those games, a team knocking on the door of the playoffs lost to a division rival already piecing together their draft board.

Do you remember the final game of the 1993 season? Rookie Drew Bledsoe and the Tuna were on a 3-game winning streak following a 1-11 start. The Patriots had long since been eliminated from playoff contention, yet a postseason atmosphere abounded as the Miami Dolphins hit town needing a victory to clinch a playoff birth. The Patriots and their fans smelled blood, and Bledsoe's touchdown bomb in overtime to Michael Timpson sent the stadium into frenzy. A state trooper on detail inside the stadium was quoted the following day in the paper, "didn't this team just win its 5th game?" You'd never have known it had you been there. This is precisely the atmosphere I expect to encounter in section 334 of Giants Stadium on Saturday. The Jets cannot eliminate the AFC East Champs from the postseason, but they sure as heck could derail their Super Bowl express.

Although the Patriots have clearly adopted the one-game-at-a-time doctrine of their head coach, the players and organization know what's a stake here. They have to know that a win paves a virtual yellow brick road to Reliant Stadium on February 1st. A loss, however, could end up costing the Patriots a bye week, and worse yet, set before them a rather pothole filled path having to win two road contests to advance to the Super Bowl. Problem is the Jets know this too, and what else do they have to play for?

Mathematically, advancing to 13-2 would not ensure the Patriots anything more than what they already have - the AFC East title and at least one home game. In order to clinch a bye week, the Patriots would have to win and then root for the Porter-less Broncos to defeat the Colts on Sunday night in the RCA Dome - good luck. Should the Patriots and Colts both win, the Patriots would enter week 17 still unsure of whether they'd be the #1, #2, or the dreaded #3 team in the AFC regardless of how the Chiefs fare in Minnesota.

They key word in the previous paragraph was the first - mathematically - for Patriot Nation knows that a victory over the Bills the following Sunday, a date circled since September 7, is as a close a sure thing as one can have in the NFL. In essence, a victory Saturday night and it matters not what the Colts or Chiefs do, the Patriots will be the #1 team in the AFC.

No pity...

To read the New York Post or Times, you get the distinct impression that the Jets and their fans feel as though the injury to Chad Pennington in the preseason is why they are looking up at the Patriots in the standings rather than having this game be for the divisional crown. Are you kidding me? Chad Pennington returned to the Jets lineup against the Philadelphia Eagles in week 8, stepping on the field in relief of Testaverde with the Jets already in the lead. A late Pennington interception cost the Jets that football game. The Jets are a respectable 4-3 since that game, tallying a whopping .500 record since Chad's return. Over those same 8 games, the Patriots are 8-0, meaning the Jets have lost 4 games in the standings since the return of their savior.

As I've written in past columns, the Patriots are the last team in the league to seek sympathy from in the injury department. No team this season has had as many different players start a game. Herm Edwards was quoted this week as commending the Patriots for handling their injury woes so well, but was a bit quick in claiming, "they're getting all their guys back now."

Top receiver Troy Brown, arguably the heart and sole of the offense, did return to the field last week having missed the prior 4 games with an injury. The Patriots won all four of those games, however, three to opponents with winning records. Make that 5 wins with 4 to winning teams if you count Denver, a game the injured Brown did dress for, yet received very limited playing time and did not record a single catch. Is prized free agent Roosevelt Colvin returning? Mike Compton? David Patten? These were all opening day starters who are out for the season, all three of which were being counted on to make major contributions in 2003.

Prior to the return of Chad Pennington, the Jets were indeed off to a poor 2-4 start. What difference could Pennington have made? 3-3? 4-2? Even had the Jets jumped out to 5-1, their record today would be 9-5, putting them in contention for the 6th and final seed in the AFC with the Patriots and a trip to Miami on deck. Chad Pennington is an outstanding quarterback, but the Jets had bigger problems in 2003 than #10's left wrist.

Regardless of how they got to where they are now, the 6-8 Jets will host the 12-2 Patriots on Saturday with a lot to prove. The Jets, to their credit, are not a team who has mailed it in despite being eliminated from postseason contention. In a league where the difference between 6-8 and 12-2 is oh so small, expect a dogfight.

I for one am anxious to see how the Patriots defense performs on the road. They have been nothing short of dominant at home since the beginning of October, but looked quite beatable during Indy's furious comeback attempt in the team's last road game. Look for the defense, as well as the offense and special teams, to come out firing. The players know as well as anyone that to win this game means the next time they'll have to board a plane, they'll be headed for Texas.

See you next week, and Go Pats!