Clint's Corner Archive
Clint's Corner Archive
The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.
The last time you heard from me, the Patriots were headed down to Houston to take on the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Well, in case you didn't know, they won that game. Besides a 2nd Lombardi trophy in 3 years time, a heck of a lot has happened since last January and I haven't published a single word about it. Does this mean I no longer have an opinion or anything to say? Don't kid yourself. While a busy family life will serve as my lame excuse for not updating my column on a regular basis, it certainly hasn't stopped me from attending every home game and an away game here and there, reading every Patriots related newspaper clipping and Internet column possible, and of course being glued to the television when away game attendance is not possible. So now that I'm back - for this week at least - where do I begin?
How is it that a team that has captured 2 of the past 3 Super Bowls and won 21 games in a row in the midst of a 27-3 streak since opening day 2002 is no longer regarded as the "favorite" in the AFC? Yes, the Steelers mauled the Patriots in Pittsburgh, and no I don't think Corey Dillon would have made much of a difference that day, but give me a break.
Aren't the Patriots entitled to lose a game once in a while, say, once every 15 months without being knocked down a peg? They lose one lousy game - to a very good team - and the Patriots are suddenly second fiddle. Which team did Sports Illustrated's Peter King recently compare to the '85 Bears? The one with the two new shiny Lombardi trophies? The one that's gone 27-3 since before Aaron Boone hit a game winning home run to beat the Red Sox in game 7 of the ALCS? Nope - he wrote that about the team that beat the Patriots - a 10-1 Steelers team that also was pummeled on the road by the only winning team they've faced away from Heinz field all season.
Let's not mince words - the Patriots were outclassed in every aspect of that game. The offense three times turned the ball over on their own side of the field, one leading directly to a touchdown, and the other two resulting in touchdown drives of 17 and 27 yards. Give all the credit to Pittsburgh for causing these turnovers, but such play is extremely uncharacteristic of the defending world champions. The Patriots were short their star running back, arguably their best receiver, both starting corners and later both starting tackles, but honestly folks that was not the difference in the game. When you turn the ball over three times on the road in your own territory, you're going to lose, period.
What bothers me, in case you can't tell, is that the Steelers are getting more press and more "attaboys" for beating the Patriots and Eagles en route to their best start since 1978 than the Patriots (same record by the way) ever did in the past three seasons. Perhaps the Steelers are the best team in the NFL and will walk away with the prize on February 6 down in Jacksonville, but only a fool would count out the Patriots.
Not everyone has jumped off of their bandwagon. ESPN's John Clayton still refers to the Patriots as the best team in the NFL. Ditto for PTI co-host and Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser and shoe-in hall of fame running back Terrell Davis, now of the NFL Network. Go ahead Steelers fans - wave your terrible towels until your arms fall off - the road to Jacksonville still goes through the New England Patriots, and if the Steelers are serious about home field advantage, they had better plan on not losing another game the rest of the way.
Was it that long ago that the Super Bowl was little more than an exhibition game after the World Champion had already been decided in the NFC Championship game? I realize things come in cycles, but my how things have changed. While the Philadelphia Eagles are the clear favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, there are no fewer than four teams in the AFC who would enter that contest as the casino favorites.
While I've just spent the last few paragraphs debating Steelers/Pats, lets not be too quick to dismiss the Broncos, Colts, and perhaps even the Ravens as legitimate playoff contenders. The Jets and Chargers have just three losses to date; I can't see them winning on the road in the postseason as much I can the aforementioned three. While fans of the Patriots and Steelers will be eyeing the final five weeks to determine home field advantage, be reminded their neither the 1st nor 2nd seed in the conference will receive a free pass to the AFC title game with the likes of the Colts, Broncos, or Ravens coming in for a visit in the divisional round. Also be reminded that the Steelers are just 1-3 under Bill Cowher when hosting the AFC Championship game.
The Broncos, their home loss to the Raiders aside, are probably the most complete team when compared to the Colts or Ravens. They have excellent receivers, a very solid running game, and a solid if unspectacular defense. Denver's Achilles heel is the erratic play of Jake Plummer, who can look hall of fame one week and Arena League the next. The Colts without question are scary. As on fire as Manning was late last season, he's even hotter now. The emergence of Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokely has been significant. The Patriots defeated the Colts in last year's conference title game scoring only 24 points. That may not be enough this time around. Their defense is still a question mark, but if they can force FG's in the red zone while Manning is throwing TD's, they'll be doing more than their part to win the game. Playing defense when Manning has staked you to an early double-digit lead is a lot easier as well.
The Ravens are luke warm at best on offense, but no team in the league is better at winning ugly and style points don't count in the playoffs. I said in my columns last year that of all the contending teams in the AFC, the Titans were the Patriots worst matchup. As good as the Steelers are, the Ravens may get the nod this time around with a healthy Jamal Lewis in the lineup. You are not going to beat the Ravens in the playoffs by double digits, and 13-10 games are anyone's game to win.
Last season, the final 4 in the NFC were Carolina, St Louis, Philadelphia, and Green Bay. As well as the Panthers played in the Super Bowl, is there not little doubt that either the Chiefs, Colts, Patriots or Titans would not have beaten any and all comers from the NFC had they managed to get that far? As good as the Eagles look week in and week out, I just can't see them beating any of the contending AFC teams in 2004, and that goes for the Falcons, Vikings, Packers or any other NFC team who may get past the Eagles as well. Whoever manages to reach the final four in the AFC this season could arguably be labeled as the four best teams in the NFL, yet three of them will end up with nothing to show for it.
Plug and Play
It's well documented the past few weeks how remarkable it is that the Patriots have been able to win despite a rash of injuries to their secondary, including both of their starters in Law and Poole. In terms of raw talent, there is no question whatsoever that the Patriots rank 32 of 32 in terms of who they are trotting out onto the field at the cornerback position each week. No disrespect intended toward Earthwin Moreland, Randall Gay, Asante Samuel or Troy Brown, but none of these guys would likely be taken in an expansion draft to stock the secondary of a newly established franchise. Not only have the Patriots won 3 games in a row since the loss of Ty Law, but two of those games have come on the road against two of the NFL's most prolific passing offenses in the Rams and Chiefs.
The victory over the Rams was significant when you consider the Patriots were the first team since the 2002 season to beat the Rams in St Louis in regulation, and they did so by 18 points. The Rams only other home losses the past two seasons were in overtime - in week 3 to the Saints, and to the Panthers in last year's playoffs. The Chiefs are only 3-8 on the season, but their 3 wins were at home over the Colts (8-3) and Falcons (9-2) and on the road on a Monday Night in Baltimore (7-4). We are very spoiled here in New England these days and we tend to take winning on the road for granted. Winning in St Louis or in Kansas City is tough enough - winning with rookie free agents and practice squad players manning the corner positions is nothing short of amazing.
What goes unspoken - and this is a testament to the Patriots - is overcoming the losses the Patriots suffered in the offseason and early on this season. Wasn't the Patriots defensive line suppose to be suspect without Ted Washington and Bobby Hamilton? Those are two great players and they're certainly missed, but today they're teammates in the same line along with Warren Sapp on the 4-7 Raiders, the 25th ranked rush defense in the NFL. Meanwhile, red tag special Keith Traylor, rookie Vince Wilfork, and 2nd year DE Ty Warren have teamed with Richard Seymour to once again give the Patriots a very formidable front line.
What of the loss of Damien Woody? The Patriots best offensive lineman bolted for big bucks in free agency, signing the most lucrative contract ever offered an interior lineman in NFL history. Woody's Lions are 4-7 and are the 28th ranked rushing offense in the league. The Patriots are also down to their 3rd string right tackle after losing both Tom Ashworth and Adrian Klemm for the season. For the foreseeable future, the Patriots line will consist of a 2nd round pick, a 5th round pick and 3 undrafted players, yet they form one of the more cohesive run blocking and pass blocking lines in the game. Again, remarkable.
Antowain Smith will never be confused with Jim Brown or Earl Campbell, but he was a very popular teammate and the definition of "Mr. Dependable" after Thanksgiving in each of his three years with the Patriots. How were the Patriots going to replace him? We all knew Corey Dillon could be an upgrade, but did even the most optimistic in Patriot Nation envision a player who could render a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback as the offense's 2nd option? Last season the Patriots had to rely on Brady and the short passing game to set up the run. No longer. Former Patriot Lawyer Milloy was quoted as saying that it use to be only Brady and the receivers that a defense had to account for, but with Corey Dillon the challenge is far greater. Even during Curtis Martin's best days as a Patriot, he was not as solid as Dillon has been the first 10 weeks of this season. Dillon leads the NFL in 2004 in rushing yards per game, and is on pace to set the all time Patriot record for rushing yards in a season.
When the Patriots set out to defend their first Super Bowl title, they were content on returning 21 of 22 starters. They finished a respectable 9-7 and lost out on the playoffs to the 9-7 Jets by virtue of the 4th playoff tiebreaker. Coming off their 2nd title, Belichick and Pioli were not as content to stand pat. In an era where conference championship teams have consistently gone by the wayside the following year, the fact that the Patriots are 10-1 deserves even more accolades then they are receiving.
One final topic I've been dying to weigh in on is where the Patriots sit in the Boston and New England landscape following the remarkable ride of the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Boston is a Red Sox town first and foremost, but are the Patriots an afterthought? Is Boston really a "baseball" town?
Let me go on record as saying I too am a big Red Sox fan. My first ever game was in 1979 when Yaz hit his 400th home run against the A's. If it weren't for my completely overboard following of the Patriots, you may even call me a Red Sox fanatic. I do stay up late on Wednesday nights to watch the Sox 4th and 5th hurlers take the mound at 10 p.m. ET in Seattle or Anaheim in the middle of the regular season. It's well documented that I'm a much bigger Patriots fan than Red Sox fan, however, so the perception that the Patriots are New England's "other" passion does not sit well with me.
The plight of the Boston Red Sox was for decades a national sports story. Any large market team that not only goes 86 years without a championship, but has a history of coming tantalizingly close only to let everyone down time and time again is going to be big news. Last season's ALCS was classic Red Sox. A great team, a fan frenzy, then heartbreak. Compounding the pain was that unlike the Patriots, the Red Sox have never been under any payroll restrictions. So while they've cursed the Yankees payroll, the Sox have consistently spent and spent and spent in vain in their attempts to bring a post WWI championship to Boston.
When Billy Sullivan founded the Patriots in 1960, Red Sox fans had already been waiting 42 years for a championship - longer than even the first ever Patriot fan had to wait before Super Bowl XXXVI. While in 1960 the Red Sox were already a part of being a New Englander, it took several years before Massachusetts had more Patriots fans than NY Giants fans. If you diehards of Patriot Nation think you suffered during the lean years, that is nothing compared to the anguish of Red Sox Nation. The Red Sox were perhaps the planet's most famous hard luck sports story.
When the Sox made history in coming back against the Yanks in the ALCS and then went on to sweep the Cardinals in the World Series, New England went nuts. But I ask the question, is Boston really a baseball town, or was the story bigger than the sport and the team?
When the Patriots won their championships, fans at City Hall plaza waited in excess of 6 hours in below freezing temperatures for the Patriots to arrive. An estimated 1.3 million showed up in downtown Boston on a weekday (and school day) for the parade. The Red Sox had their parade on a weekend, had a much longer parade route, had temperatures in the mid 50's and saw an estimated crowd of 3+ million show up. How many were really Red Sox fans? By that I mean how many could name the 25-man roster? How many could tell you how the Red Sox acquired Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek? How many of the rowdy college kids who took to the streets after the ALCS and World Series victories were even from New England? How many along the parade route showed up just so they could say "I was at the parade when the Red Sox finally won the World Series!" I'm not diminishing the turn out or the love this region has for the Red Sox, but let's not go so far as to say this is not a football town either.
To say Boston is a "baseball" town, wouldn't that mean that more fans would rather tune into Tuesday Night baseball to watch the Padres and Giants than would tune in on a Sunday during the Pats bye week or to Sunday Night football to watch the Vikings and Packers? Yes it would have to mean that, and TV ratings prove definitively that that is not the case. Head-to-head is no different. On Friday night, September 17th, the Red Sox opened a 3 game series against the archrival Yankees in New York with the AL East title still very much up for grabs. That game drew a 17.5 share via the on-air Boston channel UPN38. Two days later the Patriots kicked off a 4pm ET Sunday game against the Arizona Cardinals and drew a 29.6 share on CBS4.
When the Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl, 78% of all television sets in the Boston market that were turned on were watching the Patriots. When Curt Schilling heroically took the mound in game 6 of the ALCS in Yankee Stadium, the number was 70%. I could not find the number, but I do believe the clinching game of the World Series did exceed the 78% figure of the Super Bowl, but where were all those fans for game 6 of the ALCS?
Fenway Park is the smallest park in all of Major League Baseball. Despite ridiculous ticket prices, the Red Sox sold out every ticket for every game this season. That is amazing, but right now, I could call up the Red Sox with my credit card in hand and order 2005 season tickets no problem. More games than the NFL you say? What's to stop me or anyone else from splitting the tickets 4 ways with some buddies? Try to call the Patriots for season tickets and you'll find yourself on a waiting list that rivals that of the Green Bay Packers in Football Town, USA. People in New England are placing their toddler-aged children on the Patriots season ticket waiting list in the faint hope their names will come up after they are out of high school or college.
Want to go see the Sox/Yankees in Fenway? How about with Pedro or Schilling on the mound? Be prepared to pay $300 or $400 for a box seat, and upwards of $100 to $200 for the bleacher seats. Sox/Royals? That's another story - you can probably get tickets for slightly above face value. Go onto eBay or stubhub.com and look up tickets for the Patriots remaining home games - in the freezing cold - against the Patriots "archrival" Bengals and 49ers. In a stadium 30 miles south of Boston with double the capacity of Fenway Park - expect to pay $400 to $500 for lower sideline and upwards of $200 for upper deck or end zone.
One final point. When the Red Sox courted Curt Schilling Thanksgiving weekend one year ago, the Patriots were in the midst of their record run yet all the headlines were about Curt Schilling. This was supposedly move evidence of Boston being a baseball town. Of course the headlines were all Schilling! When you've got a team in an 86-year drought coming off a game 7 extra innings loss in the ALCS pursuing one of the greatest post season pitchers of all time, that's going to make headlines. The Patriots were on a roll, but football season is not really football season until December.
On the flip side, let's move to Patriots Day 2004. The Red Sox had just won their 3rd game of a 4-game series against the hated Yankees and had secured an early season lead in the AL East. A-Rod was something like 1-for-25 in the series, and the Yankees prized offseason pitching acquisitions had not fared well. A buddy and I were tuned into WEEI on the ride home and all the talk was Sox, Sox, Sox, as they were the only game in town and beating the Yankees is always sweet. About 20 minutes into the ride home, it was announced that the Patriots had just acquired Corey Dillon from the Bengals in exchange for a 2nd round pick. This was huge news, as this move had not even been rumored. The talk for the rest of the ride home was Pats, Pats, Pats, and this started with the first few callers who were already on hold before the announcement was made!! How is this any different than Schilling getting headlines during football season? How about the NFL Draft coverage during baseball season - and the Patriots first pick was 21st!
OK - enough already. I'll stop here in case I've already moved from defending the Patriots to Red Sox bashing. Like I said at the top - I'm a big Sox fan, but just happen to be a bigger Pats fan. I'll concede that the Red Sox have always been the bigger story around these parts, but what's outrageous is the presumption that the Pats are an also-ran. The Patriots are immensely popular in Boston and throughout New England. You can't swing a dead cat around without hitting a Patriots bumper sticker, jacket, or hat. "1" and "2" I simply will never agree with. "1" and "1A" I'll concede… for now.
Well that's it for this week, and in case you don't hear from me in a while, I think the Pats biggest game this season will be just as it was last season - in New York. I said last year that a victory in NY would mean the Patriots would not have to leave home again until the Super Bowl, and I was right. I expect the Pats to enter that game this year at 13-1. Should they emerge 14-1 heading into their "bye" week at home against the 49ers, you can make your reservations for Jacksonville if you haven't already.
Bye for now, thanks for reading, and Go Pats!