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 1/21/2005

Trick or Treat...

It was Halloween when Patriot Nation watched in horror as the Patriots 21-game winning streak came to a screeching halt in Heinz Field at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We all knew the streak would end sometime, and also perhaps conceded that a visit to Pittsburgh may be the end of the line, but no one envisioned a team that had won 21-straight games getting manhandled like their Rod Rustian counterparts of 1990.

Just like that, the defending Champions went from unbeatable to the AFC's 2nd fiddle. The Steelers proved their win was no fluke, as they throttled the undefeated Eagles the following week at home, and have not lost a game since. While 21 is a lot of games to win in a row in this league, 15 isn't too shabby either.

There was not a single positive that could be taken from that game. Yes, the Patriots were without Corey Dillon and Deion Branch. Yes RT Brandon Gorin was making his first start of the season (Tom Ashworth had been the starter but was placed on I/R the week before the game), and found himself moving from RT to LT later in the contest when Matt Light was knocked out with a head injury. Is this why the Patriots lost the game? Perhaps the banged up personnel contributed to some ugly final box score numbers, but the Patriots would not have won that day with perennial All-Pros playing in place of their injured starters.

With the Patriots leading 3-0 and the Steelers facing a 3rd down, QB Ben Roethlisberger completed a 1st down pass to Hines Ward after Ty Law broke his foot, leaving Ward uncovered on the play. Enter the untested, undrafted rookie CB Randall Gay, and on the next play Plaxico Burress hauled in a 47-yard TD pass over Gay to make it 7-3 Steelers.

On the Patriots next possession, Tom Brady was pressured and had the ball knocked from his hands as he was bringing the ball back to throw. The Steelers offense set up shop at the 27-yard line and 5 plays later it was 14-3. Uh oh.

Not to worry, right? These are the defending Champs, and if anyone can come back against the Steelers on the road, it's Tom Brady. The very next play from scrimmage, Brady threw a bad interception at the 39-yard line that was returned for a touchdown. 21-3 Steelers and it's still the 1st quarter. Even with Dillon in the lineup at that point, the running game is shelved. The Patriots do score a touchdown in their 2-minute offense at the end of the half - perhaps a comeback is in the works? On the 1st play of the 2nd half, Kevin Faulk mishandles a swing pass from Brady and fumbles it away on his own 17-yard line. 31-10 Steelers. Game over.

With the entire 2nd half still to be played, the circumstances could not have been better for the Steelers. Their smash-mouth offensive line and bulldozing tailbacks absolutely owned the Patriots front 7 - a fully healthy front 7 I might add - for the rest of the game. The Steelers defense rushed from their upright positions for the rest of the afternoon, and with Joey Porter lining up against Gorin on the left side, the word mismatch hardly seems adequate.

What was most sickening was watching the Steelers and their loyal following celebrate like they had just won the Super Bowl. Jerome Bettis had gone public during the Steelers bye week the week before the game stating that he hoped the Patriots would defeat the (then) undefeated Jets at home to give the Steelers the chance to "break the streak." He got his wish - and he and his teammates capitalized big time on the opportunity.

Why am I taking you through all this again? Why am I opening up old wounds? As I sat on my couch that Sunday in October in a foul mood - answering the door for trick-or-treaters in between expletives and trying to break my hand on the coffee table - I prayed that the Patriots would get another shot at these guys. That day has come - and this time it really counts.

Renewed purpose...

The banged up but ornery Patriots went on to win their next 6 games by an aggregate score of 197-93, an average margin of victory of 17 points. Only one of those 6 games, a visit to Cleveland, was against a team who finished the season with fewer than 7 wins. The streak included a win over the Rams in their dome, a victory in Kansas City on Monday Night Football, and home wins over the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens where the defense surrendered a grand total of 3 points. All the while "replacements" such as Randall Gay, Earthwind Moreland, and Troy Brown were gaining valuable experience in the secondary. Deion Branch returned to the lineup and quickly re-solidified his spot in the starting lineup. Brandon Gorin was coming along nicely at RT, and Corey Dillon was having a monster 2nd half of the season, rushing for 998 yards and 9 touchdowns over the final 9 games.

The Patriots again raised some eyebrows with their meltdown in the final 4 minutes in Miami, blowing an 11-point lead to drop a 29-28 decision to the lowly Dolphins, but they responded once again in a big way by going into the Meadowlands on a short week and manhandling the Jets in a "must win" game for the Jets in what was their final home tilt of the season. The Patriots held NFL rushing title winner Curtis Martin to 33 yards on 13 attempts while piling up over 100 rushing yards of their own against the Jets defense on the road. A week after his uncharacteristic bad decisions in Miami, Brady completed 21 of 32 passes for 264 yards and 2 touchdowns. This was against the same Jet team that 2 weeks later knocked the Chargers out of the playoffs in San Diego, then did everything but win in Pittsburgh the following week.

In case you were wondering if the Pats were in fact peaking at the right time, how about holding the Colts to their fewest total points on offense since they were shut out in the 2002 playoffs - over 2 years ago? The Patriots domination of Indy is a great example of what usually happens when Belichick gets a 2nd shot at a team. Although the Patriots won their prime time home opener over the Colts 27-24, the consensus of the NFL pundits was that they were outplayed and were "lucky" to have won the game. The Colts had 2 turnovers in the red zone, amassed 446 yards of total offense, and gashed the Patriots front 7 for 202 rushing yards on 42 attempts. This was with Richard Seymour, Ty Law and Tyrone Poole all in the lineup.

With the Patriots earning a bye week and readying for their rematch with the Colts, game reels from that contest combined with the Patriots depleted secondary and no Richard Seymour were spelling certain doom. Everyone and their uncle outside of New England, Joe Theisman and Michael Wilbon, were picking the Colts.

Were you watching last Sunday? Did the week 1 match-up have any relevance to the outcome? As many big games as the Patriots have won in the post season in two of the past three years, last Sunday was far and away their most impressive. Given what Manning and the Colts offense had accomplished this season - including their nearly flawless pounding of the Broncos in their first playoff game - you may conclude that last Sunday was the most impressive Patriots postseason victory in franchise history. You'd get no argument from me.

Mark it down...

The Patriots are going to the Super Bowl. The best thing the Patriots have going for them on Sunday is not Corey Dillon. It's not Tom Brady, it's not Tedy Bruschi, and it's not Bill Belichick. The reason the Patriots will win on Sunday is because they were absolutely humiliated the last time around, then sat and watched as the Steelers and their fans did everything short of tearing down the goalposts and holding a downtown parade in celebration. Think the Patriots have forgotten that? Think that loss is not fresh in the minds of Brady, Belichick, McGinest, et. al.?

Having Dillon, Branch and Matt Light back will make a difference, but it won't be the difference in the game. Dillon will get his carries and keep the Steelers honest, but he's not going to rush for 140 yards at 6 yards a pop against the Steelers. Having a more seasoned Randall Gay and Brandon Gorin in the lineup will certainly help as well, but even that won't prove to be the big difference. The Patriots fall behind by 21 points in the first quarter about as often as John Kerry votes for a tax cut. It happened on Halloween, and it won't happen again.

The Steelers are an elite team, and like most great teams, they are like piranha when their opponent makes mistakes. Look at the Steelers wins in Dallas, Miami, Cincinnati, and Jacksonville. Those are all games the Steelers could have - and perhaps should have lost - but didn't. You have to give them credit for that. You may be able to outplay the Steelers, but make a mistake, and they'll make you pay for it (sound familiar?). The Patriots found that out the hard way the last go around.

Even in their game last Sunday against the Jets, the Steelers scored on a 5-play drive that started at the Jets 25-yard line after Chad Pennington threw an interception right to Troy Polamalu to go up 10-0. The Jets made big plays on defense and special teams to come back and take a 17-10 lead late in the game, but conservative play calling and untimely missed FG's cost the Jets the game. When given new life, Roethlisberger and the Steelers took possession of the ball in OT and didn't look back.

The Steelers can play the same "no respect" card the Patriots were dealt last Sunday against the Colts as they are the first 15-1 team in NFL history to be underdogs at home in a playoff game. I think the Patriots will win the game, but the fact they are favored is silly. The Vegas line is based solely on how each team played the previous week, which has zero carryover to this week. Had the Jets not scored on defense and special teams, you're looking at a much different outcome, a far different perception, and the Steelers as the favorite. The Pats may be the defending champs, but the Steelers are 16-1, are 9-0 at home, and have the NFL's #1 defense. Then again, even though they're the #2 seed, the Patriots are 30-2 going back to September of 2003. Not bad.

Pittsburgh can use "no respect" to light their fire, but the Patriots still have 10/31 as all the motivation they need. As if that weren't motivation enough, they have to know that a 3rd Super Bowl title in 4 years would assure them a place in NFL history along with the Packers of the 60's, Steelers of the 70's, 49ers of the 80's, and Cowboys of the 1990's. Two more wins and a dynasty is born - no ifs, ands or buts.

My three kids wished for lots of candy last Halloween. I wished for this. We all got exactly what we wanted. Patriots 23, Steelers 21. See you in Jacksonville.