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 12/10/1997

Remember those 4-0 guys? They're baaaaaaack...

Will the real New England Patriots please stand up? Last Sunday in Jacksonville, it was September all over again as the Pats rolled to their biggest road win in years. Remember back a few months ago? The Pats were 4 0, they were thought across the country to be a lock for the Super Bowl, and they were only 3 point underdogs going into Mile High Stadium to face the 4-0 Broncos. Bledsoe was zeroing in on the MVP Trophy, Pete Carroll was "the man", the Patriots defense had only given up a handful of points, and travel agents were busy booking flights to San Diego for the Super Bowl.

What followed was an ugly 2-5 stretch which saw the Pats completely outclassed by Denver, Green Bay, and Minnesota, torn apart by (gasp!) Glenn Foley, and absolutely embarrassed by the Tampa Bay Bucs. The only two wins were against the 6-8 Bills. Fans were calling for Carroll's head, Bledsoe's benching, and a new Defense that may actually give a rats rear end if they won or lost. Coming home to face the Dolphins at 6-5, the home fans were not exactly receptive.

Even when the Pats won their next two, they still could not catch a break. It was tough to complain about the 2-0 mark after the bye week in Tampa, but there was still a general feeling that the team had lost it's edge and it's desire to repeat as Champions. Heading into Jacksonville, there were fewer Pats fans in New England who though the team had a chance than there were U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq who thought Saddam was an honest guy.

I've said this 1 million times before in my columns, but I doubt this phrase will ever wear out as long as there is a National Football League:

What a difference a week makes...

Why does 9-5 look sooooo much better than 8-5? Why do we Pats fans all think the Steelers have absolutely no chance this Saturday when last week we were begging NBC to move the game out of the National spotlight? This is the essence of the game. As Shawn Jefferson said after the win in Buffalo, "Everything looks better after you win". Your kids are better behaved, your girlfriend or wife is better looking, you love your job, and you seem to have lost a few pounds when you step on that scale.

Suddenly, but eerily true, Drew Bledsoe is a field general, Pete Carroll is a coach for the new millennium, Steve Sidwell and Larry Kennan are candidates for rumored job openings in Dallas and Seattle, the Special Teams and Defense fly around and hit hit hit, and the offensive line could protect Drew if the opposing defense had 14 men on the field! Want icing on that Cake? You got it. The good ship Tuna is taking on major water, and is sinking faster than Letrel Sprewell's bank account.

As bad as everything seemed heading into the Jacksonville game, everything now is equally as rosy. There isn't a ticket holder out there who isn't resting his or her lungs for this Saturday's key AFC showdown. God knows we have plenty of cheer left in us, since we haven't really gotten behind this team at home since early October.

Last week we all thought the Pats weren't going to make the playoffs. Now all you hear about is clinching the #2 seed and getting Denver at home for the AFC Championship game!! OK, maybe those hopes are mine and mine alone, but you get the picture. I doubt I speak just for myself, however, when I can say for the first time in about two months, "God, I can't wait for game day!".

Pinch me...

Weren't the Jaguars an AFC heavyweight? Didn't they have this game circled on their schedule since July? Wasn't this game in Florida, where the Pats played 35 minutes of football without a first down 4 weeks ago? Wasn't Jacksonville undefeated in it's last 13 home games? Weren't they 9-4 and on the verge of the Central Title? Weren't the Pats without Glenn and Martin, two all-pro caliber offensive weapons?

What the hell happened? As deceiving as the 27-7 score was in Tampa Bay last month, the Pats 26-20 win over the Jaguars was almost as stealth. Had Vinatieri not missed a kick he usually makes in his sleep with just under :30 to play, and had the kick coverage team known that football games are 60 minutes long, and not 58, this would have been a 29-13 drubbing.

The Pats came out on fire on their opening 3 possessions, scoring a TD and two FG's en route to a 13-0 lead. The defense was awesome, not allowing the Jags offense to counter, and forcing a fumble at mid field on the Jag's first possession. When Jacksonville finally did put up a TD with just over a minute to play in the half, Bledsoe completed 8 of 9 passes (actually 8 of 8, since spiking the ball counts as an incompletion), called all the plays, and marched the team 70+ yards down the field for a TD with :03 left faster than we Pats fans could say "Here we go again".

Forget the score, what was really great to see, and has been missing for far too long, was the emotion the team showed. They showed a bit of it in the Buffalo game at Rich Stadium, but nothing like this. Pete Carroll gave a speech on Saturday which got the team fired up, and Drew Bledsoe actually huddled his teammates together before leaving the locker room and blew them away with his words. That is as rare a moment as Norman Rockwell beating up a child.

We all saw what Bledsoe did to Brisby on the sideline, and it didn't come across as "fake", as Drew said it may if he ever did start yelling at his teammates to step it up. Granted that was out of character for Drew, but it was great to see signs that this guy has a competitive fire and a deep seeded desire to win. So what if it's not painted on his forehead like a Marino or a Grogan, at least we know it's there now, and so do his teammates. Like Sam Gash said after the game "Drew is our leader, whether he wants to be or not". You could sense that the Pats were very inspired by the play and emotion of their QB last Sunday. That's awesome.

My apologies, Mr. Carroll...

Even if the Pats lose to Pittsburgh and Miami, Pete Carroll earned enough respect in last Sunday's game to stick. He came into a nearly unwinable situation last Winter, has been raked over the coals by the fans and media, and he hasn't wavered. When Mike Ditka was losing, he spoke of hanging it up. Not Pete Carroll. His message was often not delivered in the best way (we are still spoiled by the Tuna in that regard), but he never gave any indication that he was giving up. To add insult to injury, for the first 13 weeks of the season, Pete could not be seen buying a Coke at a Tedeschi Food Mart without someone whispering "Ohhhh... Bill Parcells preferred Pepsi".

Coming into the season with 16 total games as an NFL head coach, Carroll did need to learn a thing or two, and still does for that matter, as does any young head coach. He and his staff dropped the ball in the Green Bay game, but I think they all learned from that. There was clearly a lack of coaching, whether it be during the preceding week or on game day, against the Bucs. That problem was rectified big time last week. Heck, Carroll is even using Sam Gash more!!

One thing that really stands out in my mind about Pete Carroll, and has gone a long way toward swaying my opinion of his ability to lead an NFL team, happened before the Pats even got on the plane for Jacksonville. Following last weeks win-but-not-really-a-win over the Colts, a game in which the home team was both booed and cheered back and forth like a tennis match, even in victory, one of the Patriot players sought out Carroll in the post game locker room, extended his hand, and said "Nice job, coach".

It was Sam Gash. There was no bigger fan of the departed Bill Parcells. There is no one who has more of a right to be bitter having seen spot duty following a Pro Bowl-caliber year last season. Sam Gash. A fan favorite, and a classy, classy guy. If he can extend his hand after a win at home over the Colts, that says a lot. If his players believe in him, then we should to. Even Fred Smerlas is suddenly on the Carroll bandwagon. All aboard!!

I have been heavily critical of Carroll in this spot during the 2-5 run. Every coach gets second guessed, including the Tuna in his 4 years here, but Carroll was being tortured. Let me be the first to apologize in print. Bill Parcells had only two road wins I can think of against quality competition when it mattered in his 4 years here. Those were the last two games of the 10 6 1994 season in Buffalo and in Chicago. The effort of the current coaching staff should not be overlooked here. Everyone laughed when Pete gave the troops an extra day off last week. Who's laughing now? Bill Parcells is now 8 6 coming off a home loss to Indy, and New Jersey has never seemed further South. This is your team now Pete Carroll, whether you finish 11-5 or 9-7. Congratulations.

A promise is a promise...

At the end of last week's column, I responded to Armstrong's and Byars' griping that the home fans were not doing their part. I argued, and I'll stand by this, that the team had not really done much, particularly in "Defending AFC Champion" fashion, to deserve much applause. I went on to say that if the 4-0 team deep inside of them decided to show up again in Jacksonville, they'd get a heroes welcome on the 13th.

The players did their part, big time, and that flag flying in the South endzone once again appears to "belong", high atop Foxboro Stadium. Now it's the fans turn, and I assure you we won't let the players down.

We would all like to extend a cordial welcome to the 10-4, AFC Central leading Pittsburgh Steelers, accompanied by Bill Cower, "Slash" Stewart, the tenacious "Blitzburgh" D, and of course, the Bus. Let's not forget to mention that they'll arrive in town fresh off a pasting of the 11-3 Denver Broncos.

Welcome to Foxboro Stadium. Home of the New England Patriots, defending Champions of the American Football Conference. Are you ready to rock?

See you next week.