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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 11/9/98

The Patriots are a mediocre football team...

There, I said it. That felt good. Now that I have reset my expectations for this team, perhaps I can enjoy the final 7 games of the season. If Buffalo fans can still be on cloud 9 at 5-4, then so can Pats fans if we can learn to agree on a few points here. The Pats are not the favorite to win this division. The Pats are not the best team in this division. The Pats talent is overrated. With that, we have a 5-4 team before us who is 1-4 against plus .500 competition. Deservedly so, the Pats will be going into Buffalo next week to face Wade Phillips and Doug Flutie as underdogs.

This is nothing new folks. The Pats have failed to beat the better teams in the league for years and years now, and that includes the four years Parcells was the coach. The 5 wins this season have come against the Colts twice, the Saints, Oilers, and Chiefs. The Oilers are the only team with a winning record at 5-4. The other 3 teams are a collective 9-18, and as each week passes, the win over the Chiefs looks less and less like an accomplishment. Kansas City is also playing poor football, and is in grave danger of not making the playoffs.

To regurgitate the stats in the loss to the Falcons in this column would be like slitting your wrists. Why do it? The Pats were just plain awful in every sense of the word. There were no bright spots. You could point to Ty Law’s two interceptions, but where was he the rest of the afternoon as Chandler threw just 8 incompletions in 22 attempts? Ted Johnson looked nothing at all like a $25 Million linebacker, and the other $25 Million defender missed his 3rd game with a sore groin. Chris Canty again was too soft in coverage, and this time Clay and Milloy were not able to cover up for the 2nd year corner. The defensive line belongs on a milk carton, and the offensive line belongs on a sour milk carton. What’s left of the depleted receiving core was dreadful, and the running game was of sandlot quality and design.

Shake it up...

After a completely flat performance like this one, you absolutely cannot send the same 22 starters out on the field the following week. Hopefully injured starters returning to the lineup will make a difference, but perhaps some of the regular starters who played yesterday should also be benched. If nothing else, it may motivate them to elevate their game.

You can start with the offensive line. There is not one player on that line who has earned their pay since the win over the Chiefs, and that includes Bruce Armstrong. The Pats are not injured there. In fact, the offensive line is the only unit on the field that has been intact since training camp. Something has got to be done there. Damon Denson, Heath Irwin, Ed Ellis, and Scott Rehberg could not possibly diminish the quality of the play on the line with their presence. The Jets are starting a rookie 4th round pick at tackle, have journeyman guards, and an aged Jumbo Elliot - past his prime - on the other side. Their line has overachieved; the Pats line seems to have mailed it in after September.

Aside from Ty Law, the secondary has also been very inconsistent. At times Lawyer Milloy looks like a Pro-Bowler, but he has made more than his share of mistakes during this slump. Willie "No Play" Clay has been invisible, and Chris Canty struggles just to keep his man from having a big day. Steve Israel, Tebucky Jones, Chris Carter, and Larry Whigham would all love to have more playing time. Again, new blood in that group could not possibly hurt.

Both the defensive line and receiver core are also in need of change, but with them there is no one to change to. The coaches struggle each week just to put healthy bodies out there at those positions, so changes there are just wishful thinking. Those areas have been decimated by injury. Willie McGinest and Henry Thomas need to return to the lineup, and Bledsoe would likely give half his salary back to have a healthy Troy Brown, Terry Glenn, and Vincent Brisby back in uniform. That would also help elevate Ben Coates’ play, who aside from the Indy game has also not been a factor.

The loss of Tony Carter has also been evident. At fullback, there is rookie Chris Floyd, and behind him are running backs who have never played the fullback position. Robert Edwards has found absolutely no running room lately, but to his credit he has been effective as a receiver out of the backfield.

Finally, there is enough blame left to spread around to the coaches. I wish I had the stats on this, but the Pats offense must be near the top of league in 3-and-out series. I would not be surprised if the Giants and Eagles had fewer of those series than the Patriots did. Since the KC game, the Pats offense has gone 3-and-out on their opening possession 3 of the last 4 games. The one exception, again, was against the Colts, where they waited until the 4th quarter before they lost sight of the 1st down marker. You cannot blame the injuries for this, it’s got to be the coaches and their play calling and (lack off) scheming.

When the Pats do get a 1st down these days, it’s more often than not via penalty or a QB sneak on 3rd and inches. Watching the Pats offense these past few weeks has been painful. Aside from a few series against the Colts (there’s that name again), the Pats offense has been anemic. What was billed as an offense that was a threat to score at any time from anywhere on the field, now has us biting our fingernails hoping they can muster 10 yards in 3 plays or less.

That is a total embarrassment and the blame has to fall on Pete Carroll, Ernie Zampese, and rest of the offensive staff. It is no coincidence that this putrid offense is beginning to resemble that of the 1997 Dallas Cowboys, who despite having Aikman, Smith, and Irvin, struggled for every yard they could get. Steve Sidwell and his staff also have got to do more homework on the defensive side, but they can thank the offensive coaches that the spotlight is not on them quite so brightly.

Patriotic Duty...

No matter how bleak things seem, I always try my best to write something positive in each column, so here goes nothing. The Pats are currently tied for 3rd place in the AFC East, trailing the 6-3 Dolphins and Jets. The Jets are undefeated in the division at 4-0, the Dolphins are 4-2, and the 5-4 Bills, like the Pats, stand at 2-2. At 1-8, let’s remove the Colts from the balance of this analysis, and assume that the other 4 divisional teams will go 2-0 against them. The Pats and Dolphins already have.

Of the four contenders, the Jets are the only team with a road win against one of the other three. That came at the expense of New England, who therefore carries the burden as the only team to have lost a home divisional contest. That Monday Night game on October 19 is the sole monkey wrench thrown into the works at this point, but the Pats can make amends for that on December 27 in New York. If New England can accomplish that, and beat Miami at home in two weeks, the Pats will have split with Miami and the Jets. If the Dolphins can beat New York at home in a December 13 Sunday night contest, then the Jets and Dolphins will have also cancelled each other out. If the above logic holds true, the Jets, Pats, and Dolphins will all be 2-2 in head-to-head-to-head competition.

The difference maker here is Buffalo. Miami has already split with Buffalo. The Jets still must travel to Rich Stadium after beating the Bills at home last Sunday, and the Pats have not played the Bills at all thus far. In 1997, the Patriots were the only AFC East team to win in Orchard Park and sweep the Bills, and they have that chance again this year. If the Pats can do what Miami failed to do, they will have given themselves the divisional tiebreaker advantage over the Dolphins, and possibly the Jets, who have not won in Rich Stadium for God knows how long. Again, this assumes that the Dolphins, Jets, and Pats all split with one another, which is far from a sure thing at this point.

If you’re still with me, you know what I’m getting at. Despite being just 5-4 and apparently in a tailspin, the Pats still have a great chance to win this division if they can get their heads out the sand. That won’t be easy. They Pats absolutely must run the table in their remaining four divisional games, beginning next week in Buffalo, then home the following two weeks against the Dolphins and Buffalo for the second time. If the Pats can just win their next three games, that will likely set up a showdown for the divisional title with the Jets in the Meadowlands on the season’s final day. This also relies on Miami beating the Jets in Miami on national TV in December.

Outside the division, the Pats will face Pittsburgh and St. Louis on the road, and the 49’ers at home. If they can go 2-1 in those games (Dear God, they can’t lose to the Rams!), that would put the Pats at 11-5 and would likely give them their third AFC East title in as many years. The task at hand is certainly a tough one, but the Pats can only blame themselves for being painted into the corner.

Of course, if the Pats continue to send out the same team we’ve watched over the last few weeks, my future columns will talk less about playoff positioning, and more about the April ’99 NFL Draft. The Pats have it within themselves to go 6-1 the rest of the way, but this group of 24 and 25 year olds had better get in their heads damn fast that ESPN or CNN or the Spin Doctor himself, Bill Parcells, saying the Pats have a talented team is not worth jack squat. The Pats are not good enough to just show up and go through the motions. Denver got away with that at Cincinnati, but the Pats are no Denver. The Pats are a 5-4 football team struggling to stay alive, nothing more. There is zero evidence to suggest otherwise.

It’s an age-old NFL cliché, but each player and coach must now look in the mirror and decide which direction this team is going to go in. Last years team was 5-4 and 6-5 before winning the division with less than 2 minutes left in the season. The 1998 edition must decide now, and I do mean now, if they want to go to the playoffs, or if they want to nurse their proverbial hamstrings for the rest of the season and be home for New Years. It’s long past due for the real New England Patriots to please stand up. I for one can’t wait to see what they look like, and sometime between now and the evening of November 29, we’ll all know.