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 10/5/1999

Getting it done...

In my last column following the Indianapolis game, I was cautiously optimistic that the Pats would turn 2-0 into 4-0 with upcoming games against the Giants and Browns. Two weeks later the Pats are still undefeated, but Patriot Nation is still not sure what kind of team we’ve got. It’s great news to be 4-0, but it’s better news that the Pats players and coaches aren’t under any illusions as to what type of team they are. With week 5 upcoming, it’s about time for the annual swoon, but unlike the editions of ’97 and ’98, this year’s Pats team seems on guard for that not to happen.

Let me go on the record as saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with winning ugly, or by "not enough points." Whether you do it on offense, defense, special teams, penalty, or blown officials call, winning is only statistic that matters at the end of the game. For those of you out there still suffering from "I-miss-the-Tuna-itis," be reminded of the how the Pats got to the Super Bowl in Parcells’ final year as head coach. They beat the 1-15 Jets on the road after being down 21-0 thanks in large part to a blown officials call late in the 4th quarter. They beat the 5-11 Giants on the road after trailing 22-0 with a Dave Meggett punt return TD and a last minute Drew Bledsoe 4th down TD pass to Ben Coates. It took a blocked punt recovered for a special teams’ touchdown to hold off the lowly Ravens in Baltimore. Even the AFC Championship game was ugly. The Pats only offensive TD drive was a 3-yard march set up by a botched Jaguars punt. Three seasons later, no one remembers how those games were won, just that the Pats were an 11-5 Super Bowl team. You will never see me complain about how the Pats win a game, especially on the road. There are plenty of Broncos fans out there who could use an ugly win about now. If all the Pats do is win ugly for the next 4 weeks, it will be awfully hard to find fault with an 8-0 team heading into their bye week.

But I thought it was all coaching...

After getting off to a good start last season, the injury bug hit New England hard. As 4-1 became 9-7, the following starters missed significant playing time. Willie McGinest, Brandon Mitchell, Terry Glenn, Ted Johnson, Todd Collons, Troy Brown, Steve Israel, Chad Eaton, Tony Carter and Drew Bledsoe. While Drew only missed three starts, his injury was probably the most damaging, as the Pats offense was inept in its final two games. Despite this uncanny rash of injuries, the disappointing 9-7 season was blamed on Pete Carroll, and the press called for his head. Now with (most) everyone healthy, take a look at what the Pats were missing.

Terry Glenn leads the league in receptions with 32 and receiving yards with 544. Troy Brown is 6th in the NFL with 7 3rd down receptions, averaging 16.9 yards per catch on that crucial down. With a healthy receiving core, Bledsoe leads the NFL with 1,261 passing yards, and is the AFC’s highest rated passer with a 104.4 rating. These three players are perhaps the biggest reason the Pats are 4-0, and all three were on the sidelines when Pete Carroll was "outcoached" 31-10 in week 17 last season by Bill Parcells in the Meadowlands.

A healthy Steve Israel has played equally as well as his millionaire counterpart, Ty Law. Willie McGinest has gone from the milk carton to the opponent’s backfield. Brandon Mitchell has proven to be a significant upgrade over his ’98 replacement, Chris Sullivan. While the defense still misses Ted Johnson, their overall play is vastly superior to what was on the field for much of last season.

Is it the off-season conditioning program, or are the Pats just lucky this season? When Ted Johnson went down in training camp, the "experts" downgraded the Pats chances from slim to none to compete in the AFC East, but no one felt sorry for them. Minus Terry Glenn and Troy Brown last season, the Pats dropped road games in Miami and Buffalo 12-9 and 13-10, but injuries were not permitted as an excuse. Meanwhile, the healthy "conditioned" Jets rolled along to 12-4 because of their superior coaching. Across the league this season, big names continue to go down. Vinny Testaverde and Wayne Chrebet for the Jets, Jamal Anderson and Chris Chandler in Atlanta, Steve Young in San Fran, and Terrell Davis in Denver top the list of notables. While the Jets, Broncos, and Falcons are a combined 1-11, everyone seems content to blame injuries (or retirement) rather than the coaching.

Which is it folks? Were the participants in last seasons AFC Championship game there because they had better coaches than the rest of the AFC? If so, what’s the story this year with those same teams? Same coaches, different key players. Hmmm. If the Jets or Broncos manage to turn their seasons around, maybe go 9-7 and clinch the 3rd wild card berth, people will mention Shanahan or the Tuna for coach of the year. In New England, under identical circumstances, losing in the first round of the playoffs is considered grounds for dismissal.

Lest you think I’m using hindsight and the Pats current 4-0 record as the basis for this argument, go back (to the Archives) and read the column I wrote following the loss to Jacksonville last January. Mike Shanahan is a great coach, and Bill Parcells is a legend in his own time, but even the great ones struggle when the groceries fall through the bottom of a wet paper bag. If you believed Pete Carroll was responsible for the injuries and all 7 losses in 1998, then you had better be consistent when you evaluate Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves, Bill Cowher, and Mike Shanahan at the end of 1999.

Beyond the Box Score...

When you look among the league’s leaders in rushing, you have to flip a page or two before you see Terry Allen’s name. The 31 year-old veteran, playing for the league’s veteran minimum, has carried 71 times this season for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns. While that won’t elicit any 8-man fronts from opposing defenses, Terry Allen’s rushing has been enough to keep defenses honest. Although averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, the Pats ground game has yet to be completely shut down this season. Averages often times are misleading. They are usually the result of a big play or two to offset the other carries for little of no gain. If Terry Allen’s next run goes for 60 yards, his average will jump to 4.25 yards per carry, but would that really mean he’s a much better back? Of the backs in the league with 70 or more carries, just two are averaging more then 4 yards.

Of Allen’s 71 carries, how many have been for negative yardage? I don’t have those numbers, but I’d venture to guess it’s less than 5. On 3rd and 1, he gets the 1. On 3rd and 2, he gets the two. An extra 5 yards on those carries would be nice, but a first down is a first down, and the rest is just gravy. Allen has also had some very tough runs inside the 10-yard line. Curtis Martin certainly had far more impressive numbers during his three years here, but 3rd and short and goal-to-go were never among his specialties. When you look at the often sub-par run blocking of the Pats guards, Allen’s ability to move the chains is even more impressive.

Allen has been a very determined, physical, and straight-ahead runner. That has allowed Ernie Zampese to call his number an average of nearly 18 carries per game. A dash of Lamont Warren, Kevin Faulk, or the fullback here and there and the Pats are averaging 29.75 rushing attempts per game compared to 26 for their opponents. There is no question that the Pats are a passing offense with an afterthought of a ground game, but through week 4 Terry Allen cannot be ignored. This pickup was huge. Bobby Grier deserves a lot of credit not just for getting him on the roster, but for doing so at a very cap-friendly price.

Battle of the undefeated?

The Patriots will be road underdogs next week in Kansas City, and the Dolphins have two tough games against the Bills and Colts upcoming, but on October 17th we could see the 3-1 Dolphins in town to face the 5-0 Pats. That matchup would certainly be worth the $60 plus parking. I’ll see you next week as I hope my next column will be after another win, even if it’s an ugly win.

P.S. Anyone still worried about the Tampa Bay pre-season loss? Anyone? Anyone?