As has become a weekly tradition, once again it gives me great pleasure to step aside and let Zeus take over control of the con.
1. Off the Rails – One of the things you have to love about the NFL is that it can quickly turn a mature, reasonably intelligent, mild mannered adult man (or,if you can’t find one of those, you could substitute me because this is what actually happened) into a stark raving lunatic. Sunday was the Chinese Water Torture Effect, the steady drip-drip-drip of madcap pass defense, red zone ineptitude and dumb penalties. And, finally, we’re completely off the rails, now screaming at an inanimate object manufactured in Japan, the Unblinking Big Eye that sends football into my home every week. This was not an especially proud moment for your humble correspondent, but it’s happened before and will in all likelihood happen again. (Ed. note – matters deteriorated to the point where the unfailingly patient and understanding Mrs. Zeus exited the family room in search of an oasis of serenity out of earshot from her deranged spouse. We’ve been at this for a long time so I’m almost certain that she would tell you herself that she felt her chances for a peaceful afternoon of football viewing were in serious jeopardy once she saw the visage of Referee Triplette appear on the screen.) Anyway, the Patriots won and they’re 10-3. So it was a good day.
2. Penalty Box – The NE defense really hurt themselves with penalties on Sunday.
- The 11 yard pass interference foul committed by McCourty came on 3rd and 8 from the Redskins 8 yard line. Not good situational football – all that was needed was a sure tackle and NE gets the ball in pretty good field position holding a 14-3 lead. This drive culminated in the Gaffney TD.
- The Carter roughing-the-passer penalty negated the McCourty pick. Rather than NE ball at their own 38, the Redskins were 1st and 10 at the NE 11, leading to a 25 yard FG.
- Wilfork’s unnecessary roughness foul was inexcusable for a veteran player, turning what would have been 3rd and 14 at the NE 33 to 1st and 10 on the 18, eventually resulting in the Anderson TD.
I’m not saying these were bad calls (though the Carter penalty was hard to take). Rather, they represented three significant mistakes by the D that helped the Redskins put points on the board. Without the penalties, they don’t put up 27 points, we’ve gotten a better (no, not great) defensive performance and a far more comfortable win.
3. Triplette Vision – Watching a game refereed by Team Triplette can actually distort the viewer’s sense of time and reality. It’s a bit like someone spiked the punch with a slow-acting hallucinogen. Things start out normally enough but then you start to drift. Pretty soon, full-blown weirdness has taken over and the game, by now buried in a veritable avalanche of yellow handkerchiefs, is barely recognizable as football. After three hours, you become aware that somewhere along the way, you have descended into utter madness, that the furniture is all broken and the TV has been pushed through the window out into the street and you no longer have any idea of what you were doing here in the first place. (Okay, I got a little carried away here, but you get the idea. At least, I hope you do.)
4. Much Ado about Nothing – Quite predictably, the Brady-Tiquan-O’Brien contretemps has quickly become the most stupendously overblown story in recent memory. First, the normally reasonable Greg Bedard speculated that Brady blew his stack because of years of mounting frustration over BB’s inability to draft a competent NFL wide receiver. Or years of mounting frustration over BB’s inability to field a competent pass defense. Or something. But it was years of frustration. I guess.
But the Epicenter of the Media Frenzy was found on the Sports Hub where Felger managed to work Massarotti into such a lather that he sounded like an already hyperactive toddler who had been force-fed an imperial gallon of espresso with a Red Bull chaser, his voice getting higher and higher until (mercifully) it disappeared into dog whistle territory. Massarotti’s moral indignation over the Brady/Belichick reign of terror in which the coach and QB have formed a Secret Club to exclusion of other coaches and players was as overheated as it was monumentally stupid.
5. A Cautionary Note to Tim Tebow and Cam Newton – Jim Plunkett once said that while there are many young running QBs, there are no old running QBs. Kurt Warner recently said that guys like Tom Brady have longer careers because they rely on their football intelligence, vision and decision-making rather their athleticism (good thing for TB). I don’t mean to detract from the performance of two pretty exciting players, but their future success will depend in large measure on their ability to develop the mental aspect of their game.
6. Tebow Shuffle – Like the Wildcat, the Bronco’s offense requires that you defend all eleven players in the running game. Unlike the Wildcat, you won’t have someone purely ornamental like Mark Sanchez split wide on the line of scrimmage picking his nose. So you really do have to defend all eleven players. In the passing game, keeping Tebow in the pocket as well as not bailing on pass coverage responsibilities at the first sign of Tebow pulling the ball down will be the keys. Easier said than done – as obvious as it seems, teams are having difficulty with it.
7. John Elway continues to squirm over the runaway freight train that is Tebow-Mania. Elway has the pained look of a man being forced by circumstances beyond his control to do something he profoundly dislikes and knows he will someday regret. And both Elway and head coach John Fox seem to choose their words very carefully, struggling to find the right way to convey their conflicted feelings about the unorthodox QB. Elway knows what made him successful and it’s not something he sees anywhere of the current Bronco roster. Thinking outside the box does not come easily to the Flat Earth Society types who populate NFL front offices. Young Mr. Tebow will find himself on a very short leash as time goes on because it’s apparent that this most definitely is not The Long Term Plan in Denver.
8. No Brain, No Pain – The Steelers dodged a huge bullet last week when Big Ben went full Gumby by miraculously sustaining only a grade 1 (least severe) high ankle sprain in what initially looked to be a far more serious injury. Big Ben seems to revel in the 18-20 serious injuries he suffers each and every season, although someone whose leg can be tied in knots like that with out any apparent serious consequences either can’t be 100% human or has some seriously faulty wiring in the pain centers hidden in the deep recesses of his armor-plated cranium.
9. Lots of respect here for the Steelers defense except that James Harrison and Ryan Clark are two of the biggest head-hunters in the NFL today. That’s why the one game suspension Harrison is welcome news. Harrison seems to believe that as long as he is in technical compliance with the rules (or at least his murky interpretation of them), it’s okay to try to separate an opponent from his head. Harrison says he’s not changing the way he plays. There’s no place in the NFL for a serial offender who has no intention of either understanding or complying with the rules. There is already talk of a far more serious suspension should Harrison (or Ndamukong Suh) run afoul of the law again.
10. Could the Jets Be Any Luckier? They came into Week 14 behind three teams (Bengals, Raiders, Titans) in the wild card race, all of whom lost. Especially galling was the Bengals’ loss to Houston. Galling because Cincinnati gave up a nine point lead in the 4th quarter. Galling because they were victimized by two brutal calls in the final two minutes (an outrageously poor spot that cost the Bengals a first down and a ticky-tack pass interference call that set up the game winning score with two seconds left). And especially galling because a Texans loss would have put the Patriots clearly in the driver’s seat to secure a first round bye. Still, it may not be too late for Truth, Justice and the American Way to triumph over Gluttony, Sloth and (Podiatric) Lust and deprive a playoff berth to the foul green denizens of the New Jersey swamps. Remaining games are with the Eagles (with QB Vick back in place of the scatter-armed Vince Young), the newly energized Giants (who hate the jets almost as much as we do) and the suddenly Sparano-less Dolphins (who will be hoping to avoid injuries that would impinge on their off-season golf – see Week 17 vs. NE last year). Hmmm, on second thought, that last one doesn’t sound so great.
11. So You Think You’ve Got Problems – two weeks, two excruciating losses for the Cowboys. Blowing a twelve point lead with less than six minutes left and then having the potential tying FG blocked after kicker Dan Bailey’s second consecutive disastrous flirtation with the Ice Follies – well, that’s a particularly gruesome way to lose a football game. If I were a Cowboy fan, I’d burn my season tickets, take a sledge hammer to my TV and look for a new hobby that doesn’t involve so much wear and tear on the central nervous system. Maybe something like stamp collecting.
12. Denver has been a House of Horrors over the years for the Patriots. Given the hype and the otherworldly/metaphysical implications of Sunday’s game, I may need to be medicated, sedated or just plan rendered unconscious to survive this one with my wits intact. One thing I do not want to hear after the game is the “it was good enough this week but it won’t be good enough in the future” lament we’ve heard for the last two weeks. It’s time to tighten all the screws and ramp up the intensity. It is, after all, a Hat and T-Shirt Game.
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