First and 10: Patriots 17, Bears 13
1. It was a far cry from flawless, what with the nine combined turnovers, including five by the Patriots, three in the red zone. But you know what? Our Guys won, and if there's anything we've learned during the Belichick/Dynasty Era, it's that a W is a W is a W, not matter how aesthetically unpleasant it may be. Besides, we tend to agree with Ron Borges's take this morning - there is something intrinsically appealing in watching two violent and relentless defenses do their thing. It was a fun and ultimately rewarding game to watch, mistakes, blunders, terrible calls, deflected passes and all. Best of all, the Patriots took the Bears' best shot, and for the first time this season against an elite foe, they didn't prove to have a glass chin; finally, they earned a notable victory against a team with a winning record, and if the season progresses in the manner we expect it to, it's entirely possible that the rematch of these two heavyweights will be scheduled Feb. 4 in Miami.
2. Farewell, Junior Seau. I admit I was a skeptic when you deferred your "graduation" to answer Bill Belichick's call - aging former superstars with a reputation for freelancing aren't often willing accomplices to the Patriot Way. Yet you played so remarkably well and fit in so seamlessly in your 11 games as a Patriot, damned if it didn't feel like you had been one of ours all along. Here's hoping that raucous, appreciative salute the Gillette Stadium crowd gave you as you departed gave you a measure of pride and joy to combat the agony of the moment.
3. Wow, was that Asante Samuel out there, or was it Ty Law in a braided wig? No. 22's performance Sunday was right out of ol' No. 24's highlight reel - three interceptions that showed off hands Chad Jackson would kill for, a surprisingly steady and stout presence in the running game (nine tackles), and an occasional, forgivable gamble that doesn't pay off. Samuel is a free agent after this season, and while he strikes me as a solid No. 2 cornerback rather than a legit No. 1, I hope the Patriots pay him, even as the price keeps rising. Quality corners are rare gems, and Samuel has proven to be at least that.
4. Brady's Vick-in-super-slo-mo fakeout of Brian Urlacher has to be one of my favorite random Patriots plays of all-time, and it was enhanced by the players' reaction to it: Brady busted out the completely out-of-character, animated "First Downnnn!" signal, while Urlacher's sheepish smile revealed his embarrassment beneath his facemask. And for what it's worth, after watching him brawl with my favorite team, I admire Urlacher even more now than I did before. Not only is he a force of nature on the field - no one that big should be that fast - but, at the risk of sounding like one of those Favre suck-ups, he's clearly enjoying himself out there. The guy is a joy to watch, for both talent and temperament.
5. He's still something of an enigma - how could he allow two sure receptions to ricochet skyward and become interceptions? - but it's worth noting that Ben Watson is quietly having a stellar statistical season. He's fourth among tight ends in receiving yards (599, ahead of such notables as Todd Heap and Alge Crumpler) and fifth in receptions (45). And best of all, he seems to be getting better and gaining more of Brady's trust with each passing week. He's becoming exactly what we hoped he'd be, even if he's not quite there yet.
6. Dr. Z has long been my second-favorite football-loving curmudgeon (after my dad), but I really lost a heap of respect for him after this irresponsible item in a recent column:
Let's take a look at all-pro DE/DT Richard Seymour. . . . I watched Seymour when the Pats lost to the Jets. Biggest dog you've ever seen on the field. No effort, no technique, I mean tight ends were steering him around like a VW. OK, maybe he was hurt. You never know with this club.
C'mon, now, what the hell is that? A vicious attack ("biggest dog you've ever seen") followed quickly by a half-assed concession that he "might" be hurt? Pathetic. Seymour, his elbow and leg injuries apparently healing, was again his havoc-wreaking self against the Bears. I hope Dr. Z took notice, though I suspect he was too busy watching Matlock re-runs and worrying about making it to the early-bird special in time to pay much attention.
7. I've got "Monday Night Football" on in the background here at the TATB home office (a.k.a. the couch). And while I might be mistaken, apparently Joe Theismann stopped admiring his reflection in his always-handy pocket mirror long enough to pay attention to tonight's game, because I swear I just heard him blabber these well-worn words: "That's just Brett trying to make a play there. You've really got to admire his competitiveness." So what gridiron miracle did Funny-Bone Favre pull off this time? Hail Mary touchdown pass to Driver, perhaps? C'mon, you know better than that . . . try and ill-advised, who-gives-$*& heave, followed by an interception, followed by the requisite excuse-making from the color commentator. I've really got no problem with Favre, who's likeable enough even as he fades into mediocrity. But I've gotta say, the incessant verbal backrubs really make me root for him to suck.
8. Hmmm . . . looks like Giants fans are starting to suspect that Eli Manning isn't and never will be the quarterbacking equal of his big brother. How soon before Stage Father Archie demands the Giants trade his Youngest Doofus Spawn to a more accommodating place . . . you know, such as sunny San Diego? Man, karma is a . . .
9. Other scattered thoughts from Week 12: Joey Harrington has a whole hell of a lot more class than Matt Millen and his bush-league Lions. How does that proven dope keep his job, anyway? . . . For all the hubbub surrounding his comments, Jim Mora Sr. was spot-on: Michael (Dirty Bird) Vick is a coach-killer . . . A buddy of mine who's a Cowboys fan to the point of raging insanity (he sucker-punched a sliding-glass door when Vinatieri flagged down Herschel) says Tony Romo's quarterbacking style reminds him of Jeff Garcia during his peak years in San Francisco. Um, lets hope T.O. doesn't find out about this comparison . . . Did you catch Marvin Harrison's little hissy fit against the Eagles? Looks like Ty Law's old punching bag is having a tough time coming to grips with being Reggie Wayne's caddy in Indy . . . Martin Gramatica in, Drunken Idiot Kicker out in Dallas. I still don't understand why the Tuna didn't ante up for Vinatieri . . . The six best teams at the moment: 1. San Diego (but Marty Schottenheimer, the Tom O'Brien of the NFL, will screw it up on the big stage.) 2. Baltimore (until McNair's inevitable injury) 3. Indy (Joseph Addai looks like an upgrade over Edgerrin James) 4. New England (and you know I'd bet on them to beat the three teams ahead of them when it matters) 5. Dallas (Romo has cured everything!) 6. Chicago (if only they had a better QB than Rex the Blunder Dog).
10. As for today's Completely Random Football Card:
Kevin Faulk broke Collins's team record for career receptions by a running back Sunday with his 262d, and I'm not going to tell you how old it made me feel to realize that my memories of Collins's rookie season are 25 freakin' years old. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go funnel some Metamucil with Dr. Z.