First and 10: Patriots 35, Packers 0
1. Well, that sure was a reassuring win. In many ways, the 35-0 beat-down of Brett Fav-rah and the Packers was a classic Belichick-era Patriots victory. Whenever their backs have been up against the wall and they face a must-win situation, that's when they've tended to play their very best games. Talk about an immensely valuable characteristic to have. Of course, questions still remain: Why have they been so much better on the road than at the Razor? Are they capable of playing this way against a playoff-caliber team? Is there enough depth in the defensive backfield to shut down a quarterback better than the disinterested Favre? I suppose we'll get all the answers in the coming weeks. But after Sunday, you have to feel encouraged that we're going to like what we learn about this still-resilient team.
2. Tom Brady? Injured? (Scoffs.) That's crazy talk. Man, you must have read that somewhere else. What idiot would suggest such a thing? Oh, all right, to be completely honest, I remain skeptical that he is as healthy as he claims to be. I just can't comprehend that his uncharacteristically inconsistent passing this season is simply the result of a suddenly scattershot arm. He's been so consistent for so long that you have to believe something is wrong when his radar inexplicably goes on the fritz. But if he's going to keep playing as efficiently and effectively as he did this week - now that was the Brady we've been waiting to see - I'll be glad to be proven wrong each and every Sunday, all the way to Miami.
3. It looks like the Patriots don't have much intention of signing him after the season, and he probably hasn't produced enough to justify being a first-round pick in 2002, but I think the Patriots are a better football team when Daniel Graham is healthy and involved. He remains a devastating blocker - ask Julius Peppers about the whupping Graham put on him in the Super Bowl XXXVIII - and while he seems to juggle every catch he makes, he's an effective receiver despite his limited use. Maybe if he can stay healthy for the rest of the season, they'll give more consideration to keeping him around. He's no star, but his value can't be denied.
4. So what was the most ridiculous aspect of the Brett Favre "He'd Play The Game For Free!" experience Sunday? How the NFL's most accomplished drama queen needed a friggin' medical cart to get to the locker room after suffering an owie to his funny bone? How said medical cart/motorcade nearly turned a Patriots player (Ellis Hobbs, I believe) into roadkill as the teams left the field for halftime? Or how CBS - and the affably oblivious Dan Dierdorf in particular - acted as if Favre's absence was some devastating loss to the Packers, when in fact he was an abysmal 5 for 15 for 73 yards and looked as if he couldn't wait for the damn hopeless cause to get over with? He's playing for the streak now (250 and counting), and little else. Back in the day - you know, when he was actually good - I admired Favre for his obvious talent and joy as much as anyone. But those days are long gone, and the he-can-do-no-wrong Jeterification of his accomplishments is little more than a misleading annoyance at this point.
5. We interrupt this football programming to bring you this special report: THE CUBS PAID $136 MILLION FOR ALFONSO (SLIDER IN THE DIRT, STRIKE THREE) SORIANO? HOLY *#*#*!!! YOU HAVE GOT TO BE *$&%*& KIDDING ME!!! THAT'S INSANITY!!!! We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.
6. Gotta admit, I'm coming around on Reche Caldwell. Sure, I had my gripes about his seemingly slippery hands and inability to get separation, and the dude's Chris Tucker eyes still freak me out. But he deserves nothing but plaudits for his recent steady and reliable play, and of all the new additions to the receiving corps, he seems to have done the most to earn Brady's trust. I'd still rather have David Givens, but Caldwell's doing his best to make the Patriots look good for taking a flyer on him.
7. Among the birthday loot I received today from Mrs. TATB (I'm 29 for the ninth straight year, if you were wondering) was a requested copy of Charlie Pierce's best-seller-to-be on Ol' No. 12 In Your Program, No. 1 In Patriots Fans' Hearts. I have this suspense-killing habit of skimming a book before I actually read it, and during tonight's speed read, the most interesting revelation I found was this: Damon Huard, the third-string quarterback during the 2001 season, earned that Super Bowl ring in far more ways than we ever realized. A close friend of Bledsoe's who shared an insatiable work-ethic with Brady, his deftness at diffusing the tension between his quarterbacking peers proved crucial in keeping the team together. I always thought Huard was a better quarterback than he got credit for - the consensus in Miami was that he should have gotten the job over Jay Fiedler after Dan Marino retired, and he's certainly rescued the Chiefs this season - but I had no idea he was such a good teammate, too.
8. The Tony Romo man-love from the Peter Kings of the world is getting to be a bit much. While the kid is a blast to watch, brought energy to the stagnant offense, and has even helped put some color back in the Tuna's alarmingly pallid face, he's become the recipient of verbal backrubs from the media usually reserved for quarterbacks with the surname Manning. (Or Favre.) What is it Parcells himself once said way back when after one of his young Patriots was the object of the media's overwrought platitudes? Ah, yes: "Let's not put the kid in Canton just yet, fellas." Then again, he was talking about Curtis Martin if I recall correctly, and it's a foregone conclusion that there is a mustard-colored jacked in his future. I'm pretty sure I just contradicted my own point there, so let me reiterate the so-called point: Romo is capable, an upgrade on the calcified Bledsoe for sure, and he's making it fun for Dallas fans again. But the fawning could make this fun story annoying pretty quickly for those who don't sleep beneath a Cowboys blankie at night.
9. As if you need more proof that I fall somewhere between "Damn Fool" and "Tony Kornheiser" in terms of football insight, I have to admit that I wrote a column back in 2001 imploring the Patriots to avoid drafting a certain undersized running back from Texas Christian in the first round. Yeah, I thought LaDainian Tomlinson was a stiff. (And I won't even mention that I wanted them to draft David Terrell or Koren Robinson with that No. 6 pick that was eventually used on Richard Seymour. Hey, I wasn't the only one.) Tomlinson, as he's proved with his record-setting sprint to 102 touchdowns in 89 career games, is of course anything but a stiff. At age 27, he's already among the all-time greats, entirely worthy of the LT nickname, and he's made that shrewd Chargers front office look all the more clever: That vaunted Vick-for-LT-and-Brees blockbuster looks more and more like a heist each time Tomlinson crosses the goal line.
10. As for today's Completely Random Football Card:
Huh. I guess I just assumed football broadcasting's answer to Tim McCarver has had that goofy-ass mustache since birth.