First and 10: Patriots 40, Dirty Rotten Titans 23
1. So the Jets it is, huh? I suppose this makes it an easy week for the Felgers and Ordways of the world, who can yowl about Handshakegate and crank up the hype machine to full-throttle. Yep, we're getting the Border War matchup the banshees have desired all along . . . and the funny thing is, I suspect it's the matchup Bill Belichick would prefer as well. The Patriots are a superior team to the Jets in terms of talent and accomplishment, but given an additional week of preparation and catching the Patriots on a short week, Eric Mangini took his estranged mentor to the woodshed last time around, pulling off an upset as convincing as it was stunning. You have to figure a vengeful Belichick will make sure it won't happen again, especially given the fact that his team already knows the consequences of underestimating the Jets. Further, an optimist might argue that the Patriots are peaking at the right time - the turnover-free road victories over physically tough Tennessee and Jacksonville were encouraging to say the least, reminiscent of the way they won so many games in '03 and '04. I like this team a lot right now, and judging by his demeanor lately, I think Belichick does too. Of course, that's not going to stop him from showing them the grisly footage from the Jets' loss 20 times this week. Another loss to the Sons of Richard Todd? It's as unacceptable as it is unlikely.
2. I understand why Dick Enberg occasionally fumbles his words - god bless him, he's been blurting out his trademark "Oh, my!" since Red Grange was galloping around in a leather helmet. But what's his partner Randy Cross's excuse? He must be still suffering from post-concussion syndrome from his Niners' days or something, because he is unlistenable. He botches players names chronically, turns an anecdote into a mind-numbing miniseries (tell me again why Jeff Fisher doesn't like having the scores announced), and comes across in a joking manner that might be tolerable if it wasn't a device to mask his lack of preparation. Please come back, Phil Simms. We took you for granted, and we even promise to never again peg you with a snowball.
3. I'm still not comfortable with him being this team's de facto No. 1 wide receiver. But Reche Caldwell has convinced me that he's a worthy replacement for David Givens, and considering the piles of money that so many less productive wideouts received in free agency, you'd have to consider him perhaps the best bargain of the offseason.
4. Looks like accomplished cheap-shot artist Kevin Mawae has shared a few of his dirty tricks to his Tennessee teammates. You know a team is dirty when you come away with the impression that they're a roster full of lawless lowlifes, then realize that Skull Stompin' Albert Haynesworth wasn't even involved. Not that our own Rodney Harrison is a Lady Byng winner; there is a smidgen of irony in the fact that he was taken out by a dirty play. Of course, recognizing such irony didn't prevent me from spewing a string of expletives as Harrison writhed on the ground. He's played so well since he came back, and losing him at this point would be crushing.
5. Every time someone tries to tell you that Belichick is bloodless Xs-and-0s-spouting automaton, keep in mind that he has set aside a play in the season finale each of the past two years to give an old favorite one final moment for the highlight reel. Last year, it was Doug Flutie with the dropkick. This year, Vinny Testaverde got to throw one last touchdown pass, giving him at least one in a record 20 consecutive seasons. Ask me, such consideration makes Belichick downright sentimental.
6. Man, Ed Hochuli just kills me - the three-sizes-too-small shirt and "Welcome to the gun show" flexing when he announces a penalty is so narcissistic and transparent, I half expect that on one of these Sundays, he's going to show up shirtless, with zebra stripes painted onto his torso.
7. I suppose there's some correlation between his ascent to the starting job and the Titans' revival . . . but there is no doubt that Vince Young has a lonnngg way to go to become the quarterback the "He wins games!" mythmakers claim he already is. To borrow the words of Gil Santos: "This kid can run, but he's not so good at throwing it." Ain't that the truth - I haven't seen so many bounced screen passes since the days before Drew Bledsoe became acquainted with Mo Lewis. Ditching the Byung Hyun Kim delivery might be a place to start.
8. Adam "Pacman" Jones is a cross between Deion Sanders and Ol' Dirty Bastard. He could end up playing in a half-dozen Pro Bowls, or he could end up hosting "The Playas Ball VI: Titan Pimp!" Right now, I'd say the odds are slightly tilted toward the latter.
9. He has a nose for the end zone, always seems to get 37 inches on 3d and 1, and needs a gurney to get off the field after any run over 25 yards. Yep, I'd say Corey Dillon is morphing into Antowain Smith, and that's really not such a bad thing - hell, most aging backs turn into Marion Butts. Besides, the Patriots did win two Super Bowls with the affable Smith playing a crucial role, and Dillon, despite his creaky wheels, quietly had a very productive season, scoring 13 rushing touchdowns to tie the franchise single-season record set by some guy named Curtis Martin in 1995 and 1996. He's not what he used to be, but he's still pretty darn useful nonetheless.
10. As for today's Completely Random Football Card:
I'm guessing he didn't win a whole hell of a lot of playoff games with the Patriots, either.
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Happy New Year's, and thanks for making this little blog so fun and rewarding. I sincerely appreciate the fact that you take a moment in your day to check in and read what we have to say. Here's hoping 2007 brings the fulfillment of all your dreams. (Quietly humming "Same Old Lang Syne" . . . you know, the kick-ass Dan Fogelberg version . . .)
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One more thing before I go pound whatever remaining Sam Adams Winter Lager we have left over from Christmas: This was probably my favorite sports column of the past year. It's a thoughtful reminder of why we became fans in the first place, and it seems appropriate now, on a day meant for new beginnings. Enjoy