First and 10: Patriots 24, Polian SoundMachine 20
1. So let me get this straight: The Patriots played far and away their sloppiest game of the season, with equally poor tackling and blocking . . . against their biggest rival, which happens to be the undefeated defending Super Bowl champion . . . in a hostile, raucous dome that may or may not have had its sound system enhanced by every microphone Bill Polian's minions could snap up at Tweeter . . . while being forced to overcome a ridiculously inept junior-varsity referee (Hochuli must have been putting on the gun show at the Senior Mr. Universe competition this week) . . . and yet, despite all of that, they scored two touchdowns in the final nine minutes, made two enormous defensive plays down the stretch, and escaped with a 24-20 victory. And yet the recurring theme I heard on the national football shows Sunday night and Monday morning had little to do with the Patriots' remarkable, improbable, affirming comeback or the fact that Peyton Manning reverted to his old habit of swallowing his tongue in the clutch. Nope, all the Youngs and Schlereths could talk about was how Saint Dungy and the Colts deserve a pat on the back for hanging so tough against football's Evil Empire. To which a Pats fan can say only this: Keep it up, fellas. It's this sort of disrespectful nonsense is exactly what's helping to fuel this vengeful, angry football team right now. I'm not saying they will go undefeated - hell, they're not even halfway there yet - but this victory, and the way it came about, should at least make the '72 Dolphins nervous. The mission continues.
2. Just heard John Clayton say the Colts were "thrilled" when Joseph Addai fell to them with the 30th pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Funny, but I seem to recall some lamenting on their part that Laurence Maroney (taken 21st by the New England Cheaterasterisktaints) was the player they really wanted. Either way, things turned out pretty well for Indy. Addai is a remarkably fluid runner, a perfect fit for the Colts' offense. While I'm not ready to say he'll be a better player than Maroney - I still think with good health and a little more decisiveness No. 39 will live up to his tantalizing talent - he's definitely the superior back at the moment.
3. I still haven't heard a plausible story as to why Adalius Thomas played such a limited role Sunday. (I think Mike Reiss said he saw the field on just three of 10 defensive series.) Rodney Harrison did an outstanding job covering Dallas Clark, but you have to figure there still should have been some role for the versatile former Raven, particularly after Tedy Bruschi was so ineffective in the first half; hell, I thought half the purpose of signing Thomas in the offseason was to unleash him on the Colts. I don't buy the theory that the Patriots' scheme was so complex that they felt they had to use the linebackers who are more experienced in the system. My primary suspicion is that the ankle injury he sufffered against Cleveland is bothering him more than he lets on, and in a sense I hope that's all it is.
4. Manning and the Colts' fans should know better than to blame injuries for this loss. If I recall correctly, the Patriots were without eight starters in last year's AFC Championship Game, including the essential Junior Seau (we'd never have heard of Eric Alexander or Bryan Fletcher had he been healthy), Harrison, and Richard Seymour, who got hurt early in the game. By the end of the fourth quarter, I think the Patriots defensive backfield consisted of Troy Brown, Rashard Baker, Prentice McCray, and Fred Marion. Further, the team was ravaged with the flu. Yet I'm pretty sure I didn't hear Manning mention in the aftermath that he picked apart a decimated Patriots defense, and he shouldn't have. It's football; you're always going to be playing without a hobbled teammate or two. This time it was Indy's turn. Here's hoping it is next time, too.
5. The next time these teams meet, the network televising the game would be wise to set aside one camera to aim at Indianapolis general manager/resident lunatic Bill Polian. Mike Felger was talking about this with two of the guys from Patriots Football Weekly (their names escape me at the moment, but the insufferably snide Paul Perillo wasn't one of them) on his show the other day - apparently Polian is an out-of-control madman during the game, swearing, yelling, pounding his fists, and threatening not to pay off the referees if they don't start calling more phantom pass interference calls on the Patriots. (Okay, maybe not the last one.) Everyone I've heard mention this seems to agree that it really enhances the game experience. I don't know about you, but I would pay good money to see his reaction when Kevin Faulk dove over the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown. I bet his sucker-punched his personal Smithers and stormed out of his box to go find an intern to pistol-whip.
6. Regarding Faulk, I probably should confess that I thought J.R. Redmond was a much better third-down option back in the day, and once even went so far as to suggest in my Concord Monitor column that the Patriots should make an example of Faulk and cut him after a particularly boneheaded fumble in a galling loss to Green Bay. Of course, he's overcome those fumbling problems, and despite that it takes him roughly 10 stutter-steps to gain three yards, he's made himself into a remarkably effective, versatile, smart, and trustworthy player. You bet I'm glad he's still here. And by the way, whatever happened to Redmond, anyway?
7. An asterisk? Seriously? I'll just chalk that up as further proof that anything Don Shula says about the Patriots should be immediately disregarded. The former Dolphins coach has had it in for the Patriots franchise the infamous snow plow game. It's worth noting that in a way he was the Polian of his time - a successful and powerful figure in the league who had a knack for using his clout on the competition committee to his own team's benefit. I'm not saying he's a hypocrite. What I will say I suspect he did things to gain a competitive advantage for the Dolphins that would make Spygate look even more trivial than it is. Okay, I am saying he's a hypocrite.
8. Baseball stuff: Love the C. Montague Schilling signing, obviously. The price is right, the expectations aren't high, and yet this is guy who was the No. 2 postseason starter for a championship team. It's the definition of win-win. I really got a kick out of Shaughnessy's column on Schilling's return, too. I'm not saying the compliments were insincere, but I'm pretty sure he typed the thing backhanded . . . Happy to see Orlando Cabrera win his second career Gold Glove; he's steady and spectacular, a much more worthy choice than the usual rangeless alternative . . . Youk was a deserving winner as well, but I'm a bit chapped (copyright: Dale Arnold) that Coco Crisp was overlooked. He's better than Torii Hunter at this point, and he's much more fearless than Grady Sizemore . . . Here's what I know about John Russell, the new Pittsburgh Pirates manager: He caught one of Nolan Ryan's seven no-hitters; he was a no-field, no-hit catcher for my Maine Guides in the late-'80s; and his wife at the time (I think they're divorced now) was absolutely the hottest woman I had seen in my life until that point. She was a blonde who looked and dressed like she strolled right off Malibu Beach, and having grown up in Bath, Maine, where the girls' idea of skimpy clothing was taking the sleeves off their L.L. Bean vest jacket, let's just say I'm pretty sure she caused my teenage jaw to unhinge, among other parts. I have no idea if John Russell can manage a baseball game, but he's got my respect . . . ARod's going to the Mets, isn't he?
9. He might kill me for saying this, but is there a bigger fraud in professional sports than Ray Lewis? The pile-jumping, Bible-thumping, spasming-like-Elaine Benes fool had the nerve to blame the Ravens' offense after Lewis and the Baltimore defense gave up five first-half touchdown passes in a blowout loss to the Steelers Monday night. Granted, the Baltimore offense does stink, and their blunders repeatedly gave the Steelers excellent field position. (Remember when Brian Billick was an offensive genius? Funny how he coached Randy Moss then, isn't it?) But anyone playing for a defense that gives up 35 first-half points has no right to point fingers. Lewis was once worthy of his reputation, but he talks a much better game than he plays.
10. As for today's Completely Random Football Cards:
I stumbled across this unsolved mystery while searching for the Lydell Mitchell card that concluded a recent post. Notice anything unusual about this progression from '73 to '79? (Excluding '77, which I couldn't find.):
So . . . either ol' Lydell was a charter member of Hair Club for Men, he figured out some secret formula to reverse aging, or that follicly challenged cat on the '73 card is not him (and it does look like him). Any theories regarding what is going on here would be much appreciated.
(And yes, I did just spend 15 minutes analyzing the hairstyle of a '70s football player. Someday I will get the help I need.)