Sunday, December 12, 2004

1st and 10: Patriots-Browns

Close call, dear readers. Today's edition of First-And-10 was damn near called First-And-Bed-Bath-and-Beyond. Not long after I had jumped on the couch for what I expected would be a pleasant four-hour stay, my wife revealed her intentions for the afternoon. Something about "getting a jump on the Christmas shopping."

A Christmas shopping expidition, especially on a Sunday? On my personal pleasure scale, it ranks right up there with having my toenails pulled out with tongs. Luckily, just as I was digging the batteries out of the remote control with intent of swallowing them whole, she came to the conclusion that she'd get more done without dragging my moping ass up and down the mall. Crisis averted, thank the football gods.

As for the final breakdown: She got the solo shopping trip and lots of lovely trinkets. I got a pleasant afternoon with my friends Mr. Couch and Mr. TV. You get this wonderful insight. Really, I think we're all winners in this deal.

And with that narrow escape (and pathetically lame intro), it's First-and-10, Patriots:

1) A 42-15 victory and an 11-1 record are fairly obvious signs that you have a hell of a football team. But you know things are going really well when the worst controversy the Big Show buffoons can stir up is Belichick's decision to put Corey Dillon back in the game for a carry so he could reach 100 rushing yards. These must be trying days for those who thrive on the negative and and lack the knowledge and passion to talk about sports intelligently. I imagine you know the suspects by name.

2) There may have been Patriots through the seasons who were faster than Bethel Johnson - Stanley Morgan, maybe? Raymond Clayborn? - but I've never seen anyone in full pads who accelerates like he does. When he gets a head of steam in the open field, the kick-coverage guys look like a scared pack of Garo Yepremians.

3) Another interception for Troy Brown? Is he to get to the Pro Bowl as a corner? Okay, maybe that's not happening. But if Terrell Owens were doing what Brown is doing - namely, playing defensive back like he actually plays defensive back - all those pre-game show hairdos would be drooling all over themselves in praise while skipping Hawaii honors altogether, instead verbally fitting Brown for mustard-colored blazer in Canton. But Brown? He just quietly goes about his business, which happens to be helping his team win football games, rather than promoting a book, a video game or Nicolette Sheridan's Botoxed face. Watching Brown give himself up to play defense is a recurring reminder of how lucky we are to have watched this guy all these years. What a football player.

4) With the Pats putting the game away in, oh, about the 7 seconds it took Johnson to take the opening kickoff 93 yards, we got a chance to scout some players who don't normally see the field Sunday. Rohan Davey looked better in relief of Brady than he did during his erratic preseason. The third-year quarterback's fastball is major-league level. He still needs to keep working on that change-up, but he's already better than at least a third of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL, including every overmatched member of the McCown family. Let's just hope he never gets the chance to prove so here.

5) On the other hand, Cedric Cobbs didn't show anything but rust in his first extended audition, picking up 29 yards on 16 carries. He seemed to make his cuts without regard to whether a hole was in the vicinity. Hopefully, his instincts are better than he showed today. Curiously, Gil and Gino said Cobbs he ran in a style similar to Dillon. Knowing those two, it probably was Dillon. Someone get them a decent spotter, please.

6) I have no idea if it's he actually has some real ability or he is simply the beneficiary of Belichick and Crennel's knack for masking defensive deficiencies, but I'm beginning to think Randall Gay is a keeper. The popular story with him is that he couldn't even start for LSU's co-national champs last season, but that's not entirely true, as Michael Felger pointed out this week in his entertaining "Patriots Insider" column. Gay was highly regarded while at LSU, but injuries kept knocking him off the field.

7) There is no doubt in my mind that the Brady-to-Patten 44-yard touchdown bomb that gave the Patriots a safer-than-Cheney's-bunker 42-7 lead midway through the third quarter was an emphatic "F-U" from Belichick to the city of Cleveland. Any doubt in yours?

8) Where Antowain Smith was mediocre, Corey Dillon is spectacular, and only a fool or a less-evolved specie - say, Fred Smerlas - would dispute the notion that the Patriots have made a huge upgrade at running back. (Not that Smerlas did. He just came to mind as less-evolved specie. Go figure.) But the thinking Pats fan suddenly has a growing concern about Dillon that never was an issue with Smith - costly fumbles. Dillon coughed up his third of the season today, and this time after barely being hit. Smith could be trusted with the football in those December and January games in frigid and frosty conditions, even if he didn't lug it very far. Dillon? He doesn't have a reputation as a fumbler. Hopefully, he won't gain one in the biggest moments.

9) Brady's final numbers: 11 of 20 for 157 yards, with a touchdown, a pick and a fumble in slightly less than three quarters of work. All in all, it was a relatively easy day at the office, though he did take more than a few teeth-rattling shots, especially from Kennard Lang, who beat Matt Light like he was some sissy metrosexual masquerading as a left tackle. (Ummm . . .) I'm sure Brady will take the win in any form, and of course we will too. But one of these Sundays, when Dillon is stuck running in place and the opposing offense is marching up and down the field, I want to see Brady put up some gaudy numbers, not only for the entertainment value, but as reassurance than that the increasing number of sailing passes isn't foreshadowing a slump, or something worse, such as a sore elbow.

10) CBS4 sports doof Steve Burton long ago proved he's an empty suit, even if said suit is his trademark lovely three-piece number. On "Sports Final" Sunday night, he again could not repress his instrinsic nitwit nature. When he asked the panel if Dillon is the best back in Patriots' history, Felger replied with a smirk (his trademark), "Well, except for Marion Butts." Now, anyone who's watched the Pats the last decade or two knows Marion Butts is remembered as a punchline and nothing more. This is based partly on his name (Butts - heh-heh) but mostly on his pathetic 2.8 per carry average in 1994. Apparently, Burton hasn't been paying attention, because after Felger's obvious wisecrack, Burton stared in that serious, intent, patented utterly vacant way of his and nodded, as if to say, "Yes, Marion Butts. Of course! I have no idea who the heck that is, but I'm going to pretend I do. He must have been a great one for Felgie to say that. Marion Butts. What a runner! Man, this does this suit look cool on me or what? It's a three-piece! It has a vest!"