Monday, December 20, 2004

1st and 10: Patriots-Dolphins

Danged Monday night games. While most fans are getting ready for some football, I'm here in the Globe sports department, getting ready to crank out some pages. I'll try to write about this game coherently, though my eyes will be focused more often on the page layout screen in front of me than on the television off to my left that's tuned to the game.

Yeah, that's right, we do have TVs in the office. It's funny, friends who don't make their living in this business are sometimes surprised - and little incredulous, too - that we have the game on while we are working. I usually explain that we've gotta know what's going on in order prepare the sports section appropriately, which is 100 percent true. But that doesn't stop them from looking at me with a skepticism that says, "Yeah, sure, and I bet sit your fat a$$ in a recliner and drink beer at your desk, too. Nice work if you can get it."

Not quite, but even sans Tostitos and a La-Z-Boy, yeah, it is nice work if you can get it. And it doesn't hurt to be reminded from time to time. Now, if you'll excuse me, I, uh, have to get to work.

(Wait, one thing about the game. I think the Patriots are in for a battle. Yeah, the Dolphins are 2-11 and in season-long disarray, but the Jason Taylor/Patrick Surtain-led defense remains formidable, and the Pats are historically brutal in Miami. The Pats will win, but it's not gonna be the Florida vacation most fans are banking on. Fans are waaayyy too cocky about this one.
And with that pre-game intro (8:46 eastern standard time), it's 1st and 10, Patriots:

1) Honest, I really did write that before the game. No, I am no relation to Nostradamus, or Notre Damus, who whoever that old bearded guy who saw the future and gets on the cover of the Weekly World News every other week. In case you zonked out sometime during the first 56 minutes, I should tell you that the Pats threw this one away, blowing a 28-17 lead in the final 3:59 and losing - inexplicably, shockingly, maddeningly losing - to the now 3-11-and-positively-giddy -about-it Dolphins, 29-28. Don't say I didn't warn ya.

2) Oh, and when I say they threw it away, there is no more appropriate description. For the first time in a long time - probably since the opening day 31-0 loss to Buffalo a year ago - Tom Brady was the goat. With the Pats trying to run out the clock and facing a 3rd and 9, Brady attemped a pass as he was being hauled to the ground by Jason Taylor . . .

. . . To say the offending pass (pictured in its early stages above) was a duck would be an insult to the flying skills of mallards everywhere. It eventually settled softly into the breadbasket of linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo, who celebrated as if he'd just won the game. Soon enough, the Dolphins did just that, scoring the winning touchdown moments later when A.J. Feeley lofted a perfect pass on 4th and 10 that Darrius (a 6-foot-3 receiver) Thompson caught about three feet above Troy (a 5-foot-10 receiver masquerading as a cornerback) Brown. One more Brady pick later - his fourth of the night - and the biggest upset of the NFL season - according to the standings, anyway - was in the books.

3) Brady seems to have one clunker like this every season, doesn't he? His rookie year, it was a four-pick game in Denver that made us wonder if the kid was beginning to come back to earth. (He wasn't.) Last year, it was the opener in Buffalo, where he threw four picks again and made us wonder, in the aftermath of Lawyer Milloy's release, if we were being set up for a disappointing season. (We weren't.) Now, this. Hopefully, it can be overcome as easily as his past poor performances were. (It will be.)

4) Ron Borges described Brady's play as Bledsoesque. Just thought that needed to be noted.

5) Continuing with the Brady theme: In retrospect, that much-praised pass that Brady completed while sitting on the turf against Cincinnati - I believe history will remember it as Brady's Pass From His A$$ To Patrick Pass, which, come to think of it, doesn't quite have the same ring to it as The Catch, now, does it? - was the worst thing that could have happened. The fact that he was successful with THAT pass undoubtedly encouraged Brady to attempt last night's game-changing blockheaded throw. Much of Brady's success is due to the fact that he rarely makes a poor decision like that in crunch time - decision-making may be his greatest talent, intangible, skill, whatever you want to call it.Conversely, while Brady comes across as humble and grounded - and he is both, to a point - he is remarkably confident in his own ability, almost to the point of cockiness. Last night was a worthwhile reminder to him that he actually can do wrong when he ignores his better judgment. I'm sure Brady would be the first to admit it. The lesson will be learned.

6) If Brady was the offensive goat, then Rodney Harrison was wearing a super-sized set of horns for the defense. His blantant pass-interference penalty in the end zone set up the touchdown that cut the score to 28-23, and it was not his first bad penalty of the game. So consider this a piece of Patriots history, because I don't think you'll see Brady and Harrison teaming up to piss a game away again.

7) Matt Light is an outstanding tackle, and it's fortunate that Patriots have re-signed him for the foreseeable future. But Siamese twin Matt Lights could not have blocked Jason Taylor last night, and Daniel Graham, who attempted to help, was little more than a pylon in pads. Why anyone would overlook a defense that features such a talented and tireless player is beyond my comprehension.

8) The Patriots scored first for the 18th straight game, a streak that in its own quirky way is as impressive as their run of 21 consecutive victories. If Charlie Weis is distracted, it sure isn't showing up in his game plans, at least on the opening drive. His scripts remain brilliant.

9) I've been effusive in praise of Troy Brown's defensive contributions, but even as I lauded him, deep down I was waiting for the day where an opponent took advantage of his inexperience at cornerback. I'm waiting no longer, because Brown was exposed tonight. On the go-ahead touchdown, Feeley did not even shoot a glance at any other receiver besides Thompson, and it was not the first time in the game that Brown wore a bull's-eye. Now, Brown's effort is to be applauded, and hell, so are some of his results. But if the Patriots intend on making it 3 of 4 Super Bowls, they can't afford to have him on the field against Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and any of the other stud quarterbacks they may face along the way. It's time for the experiment to end. Come back soon, Ty Law. You are so desperately needed.

10) I know I'll look like I'm abandoning the bandwagon just because it has a flat tire, and I really do hate to say this, but I'm beginning to doubt that this team will get out of the AFC, let alone win the Super Bowl. There's just something missing this season, with this team, at this moment, that I can't quite articulate. (Could be the three absent cornerbacks, I suppose.) They have shown little improvement in December, a month where they have traditionally hit their stride under Belichick, and even in victory, they habitually struggle to finish off their opponent. Most of all, I'm worried that this is Peyton Manning's year. Hell, I'm worried that it's Caterpillar Face Brees's year. But I will say this: If they are fortunate enough to face the strutting, smack-talking, never-won-a-damn-thing Steelers, they will stall the Bus, clock Big Ben, and leave Pittsburgh fans crying in their Terrible Towels once again. Notre Damus tells me you can take that to the bank.