Monday, January 02, 2006

First and 10: Dolphins 28, Patriots JV 26

1) Unless he spent significant time with a speed coach in the past week, it's fair to say that the Patriots can expect Corey Dillon to give them just about what Antowain Smith gave them during their first two Super Bowl victories: determination, a short-yardage plow, and very little chance of being the positive determining factor in the game. The Patriots will need last year's version of Dillon to control the ball against Air Peyton and beat the Colts (assuming, with the arrogance of a three-time champ, that they will make quick work of the Jaguars). I'm not saying he can't be that guy, because Dillon isn't the kind of dude you bet against. But I haven't seen a lot of signs this season that he's capable of it, either.

2) Whenever I'd get frustrated with my job back when I actually covered a game on occasion, I'd remind myself that I got to experience certain things that a lot of fans would kill for. (Trust me when I say seeing Rich Garces eating a plate of food buck-frighteningly-naked was not one of them.) I was again reminded of the cool perks of being a sports writer earlier this week when Bill Belichick invited the media into a meeting room to watch him break down film of, among others, Joe Montana. I mean, for a New Englander who follows sports with a passion, does it get any cooler than getting a front-row seat while one of the greatest football minds of all-time casually imparts his wisdom on defending the greatest quarterback of all-time? And in broader terms of sports and pop culture, is there anything that would equal it? Watching the Final Four with John Wooden, perhaps? Talking flax seeds and hypodermics with Barry Bonds? Watching "90210" re-runs with Bill Simmons? It must have been fascinating listening to Belichick discuss Montana's strengths and weaknesses (or weakness, which Belichick noted singularly as ball security). Considering Montana's uncanny similarities to the current Patriots quarterback, those in attendance had to be left with one compelling question: How would Bill Belichick defend Tom Brady? Damn, I wish I was in that room.

3) His statistics were much better than his aesthetitics, but I'll say this after watching strong-armed, happy-footed, occasionally accurate Matt Cassel's first real taste of NFL action: He has a better future than at least two current starting quarterbacks in his own division (Gus Frerotte, Brooks Bollinger) and he's probably already superior to a third (J.P. Losman, a blatant bust of a first-round pick). Not bad for a seventh-round pick whose college experience consisted of holding a clipboard for Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. As far as how he might someday stack up to the other starting QB in the AFC East, let's just state the obvious: Here's hoping he never takes a meaningful snap for the New England Patriots.

4) As if three Super Bowl victories and the confidence that a fourth is possible even during a tumultuous season aren't enough reasons to thank the football gods for delivering Bill Belichick to the Patriots, remember this: If Belichick had done what the Big Tuna demanded and remained as HC of the NYJ, Bob Kraft's Plan B was a management team of coach Dom Capers and general manager Tom Donahoe. Capers, a thoroughly uninspiring sort, lost his job as head coach of the Houston Texans yesterday, and Donahoe, whose high point in Buffalo came in the Milloy's Temporary Revenge game in the first week of the 2003 season, might be wise to post his resume on as well. Something tells me that if those two had ended up in New England, those three Lombardis would be glittering in some other franchise's trophy case.

5) Ty Law picked off three passes yesterday, giving him a career-high 10 for the season. So much for my hopes that he'll be back to his rightful place with the Pats next season, playing on short money and perhaps making the Rod Woodson-style transition to safety that will enhance his borderline Hall of Fame chances. Law looks heavy - rumor is he ate Ray Mickens when Mickens wouldn't give him No. 24, though the Jets claim Mickens was merely cut - and his wheels are wobbly. But his interception/TD against the Pats showed he's still as smart as ever, and 10 picks is 10 picks, so somebody is going to pay him more money than he's probably worth at this stage.

6) So if Bill Parcells does screw over the Cowboys in the same predictable manner he did the Patriots and Jets, will he title his latest memoir "The Final Final Season: And I Mean It This Time . . . All Right, Fellas? . . . Okay . . . All Right"? Or will it have a more appropriate title. Something like . . . oh, I don't know, this: "Throwing Up In My Mouth: Why I Never Won A Damn Thing Without Belichick" Either way, I'm not buyin'. Fool me once . . .

7) Is there anyone out there who doesn't think the Steelers are going to dismantle the Bengals? Cincy's got some growing up to do before its ready to play with the big boys in the AFC.

8) Not that we needed a lot of convincing, but this snippet from Peter King in his always-a-must-read-despite-his-incessant-Favre-loofa-scrubbing "Monday Morning Quarterback" column makes a hell of case for a certain Patriot as MVP:

The Associated Press polls 50 media people for their All-Pro team and awards. I'm a voter. The AP asks for one MVP. I wish we could vote for, say, five candidates, listing them in descending order. If that were the case this year, which was an extremely difficult year to choose, I'd have had these five, in order: Tom Brady, Tiki Barber, Peyton Manning, Shaun Alexander, Carson Palmer. Why Brady? Basically because he refused to let this team die in the wake of all the injuries. There was a series this season when only three offensive starters from Week 1 (Brady, Deion Branch, Stephen Neal) were on the field, and street free agent Heath Evans was the running back. In all, New England had seven starting strong safeties, lost three starting offensive linemen for the season with injuries, played half the year without Corey Dillon (never really healthy all season) and lost its best three defensive players -- Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison -- for a total of 22 starts. And Brady threw for a league-high 4,110 yards. He became the leader of this team, with everyone gone so much. Without Brady, this team would have lost the division to Miami.">

We here at TATB happen to think that Alexander will win the award, and it's hard to argue against anyone who rushes for 28 touchdowns and leads his team to the top seed in its conference. But by our accounting, Alexander is the most outstanding player, while Brady is the most valuable, and if you doubt there is a difference, look at it this way: With some slappy running back replacing Alexander, Seattle probably still wins 10 or 11 games. With Doug Flutie, Matt Cassel, Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury, Tom Ramsey, Tom Owen, Matt Cavanaugh, Scott Secules, Jeff Carlson, Scott Zolak, Drew Bledsoe and/or just about any other quarterback outside of the Manning family replacing Brady, the Pats likely begin their season with a 1-7 record, and all this talk about winning a fourth Super Bowl is long ago replaced by which linebacker or defensive back they should take in the draft.

9) If you watch Channel 4's "Fifth Quarter" with any regularity, you've probably noticed Belichick is becoming increasingly annoyed by Steve Burton's inane and often unnecessarily controversial line of questioning during the postgame press conferences. (And by questioning, we mean barely coherent, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer-caliber statements disguised as questions. Example: "Bruschi . . . leg injury?") Burton seems like a pleasant enough guy, and his vested suits certainly are dapper, but we've been wondering for some time now how someone could come across as so smug when there's quite clearly a "Vacancy" sign flashing between his ears. Turns out we may have an answer, courtesy of reader Eric J.:

"Don't know if you heard this, but Burton was talking on WEEI this morning about playing against Tony Eason in college. He said he played QB at Northwestern when Eason was Illinois and Eason was even thought of as a sissy then. Good scouting by the Pats. But that's not my point. After hearing Burton, now I think I understand why he comes across as, to put it nicely, not so sharp on TV. Those Northwestern teams were BRUTAL. He must have taken some serious blows to the head."

Interesting theory, Eric. If we get the chance to pose the question to Burton should we ever cross paths, we'll be sure to phrase it in terms he'll understand: "Concussions . . . how many?"

10) As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

He finally took the Flow-Be to the famed mullet, and maybe there are few more crow's feet around his eyes, but considering this football card is 17 years old, you'd have to say the little bugger is aging gracefully. Yes, if yesterday's drop-kick extra point was the final play of Doug Flutie's truly unique, proving-the-doubters-wrong, doin'-it-my-way, Grey-Cup-winnin', kickin'-it-old-school, 21-year pro career, I can't think of a more appropriate final bow. Other than perhaps a game-winning Hail Mary against Miami, of course.