Monday, October 01, 2007

TATB Live: Patriots at Bengals

The late reading of "Knuffle Bunny Too" has been completed, and we've seen enough of the Padres-Rockies game to suspect Colorado will spend the winter regretting letting Jake Peavy off the hook. It's time for the main event - yes, Hank, we're absolutely ready for some football. Let's do this, rowdy friends.

Quick pregame thoughts:

• No Laurence Maroney for the Pats tonight. Can't say I'm particularly shocked, considering I don't expect Bill Belichick to play a running back who's listed as questionable with a groin injury. Can't say I'm particularly concerned, either, given what a revelation Sammy Morris has been, but Maroney is about two missed games away from being slapped with an "injury prone" label. Remember, he was taken nine picks before Joseph Addai. I'm not saying that was the wrong move, but I am beginning to wonder.

• Mike Dowling looks like a deranged math teacher, and Steve Nelson looks like he's wearing suit for the first time in his life. Otherwise, Channel 5's coverage is outstanding.

• First mention of Patriots and cheating: 8:34 p.m., by Tony Kornheiser. Sigh. I love him on PTI, but this Monday Night Football thing . . . well, he's not making me long for the what-the-bleep-is-he-talking-about? days of Dennis Miller just yet, but give him until halftime.

After a short pass to Moss (I believe we'll be hearing "tackle by Deltha O'Neal after a gain of . . ." a lot tonight), Brady dumps one off to Kevin Faulk, who shuffles 23 yards. (Faulk has to have the shortest stride of any running back in the league; he runs like he's learning how to skate.) Then . . . three commercials? I know a Bengal was injured, but they barely made it back in time for the next play. Guess we're going to pimp trucks and insurance at the expense of the actual game tonight.

Brady to a wide-open Moss for another big gain. He's good and all, but I still can't believe they gave him Bethel Johnson's number. Have they no respect for Bethel's legacy? Does Belichick have no soul?

Matt Light "introduces" the Patriots offense, though he never actually mentions anyone by name and instead offers his keys to the game. Works for me. By the way, when did he steal Fabio's hairdo?

Stunningly, the Pats drive stalls (gritty, gutty, scrappy Wes Welker is stopped short on third down), and the consolation prize is a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. It's 3-0, Pats, but the way the drive started, you can't help but wish they'd punched it in for 7 there.

I'm not familiar with Bengals running back Kenny Watson's work; I always confuse him with Justin Watson, the pea-brained former Ram who prematurely brags about the St. Louis offense in the Patriots' first Super Bowl video. But Ron Jaworski says he's a better fit for what Cincy will try to do tonight that injured starter Rudi Johnson would be. And if Jaws says something, I accept it as the unassailable truth. You might call him the anti-Theismann.

And while I was pecking out that sentence, the Bengals punted. I'm assuming it was Pat McInally who did the handled the duties, but I can't be sure.

Brady, talking about Moss: "You don't have to go the seminary to play for Patriots." Funny, I thought the exact theme of Charlie Pierce's confusingly fawning book on Brady was that you did.

Pats go three-and-out, and the Bengals are getting surprisingly consistent pressure on Brady, who has had to step up in the pocket and dump the ball off more times than you'd expect so far. So far, that over/under of 52.5 looks safe.

Kornheiser, with a good line on the Pats' rarely used punter, Chris Hansen: "Does he get a letter?" Hey, I thought it was funny.

Bengals match the Pats with their own three-and-out. Are we sure this isn't really the Jets and the Bills in disguise?

Brady hits Donte' Stallworth for 14 yards. All right, I'll bite: This is the night Stallworth breaks out with a 100-plus yards and a couple of bombs from Brady.

And we have the first controversy of the night. Sammy Morris (who looks like a masculine Tommy Davidson) is ruled down by contact after losing the ball at the end of a 49-yard run. The Bengals challenge, and after 37 more commercials, the ruling on the field stands.

After a pair of failed goal line plunges by Heath Evans (who looks like a Mike Alstott clone, yet has just one career rushing touchdown), Brady goes to play action on third down, and Mike Vrabel absolutely toasts Cincy linebacker Dhani Jones for his seventh career regular-season reception . . . and seventh touchdown. It's 10-0, Pats, and I'll repeat something I wrote about Vrabel last year. I think he'd be in the NFL as a tight end if he didn't make it as a defensive player. You're telling me he's not better than, say, Jed Weaver?

Another three-and-out for the Bengals. Somewhere, Trent Green is feeling better about himself.

Does Welker remind any of you old timers of this guy when he's returning punts?

. . . yeah, didn't think so.

Fabio Light gets called for holding. He must have mistaken some random Bengal for Jason Taylor. I'm pretty sure that's the Pats' first holding penalty this season, by the way.

Well, that was ugly. On third and 23, Brady gets a case of happy feet and throws a gruesome pick to Cincy rookie Leon Hall at the New England 45. And at this very moment in the hills of Montana, a bearded, 280-pound Drew Bledsoe nods his head approvingly and says in that familiar monotone, "Just like I taught him." Then he goes back to beer drinking with dignity.

A couple of runs by Watson help the Bengals advance to the 1, and Carson Palmer hits Pats tormentor T.J. Houshmandzadeh to cut it to 10-7, Pats. It's not an exaggeration to say Brady's bad decision just let them back into the game.

Kornheiser feeds us some nonsense about how Belichick is hardest on the team's stars, such as Brady and Tedy Bruschi. It sounds good, but know, Korny, I have a hunch that the likes of Billy Yates and Le Kevin Smith get their share of - - - - from the coach, too.

Bengals linebacker Landon Johnson (who I believe played right wing for the Bruins a few years back) departs with some type of injury to his face (maybe someone threw acid on him?), leaving Cincinnati with two linebackers. I think I understand why the Pats have run on eight of 10 plays on this drive. Meanwhile, Marvin Lewis daydreams about the days when he coached Ray Lewis, Adalius Thomas, Bart Scott, and Peter Boulware, and everyone thought the success of the Ravens' defense had something to do with him.

Brady to Moss. 17-7, Pats. "Wow," says Kornheiser with appropriate admiration, and if you saw it, you know I'm not doing it justice here. Let's just say it was as aesthetically gorgeous as the other five touchdowns they've connected on this season. Have I mentioned that this trade seems to be working out pretty well? No, really, I think this is going to work.

Two minute warning, Cincinnati's moving the ball, and a quick peek at Padres-Rockies tells me it's 6-5, Colorado, and Jake Peavy's somehow still in the game. I had no problem with Bud Black's decision to start Brett Tomko over Peavy yesterday - hell, I still think Jimy Williams was correct in starting Pete Schourek over Pedro in Game 4 against Cleveland in '98 - but if San Diego loses this game, he's going to be hearing about it for a long time.

Asante Samuel, who has surprisingly been pretty close to his form of a season ago considering he missed camp, picks off Palmer near the goal line, and Palmer immediately pulls a Philip Rivers and starts yapping with Chad Johnson on the sideline. Let 'em duke it out in the locker room. It's 17-7, Pats, at the half. Rather that putting up with the pompous stylings of Chris Berman and DJ Boo-Yeah, I'm switching over to the baseball game (where Don Orsillo is announcing it in his big boy voice, with no hilarious RemDawg hijinx to bring out his girlish giggle). Go have a Tab and a Nutty Bar. I'll see ya in the second half.

Cincy's first drive of the half stalls after a promising start when a receiver who isn't named Johnson or Houshmandzadeh drops a very catchable Palmer pass. The Bengals really miss Chris Henry, who is probably on a five-stripclub crime spree with his former college roommate as I write this.

Faulk flips the ball to Welker on a reverse, and 27 yards later, the Pats are deep in Cincy territory. I'd say that clever call came straight out of Charlie Weis's playbook, but that isn't exactly a compliment these days.

Third and four from the Cincy 10. The Pats really need to get 7 on this drive, because while they've dominated the game, the score is still closer than it should be.

Fourth and a foot, and the Pats are going for it. I love the confidence . . .

. . . and it's rewarded when Morris runs behind the criminally underrated Logan Mankins (heard of him yet, Kiper?) and cruises into the end zone from seven yards out for a 24-7 advantage and the necessary breathing room. Morris has 110 yards on 17 carries tonight, and a lot of people who took Maroney at the top of their fantasy drafts should be having some buyers' remorse; this is headed for a straight platoon, folks.

Steve Levy checks in with an update of the Padres-Rockies game: 6-6 in the ninth. By the way, why is he always yelling?

I won't confuse Kenny Watson for Justin Watson again - he's got just 28 yards for the Bengals tonight, but he's been more impressive than his production would indicate. Chad Johnson has also had a quiet night - two catches, 39 yards - but anyone who dismisses this guy as some kind of unlikable loudmouth simply isn't doing their homework. He works hard, plays hard, and despite his often hilarious antics, he's respectful of the game and his opponents - in a lot of ways, he's similar to Keyshawn Johnson, whose on-field selfishness was due to his desire to win. Belichick has loved Chad Johnson ever since he showed up at a pre-draft workout at USC with an Oregon State flag waving off his car, and if he can play for Belichick's team, he sure as hell can play for mine.

Bruschi just mauled Palmer on third down. I know it's taboo to say this, but that's the first play I've seen him make in a long time.

Someone named Joe Koshansky just whiffed to end the ninth inning for the Rockies with the winning run on third. Think he's every heard of Bob Bailey?

All right, time for a bomb to Moss here. We can't go a whole game without one, can we?

Just for the record, I find it relentlessly funny that the two opponents Pete Sheppard and Fred Smerlas crapped on the most on over the years - Junior Seau and Moss - are now popular members of the Patriots. Anything that makes those two look like bigger buffoons is cool with me.

Other random thoughts as the fourth quarter begins: Bridget absolutely "pulled the goalie" on Brady. Just do the math and you can't come to any other conclusion . . . Brady is to Kornheiser what Jeter is to McCarver and The Official Muse (Non-Wife Division) is to TATB . . . Mike Tirico calls a pleasant game, but he's called Sammy Morris "Kevin Faulk" at least a half-dozen times tonight. That's inexcusable considering that their running styles are nothing alike . . . Chalk up three more for the Pats. It's 27-10, and one more stop officially ends this thing, I'd say.

Houshmandzadeh, after the Pats' 38-13 win last year: "They don't have anything we don't have other than three Super Bowls. It's sure not talent. Anyone can see that." He has 10 catches for 100 yards tonight. Wonder what wisdom he'll offer after this one.

Shayne Graham drills a field goal from 48 yards, and the Pats' lead is two touchdowns, 27-13, with 9:04 left. Meanwhile, the Rockies and Padres are in the 11th. I hope the football game ends first. By the way, someone mentioned in the comments that Orsillo is doing a very good job on TBS, and I completely agree. I haven't heard him say his silly "down by way of the K" catchphrase once, and he seems a lot more polished when Dr. Charles isn't forcing him to push "Sox Appeal" every other breath. I'm seriously impressed, and proud of him in a way. He might be a vinyl covered automaton, but he's our vinyl covered automaton.

Let the record show that it was at 11:18 p.m. when the ESPN crew first broached the subject of the Pats going 16-0, with Kornholio pointing out the tough games on the schedule: Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Indy. It's ridiculous to consider the possibility now . . . but admit it. We're all doing it, aren't we?

And there's why, right there. Brady to Moss, 14 yards, touchdown, and it looked as casual as two brothers chucking the ball around the yard on Thanksgiving. Seriously, I'm running out of superlatives here. Says Kornheiser: "It's the trade of the year." Scoffs Jaws: "It's the trade of the century." I say it's the trade of the milennium. Hah!

With 1:33 remaining, human victory cigar Matt Cassel relieves Brady, and that's our signal to sign off for the night. No. 12's final numbers: 25 of 32 (78.1 percent), three touchdowns, one interception. Consider that he's probably got Gisele waiting for him back at the lair, and it's not a bad night for him all in all. Moss contributes nine catches for over 100 yards and requisite two scores, Morris rambles for 117, and the Pats are about to win, 34-13, their fourth straight victory by more than 20 points. I agree that the Cowboys are the class of the NFL's version of the National League, but let's just admit it: It's the Pats, Colts, and everyone else this season. And after what I've seen these first four weeks, I'm honestly beginning to think the Patriots stand alone.