2010 NFL Football Season: Week One Observations

Wes Welker Scores Against the Bengals

A new season is upon us and it should be an exiting one.

In the NFC we wonder if the New Orleans Saints can repeat as Super Bowl champions, if all the hoopla over the Dallas Cowboys will end again in ignominy, if Brett Favre can take a depleted receiving corps back to the playoffs, if the San Francisco are as good as advertised, and how will the only rookie starting quarterback in the league, Sam Bradford, fare in St. Louis?

The AFC appears to be even more wide open than the NFC. Several teams have a legitimate shot at Super Bowl glory. The New England Patriots with a healthy and hot Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss and a young defense should improve over the year and be a contender. The New York Jets and their slothful undisciplined coach say they are the heirs to the AFC East. The Baltimore Ravens are loaded on offense and their defense looks as good as ever. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has proven to be as formidable as ever and when Big Ben gets back their offense should improve. The Indianapolis Colts are always a tough team and the Houston Texans are emerging. Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers may or may not slip. They are in the weakest division in the AFC and despite losing their opener, will likely have a spot in the playoffs.

Before jumping in the games I watched this, a few big picture headlines that week one revealed.

  • Brady, Welker, Moss and the offense are back and as good as ever.
  • New Orleans appears to have started right where they left off last year, with a powerful offense and defense that is solid. They are the favorites to emerge from the NFC.

  • Minnesota, after the tiresome annual saga of Brett Favre’s retirement dance, suddenly found themselves without receivers. Their defense is solid but their opening salvo on offense bodes ill for their chances this season.

  • Thankfully, for once, we won’t have the annual will the Indianapolis Colts go undefeated as they spank the teams in their weak division. Houston hung a loss on the Colts, and if their offense line continues to struggle, Peyton Manning is in for a long season.

  • Will Michael Vick be the Eagles starter this season?

  • San Francisco is not as good as we thought they were.

  • Dallas continues to shoot itself in the foot.

  • Finally, for the most part the defenses in the league seem to have started the season a step ahead of the offenses. This is likely to change as the season progresses but as someone who loves the defensive side of the ball, it was refreshing to see.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Cincinnati Bengals, 38-24

One word: Welker.

It was a very happy sight to see Wes Welker looking like, well, Wes Welker, after his amazingly fast recover from reconstructive knee surgery after suffering an injury in the last game of the season last year. WELKER! WELKER! WELKER!

Tom Brady also looked very sharp in this game, as did the entire offense. It was good to see a little bit of the running game back in the game plan, although I still think they could run the ball even more. Fred Taylor seemed to have fresh legs in the first half and the running back by committee approach worked. And I continue to be amazed at how older players like third down back Kevin Faulk can continue to be so effective.

What was also heartening to see is the very young defense with two rookie starting cornerbacks holding up well against the powerful Cincinnati Bengals offense with two of the best receivers in the league. I did get somewhat worried in the second half when the Bengals had two back to back sustained scoring drives. Barring injury I expect the defense to continue to improve as the season progresses. While it was not a lock down defense, it was good enough to win this game.

And Brandon Tate! His kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half was crucial, as it turned out, to extend the lead. Instead of providing even more momentum for the Patriots, it almost seemed like the Patriots players thought the game was over and played really rather poorly in the third quarter. The defense suddenly looked vulnerable and the offense didn’t do much either.

The Patriots played a very good all around game while the Bengals really didn’t get started until the second half. But for us Patriots fans the story was Wes Welker.

As a side note, good riddance Baloney Lauren Maroney. And don’t worry about Randy Moss, he’ll be fine.

MVP: Wes Welker, WR


New Orleans over Minnesota Vikings, 14-9

There are really a lot of storylines to this game.

The Saints look like a Super Bowl team. While their offense did struggle a bit their two scoring drives were dominant and once they started running the ball in the second half, they locked the game up. If they can continue to mix in a solid running game with their vaunted passing attack they will be very difficult to beat this season.

The Saints’ offensive line was the most dominant unit in the game and the best I saw all weekend. Guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, along with center Jonathan Goodwin, completely dominated Minnesota’s defensive tackles, Pat and Kevin Williams. Maybe the Williams boys need to get back on that supplement that almost cost them a suspension. They got punked in this game. And I really have to give a huge shout out to Jermon Bushrod. He totally handled my 2009 defensive player of the year Jared Allen entirely on this own. Last year I got a lot of criticism for favoring Carl Nicks over Jahri Evans as my All Pro guard. I did so because last year Nicks often had to help Bushrod, who really was the weak link on the offensive line. I don’t know if this is a one game stellar effort by Bushrod or if he has really improved that much. If continues this level of play the Saints may even be better this year than last.

In the second half the Saints finally started running the ball with Pierre Thomas, who ate up the clock and moved the chains. He has solid performance behind the dominant offensive line and I felt it was a great change of pace by Sean Peyton.

Minnesota, meanwhile, looked awful on offense. With Sydney Rice out for at last half the season and Percy Harvin ailing and running lousy routes, there really were no receivers open to throw to. Bernard Berrian looked awful in preseason and woeful in this game as well. He seems to have completely disappeared. I was surprised Greg Camarillo did not see more action in the slot.

Minnesota’s defense did not play up to their usual standards on the defensive line but they settled down and did manage to hold the Saints to 14 points. They are battling injuries in the secondary and Antoine Winfield is also coming off an injury plagued 2009 and really did not play up to his usual standards. It was great to see linebacker E.J. Henderson back in the lineup and playing extremely well after suffering a gruesome broken femur last year. I though his career was likely over, but clearly it’s not.

Minnesota is likely to continue to struggle on offense unless the receivers get their heads out of their ass and start playing football.

While Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are better and played wonderfully, I am giving the most valuable player award here to Jermon Bushrod for handling Jared Allen.

MVP: Jermon Bushrod, T

Green Bay Packers over Philadelphia Eagles, 27-20

Let the quarterback controversy begin! The Eagles offense looked absolutely miserable in the first half. Kevin Kolb was harassed and the receivers weren’t really getting open but he wasn’t doing much either. I am not sure if it is because Michael Vick kept entering the game and did not allow Kolb to establish a rhythm or something else, but once he sustained a concussion and Vick took over the offense came to life. But, that was mostly because of Vick’s legs. His running really broke the game open for the offense even though they still fell short in the end.

It will be fascinating to see what transpires this season now that Kolb might be out for a few games and Vick will be the starter. If Vick is successful it will be hard for Andy Reid not to keep him behind center once Kolb is healthy. But you know what? Vick will never lead a team to the promised land (although he has sent quite a few dogs to doggie heaven). His success in this game was mostly his running ability. Just like in Atlanta, once teams scheme against him, his inaccurate passing and poor decision making will catch up with him. Yes, he may have a rocket arm and can throw the ball 60 yards with a flick of the wrist, but Eagles’ fans should not get too giddy over the possibilities. Unless he continues to be a running quarterback he will not be that dynamic, and eventually teams will catch up with the Eagles if Vick is at the helm.

Green Bay didn’t really look all the wonderful either. The offensive tackles had a hard time handling the rush but they did manage a couple of really nice touchdown drives. The star of the game was Clay Matthews, Jr. who was all over the place on defense and recorded a couple of sacks.

MVP: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB

Washington Redskins over Dallas Cowboys, 13-7

GOAT: Jason Garrett. And no, that is not for “greatest of all time” but idiot. I am sure everyone has seen the play by now, but at the end of the first half, in bad field position, with little time left on the clock, the Cowboys ran a short sideline route to Tashard Choice who ended up fumbling the ball which was returned for a Redskins touchdown and was the difference in the game. What made this play so stupid? First, the Redskins offense was doing absolutely nothing and had only a 3-0 lead. Scores were clearly going to be a premium in this game and with so little time left on the clock, the smart move was simply to run the time off the clock and regroup in the second half. Secondly, the play had no chance of even netting enough yards to get into field goal range. It was stupid play call, period, for that situation.

What this play and head coach Wade Phillips’ comments after the game shows is that Wade Phillips is not in control of this team. He basically threw Jason Garrett under the bus by saying they should have kneeled on the ball, didn’t know why the ran a play there, and tersely said the defense (which he runs) did its job and did not give up a touchdown. I believe they will continue to be destiny’s stepchild this season.

Otherwise, both teams struggled a great deal on offense. Dallas’s offensive line did not protect Tony Romo well but they finally got going late in the game to finally make a run for a win, but alas they failed. A holding penalty on the last play of the game negated a would be game winning touchdown. It was clearly holding too so nobody can gripe about the call.

The Mike Shanahan era started off with a win over archrival Dallas on Dallas’s home turf. While it was not a dominating or particularly impressive win, especially on offense, it was a win. As usual, the Washington defense is very solid this year, as they have been in year’s past. While they have sometimes been criticized for not getting enough turnovers, they are basically a very sturdy unit.

The offense, however, was woeful and did nothing. Shanahan needs to find a way to fix that quick because they won’t be winning many games like this otherwise. He can thank DeAngelo Hall for the fumble recovery and touchdown, which was the difference in the game. Or, send Jason Garrett a thank you card for the gift.

MVP: DeAngelo Hall, CB

Baltimore Ravens over New York Jets, 10-9

The New York Jets are an undisciplined team and reflection of their coach, the slovenly Rex Ryan. They shot themselves in the foot with penalties and giving up big plays on third and long when they had the Ravens’ offense on the ropes, which was the difference in the game. Add to that the harassment by Jets players of a female reporter also shows a lack of professionalism, decorum, and discipline, again a reflection of their head coach. The Jets may very well implode this season.

The Jets defense continues to be a stellar unit, one of the best, if not the best in the league. But their offense looks awful and Mark Sanchez has not proven, yet, that he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. They were facing another top defense in the Ravens, so maybe time will tell.

The Ravens defense played excellent football and Ray Lewis continues, in his fifteenth NFL season, to be one of the best defensive players in the league. He got some great hits on the Jets, and the rest of the unit played excellent as well. I was surprised at how the offense was so throttled, however, even facing the Jets. With Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and a very good offensive line, Anquan Bolden, Derrick Mason, and Todd Heap, I thought they were loaded on offense. The Jets bailed them out with bad penalties most of the game and Ravens were lucky to escape with a win.

MVP: Ray Lewis, LB

Kansas City Chiefs over San Diego Chargers, 21-14

I was happy to see the Chiefs beat the Chargers on Monday night but Chief’s fans shouldn’t get too excited. It was really two big plays on offense that sealed the deal, a great 56 yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles and a 94 yard punt return for a touchdown by rookie wide receiver Dexter McCluster were the keys to the game. Otherwise the offense looked anemic and Matt Cassel really did not do much to distinguish himself.

The Chief’s defense did play well. Defensive tackle Glen Dorsey finally looked like a first round draft pick in this game and the defensive backs did a very nice job on the Charger’s receivers, especially Brandon Flowers.

Philip Rivers made himself look like a complete idiot and proved what a jerk he is yelling at his teammates and carrying on a like a petulant child in the second half. While indeed his teammates made mistakes, I can’t imagine that endears him to his offensive line or establishes him as the leader of the team. They did almost come back and win, however. Rookie running back Ryan Matthews had a decent game, but he gave up a fumble that lead to a touchdown, helping the Chief’s secure the win.

MVP: Dexter McCluster, KR/WR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans (231 yards rushing, 3 TDs)
Defensive Player: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Lineman: Jermon Bushrod, T, New Orleans Saints
Special Teams: Brandon Tate, WR/KR, New England Patriots
Rookie of the Week: Dexter McCluster, WR/KR, Kansas City Chiefs

2009 NFL Season: Week 12

My comments on Thanksgiving Day games can be found here:  https://cdbaker.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/2009-nfl-season-week-12-thanksgiving-day-special/


GAMES I WATCHED

New Orleans Saints over New England Patriots, 38-17

This was the marquee matchup of the weekend and it didn’t live up to its hype. The Saints spanked the Patriots like an unwanted step child.

The shellacking the Patriots took at the hands of the Saints was a nasty reality check for New England Patriots fans. We must face the fact the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, and even the Indianapolis Colts, are the elite teams in the league this year. We are a notch below, along with a handful of other teams, peeking our head over the windowsill wondering how we got left out the party.

I’ll dispense with comments on the Saints in this game by simply saying they are a great team. Drew Brees is absolutely phenomenal and had an unbelievable performance. And defensive coordinator Greg Williams had a brilliant game plan and has really turned this defense around. I’ve been utterly impressed with the Saints all year long and suffering through this game left me even more impressed. I expect to see a Saints versus Vikings matchup in the NFC Championship Game. And if it turns out anything like the wild game they had in the regular season last year, it should be wildly entertaining.

Now on to the Patriots and what to make of the fiasco we witnessed on Monday night.

Let’s start with the offensive, the most fixable problem we face the rest of the season and into the playoffs, which we should reach. The offense has become utterly predictable. The Saints simply dropped numerous players in coverage and took away the short passing game and Wes Welker, and mostly blanketed Randy Moss. They were able to get decent pressure on Brady, especially in the second half, with only a four man rush. This was partially because of injuries on our offensive line, which hopefully will get back in shape by seasons’ end. But the Patriots’ offense appears pretty easy to scheme against these days. We abandon the run way too soon and in the second half, like last week against the Jets, it was bombs away with nobody to throw the ball to. We need to at least mix up our plays a bit throughout the game and come up with less predictable or more creative schemes to get receivers open. That’s not to say the offense is bad. We scored 17 points against the Saints and really should have had more but for a few errant throws and interceptions by Brady. But nevertheless, we need to address this. Charlie Weis anyone?

Our defense right now is in a complete rebuilding mode. Most of our starting defensive backs are young players or recent starters and it shows. They have been frequently out of place and burned all year by most teams we’ve faced. We have just gotten by with it, for the most part, because the offense has been putting up enough points to cover for them. The lousy play by the defensive backs was painfully evident on numerous blown coverages against the Saints. They should be embarrassed. I hope they are.

Adding to our woes on defense we cannot get a pass rush or pressure the quarterback. Drew Brees had enough time in the pocket to eat a steak dinner and down a few drinks, much less throw the ball to his outstanding corps of receivers. What happened to Adalius Thomas? He has completely disappeared as a playmaker on this defense.

Overall the defense played like it was on a 0-16 team, not a championship caliber team. Now people don’t need to wonder why Bill Belichick went for it on fourth and two to try to preserve the game against the Colts two weeks ago, after Manning torched the defense for two long drives in no time. A punt might have been giving the game away.

The defense, as noted earlier, is in a rebuilding phase and I suspect it will take some time for it to come around. Unfortunately, it won’t likely be anytime soon, and not in time for a significant playoff run.

MVP: Drew Brees, QB

Philadelphia Eagles over Washington Redskins, 27-24

I will say this about the Redskins, all these new players finding themselves in starting roles are playing very hard and being competitive. Even though the Redskins are losing some close games, at least they don’t look as pathetic as they did earlier in the season. They actually look like they belong in the NFL these days. The oft maligned Jason Campbell played reasonably well other than his two interceptions to Asante Samuel.

This was a game that the Redskins could have won but the Eagles just simply pulled it out at the end. Despite a talented group of receivers, the Eagles seem to greatly miss Brian Westbrook in the lineup. They just aren’t the same. And putting Michael Vick in to run plays seemed mostly counterproductive. It slowed the momentum of the offense.

Hats off to London Fletcher, the Redskins’ middle linebacker. He has been playing All Pro caliber defense all year long, as has Eagles’ defense end Trent Cole.

Finally, while his statistics don’t pop off the page, my MVP goes to Eagles’ wide receiver Jason Avant, whose two big catches in the fourth quarter jumpstarted the offense and the Eagles to their tying touchdown.

MVP: Jason Avant, WR

Minnesota Vikings over Chicago Bears, 36-10

I really felt this game was over before it really started. It turned out pretty much exactly as I expected it to. The Bears defense has not been great this year and the offense, especially Jay Cutler, has been subpar. But really, it’s the Bears offensive line that has been atrocious. I assume that Orlando Pace was sitting on the sideline in the second half because he was benched for poor play. I feel really badly for Pace in some ways. In his prime he was an outstanding left tackle. But injuries and time spent in the NFL getting pounded on every week has clearly made him past his prime. For his sake I hope to see him retire this year. It’s time.

Meanwhile, Cutler threw his obligatory two interceptions during the game and his receivers did nothing to help him. And what happened to Matt Forte?

The Bears are in big, big trouble going forward. They gave up a boatload of draft picks for Jay Cutler and are in such desperate need of help in so many areas that it may be years before we see this team win again, especially if the Cutler we see now is what we can expect in the future.

Brett Favre had another excellent day, and rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin lit up the field with six catches for 101 yards and touchdown.

MVP: Brett Favre, QB

Baltimore Ravens over Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-17 OT

Baltimore eked out a win against the Steelers and finally won a close game. They keep their slim playoff hopes alive. But Ravens fans shouldn’t get too excited. There is no reason that the Ravens should have had to go into overtime when the Steelers were starting a third string quarterback. They continue to play down to the level of their competition.

That’s not to say that second year quarterback Dennis Dixon from the University of Oregon had a bad game. He actually played quite well. While the Steelers obviously altered their game plan a bit for him, he did throw the ball, and mostly well, throughout the game. He also made a few nice plays with his legs. I think he has some potential. I felt sorry for him when he threw and interception in overtime that set up the Ravens for the win, but that’s how it goes.

The Ravens offense struggled a bit with the Steelers defense, but who doesn’t. I would say that Michael Oher and Jarred Gaither had a tough time against the Steelers linebackers, but who doesn’t? For the most part they played really well, but there were stretches of time where I they were getting beat. And if Michael Oher, both last week and this week sure looks like he is moving before the ball is snapped on almost every play, but I guess he’s not since the officials aren’t calling it.

Overall this was a very interesting game given the circumstances. I’m not surprised the Ravens won, I’m just surprised they found it so difficult to do so.

MVP: Ray Rice, RB

ADDITIONAL OBSERVATIONS

If I did a power ranking, the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, and Indianapolis Colts would be the top three teams, in that order. There are several teams just below them.

Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and Vince Young had outstanding performances. Vince Young? He’s won five straight games as the starter for the Titans and has looked really good doing it. I wonder if he is going to make me eat my words that he will never be a good starting quarterback in the NFL?

I don’t recall the last highly touted wide receiver out of Florida that wasn’t a bust in the NFL. I’m sure someone will tell me who it is. But Percy Harvin is certainly breaking that streak.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

Defensive Player: Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers

Offensive Lineman: Ryan Clady, T, Denver Broncos

Special Teams: LaRod Stephens-Howling, KR, Arizona Cardinals

Rookie of the Week: Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings

2009 NFL Football Season: Week 10

OBSERVATIONS

I turned on the NFL Channel when I got home from work and they were getting ready to show New England’s 35-34 loss to the Indianapolis Colts as an “instant classic.” I wanted to puke. Does that mean I am going to be subjected to highlights of this game the rest of the season, and possibly in perpetuity, like I am Super Bowl XLII highlights?

So the NFL wants to extend the regular season to 18 games? Just off the top of my head I can name several marquee players this week that were injured: Cedric Benson, Brian Westbrook, Troy Polamalu, Kyle Orton, Terrell Suggs, Joshua Cribbs, Michael Turner, and Ronnie Brown. I may be forgetting a few, but you get the picture.

Last week I said was that a crash I was hearing, the Denver Broncos coming down to earth? This week I really did hear a crash as they lost to the Washington Redskins. Granted Washington probably played its best game of the season, but Denver has lost three in a row. Meanwhile San Diego is on the rise. Their game this weekend will be an important one for both teams.

While Denver is looking like pretenders, the Cincinnati Bengals look like contenders. They have swept Pittsburgh and control the AFC North.

Speaking of Cincinnati, doesn’t it just figure they would sign Larry Johnson? He fits right in.

Finally, what is up with the Dallas Cowboys? The entire NFC East is a mess. They were horrible against the Packers.

And Aaron Rodgers, who I like a lot, needs to get rid of the ball faster. He is taking a beating but against the Cowboys he could have avoided some of the hits.

Brady Quinn looks like a bust. Alex Smith already was one.

Finally I am crushed that Ronnie Brown is out for the season with a foot injury. I don’t like the Dolphins and would just as soon see them go 0-16 but I love great football players and what Brown was doing this year running the Wildcat formation was phenomenal. Now the AFC East has lost two great running backs in Leon Washington and Ronnie Brown, both who I have a great deal of admiration for. No, I’m not like the Jets fans who cheered over Brady’s injury last year and crowed that they were the new team in the AFC East. I have more class than that.

GAMES I WATCHED

Indianapolis Colts over New England Patriots, 35-34

I wrote my comments on this already, you can see it here:  https://cdbaker.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/bill-belichick-is-afraid-of-peyton-manning/

The synopsis, the Patriots have a lot of positives to take away from the game. They basically gave the game away, and I’m not just talking about Bill Belichick’s no infamous call on 4th and 2 from their own 28 at the end of the game. I just hope they can rebound and beat the New York Jets this weekend. I don’t want to go into a tailspin. I think they will beat the Jets, and can beat the Saints.

Indianapolis at 9-0 and a relatively easy schedule could run the table and go 16-0. But I don’t think they will.

MVP: Reggie Wayne, WR

San Francisco 49’ers over Chicago Bears, 10-6

Oh my, two bottom feeders rolling around in the muck. Jay Cutler looked awful with five interceptions. Granted some of them were partially the fault of his receivers but this was really a joke. Cutler, the big bad, I am going to be the leader of the team, I’m the next coming of John Elway, I am going to have input into the 53 man roster. I love seeing this whiny brat, wannabe John Elway get his comeuppance. He looks awful, his team looks awful, and the Bears got what they paid for.

San Francisco’s offensive didn’t look much better. Four interceptions (not counting the one late in the game) and you only score 10 points? Even a mediocre offense would have blow the Bears out of this game and made it a laugher. I’m sorry but Alex Smith just does not look like the quarterback of the future to me. The quarterback position on this team needs to be addressed.

What the 49’ers do have is heart, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, and a solid defense. I think Mike Singletary is taking this team in the right direction.

MVP: Frank Gore, RB

Cincinnati Bengals over Pittsburgh Steelers, 18-12

The Cincinnati Bengals have swept the Pittsburgh Steelers and have proven to be a real contender in the AFC. Their defense continues to play extremely well and I am very, very impressed with their offensive line. They have one of the best offensive lines in the league. And while the offensive did not score a lot of points, they did enough to win and they basically controlled this game for the most part.

Pittsburgh is a great team as well but they certainly are not the same team without Troy Polamalu in the lineup. While Pittsburgh is on my list of teams I least want to see win, I hope Polamalu recovers. I love watching this guy play.

Rookie running back and kick returner Bernard Scott had a superman game, running a kickoff for a touchdown and filling in for the injured Cedric Benson.

MVP: Bernard Scott, RB/KR

Green Bay Packers over Dallas Cowboys, 17-7

Dallas is a hard to team to figure out, as is Tony Romo. Sometimes they look like an upper echelon team and sometimes they look like the Cleveland Browns in a different uniform. This week they were atrocious and so was Tony Romo. A lot of that can be laid at the feet of an offensive line that looked overmatched by the Green Bay Packers.

Charles Woodson, Green Bay’s veteran cornerback had a career day with two forced fumbles, a sack, and an interception. He was all over the field. It helped that the Packers defensive line was able to get penetration into the Dallas backfield. A shout out should go to Packer defensive tackle Johnny Jolly who disrupted numerous plays.

Dallas lost their left tackle Mark Colombo during the game, which is scary given that they are weak at the tackle position. Flozell Adams is a joke. And that was part of Dallas’ problem.

Meanwhile I thought Green Bay’s offensive line played better than they usually do, but Rodgers was not helping them much by holding onto the ball too long and taking hits. He needs to get out of that habit, fast.

I love seeing Dallas lose so this was a fun game to watch.

MVP: Charles Woodson, CB

Baltimore Ravens over Cleveland Browns, 16-0

Cleveland looked pathetic and inept in this game. Eric Mangenius sure made this team look better this year, didn’t he? That was one of the worst displays of professional football I have seen since, well, the Tennessee Titans laid down against the Patriots earlier this year.

Brady Quinn is really starting to look like a bust. He played horribly, as did his receivers, and the entire offense.

But Baltimore had no business looking as awful as they did either. The score was 0-0 at halftime. Baltimore, despite having three good running backs, even and excellent one in Ray Rice, had no business looking this bad and out of sync. They played down to the level of competition.

As one of the announcers said, the best unit on this night was the Browns defensive line. The dominated the action. I feel back for not giving Shaun Rodgers a shout out on my Midseason Pro Bowl team. When he gets it going he is almost unblockable.

This game was badly marred by Brady Quinn’s low block on Terrell Suggs that will knock him out of action for an undetermined amount of time. And then Joshua Cribbs got jacked up and hospitalized on the last play of the game that certainly looked like a cheap shot by Suggs’ backup, Dwan Edwards.

Both teams say the cheap shots weren’t intentional. I guess I will take their word for it.

This was a forgettable game, otherwise.

MVP: Ray Rice, RB

PLAYERS OF THE GAME

Offensive Player: Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans (232 total yards rushing and receiving)

Defensive Player: Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers

Offensive Lineman: Sebastian Vollmer, T, New England Patriots

Special Teams: Bernard Scott, KR/RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Rookie of the Week: Bernard Scott, KR/RB, Cincinnati

Bill Belichick is Afraid of Peyton Manning

The New England Patriot’s 35-34 loss to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night was one of the most frustrating, infuriating, painful losses I can remember for a regular season game in a long, long time. I know I more or less said something similar after last year’s loss to the Colts, but this is worse because we squandered a mostly wonderful game by Tom Brady and the offense.

Frankly, I am still so sick about losing this game I’m not really sure where to start in trying to discuss it. It really all came down to one play and one coaching decision at the end of the game. But before getting into what will go down as one of most infamous coaching decisions in NFL regular season history, let’s look at the positives for the Patriots. That might make me feel a little better, but I doubt it.

First, Tom Brady had an outstanding game. He actually outplayed Peyton Manning and is really starting to look like the Tom Brady of 2007. His pass to Kevin Faulk on the 4th and 2 at the end of the game was perfect and should have resulted in a first down (and some would argue it did, the officials just didn’t see it that way). Randy Moss and Wes Welker had outstanding games as well.

Second, the offensive line did an excellent job of protecting Brady most of the night. Sebastian Vollmer, the backup rookie left tackle, did a very good job of controlling the pass rushing machine, Dwight Freeney, most of the night. Nick Kazur, the right tackle, struggled a bit with Robert Mathis but he played well enough for the most part. A fellow Patriot fan suggested that maybe Matt Light, or normal left tackle who usually struggles mightily against Freeney, starts at right tackle when he is healthy and Kazur rides the pine. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

Finally, the young, inexperienced defense didn’t play as poorly as the score might look. While they didn’t look like the ’85 Bears, they were able to stop the Colts often enough for us to win the game and forced a couple of turnovers. They played well enough to win, but didn’t.

For the most part this game went the way I expected it to if the Patriots were going to pull off a win – the offense scoring a lot of points and the defense doing just enough to hold off the Colts’ prolific offense. The Patriots had a 17 point lead in the fourth quarter but I knew it wasn’t over. I was nervous, and had every reason to be as it turned out.

This is a game the Patriots had no business losing and it mostly comes down to Bill Belichick squandering all our time outs and his decision to go for it on 4th down and 2 yards to go from our own 28 yard line while protecting a 34-28 lead with 2:08 left in the fourth quarter. This was an all in gamble by Belichick. Make the first down and the game is basically over as the Patriots could have taken nearly all the time off the clock. Don’t make the first down and you give Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, the ball at the New England 28 yard line with plenty of time left on the clock.

As most NFL fans know by now, the Patriots didn’t make the first down (or so the officials say) and Manning threw a winning touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with almost no time left on the clock. Game over.

And one other thing to note before discussing Belichick’s gamble on 4th down, the Laurence Maroney fumble in the end zone also was a game deciding play. Instead of scorning a touchdown we gave the ball back to the Colts on the 20 yard line. While the Colts went three and out and we did score a touchdown on our next possession, it still costs us seven points and possibly the game. Had he scored and the Colts went three and out, we would have ended up with decent field position and likely a field goal or even another touchdown, putting the game out of reach. Turnovers kill and that was a killer. Couple that with the squandered time outs and the fourth quarter was an absolute disaster for the Patriots.

Bill Belichck’s 4th Down Gamble

What to make of Belichick’s decision to go for it on fourth down deep in our own territory when he could have punted the ball and made Manning and the Colts march 70 yards for a winning touchdown? (Note most football pundits agree that the most likely result of a Patriots punt would have been the Colts with the ball at around their own 30 yard line). I have seen two schools of thought on this.

Belichick is an Idiot and Didn’t Give His Team a Chance to Win

Most analysts basically called it a “blunder.” The usually politic Tony Dungy more or less called it “stupid.” Most others are also saying that Belichick’s decision showed arrogance, a lack of respect for the defense, and it was simply a really, really bad coaching decision.

Arrogance is the funniest and silliest adjective to describe Belichick’s decision. Arrogance? Do you believe it is arrogant that the coach wanted to put the game in the hands of his offense and Tom Brady instead of the hands of Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne? Instead of arrogance it showed respect, or even fear, of Peyton Manning.

I am also sick of hearing that Belichick had no confidence in his defense. I don’t think that is the case at all. The defense is young, the Patriots have numerous injuries on their defensive line meaning defenders were playing more snaps, they lost their best pass rusher early in the game, Tully Banta-Cain, they were tired, and the Colts clearly had the momentum on offense. Two consecutive nearly 80 yard drives, and quick ones at that, certainly factored into the decision.

It’s not that Belichick had no confidence in his defense.

He is scared of Peyton Manning. Belichick’s calculation was that Peyton Manning was more likely to score a touchdown, regardless of where he got the ball on the field than the chances were of not making the first down on 4th and 2. Again, not because he has no confidence in the defense, but he’s afraid of Peyton Manning. Which leads me to the second school of thought.

Belichick is a Genius and it Just Didn’t Work Out

Maybe Belichick is right. Had the Patriots punted the Colts very well may have taken the ball 70 or so yards and scored a winning touchdown. This Web site argues that Belichick made the right decision to go for it on 4th down based on statistics of NFL teams http://tinyurl.com/yzszwzp. The basic argument is given the probability of making it on 4th down versus the probability that the Colts would score a winning touchdown if the Patriots punted the ball, Belichick made the right decision and gave his team the best chance to win. And the greater the probability you think Manning would drive the Colts for the winning score, the more the decision to go for it on 4th down makes sense.

I thought when we did not get a first down on third down that the Colts would probably win because we would punt the ball and eat a Manning touchdown in the face. But I also thought our defense could summon up one more stand against the Colts. But wait! There is no Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Willie McGinnest. We have rookie defensive backs and newcomers learning the system. Let me rethink that.

So Doug, What Do You Think About the Call?

My first and immediate reaction can be summed up better by one of my fellow Patriots fans. Here I quote one of them after the game:

…I don’t know what the odds are that he makes that play on fourth down…? But let’s say it’s 50-50 or let’s even say he would make it two out of three times…I understand Bill’s concern about kicking and giving the ball back to Peyton with 2:00 left on the clock…the problem I have with the call is that it seems like he gambled the whole game on that one play. He’s the genius, but I don’t get it…if he gambles and they make the play, Patriots win, game over, I get that, but it’s all based on a huge all-in gamble. If they kick it, at least Peyton has to go the length of the field, or most of the length. Obviously, it’s Peyton Manning, and there is a decent chance he marches down and wins the game anyway, but at least you have several chances to stop them. By risking the fourth down where they were on the field, you know that if you don’t make the play, game over, there is essentially a 100 percent chance that we lose by giving one of the greatest QBs of all time the ball back on a short field. It was gambling pure and simple to me. I wish we had taken our chances with our defense. Easy to say in hindsight, but that’s how I feel.

I was very emotional and upset with Belichick for going for it after the game. After further reflection, intellectually, I think he made the right call. I am convinced by the statistics and probabilities that Bill Belichick, by going for it on 4th down and 2 from their own 28 yard line, gave my team their best chance to win the game. I see the math and I’ve seen Peyton Manning win games like this against better defenses on more than one occasion. If we had made the first down we wouldn’t even be talking about it.

And while I have not read the study on 4th down conversions that argues that coaches should be much more aggressive in going for it, I am aware of it, and Bill Belichick has studied it (see David Halberstam’s biography of Bill Belichick). He’s made this decision before and been rewarded for it far more often than not, just not on such a big stage.

So the bottom line is I think Belichick made the right call.

But the emotional part of me thinks he should have punted the ball. At least then you could say he gave his defense a chance to win the game. Had the Patriots punted the ball and the Colts drove for the winning score I would find it much easier to swallow than for Belichick to give the game away on a fourth down gamble. And while the defense was very tired and the Colts did have the momentum, the defense had shown they could stop the Colts. Why not give them the chance to try to do it?

But Bill Belichick is smarter than to let emotions rule his on field decisions. He made the right call. It just didn’t work out.

Excellent Modern Day History Of The New England Patriots

 

9780312384852The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower
by Christopher Price

 

Review by C. Douglas Baker

 

This book lays out the reason the New England Patriots have been able to sustain a high level of excellence over the past seven years in an era of salary cap limitations that aggressively promotes parity.

Despite this, the Patriots have appeared in four of the last seven Super Bowls, winning three of them. 

Last year they posted an 18-0 record before being defeated in Super Bowl XLII 17-14 by the New York Giants in a rather poorly played game on the Patriot’s part.

How do they do it?

First, Robert Kraft is no longer the meddling owner he was when Bill Parcels was the head coach. He lets the football people make the football decisions, especially on personnel.

Second, Bill Belichick is clearly one of the smartest coaches when it comes to strategy (Super Bowl XLII being an exception).

But he too has learned from his mistakes as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. He treats his players a little differently and has more control over personnel, even though his media skills still lack something to be desired.

Third, Belichick doesn’t try to do everything. It’s impossible. While he has final say over all football related matters, he relies heavily on Scott Piloli, head of player personnel.

Piloli has been with Belichick for a long time and their scouting department turns up high character players who fit Belichick’s system. Their drafts under Belichick have been very good, for the most part, which is critical for building a team.

Fourth, Belichick mostly lets the players police themselves.

The veterans on the team know what it takes to win championships and the team first philosophy that permeates the organization is not just lip service. The veteran players work to make sure everyone stays on this course.

Fifth, the Patriots adroitly manage the salary cap. Unlike a lot of teams they don’t sell out by signing players to huge contracts and guaranteed money to make a one time championship run.

Doing this can hamstring a team for years as players with large signing bonuses counting against the salary cap for years, even if they are no longer productive or even on the team.

Furthermore, there is no sentimentality to their decisions.

They cut Lawyer Malloy, a mainstay at strong safety for several years and a favorite of fans, players, and coaches alike, because of a contract dispute where they felt the amount of money he wanted was not in the long-term interests of team.

And finally they have Tom Brady.

Successful teams must have a decent quarterback at the helm. Brady, a sixth round draft pick, has turned out to be one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. Having mostly a solid defense and Brady at the helm of the offense has been critical to the team’s success.

Overall this book is reasonably well written and is an excellent modern day history of the New England Patriots franchise.

The first part of the book deals with pre-Kraft Patriots history. It was necessary to set up the rest of the book, but there is nothing particularly new here.

The rest of the book does a good job of laying out just why the Patriots have been successful over the past seven years.

That said this book needed a better copy editor. There are many places where conjunctions are missing, which is annoying to the reader.

In one chapter a quote by Belichick is repeated within a few paragraphs of each other. At times the author tells us something and then basically repeats the same information in different words, which is what happened with the redundant quote.

Nevertheless, this is a book that Patriots fans and football fans in general, should greatly enjoy.

The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower