I'd rather be lucky than good any day.
Or so the saying goes.
Yesterday there were a number of places where that was an expression befitting the Patriots. First among them the fact that Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler injured his index finger on his throwing hand on his very first pass attempt of the game and wasn't the same after that. From the very beginning of the game, this neutralized what had been an intimidating matchup of a deep thrower against a Patriots secondary that had not exactly showered itself in glory against the Chargers.
There were many aspects of this game in which the Broncos simply beat themselves. They committed 8 penalties for a total of 87 yards, and in devastating places--toward the end of the second quarter, for example, the Broncos defense had Cassel backed up almost to his own end zone, facing a 3rd and 17, which he failed to convert. But the Broncs were called for a facemask penalty on that play, 15 yards and an automatic first down. An unnecessary roughness penalty not even a clock-minute later brought the Patriots to the 50. This was a series that led to a Patriots touchdown.
It was encouraging to see Cassel with a 136.3 passer rating, but this was against one of the worst-ranked defenses--especially against the pass--in the league. It was wonderful to see Randy Moss with two touchdowns, but this was only after Champ Bailey pulled up of his own accord with a groin injury. Before that, Bailey had been a beast, shutting down Moss all night.
So we have our grains (or shakers) of salt. But there were also some genuinely encouraging signs for the Patriots.
Let me begin with the defense, who after a rout in
They played with aggression against both the run and the pass, and forced five turnovers. The most memorable was the farcical triple / quadruple fumble toward the end of the first quarter. Ty Warren punched the ball out of Michael Pittman's arms, and then the Patriots spent about a dozen yards playing hot-potato before Jerod Mayo finally fell on the ball.
It was a night for newcomers to the Patriots defense to shine. There was Mayo's fumble recovery, and Brandon Meriweather picked off Cutler in the second quarter thanks to pressure from Pierre Woods. Other familiar faces also had a good night. Richard Seymour finally got a sack in the second half.
Getting to the bottom of the sacks
Offense was more of a mixed bag. Matt Cassel was
sacked an unbelievable 6 times, despite his passer rating. This week
I've been a part of debates about whether or not it's
Of the six sacks, I would say about half fell
squarely on the shoulders of the offensive line. The other half were
So we see an undeniable impact of Brady's
absence--the multitude of offensive line sins he hid with his mobility
and decision-making in the pocket.
But let's not forget the way the Giants defense
punished and pressured Brady, too, in the Super Bowl. Sometimes I feel
like offense-wise, we're stuck in a long replay of that game, over and
over again. Because while there were times
In particular, I'd like to call your attention to one Mark LeVoir, Number 64 in your program, who previously spent his time on the Chicago Bears practice squad. I have no doubt that Mr. LeVoir is a fine gentleman, but after that performance last night I would like to see him placed on the Patriots practice squad instead of starting any more games.
Take Matt Cassel's first two sacks, for
example. On the Patriots' first drive toward the end of the first
quarter, Ebenezer Ekuban (best name ever...) roared through the right side of the line and pancaked
This would not be the last time. On the second sack, Nate Webster barreled between Stephen Neal, who'd replaced Yates at guard, and LeVoir, who opened up a hole for him big enough to drive a truck through. The play did look like an abortive play-action, but once again, the charging linebacker was untouched. And though Sammy Morris picked up the blitz and made an attempt to stop Webster, once again LeVoir looked downfield, touching no one, apparently oblivious to the fact that his QB was being violated right behind him.
Needless to say, it was frustrating to watch.
However, the left side of the line, led by the veteran Matt Light and the bestial Logan Mankins, was a bright spot, as were all of Sammy Morris's runs off left tackle for big gains. The sweetest one for Patriots fans was a run off the left side on 4th and 1 that became a touchdown for Morris. In all, Sammy had 138 yards in the first half, and the Patriots continued to pound away at that left side all night.
Randy and the Viking
And while it's tempered by the Bailey injury,
Probably the first thing I'll think of when I think of this game will be Moss's Lambeau leap into the arms of a heavily costumed Minnesota Vikings fan behind the end zone after his touchdown in the second quarter. Moss made a beeline for this fan--he must've seen him long before that touchdown came about. I'm not sure if that fan is a regular at Vikings games and so Moss recognized him personally, or if it was just the Vikes gear that made Moss feel so warm and fuzzy, but Moss hung out up there hugging and squeezing the purple-faced man with the horns on his head for quite a long time.
The crowd was also into it at this game, actually making noise on third down, and as they did so on the next defensive series Moss danced to it on the sideline as if it was music, grinning like he just couldn't contain himself. It was a party in there before halftime, and a feel-good game.
Hello, goodbyeExcept, of course, for more mounting injuries. After his stellar first half, Sammy Morris was sidelined for the remainder of the game with a knee injury--just as we were beginning to say Laurence who?
Most devastating of all, though, was the knee injury that befell Rodney Harrison in the third quarter--just as this defense was beginning to gel behind its veterans. In pursuit of a ball-carrier, he appeared to catch a spike in the turf, and fell awkwardly over his right knee, which twisted sickeningly, and immediately, into an unnatural angle.
"Usually, a player like Rodney Harrison walks off the field," Richard Seymour told ESPN's postgame crew afterwards. "When he didn't, I knew it wasn't good."
As did Tedy Bruschi. While the trainers worked on Rodney and a cart was brought out to carry him off, Bruschi knelt by Rodney's head, leaned down and spoke into his ear. The two veteran teammates were saying goodbye.
As they carted him off, Rodney's eyes were filled with tears. The crowd cheered him, and he tried to wave. He tried to smile.
It felt like goodbye for us, too.