I watched the Red Sox game this afternoon up until the score of 3-0, Devil Rays, on my TiVo, after having flipped over from the Patriots first quarter, which had gone distressingly indeed. It was one of those lovely autumn afternoons for a Boston Patsox fan--both teams playing simultaneously, the kind of gloriously lazy Sunday made for quality time with the couch and clicker.
My esteemed co-blogger Jaime wrote in his game preview, "...fans should keep in mind that this is a division match, but seriously. This game won’t be close." I was in complete agreement as I settled in for an afternoon of TiVo-flipping between the two teams' games. Prior to kickoff and first pitch, I had decided the Red Sox would be my "primary" show since it was all but a foregone conclusion that the Patriots would kick Buffalo butt.
I stayed true to my word through the first quarter and a half or so of the Patriots game and first three innings of the Red Sox game, respectively, watching the Patriots somehow, incomprehensibly, wind up down 7-3 against the Bills, who stuffed them in the end zone to cap what should've been a touchdown drive with a field goal; ran Marshawn Lynch all over the Pats defense for a touchdown on their own; and recovered a Brady fumble in the red zone to stay in the lead.
Forced right then to make a decision, I found myself seduced, on perhaps the earliest week of a football season ever with Boston still in the thick of a pennant race, by the Patriots over the Red Sox.
I don't even want to say the word I'm thinking of when I consider the Patriots' schedule this season, so let's just say it has something to do with unopened bottles of champagne in Miami. At that point, having seen Tom Brady and Kevin Faulk, separated by a coach, screaming at one another on the sidelines after a miserable three-and-out and heard the outraged screams of Gillette Stadium as not one but two of Belichick's challenges were overruled, I decided the Patriots were having more of a crisis. After that, though I was behind enough to fast forward through not only commercials but the entire halftime show, I stuck to the Pats.
And, it turns out, was richly rewarded for doing so.
On the possession directly following the Brady fumble, the Patriots offense officially decided to quit screwing around, scoring a touchdown to take the lead again in under three minutes, and restoring order to Gillette Stadium.
In the meantime, Buffalo players had been holding their own surprisingly well against a New England team that had them literally and figuratively outweighed. Following a vicious hit to the knees of Buffalo quarterback JP Lohsman--a clearly illegal hit, whether intentional or not, and the refs made the right roughing the passer call--the Bills had to call on the deer-in-the-headlights services of the extremely young, totally inexperienced Trent Edwards.
Despite the viciousness of his hit on Lohsman, one of the standout aspects of this game was watching Vince Wilfork "fly around", as they say. After dispatching with Lohsman, he welcomed Edwards to the NFL by barrelling after him like 350 pounds of his worst nightmare, keeping the pressure on all game (It occurred to me watching Wilfork chug along that I sincerely hope the big man also keeps the trash talk constant during the game. In my Imaginary Football World I've already assigned him the voice and speech pattern of "Terrible" Terry Tate).
It was also nice to see Asante Samuel and Junior Seau starting to stand out, back at work again this season. Seau has that gloating dance down to a science, and it seemed like every time Junior was dancing around after a play, Vrabel would pop up behind him, watch him dance for a little bit and then start fist-pumping and making gyrations of his own. Probably the most heartwarming little moments outside the actual plays of the game came from watching Mike Vrabel get pumped up watching Junior get pumped up whenever the Pats defense was on the field.
On the other side of the ball, the offense, and in particular the offensive line, were just as vicious and bloodthirsty, if not more so. Not long after Lohsman's departure the Bills were forced to cart out the meat wagon again for another injured player, this time linebacker Paul Posluszny. Lots of talk emanated from the CBS broadcast booth about how the undersized Bills defense needed to "swell up" against the run, and aside from the disturbing Freudian nature of that imagery, they failed continually to do it, and on the whole I was tired of hearing the phrase by the time the first half was over.
But I wasn't tired of watching the Patriots awake like a sleeping giant and start kicking ass like they were supposed to all along after the perturbing false starts by the offense to open the game. I think Wes Welker is going to be my favorite receiver by Week 8, despite the fact that we have several other marquee names at the position. He's just such a slipperly little guy, remeniscent in some ways of David Patten, who was always my favorite during the first two Super Bowl years. Some of the underneath, threading-the-needle routes he and Brady executed for positive gains were things of intricate, extravagant beauty.
But as long as we're singling out players, let's talk a little Randy Moss. Now, of course, we have all known intellectually that Randy Moss is capable of being one of the best receivers in the league, possibly one of the best all-time. I heard Bill Romanowksi on the radio this week, and when asked for his opinion on Moss I think ol' Romo hit the nail on the head by saying that Moss needs to be inspired properly in order to reach his potential, and he hasn't been inspired properly since he played for Minnesota.
That is, until now.
Whatever it is, let's keep it coming. In week 1 I said something about Moss having hands of flypaper, and that image occurred to me again during this game with a little over a minute left to go in the first half when he snatched a touchdown throw from Brady behind his back in midair, while being amply covered by Jabari Greer. The ball was, I reiterate, behind his back, just skimming past Greer, and at the last possible instant Moss's hands darted back around as his torso twisted, drawn to the ball, and when those hands clamped shut around it, it was as if the ball was stuck there with glue.
Probably the most classic single moment of this game, however, (and it was a game filled with lovely moments for the Patriots) was Moss going deep in the tricky shadows of Gillette's south end as the fourth quarter opened.
I can only describe the beginnings of this play using a baseball analogy. The way Tom Brady threw this deep pass, every bit a thing of gorgeousness as the catch that lay at the opposite end, was akin to the way a good baseball pitcher can throw you any one of his pitches with the same deceptive motion, whether a 95-mph fastball or a 79-mph 12-6 curve. At first I had the intended receiver much closer to Brady than where the ball ended up--and so did the cameraman for CBS, who hurriedly panned to follow the ball a second late. And so did the Gillette Stadium crowd, half of whom were probably blinded by the toxic combination of late afternoon sun and beer, and who rose hurriedly to their feet a few moments after the play unfolded as if startled out of a routine. I know I personally had settled in for a long, meticulous drive after Brady opened things with some short passes in the flat to Kevin Faulk. I don't think I even realized that that had become the Patriots style until the moment they broke the pattern with that bomb to Moss.
The last time we saw any pass-catch-touchdown combination this pretty had to be during the 2004-2005 postseason. Once again, Moss was fairly well covered (again, by Greer, the poor bastid) and the ball came screaming down like a heat-seeking missile, into the adhesive trap of those hands, completely over the head of Greer, who fell flat on his face as Moss strode comfortably on those long legs of his into the end zone.
Uh...yeah, wasn't there also a baseball game on?
So I guess for all I've excoriated the Sox for their lack of game-facedness over the last week or so, today I was guilty of the very same thinking: eh, the Sox are in the playoffs anyway. Of course, just who the eff do the Buffalo Bills think they are in this first quarter also factored into it, but even after that situation was resolved, I was just plain hooked on the Pats this afternoon.
But like Jaime said, seriously. Who can blame me? Right now it seems like the storm of Camera-gate is beginning to pass over, and maybe now we can get down to the business of just enjoying a great time to be Pats fans.