Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Patriots 30, Broncos 26 (11/3/2003)

Well now, wasn't that exciting! Patriots lose the turnover, penalty, and time of possession battles and still come out on top. On the road. In Denver. With all the injuries.

Can we get Bill Belichick to coach the Red Sox next year?

I really enjoyed this game. It was close throughout, and both teams made their share of good and bad plays. But in the end, the game hinged on the inability of Denver's offense to do anything in the second half. Watching the first half, I thought that Romeo Crennel and Bill B. were playing close to the vest, just well enough to survive, and that they planned to turn up the heat on Denver's young QB (Danny Kanell) in the second half. It pretty much went that way, except the Pats offense didn't force Denver to take any risks until about four minutes to go. And, as with many young quarterbacks, those risks cost the Broncos the chance to win the game. When they needed to run time off the clock, Kanell couldn't deliver the short passes to keep the drive going -- and they gave it back to the Pats twice within a minute (from 4:00 to 3:00 left). He's new, what are you going to do?

The Pats defense played pretty well, despite the biggest injury of the year in Richard Seymour (hope he's back soon). Any time you shut out a team in the second half, you must be doing something right. (Denver scored on special teams -- kick return for TD -- and on a Safety the Patriots decided to give them.) The Pats D hit hard, knocking at least four Broncos out of the game for a few plays, and adjusted well after Denver's inevitable early surge. In the second half, they opened with five DL and started the blitzing -- which led to a number of three-and-out series for the Broncos.
Portis ran pretty well, but he never became a controlling factor, leaving too much of it up to the QB. If Denver's kicker hadn't been injured, it might have come out differently; but I still think the Pats would have won
-- just by fewer points.

The Pats offense played okay, with a lot of big plays interspersed between some sputtering drives. The star of the game was the Offensive Line. I can't remember the last time I saw a Patriots QB with that much time to throw, and those guys deserve a lot of credit for playing so well against a strong front-seven from Denver. Kevin Faulk came up big, and Antowain Smith got more carries and yards that I thought he would. Daniel Graham made some nice catches, though he dropped one they needed when they were backed up at the goal line. But for all their trouble, I only counted four or five missed reads by Brady and only one or two bad throws (Bethel Johnson open in the end zone was one he should never have missed). And Tom Brady continues to improve his long passing. All that work in the off season obviously paying dividends.

And now, a word about the officials. You know I don't usually blame officials, but I thought a few times they got caught up in the emotion of the crowd and screwed the Pats. Almost every replay of a Denver run showed some holding by their O-line, and there is an actual rule called "Neutral Zone Infraction" that should have been called late in the game (instead, they called the Pats for "False Start"). That call is sometimes missed, but this was a very big situation and the call looked obvious to me (and to John Madden). If they're not going to enforce the rule, then let's delete it from the rule book.

Lastly, I'm very impressed they're 7-2 right now. With all their injuries, they have the third-best record in the NFL -- and they've matched what I thought would be their best possible record at this point, and I didn't anticipate all the injuries. Now, with next week off, they can get healthy and get ready for the Tuna Bowl on Sunday, November 16. I'll rest up, too; 'cause I'm gonna need all my strength to cheer the team on that night.

Since there's no Pats game on Sunday, I'll send a mid-season summary next week to fill the gap between games.

Until then, keep the faith,

- Scott

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