Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Patriots 30, Seahawks 20 (10/17/2004)

Well, I hope you enjoyed the game as much as I did. Seems like the one game don't go to is one of the best games of the year: last year, Patriots beat the Titans 38-30; this year it's 30-20 Pats over Seahawks. Everyone knew going into yesterday's game that the Seahawks would be one of the toughest tests of the year. In fact, several media know-it-alls predicted this might be a Super Bowl preview. Well, Seattle left just like they came in -- unproven in big games. They've got some work to do to be as good at the Patriots, and a long way to go before they'd represent the NFC in the Super Bowl (especially with Philly and Minnesota playing so well).


The offense was spectacular in the first half, sluggish for most of the second half, and then spectacular again when Bethel Johnson made one of the best catches you'll ever see to help close the deal with 3:00 left in the game. They scored on their first three possessions and showed a great mix of pass and run (33 rushes, 30 pass attempts for the game). Brady, Corey Dillon (two touchdowns), Daniel Graham (a couple of clutch catches), Kevin Faulk, and the entire offensive line played great in the first half, and Seattle didn't seem to have any answers for the Patriot offense until the third quarter. Once the Seahawks made their adjustments, they held the Partiots scoreless until midway through the fourth quarter. Brady uncharacteristically turned the ball over on two consecutive possessions: a fumble while running for a first down, and then an interception. It seemed to me like he was frustrated with their lack of offensive progress in the second half and tried too hard to get something going. If he'd played the possession/field-position game, the Seahawks probably wouldn't have gotten as close as they did. This unit should be scary if they ever get all their wide receivers back; they rang up 30 points against a defense ideally suited to stop them (they have "shut down" corners and the Pats had no extra wide receivers to get Seattle's backup DBs on the field). The run-pass balance with Dillon in town is remarkable (for the season, 156 rushing plays, 143 passing plays -- credit to Michael Smith of ESPN.com).

If you would indulge me, I'd like to take a moment to congratulate two unsung offensive guys: Daniel Graham and Dante Scarnecchia. Graham's progress in the passing game has been admirable, but the thing that keeps him on the field is his blocking ability. This game was the first time I heard the commentators mention his blocking, but you could see in the replays that he just takes guys out of the play, running plays, passing plays, trick plays, any plays at all. Glad to see him finally get recognition for this underrated part of tight end play.

Dante Scarnecchia is the team's offensive line coach. He's been a Patriots coach since the Ron Meyer days (that would be 1982 for those with short memories), he is serving under his seventh head coach with the Patriots, and he's coached everything from special teams and linebackers to tight ends and offensive line. Last season, he juggled an offensive line that started the year injured and ended the year with *zero* sacks in the entire playoffs even without the team's best lineman (Damien Woody -- injured for the Super Bowl) and a rookie at center (Dan Koppen). And this year, Dante's project is Stephen Neal, a guy who's been on and off the practice squad of two teams and spent time on the injured reserve list and the physically unable to perform list over the last three years. Well, he not only made the team, he's *starting* and blocking well in both pass and run schemes. It's not often a non-head coach, non-coordinator gets much attention in the NFL, but I just wanted to recognize Dante's longevity and obvious gift for coaching.


Suppose Seattle wants a do-over? Their first half couldn't have gone worse, with inopportune penalties, dropped passes, turnovers, and when they did get in the red zone, field goals instead of touchdowns. They looked flat, but a lot of it was due to the Patriots defense. They were hard-hitting, they played with anywhere from one to five defensive lineman and disguised their blitzes to confuse the Seahawks offensive line and get pressure on Hasselbeck. The Pats sacked him 3 times and had him on the run at least another 10. In fact, Hasselbeck doesn't throw very well on the run, so I'm sure that was part of the plan to stop Seattle.

Beyond the usual suspects (Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, Ty Law and Tyrone Poole in the secondary), it's tough to pick out any one player for extra praise. They rotated lineman and linebackers so much that Jarvis Green got as much playing time as Vince Wilfork. And everyone in the secondary hit hard and broke up passes, and the Pats run defense kept Shaun Alexander completely in check. Willie McGinest was all over the place, though he rushed himself out of a few plays. And Eugene Wilson had ten tackles and a forced fumble. But this was one of those overall team performances. They shut the Seahawks down the entire first half, and then late in the game when it was on the line. And much like the Dolphins game, they won the red zone battle (Seattle had one touchdown in five trips inside the Patriots 20 yard line). Not bad when you're playing "offensive genius" Mike Holmgren.


The Patriots played their best game of the year on Sunday. It was a cooly efficient performance that reminded me of what I saw from great teams of the past when they played up-and-coming teams that weren't quite ready for prime time. The Pats won the following battles by a little bit: third-down conversions (50% to 47%); punting average (40.5 yards to 38); yards per return (23 to 21.5); interceptions (2 to 1); time of possession (31:37 to 28:23); rushing yards (130 to 102); yards per pass (7.2 to 6.4); and sacks (3 to 1). Not huge differences, but enough to overwhelm an inexperienced team playing on the road. Even when Seattle came within three points, I never thought the game was in doubt. Seattle just didn't have enough to get the job done.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Think Corey Dillon was worth a second-round pick?" (said with a wry smile).

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. Sorry this was late, but the Red Sox are frying my brain. And if you think that series is over, remember what I've been telling people since last Thursday: "If the Yankees don't win another game, they lose the series."

PPS. 5-0!

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