Monday, December 4, 2006

Patriots 28, Lions 21 (12/3/2006)

In a game that had as many bad plays as good ones (or maybe it was more bad ones than good), the Patriots outlasted the Lions 28-21, eking out a win over a perennial NFL sad sack that currently sports a 2-10 record. The turnover-fest gave the Patriots a sweep of their four games with the NFC North, and put them at 9-3, which helped maintain their 2-game lead in the division and keep hope alive for a first-round playoff bye.

Call it what you will: the Letdown Bowl, the Eked-it-out Bowl, the Frustration Bowl, the Up-and-down Bowl, a "trap" game. I call it the Whew! Bowl, because I was relieved the Pats found a way to win despite all the turnovers and penalties. It's rare that your quarterback completes 70% of his passes for over 300 yards and the game is this close. But the Pats had badly timed penalties and some poor plays that allowed the Lions to keep control of the football and stay in the game. A playoff performance like this almost always sends you home early, so here's hoping they've gotten it out of their system.

Brady did have one really bad play, a rookie-level interception in the second half where he didn't even look off the defense. Fortunately, he was superb down the stretch (14 for his last 15), and he got them the points they needed to win. So I'll give him a mulligan on his worst INT since the Miami game in 2004 (if you don't remember that one, he threw it while being sacked and the Pats ended up blowing an 11-point lead to a 4-12 Dolphin team). The trouble for most of yesterday's game was that Brady was under a lot of pressure. He was barely touched by Chicago's defense, but a Lions team that averages only two sacks a game was in the backfield all day long. Couple that with a mediocre running performance, and the O-line drops from an A- last week to a D- this week.

The running game was hampered by the loss of Laurence Maroney, who trotted off the field in the first quarter and never came back. Reportedly, he was "shaken up" and should be fine (if you believe the Patriots on such matters). As a team, they had only 79 yards on 24 carries, but Corey Dillon had 3 rushing touchdowns (2 of them within 6:00 of game time in the fourth quarter). Again, overall, not a stellar performance. Reche Caldwell continued to improve, with 8 catches for 112 yards, and most important of all, after every catch, he smothered the ball with both hands and took whatever yards he could. No fumbles for him this week -- he must be sick of Belichick yelling at him. Kevin Faulk was the other receiving star, with 8 catches of his own for 59 yards. But Ben Watson took a step back, with only 3 catches for 41 yards and a game-endangering fumble in the fourth quarter.

The defense played a very up-and-down game. Mike Vrabel missed a lot of pass coverage over the middle, but made up for it with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Rosevelt Colvin missed a *huge* tackle to allow Detroit to convert on 3rd-and-22, but also had two sacks and did a good job on outside contain. Asante Samuel had a penalty called against him to allow Detroit to keep the ball in the first half, but also had another interception and four passes defensed. And Tedy Bruschi led the team with 11 tackles, but he was out of position and/or missed the coverage several other times. Like I said, very up-and down.

With Junior Seau out for the year, the changes at linebacker caused problems stopping the passing game over the mid-range middle of the field. The Lions feasted on 10- to 15-yard slants and in-cuts all day, and the Pats were lucky they kept trying less successful long bombs and had plenty of penalties themselves. The D also gave up first-down conversions on 3rd-and-9, 3rd-and-10, 3rd-and-22, and also let Lions gain 17 yards on 3rd-and-21(which allowed them to kick a field goal instead of punting). The D-line appeared to turn their energy off-and-on when they felt like it, alternatively dominating the point of attack and giving up chunks of yardage on simple trap-blocking plays. Just not a good defensive day. I think they need Rodney Harrison back in the secondary before the playoffs -- just to solidify things enough so their front-seven can return dominance.

As for special teams, nothing to report. For the second straight week, they didn't give up any big returns, nor did they get any themselves. Not much was asked of them, and they didn't have to do much... so no harm, no foul.

So where does that leave us. If the playoffs started today, the 9-3 Pats would be the fourth-seed in the AFC, behind the 10-2 twins, San Diego and Indianapolis, and losing a tie-breaker to the 9-3 Ravens (5-3 conference record vs. Baltimore's 6-2 mark). To get one of the first two spots, the Patriots will have to win out and hope that two teams in front of them stumble -- unlikely if you ask me. In fact, they might not even win out. Given all that, the Pats need to take care of business this weekend and win at Miami, to keep their stranglehold on the division title. The Jets are two games behind, but their remaining schedule is easy enough that they could overtake the Pats if they don't focus on the job at hand.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: For the first time under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have nine total give-aways in a two-game stretch. Somehow, they won both times.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Did you know that Asante Samuel is tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions?"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 9-3!

No comments:

Post a Comment