Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Patriots 10, Steelers 33 (11/30/2008)

Sorry there was no update yesterday, but I was just trying to fit in. I figure if Randy Moss, Jabar Gaffney, Benjamin Watson, and Matt Cassel are all dropping the ball, well... then so should I. With turnovers on five consecutive possessions, the Patriots went from 10-10 at the half to a 33-10 drubbing at home by the Steelers. The first place Jets lost, too, so they remain one game back in the AFC East race, and at 7-5 need to win the last four games to be sure of a playoff berth.

I don't really have time for a full blown update. (Too busy looking for silicone gloves, so I can drop passes *just* like my heroes ::snicker snicker::) Suffice it to say that you don't win very often when you lose the turnover battle 5-1. It started off well, with Mike Vrabel picking off a pass early and the offense converting that to a touchdown just three minutes into the game. Who knew it would be the last touchdown for the Patriots on the day.

The game itself turned on three plays:

1. With time running down in the second quarter, Randy Moss dropped an easy touchdown that would have made it 17-10 at the half. He had a shot at another touchdown on the next play, but it was a good defensive play. And then Stephen Gostkowski missed a 27-yard field goal, so the game was tied after 30 minutes.

2. On their first possession of the third quarter, the Patriots were driving and had a second-and-one in Steeler territory. But Cassel held the ball too long on the next play, and was sacked for a six-yard loss, and his third-down pass fell incomplete. That sack really hurt, because it made third-down more difficult *and* knocked them out of field goal range.

3. Pittsburgh took the ball there and drove down for a field goal, to make the score 13-10. And on the ensuing kickoff, Matthew Slater muffed the kick and the Steelers recovered at the Patriots eight yard-line. Slater's big mistake (once he fumbled) was that he tried to recover the ball. It was bouncing toward the sideline, and since he didn't have a clear recovery opportunity (he arrived at the same time as a Steeler player), he should have punched or pushed the ball toward the sideline. If it went out of bounds, it would have been Patriots ball. But instead, two plays later, it was 20-10, Steelers.

After that, it was all turnovers and stat-padding for Pittsburgh. Sure, there was Gaffney's drop in the fourth quarter, but who's to say that the Patriots could have scored two touchdowns *and* two two-point conversions. Maybe... but that isn't what cost them the game. It was like the Miami home game, where it looks like a huge blowout final score, but it was a momentum game that the Patriots could never get in their favor.

In fact, several of their games have been the same. The 48-28 win over Miami was much more competitive for much longer than the final score would indicate. This year's Patriots cannot turn momentum with incredible defensive stands, quick-strike touchdown drives, or timely kick returns. They are like much of the league -- if they miss their early opportunities, they just aren't good enough to overcome it.

So where does that leave us? At 7-5, the Patriots have to win the rest of their games to be certain of a playoff berth. One more loss would put them at 10-6, and they would have a shot, but several of the tie-breakers do not favor them. And as the mantra of the team ("one game at a time") will tell you, they can't go 4-0 if they don't go 1-0 this weekend. Fortunately, they play an NFC team, and they have an excellent recent record against the NFC. Unfortunately, it's the beginning of their second two-week west coast swing of the season. And they split the games the first time they did this; so no telling how things will go. But then again, that's why we watch, isn't it ;)

Statistical Oddity of the Week: In their wins, the 2008 Patriots have an eight-minute per game advantage in time of possession. In their losses, they have a four-minute per game disadvantage.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "I just hope the Pats can win the next few games, so that the final week in Buffalo means something."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 7-5!

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