Monday, December 29, 2008

Patriots 13, Bills 0 (12/28/2008)

Well known philosopher Sir Michael Phillip Jagger once said, "You can't always get what you want." And alas, Patriots fans know that all too well today. The Patriots did their part, beating the Bills 13-0 in windy Buffalo. But neither of the other teams that could help them secure a playoff berth cooperated; as the Ravens and Dolphins both won to finish with at 11-5 (as did the Patriots) and knock out our local heroes on tie-breakers.

So we get a great stretch run but no playoffs, which is better than about half the NFL teams. Matt Cassel, Wes Welker, Jerod Mayo, and Vince Wilfork are rising stars in the league, and some of those aging defensive players are sure to retire this year (Rodney Harrison, anyone?). Bill Belichick did one of his better coaching jobs this year, though I think 2001 and 2004 were both better. Those years had just as many challenges and both resulted in Super Bowl wins. Maybe the difference was Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennal, but who knows.

Yesterday's game looked like bloody hell to play in. The wind was a steady 30-35mph, with gusts up to 55mph during the game. And it showed. Two field goals were blown wide right, an extra point went through the uprights and almost blew back before falling juuuust over the crossbar. And punting was an extra special problem, so much so that three times the Pats went for it on fourth down. (BTW, Matt Cassel was the leading punter, with a 57-yard quick kick that was downed at the Buffalo 2.) And there were only 33 passes attempted in the entire game, with the Bills responsible for 25 of them.

The big sequence came when Jarvis Green forced a fumble that Mike Vrabel recovered at the Bills 43. It was the only turnover of the game, and driving into the worst of the wind the Patriots set aside kicking and went for it twice on fourth down. Cassel's fourth-and-five pass to Welker (the first pass into the wind all day) gave the team a first down at the Buffalo 2, and LaMont Jordan pushed it in from there. Given that the teams were about to switch sides, setting the Bills into the wind for the fourth quarter, that touchdown pretty much sealed the victory.

On the day, the Patriots ran for 168 yards, with Sammy Morris (24 carries for 85 yards) and Jordan (20 for 64) splitting time. The Pats continued to use guard Russ Hochstein as a blocking back, and it helped the Patriots control the clock 32:00 to 28:00. Cassel had a huge fourth-down conversion on a quarterback draw, and completed 75% of his passes, even though it was only 6 out of 8. And even with so few throws, Matt ended up with a QB rating over 100 for the third straight week in very poor conditions.

On defense it wasn't looking so good. Fred Jackson gashed them for five yards a carry, and without Richard Seymour to hold the end of the line, it looked like the Bills would just run it on Jarvis Green all day and eventually wear the Pats defense down. But after the Pats scored to make it 13-0, the Bills had to pass into that wind, and that was pretty much game. The ball was flying all over the place all day long, and even when they got a decent throw, some of the receivers dropped the ball. Just not a good day for Dick Jauron's team.

The coaching might have been the story of the day. The Patriots were 2 for 10 on third down, and with the bad punting conditions they went for it on fourth more often (went 3 for 3, actually). And once they had a decent lead, Belichick realized the most likely way for Buffalo to get back into the game was on special teams. So he took that away by having Cassel punt once and then punting on third down, which didn't allow Buffalo to have their standard return team on the field. Really smart stuff.

So where does that leave us? The 2008 Patriots are officially the second 11-5 team to miss the playoffs, and the first in 23 years (Broncos in 1985). A tough pill to swallow, to be sure, but if Ben Watson doesn't fumble against the Jets, if Jabar Gaffney catches an easy touchdown against the Colts, or if Randy Moss catches an even easier touchdown against the Steelers, the Patriots could have finished 12-4 and gotten in to the playoffs. But that's the way it goes. The most interesting off-season question will be about Tom Brady's health, and I'll have an email detailing that and other 2009 concerns soon.

Statistical Oddity of the Week, Part I: Since I was the first one to give it to you (10/27), I might as well round it out. The Patriots did indeed set a new NFL record for fewest penalties in a 16-game season, with 57 on the year.

Statistical Oddity of the Week, Part II: That other oddity was widely reported today, so here's another one. The 2008 Patriots rushed for 2,278 yards -- more than any Patriots team since 1985 (there's that year again...). It's the 23 year gap that makes this an oddity.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "I wonder if Cassel will get more free-agent interest as a QB or a punter." (follow it with a wry smile)

Keep the faith warm during this long winter,

- Scott

PS. 11-5!

PPS. Go Celtics!

No comments:

Post a Comment