Sunday, December 7, 2008

Patriots 24, Seahawks 21 (12/7/2008)

A win is a win and at this point in the season you'll take one any that come your way. Patriots prevailed 24-21 over Seattle, and with the Jets loss and Dolphins win, all three teams are now tied at 8-5 for first place in the division. Difficult to think you're going much of anywhere when you struggle to beat a 2-11 team. But the win keeps them one game back for a wild card and gives them a legit chance at a division crown, which would guarantee a home playoff game.

Sunday's game was in doubt until the very end. The Pats got their first lead of the game with less than three minutes remaining, on a fourth-down leaping touchdown by Sammy Morris. And Seattle got close. Driving to the Patriots 43 with 2:00 left, they were only 10 yards away from being able to attempt a tying field goal. But the Patriots, with over half of their regular defensive starters out of the game, gutted out the win when Brandon Meriweather knocked the ball loose on a safety blitz and the Pats recovered to seal the game.

Not many teams would have held on, especially with names like Warren, Wilfork, Bruschi, Vrabel, (Adalius) Thomas -- players with 11 Pro Bowls between them -- missing action during the game. Nice that they were able to plug in a player with more Pro Bowls than that to replace Bruschi -- namely Junior Seau (he has 12 Pro Bowl appearances). Seau didn't exactly light it up, getting beaten for a touchdown pass and over-pursuing Deion Branch on his 63-yard catch and run that led to another TD. But with injuries to the starters *and* backups, it definitely helped to have both Seau and Rosevelt Colvin to pitch in relief.

Overall the defense counted on Seattle's general incompetence as much as their own skill. But even so, they did what the needed to do late in the game. They had a few key third-down stops, just enough pressure to mess up the timing of plays, and even with Wilfork out they stuffed the run in the second half. Down 21-13 in the fourth quarter, they simply had no choice in the matter. If they couldn't stop the Seahawks, time was going to run out on them.

On offense, it's shaping up to be an amazing race for MVP of the team. Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk -- where would the Patriots be without either one of them. These were instrumental in the strategy of keeping third down to manageable distances. Consider Welker's catch-and-run and two-point conversion on the last touchdown drive, and he forges ahead. Look at Faulk's overall share of the running yards, his 6.1 yards per carry, and his obvious value as a safety valve for Cassel, and maybe he inches ahead. Suffice it to say that I'm glad they are on the team I root for.

And even though I sometimes bristle as his pass coverage, Ellis Hobbs had a big 55 yard kickoff return just when the Pats needed it. The short field led to the team's first touchdown, and made it a within-reach 14-10 at the half after a bad first 30:00. Stephen Gostkowski also contributed with a 50-yard field goal (and was 3-for-3), and *almost* had his the first fumble recovery of his career.

So where does that leave us? It could be that only the AFC East champion will play in the post-season, which means that even if the Patriots win 'em all, they could be on the outside looking in. I still don't think it will happen -- 11-5 is almost always enough to get it -- but then there's no guarantee of anything. At least the Pats made next week's game mean something, because if they'd lost this one, the playoffs were probably out of the question.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: While most people weren't looking, the Patriots set yet another NFL record winning streak -- 14 consecutive wins over the NFC is an all-time record. They now own the longest overall winning streak (21), two longest regular season winning streaks (19 & 18), longest playoff winning streak (10), and the aforementioned 14 game streak over NFC teams. Now that I think about it, maybe this shouldn't be under the heading "Oddity" at all.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "While the announcers were praising Deion Branch, the guy the Pats got in that trade didn't do too bad. Might have been Meriweather's best game to date, with three tackles for a loss, two passes defended, and the game-sealing forced fumble."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 8-5!

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