Monday, September 20, 2004

Patriots 23, Cardinals 12 (9/19/2004)

You wouldn't think the Patriots could play worse than they did against Indy and still win, but they did. This game reminded me of many the Pats played in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Back then, New England was the bad team that would play its guts out while vastly superior teams from San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle would fritter away opportunities, turn the ball over, suffer offensive and defensive lapses -- and still win by 14 points. This was a mirror image of those games, with the Patriots being the the superior opponent and the Cardinals being overwhelmed by the talented Pats. In case you missed the final score: New England 23, Arizona 12.

Another week another win -- 17 in a row is one short of the NFL record. Not a very exciting game, but it's important to win the ones you are supposed to win and the Pats did that. Here's what I saw:


All the offensive line shuffling is taking its toll. Brady was hurried and the O-line beaten around the corners too often. They did very well blocking for the run, but they've obviously got some work to do in pass protection, and they should settle on a starting 5 and go with them as soon as they can. They were short a tight end, which put them in more wide open formations; maybe that was the problem. As for the run, Corey Dillon was outstanding. 158 yards on 32 carries is more than the Patriots could ask, and he helped them control the clock and the game once they had the lead. His fumble might have been his or Brady's fault, tough to tell from the replays.

Brady played well, despite his two INTs (he threw one on the last play of the half and the other while being drilled). He averaged twice what Arizona did per pass (7.3 yards to 3.4), and the Pats controlled the ball for 10 more minutes than the Cardinals. And despite the pressure, Brady was only sacked twice. And of course, no analysis of the offense could be complete without mentioning David Givens. He made the tough catches in traffic to keep Patriot drives alive and had an outstanding day (6 catches for 118 yards). With Deion Branch out the entire second half, Givens delivered big time.

Oh, and even though the Pats scored only 23 points, they had one touchdown called back and one possible scoring drive stalled on penalties that I am absolutely certain were not penalties. Must be the NFL's way of evening the playing field when the home team is overmatched.


For years, NFL people have said that a Bill Belichick defense against a young quarterback is a mismatch. Yesterday's game should be Exhibit A in support of that idea. The Patriots blitzed from every angle, dropped eight men back into confusing zones, switched defenses when the offense switched plays at the line, and at every turn, the young Cardinals QB, Josh McCown, looked confused, scared, or just plain exhausted. His happiest plays were when he handed off to Emmitt Smith, though Smith and the running game didn't provide much yardage or relief.

The Pats defense dominated the game, sacking McCown five times and hitting him another ten, all while holding the NFL's all-time rushing leader to 2.3 yards a carry and a meaningless 1-yard TD. Seemed the only time the Cardinals scored was after a Patriot turnover or one of those drive-you-crazy penalties that the referees seem to call five times a game. (Speaking of penalties, Arizona's only touchdown came after a bogus call on Ty Law in the end zone. I know Bill's mantra of avoiding penalty calls, but how was Law supposed to keep from falling on the guy's back? He tripped over the receiver's foot and the laws of physics took over at that point. And for the past 20 years that has been considered incidental contact -- but not anymore.)

The run defense was vastly improved (although the Cardinals probably aren't as formidable on the O-line as the Colts were). Vince Wilfork and Keith Traylor improved dramatically at nose tackle, Willie McGinest had some key knockdowns and sacks, and Rodney Harrison had some of those big hits he's famous for. The linebackers were flying to the ball, stuffing the run and stopping receivers for no gain after the catch. The Pats held Arizona to 3.3 yards per play, outstanding in today's NFL, and excepting the Cards's first drive of the second half, the Patriot defense controlled the game from start to finish.

Special Teams

Troy Brown is back and all is right with the world. Troy had some nifty returns and most important, didn't have any fumbles or lost yards on the return. Bethel Johnson didn't have much kickoff returning to do (three of the four Arizona kickoffs were downed in the end zone, but that was more a testament to the Patriots defense stopping the Cardinals from scoring). Adam didn't miss, and the Patriots downfield coverage teams look like they might be better this year than last. New punter Josh Miller is a keeper (45.7 yard average and no return on any of them).


Well sure, the Patriots committed three turnovers and 12 penalties, and they were sometime sloppy with the play-calling. But overall, this was a dangerous game. Their next game is a division opponent on the road, and teams oftentimes overlook struggling opponents in that scenario. But once again, they made the critical plays to make sure the game was never in doubt. 17 in a row is sweet, and with two weeks to plan for the Bills (who have apparently forgotten how to play offense), things are looking good. It's never fun to have a bye week this early, but I'm sure the coaching staff will put it to good use.

See you in two weeks,

- Scott

PS. 2-0!

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