Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Patriots 27, Chiefs 19 (11/22/2004)

Where or where should I start. Deion Branch 6 catches for 105 yards? Tom Brady 124.4 passer rating? Ty Warren 7 tackles and 2 sacks? Willie McGinest sack to end the game? Adam Vinatieri leads NFL in scoring? Defense shuts down the Chiefs running game? Rodney Harrison at cornerback? It just never ends with this team.

Another week, another impressive performance, another win. For those not keeping track at home, that's 9-1, a two-game division lead, and a two-game edge in the race for those coveted first-round bye spots in the playoffs. Your Patriots just keep rolling along, beating teams that beat themselves, flattening teams that come out flat, and besting teams that don't play their best. The Chiefs exposed some of the young performers in our secondary, but our defense stopped them more often than their defense stopped us; and that was pretty much the story of a 27-19 win in Kansas City.

The Pats scored first (for an NFL record-tying 18th consecutive game), mixed the pass and run very well, and would have blown out KC if not for a late Corey Dillon fumble. To their credit, after the fumble the Chiefs drove the ball 97 yards in less than 6 minutes for a touchdown to bring them within five points. We all knew KC's offense was scary, especially with all the injuries in our defensive backfield, and they showed it on that drive. But after that drive, the Patriots held the ball for 4:27 and got a field goal to ensure no worse than overtime (an eight point lead with 1:45 left). And this time, the defense left no doubt, holding KC without a first down, and Willie McGinest finishing them off with a sack on fourth-and-six.

Brady played great, delivered the ball well and made just about zero mistakes, and posted a unbelievable 11.4 yards per pass attempt (anything above 8 is considered outstanding -- 11.4 is other-worldly). Corey Dillon ran pretty well, although his average was down a bit. Aside from them, the real offensive stars were Deion Branch and Daniel Graham, both of whom had some big catches after weeks of not being featured at all (Branch due to injury, and Graham due to game plan). In fact, my highlight of the game was Branch's touchdown catch, where he weaved through the Chiefs defense, picking up blocks downfield and making three guys miss and out-running two more to dive in for the score.

The O-line allowed only one sack, although Brady was hit a few other times. But the Patriots moved the ball at will, scoring on five of eight legitimate drives (excepting the two that ended the half and the game with kneel downs). KC couldn't stop us, only silly penalties (twice) or turnovers (once) could hold us back.

On the other hand, KC only scored on four of nine legitimate drives, less effective than you'd expect with all their offensive firepower and all our injuries in the secondary. They couldn't run the ball (20 rushes for 64 yards) and had too many dropped passes (I recall at least five easy ones). Some of those drops were caused by the big hits delivered by the Patriots secondary -- just enough for the receivers to take their eyes off the ball that split-second early. Oh, and Tony Gonzales is a whiner. He claimed to have been held on Rodney Harrison's interception, but I didn't see any holding and he had the rest of the game to try to make up for it -- and did just about nothing.

Speaking of Harrison, he and the secondary are remarkably resilient. Rodney played both safety positions and cornerback; linebacker Don Davis did some duty at safety; safety Eugene Wilson played some cornerback; Randall Gay, Asante Samuel, and Earthwind Moreland all played hurt and were in and out of the game a few times; and of course, old dependable Troy Brown took some snaps at cornerback (quite a few snaps, actually). It's been three games without Ty Law and Tyrone Poole, and the Patriots are 3-0. I don't think any other team in the NFL could reasonably expect to go undefeated after losing their two starting corners.

Oh, and Ty Warren was the man. 7 tackles, 2 sacks, and he seemed to be around the ball all day.

I'd like to make special mention of Adam Vinatieri, NFL leader in points scored. With a new holder (punter Josh Miller, who deserves his own special mention), he's 25 out of 26 in field goal attempts, missing only one kick in the Miami game (which we won going away) and his kickoffs have been deeper this year. There were rumors he had a bad back last season, and now that he's totally healthy -- well, you can see the difference every week. Back in the dark times (when Pete Carroll was the head coach), Adam missed a potential game winning kick in KC -- but that's the only potential game winner I *ever* remember him missing. Glad no one else drafted you out of college, Adam.

So where does all this leave us. The Steelers and Patriots are now two games ahead of the Jets, Ravens, Chargers, Broncos, and Colts for the first two seedings in the playoffs. The Patriots hold the tie-breaker over the Colts and Jets (for the time being; they play again later in the year). That makes this Sunday's game against Baltimore a big game, because a loss would put the Ravens one game behind us *and* give them the tie-breaker. If we win, they are three games behind us and we won't have to worry about playing games in Baltimore for the balance of the playoffs. Other than the Jets, the Patriots don't play any of their 7-3 competition, so I expect the Patriots to take this game very, very seriously.

The Ravens don't really have the offensive explosiveness to exploit our injured secondary, and their featured running back might miss the game. OTOH, the Ravens defense uses turnovers to provide good field position to their offense, and they are one of the most physical defenses in the NFL. So the Pats will have to protect the ball, play solid special teams, and try to grind out a win. Let's hope the Pats don't eat too much turkey on Thursday and they're ready to go Sunday.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "If Romeo Crennel leaves the Patriots this off-season, I think they might have found their new defensive coordinator. Eric Mangini has done a phenomenal job patching together a secondary with more players injured than healthy. With [former Patriots linebackers coach] Rob Ryan gone to Oakland, Mangini might be the natural choice to replace Crennel."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 9-1!

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