Monday, December 22, 2008

Patriots 47, Cardinals 7 (12/21/2008)

The 2008 Patriots have done everything anyone could have hoped for. Tom Brady played 7.8 one-thousandths of the season, and his replacement is considered a Pro Bowl snub. They went half the year before getting their best starters together on the O-line, and they're tied for the division lead. The defense ended the Seattle game with only four opening day starters healthy, but squeaked out a win to finish 4-0 against the NFC. And they played back-to-back games on the west coast *twice*, yet are undefeated in December and have made the last month of the season actually mean something.

The Patriots overwhelmed the Arizona Cardinals 47-7 yesterday. That set them up so if they beat Buffalo next Sunday, they have a 50-50 chance to make the playoffs. A win over the Bills (whom they've beaten 10 straight times) would put them in the playoffs if the Ravens or Dolphins lose or tie their last game(s) of the year. And BTW, it's a scoreboard watchers dream -- all three games start at 1:00! Where will *you* be sitting when it all gets decided??

As for yesterday's game, I heard that Arizona hadn't played in the snow since 1983, and it showed. I saw cardinals outside my *window* that looked more comfortable than the ones at Gillette Stadium. Dropped passes, bad play calling, sluggish running plays, quarterback hits galore, bend-and-break defense -- doesn't sound to me like they'll be a force in the playoffs. Especially when they travel to New York or Carolina for that second game. They are 0-5 in the eastern time zone this year.

A few Matt Cassel thoughts on the last two games, one in a driving rain storm and the other in a driving snow storm. He has 7 touchdowns and 1 interception (on a tipped ball by Ben Watson), no fumbles, has taken only 4 sacks, and has back-to-back QB ratings of 108.1 and 116.1. Those would be stellar stats for any quarterback under pristine conditions. But to do that in the rain and snow is amazing. I know the Raiders and Cardinals aren't that great, but it's still NFL players and coaches on the other sideline.

And a random Wes Welker thought: where the hell would the Patriots be without this guy? Jabar Gaffney (5 catches, 90 yards) and Randy Moss (2 for 87) had gaudier numbers than Welker (7 for 68) yesterday, but Wes has done this game after game. He truly is the new Troy Brown, fearless over the middle and always able to get that extra yard for the first down. He's got only one game with 10+ catches, yet he leads the NFL in receptions. No doubt Gaffney played a huge game against the Cardinals, chewing up yardage with long catches down the sideline. But Welker's contribution in every one of their games has been consistently amazing.

As for the details of yesterday's trouncing, it went something like this. The Cardinals tried to run the ball and couldn't. Then they tried to pass the ball and couldn't. Then they tried to stop the run and couldn't. Then they tried to stop the pass and couldn't. Other than that, they were dominated in field position by the Patriots superb special teams play. And the guy Matt Cassel backed up at USC came in to mop up for no-longer-an-MVP-candidate Kurt Warner. Oh, and the team looked cold.

One thing of note: this game had my absolute favorite play of the year. First play of the second half, Patriots break the huddle in an offset-I formation. Cassel steps back from center and directs Heath Evans to move to his right, appearing to set up run blocking in that direction. Further evidence that this will be a run comes when Benjamin Watson goes in motion to the right, and so the Cardinals send extra defenders to stop the anticipated run. Cassel takes the snap, fakes to the right and then throws a quick screen to Moss on the left. With fewer defenders on that side and everyone close to the line to stop the anticipated run, Arizona is stuck in pursuit of perhaps the fastest man on the Patriots. Moss takes it down the sideline untouched for six points.

I loved this play because it was a great combination of the following elements: halftime adjustments; the conditions (which made it tougher for out-of-position defenders to recover); anticipated game situation (with a 31-0 lead, most teams would start running out the clock); and faux confusion (I don't believe for a second that Evans didn't know where to line up). Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

So where does all that leave us? Well, on Sunday you should first hope the Patriots take care of business and win in Buffalo. Then, keep an eye on the scoreboard to see if you'll be watching more football in January or reading my "2008 New England Patriots Awards" email. Remember: it's Jacksonville over Baltimore or New York over Miami. 11-5 is usually good enough to get in, but no guarantee this year. So keep those fingers and toes crossed!

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Eight of the sixteen games this Sunday have playoff implications. Seven of those games start at 1:00, and the other one starts at 8:15. That means you can take a break during the 4:15 games -- because neither of them has any affect on the playoffs at all. Nice job with that schedule, NFL.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "I guess some of the Cardinals hadn't seen snow in their lives before this road trip. Hope they have fond memories of the winter wonderland we call Gillette."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 10-5!

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