Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Highs and lows

As most New Englanders will freely admit, last Sunday was pretty demoralizing. But time heals all things. Supposedly. And after a Monday spent watching two League Championship games (one of which saw the Red Sox do their best Sunday Night Patriots impression) and two other teams play a night football game, I came to grips with a simple fact.

Time had healed nothing. The game was no less frustrating, no less ominous, no less revealing of team flaws. Yet, in spite of the downpour of negatives over the past two days, it's important to look at the good, while not letting the bad slip out of focus.

The good:

1. The run defense: Thirty points is nothing to feel proud of, but it'd be harsh to throw any of the blame onto the broad shoulders of Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and company. After all, up against one of the most prolific running backs in NFL history, the front line keyed a unit that limited LaDainian Tomlinson to 74 yards on 20 carries, and no touchdowns. True, it was all for naught as Philip Rivers gashed the secondary, but it was a good effort nonetheless.

2. The run offense: The Patriots were without half of their running game, as de jurre starting running back Laurence Maroney and de facto starter LaMont Jordan both watched in street clothes. With the running game reduced, the Chargers defense was free to blitz Matt Cassel relentlessly and make it impossible for him to complete a pass. Right? Maybe not, but at least it's an excuse.

3. This isn't a bad football team: The Patriots still have the personnel and coaching staff to make a turnaround. Instead of being stuck in a rebuilding mode, New England appears to be a team capable of hanging with the class of the AFC, that just needs to get in sync.

The bad:

1. The pass defense: The highlights for this group were few and far between. Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal took turns looking like Owen Wilson during the touch football scene in "Wedding Crashers." Rodney Harrison and Brandon Meriweather didn't provide much help from the safety positions. With the pass-happy Denver Broncos coming up on Monday Night, it's not about to get easier for the secondary.

2. The pass game: As a whole, it was a tough effort. Cassel regressed, therefore allowing Randy Moss to disappear again. Wes Welker, open often as always, caught 9 passes, but for only 73 yards. A unit that finally looked fluid while pinning 30 points on the 49ers went back to square one in San Diego.

3. Coaching: Bill Belichick may not have been the one getting sacked on 4th-and-goal, or the one getting beat on 40-yard pass plays, but he hardly did anything to help his troops Sunday night. One of the staples of a Belichick team is its ability to be prepared for every thing thrown at it, but New England clearly was not ready for several San Diego play choices from the first play on. Also, on the Patriots' best chance to score a meaningful touchdown, Belichick and offensive coordinator McDaniels faced a 1st-and-goal from the 1, and opted to place the score in Cassel's hand three times, resulting in three failures to gain any yardage. By ignoring the run game, New England lost an opportunity to tighten the score, and wouldn't get close again.

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