Sunday, September 27, 2009

No go on Welker

Disregard the last post - Wes Welker will miss another game.

Welker was declared inactive for the game against the Atlanta Falcons, putting him on the bench for the second straight game.

Fortunately, Randy Moss (also declared questionable due to a back ailment) was activated, and will suit up.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wild Wild Wes

After struggling to find a rhythm last Sunday in a loss to the Jets, the New England Patriots offense appears to be catching a break.

According to various sources, Wes Welker is on track to start Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium, one week after missing the first game of his career.

The news isn't too surprising, considering that Welker was testing his banged-up knee on the field before the Jets game, and the decision to declare him inactive was unexpected.

Nonetheless, the decision is reassuring. Welker is Tom Brady's favorite target, and he is instrumental in the short-pass and screen game that converts first downs and keeps the offense on the field. With Welker out of the mix last Sunday, the offense visibly suffered.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Well, cancel the order for another "16-0" banner.

The New York Jets backed up their talk on Sunday, defeating the New England Patriots, 16-9, at the Meadowlands. It was the first loss for New England (1-1), while New York improved to 2-0.

It was a tough game all-around for the Patriots - just like the Jets said they were aiming for. The offense reverted back to its form from the first half of the Monday Night game against Buffalo, showing little chemistry and often appearing lost at the hands of Rex Ryan's aggressive, pressuring scheme.

On the other side of the ball, it wasn't too much better. It's not often that you can complain about a defense that allows 16 points, but in this case, it's warranted. The Patriots were stout in the first half, holding rookie Mark Sanchez to three completions in five attempts for 15 yards, and the Jets as a whole to only a field goal.

It was a whole new ballgame in the second half. Sanchez threw for 148 yards and a touchdown, and a steady running attack led by Leon Washington and Thomas Jones kept the Patriots on the field. Tom Brady had limited opportunities to figure out the difficulties with his receivers because the Jets dominated the time of possession.

The result was a game that, despite the one-score decision, was frustrating due to the large amount of things that went wrong. Brady looked out-of-synch, the defense faltered late (before finding enough resolve to stymie the Jets on their last two possessions, giving the offense a chance), and with 11 penalties, New England could not get out of its own way when it appeared to be nearing a breakthrough.

The game was the opposite of a standard Bill Belichick operation. He's a stickler for preparation and mental awareness, and instead, the Patriots came out without an answer to the Ryan defense, and made penalties that came often and at bad times.

In the first quarter, the Patriots were looking for the game's first score and had a first down at the Jets 17. Brady completed a pass to Julian Edelman for 10 yards and a first down, but a holding penalty on Stephen Neal brought the ball back to the 27. Another holding call, this time on tight end Chris Baker, put the ball back on the 37 and forced New England to settle for a field goal.

In the third quarter, down 13-9 but driving to the Jets 36, the Patriots' chances at a field goal or better were lost when Brady was called for consecutive delay of game penalties. Two scoring situations resulted in a meager three points for New England, a potential 11-point swing that, given the final score, could have changed the game drastically.

In the end, there just wasn't enough from New England. Brady completed only 23 of 47 passes for 216 yards and no touchdowns, Randy Moss caught only four passes for 24 yards, and Joey Galloway hauled in five catches for 53 yards while dropping several passes.

Rookie Julian Edelman caught eight passes for 98 yards in place of the irreplaceable Wes Welker, but given the overall inconsistency, it wasn't enough. It was the merely the highlight of a game that was, to put it nicely, ugly.

Just the way the Jets wanted it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Let's get it on

All right, enough talk. The Jets and Pats are ready to settle things on the field.

New York has made it clear what they expect to do to New England. The Patriots, as is always the case, have said nothing.

But whether they've stated their cases to the media or not, it's clear that both are expecting another physical game to add to the rivalry. Tom Brady said it'll be a "heavyweight fight". Kris Jenkins labeled it the Jets' "Super Bowl".

The matchup does have all the makings of being a close game. The Jets showed last week that their offense, led by rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, isn't lacking in firepower, and their defense, led by defensive tackle Jenkins and linebacker David Harris, is always stout.

The Patriots come into the Meadowlands fueled by a dramatic victory against Buffalo, but showing some bruises from it. Jerod Mayo, nursing a sprained MCL, was ruled out for a few games in the middle of the week, while slot receiver extraordinaire Wes Welker was a last-minute scratch.

The two injuries will have a big impact on both units. Mayo was the playcaller and leader on the defense, and Welker was Brady's go-to guy for short receptions and first downs. To pick up the slack, the Patriots might look to preseason fan favorite Julian Edelman, the former college quarterback who surprised with his offensive and special teams work in a victory over the Eagles. Joey Galloway and Sam Aiken will also be in the mix.

Despite the injuries, this should still be a game the Patriots can control. Bill Belichick has earned a reputation as a nightmare for rookie quarterbacks to go up against (they're 1-5 against him since 2000, throwing five touchdowns against 12 interceptions), and he has undoubtedly been hard at work at a scheme to stop the talented Sanchez, who started only one season in his USC career.

This is also a familiar situation for Tom Brady. Before 2007, Brady consistently had to make the most out of a receiving corps that dealt with injuries and didn't feature superstar talent. Brady was successful, and with Randy Moss at his side for this game, he should still be able to keep the offense moving today.

It'll be a close game, but if New England plays its game, it should still be able to pull out a victory. But this will be another tough AFC East matchup to start the season.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Week 2 picks

It's still early on in the season, but Week 2 can be an important week in the NFL schedule. Some teams are looking to prove their Week 1 performance wasn't a mirage, while others are trying to prove just the opposite.

Here goes:

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: I was high on the Texans coming into the season, however, though it's only been one game, I think Houston looks overhyped. They played with no passion against a Jets team that was young, learning on the go and could have been taken advantage of. Add in the fact that Houston was at home, and it looks even harder to imagine the Texans regaining that swagger against a good Titans team. Go with Tennessee.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons:
Jake Delhomme bounces back from an awful opener against the Eagles, but the Falcons are a dangerous football team. At home, go with Atlanta.

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles:
This is an intriguing matchup. Everyone knows the Saints can light up the scoreboard, and the Eagles were picked by many to be among the final teams standing in the NFC playoffs. The loss of McNabb to a rib injury puts a damper on it, and it'll be up to Kevin Kolb to keep things close. He won't, and the Saints will go to 2-0.

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: Everyone wants to get it right when the Lions finally win a game, but they'll have to wait at least one week. Easy win for Minnesota as Adrian Peterson (pictured) rolls again.

Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs:
Matt Cassel or no Matt Cassel, it won't be enough against an apparently improved Raiders team.

New England Patriots at New York Jets: In-depth pick coming

Cincinnati Bengals at Green Bay Packers: Tough loss for the Bungles in Denver. A tough loss turns into the makings of a tough season as the Packers go to 2-0, and the Bengals stay winless.

St. Louis Rams at Washington Redskins: If there's any team that faces a must-win every week, it's the Redskins. The NFC East is football's toughest division, and it is not unusual to see an 11-5 team win the division and a 10-6 or 9-7 team miss the playoffs. Look for that urgency to settle in for the Skins.

Arizona Cardinals at Jacksonville Jaguars:
The Cards are not a fluke. And after a tough loss to San Francisco (at home, no less), it's time for Arizona to prove it. They will. Take the Cardinals.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Buffalo Bills:
Boy, the Bills had better win this game. Awaiting them afterward are the Saints and Dolphins, so Buffalo could be 0-4 and essentially done when the season's a quarter finished. Buffalo clearly has the talent (they're 1-0 nine times out of 10), but whether they can move on from a crushing loss in Foxboro is another. I say they do. Take the Bills, but this could easily go the other way.

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers: Both teams are struggling for the division title that eluded them last year. On one hand, the Seahawks are trying to regain what was annually theirs for most of this decade, and on the other, the Niners are trying to fulfill their promise as a team waiting to break out. Unfortunately for Seattle, 49ers head coach Mike Singletary has this talented bunch under his thumb. San Fran becomes the league's most surprising 2-0 team.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Chicago Bears: Take the Steelers. No Troy Polamalu, no problem - for now.

Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers: It's been a bad week for Philip Rivers. He struggled in the opening victory over Oakland, and then got fined for - surprise, surprise - running his mouth. He had better get the Chargers up and running this week against the always-tough Ravens, or things will go bad very quickly.

Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos: The Broncos are bad, the Browns are bad. The difference is, the Broncos got lucky in Week 1 while the Browns were busy getting stomped on by Minnesota. Look for the Browns to even the score. Both teams move to 1-1.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: The $1.2 billion Cowboys palace opens its doors as two NFC East rivals square off. The G-men have a strong squad, but Dallas appears focused and on top of their game. And this has been a safe selection slate so far. Time to take a chance. Dallas gets the victory and becomes the division's only 2-0 team.

Indianapolis Colts at Miami Dolphins: Many people jumped off the Colt bandwagon once Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison departed. I don't buy it, and you shouldn't either. The Colts are still tough, still dangerous, and it's because they still have Mr. Manning throwing to Mr. Wayne. Indy wins, and will be busy - once again - clinching playoff berths when November and December roll around.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

By the skin of their teeth

Bet you didn't expect this, Pats fans.

Whether it was the late fourth-quarter, 11-point deficit, the fumble by Leodis McKelvin with around two minutes left, or the last-minute comeback, there was plenty of room for the unforeseen and surprising in Monday night's season opener between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.

The return of Tom Brady against a perennial punching bag was supposed to be the return of 35-point games, three Brady-to-Moss touchdowns and everything else we associate with 2007.

It wasn't.

Instead, the Gillette Stadium crowd had to wonder what was going on as the Brady-led offense suffered bouts of sloppiness that derailed promising drives, and the Jerod Mayo-less defense (Mayo was sidelined with a knee injury) allowed the Bills to stay ahead, and eventually, strike again for a 24-13 lead with 5:32 left.

And then, the Patriots came alive - though the Bills were happy to oblige.

Brady finally found the endzone on a pass to Ben Watson with 2:06 left, and after a failed two-point conversion kept the score at 24-19, the Patriots were kicking off. The only question was whether to onside kick or kick it deep, not whether New England needed help to have a chance at the dramatic victory.

Stephen Gostkowski kicked it deep, into the endzone, and into the hands of Leodis McKelvin. Last year's top kick returner in the NFL took it out. He was hit first by Brandon Meriweather, then by Pierre Woods. The ball came out. Gostkowski, a kicker whose athleticism, toughness and heads-up mentality provides many memories of Adam Vinatieri, recovered at the Buffalo 31.

Patriots ball. Somehow, someway.

From there, it was just a review of what has made the Patriots the NFL's top franchise since 2001. Brady took the field and took command, finding Randy Moss (12 receptions, 141 yards) for six yards, Wes Welker (12 receptions, 93 yards) for nine, and then, on an identical play that resulted in the first score, Watson in the back of the endzone.

New England 25, Buffalo 24. After a last-ditch effort by the Bills to get into field goal range, that's how it ended.

It was a remarkable win for the Patriots, and a crushing loss for the Bills (who lost in similar mind-blowing fashion to Dallas in 2007). Despite the excitement, there are several questions that have to be addressed:

1) Can the Patriots figure out how to stop the screen? Last year, the Patriots were consistently burned by deep passes. On Monday night, it was the screen pass that was a thorn in the Patriots' side. The linebacking corps of Adalius Thomas, Pierre Woods and Gary Guyton had a difficult time containing Fred Jackson, who caught five passes for 83 yards. One was for 18 yards on a 3rd-and-15 on Buffalo's final scoring drive, and another was for 10 yards and the touchdown. Screen passes are deadly to a defense; they negate good schemes to shut down the rest of the scoring attack, and they can completely reverse the momentum the defense is building.

2) What is the situation with Jerod Mayo? The new defensive co-captain, expected to be the top linebacker in only his second season, was injured when Gary Guyton stepped on his leg early in the game. He didn't return, and the Patriots had a tough time finding an adequate replacement for him, as Woods and Guyton had the above problems. News broke today that the injury shouldn't be serious, but there is no exact timetable out yet. If he misses any action, the Patriots will have to figure out a solution. Fortunately, they have Bill Belichick, who has made a legacy out of finding the best way to plug big holes on defense.

3) How much more offensive sloppiness will we see? Compared to the top two questions, this is less of an issue. Brady and Co. struggled to find a rhythm in the first half, but they found a way to get it done when they had to - twice. Simple rustiness seemed to explain the first half. With a full game under the belt, the offense should look more like the potent unit we were expecting

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thoughts from around the league

The Patriots may not play until tomorrow night, but that didn't keep yours truly from taking a look around the league at the rest of the NFL action on a busy Sunday.

A few thoughts:

-It is no longer a question if Adrian Peterson is the most destructive offensive force in the game today. He already had two touchdowns before scoring a third on a brutal 64-yard run. He showed everything; quickness to get to the outside, a slippery move to get through the line, and strength to break a tackle and stiff arm a defender at the same time. Favre will get the publicity for the victory, but it was Peterson that the entire Browns roster had no answer for.

-Brandon Stokley scored on an incredible, flukey, once-in-a-lifetime 87-yard reception with 11 seconds left in the game, in which he caught a deflected pass and raced untouched to the endzone. But despite the crazy, hectic nature of the moment, Stokley, an 11-year veteran, never lost track of the game. Knowing he had no defenders near and time to burn, he ran parallel to the endzone for three or four seconds, running down the clock to make a Cincinnati comeback even more improbable. Kudos to Stokley and coach Josh McDaniels, who won his first game at the Denver helm.

-The league's best offense going against a team coming off a winless season seemed to be a mismatch, and it was. Drew Brees, who became the second quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 5,000 yards passing last season, wasted no time finding his regular-season form, burning the poor Detroit Lions for six touchdowns. Five New Orleans receivers caught touchdowns, with Jeremy Shockey scoring twice. Brees appears on track for another incredible season, and if he is, the Saints could find their way back into the playoffs.

-The public's prognosis for the New York Jets was not good entering the season. Losing Brett Favre and replacing him with USC rookie Mark Sanchez was considered a step down offensively, but the Jets proved the doubters wrong in their opener. Sanchez was not spectacular against a good Houston team, but he was poised and collected (18-of-33, 166 yards), and he made a good read on a 30-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Chansi Stuckey. There was an ill-advised interception that Houston returned for a score, but if Sanchez can limit those mistakes, there's little reason to think he won't be a standout starter in the NFL.