Monday, September 24, 2007

We've Created A Monster

"The world was on fire and no one could save me but you
It's strange what desire will make foolish people do."

So Patriots Insider wants me to do a little bit of a wrap on today's game. Again, I apologize in advance for attempting to sound literate and professional. This is just a small hitch, and I'll be back to more of my shenanigans next time, but for now, I hope you enjoy:

Pats Blowout Buffalo In Yet Another Statement Game

"After you've worked with a man a certain length of time, you come to know his habits, his come to know him." ~Chinatown

The Patriots have been the best team of this decade, and judging from their first three games, their stranglehold on that title is only going to get stronger.

After Sunday's beatdown of the Bills 38-7, the Pats have clearly sent a message to the league, with that being "it will take an extraordinary effort by anybody to beat this team." Once again, New England was running on all cylinders. The offense put up five touchdowns, the defense was as stingy as ever, and even the special teams looked like they got back on track this week, most notably Wes Welker, who is quickly becoming one of the popular Patriot players because of his work ethic and his ability to make big plays.

Tom Brady seemingly cannot be stopped. After a wild off-season filled with move after move on offense, it has not taken too long to see the reward start to come in. Randy Moss has been nothing short of outstanding. Moss hinted during the start of training camp that he was "rejuvanated," but because he did not play any during the pre-season, no one had any idea of the kind of impact he might have, and even if they thought it was a sound addition, it would be almost impossible to have predicted Moss would revert back to his early Minnesota days, and once again become one of the most dominant possession receivers in the game. With yet another hundred-yard receiving game, Moss became the first player in NFL history to record 100 yards receiving in his first three games after being traded the year before. After going the '06 season without a go-to receiver, it's clear that Moss has become the #1 guy in this offense, which is such an advantage for other receivers like Welker, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, and Benjamin Watson. While defenses are sometimes using up to three guys to cover Moss, it opens up those other receivers, allowing them to make big plays of their own.

Two plays against Buffalo in particular stood out in terms of Moss' impact on the passing game. The first came with about six and a half minutes left in the third quarter. New England was up 10, and it was absolutely imperative that the Pats put the ball in the end zone to erase any hopes the Bills may have had in terms of a comeback. After already catching a 45-yard pass earlier in the drive, it seemed as though Moss, who also had caught a short TD earlier on in the game, was going to be the guy Brady would be targeting. The left side of the Bills' defense, cornerback Kiwaukee Thomas, starting for the injured Terrance McGee, and safety Bryan Scott, clearly had their focus on Moss as the Pats broke the huddle on the third and goal play from the Buffalo 4-yard line. As Moss broke to the back of the end zone, the corner and safety followed him, leaving Jabar Gaffney, who broke to the outside, all by himself in the end zone, resulting in an easy touchdown. Moss' presence alone was one of the main factors to why Gaffney was so wide open.

The second play came towards the early stages of the fourth quarter. With the game seemingly well in hand at 31-7, it appeared as though the Pats would not be putting up any more fireworks in this game...then again, we've never seen Tom Brady and Randy Moss together on the same field. On a second and one play from just inside Buffalo territory, Brady stepped back to pass, pump-faked to his short receiver, then aired it out down the right sideline. Jabari Greer, the other Bills' starting corner, was covering Moss just about as well as it could possibly be done. Still, Brady was able to get the ball just over Greer's shoulder, but the ball was almost thrown a little too hard. Somehow, Moss was able to reel it in with his long arms and score yet another touchdown for the Patriots, which ended up being the final score of the game by either team. This was a catch that would have been nearly impossible to make for any of the Patriot receivers last year, which is what explains why there was such an emphasis put on stocking up at the receiver position. Anytime the #1 receiver from the year before is so low on the depth chart that he gets cut in the following year, it's obvious that there was a lot of shakeups from the previous year.

The running game was again solid, and even more effective than they were in the first three games, which is hard to imagine considering Brady threw for over 300 yards and 4 TDs. Laurence Maroney is learning to run more "downhill" than he did last year and the previous two games, and it showed on Sunday. Maroney finished the day with his first 100 yard game of the season, earning a 5.4 average per carry. In addition to the emergence of Maroney becoming more and more an outstanding offensive weapon, his other running mates have also stepped it up. Earlier this year, I wrote how this year, it would pretty much be all Maroney, and that the other backs on the team would contribute on an irregular basis. So far, Sammy Morris has emerged as a above-average, change-of-pace back. Morris has shown the ability to come in not only in short-yardage situations, but also as a back the Pats can bring in to give Maroney a rest when he needs a breather. This is a huge bonus for the Pats, as at first, it was unknown whether or not the running game would be effective this year given the unknown health of Maroney and the question marks behind him. But after running for 177 yards, giving the team 455 for the year, good enough for fourth in the league, it's clear that this unit will be one to fear as the season wears on.

The defense was again on their game. Entering the season, there were question marks surrounding this side of the ball. First with the disappearance, then re-emergence of Asante Samuel, the suspension of Rodney Harrison, the knee injury to Richard Seymour that will sideline him for at least the first six weeks, and the "aging" linebacking core, it seemed like the Pats, at least according to some "experts," were going to have a tough go of it for at least the first handful of games. Now, the Pats are #1 in total defense, allowing a meager 207 yards a game. In the first quarter against the Bills, the Pats came out firing on D, forcing a J.P. Losman fumble on the third play of the game (Losman was also hurt on the play). After a New England field goal resulted, it seemed as though new Buffalo QB Trent Edwards had the Pats' front seven figured out. Behind the running of Marshawn Lynch, and a couple of key third down receptions, Edwards and the Bills marched 80 yards in 6:42, with Lynch capping the drive with an eight-yard touchdown. After that though, the Pats stepped up to the challenge of having to figure out Edwards and proceeded to confuse the rookie QB the rest of the game. Edwards finished the day 10/20 for 97 yards, including a late pick thrown to the aforementioned Asante Samuel, who nearly returned it for a score. Samuel and Ellis Hobbs obviously deserve a ton of credit for the ineffectiveness of the passing game, especially for continuing the struggles of Lee Evans, who, after becoming one of the biggest deep-threat receivers in all the league since his rookie season, was again kept in check, only catching one pass for seven yards. If there would be anything that was in any way discouraging, it was probably the way the Bills came out firing on the ground with Lynch. While the run defense was fantastic for most of the game, it's those early pushes that are important to stop.

Two guys have really stood out on defense so far. One was expected to make an immediate impact, and the other, who has been a back-up since joining the Pats, has become almost as reliable as the guy he is replacing. Adalius Thomas is one of the few guys in the history of the Scott Pioli/Bill Belichick era to make the front office spend as much money as needed to get him on this team. After all the dollars shelled out for the former Pro-Bowler, Thomas was asked to add a spark to a linebacking core that was already one of the best in the league. After having arguably one of the most impressive touchdown returns in Patriots' history, Thomas had another solid game, amassing seven more tackles, giving him 17 for the season, good enough for second on the team. Thomas has a rare combination of dynamic speed, size, and play-making ability for a linebacker, and looks to have a huge first season in New England.

Jarvis Green entered the '07 season in a role that he has come to embrace. In his sixth season in the league, Green has been third on the DE depth chart since right around his rookie season. However, in the times when he has been called upon, he has excelled with his knack of beating tackles with his speed off the end, and his nose for the ball. However, with Seymour sidelined for the forseeable future, the weight was squarely on Green's shoulders to fill the enormous shoes left by Seymour. Once again on Sunday, Green was doing what he had done in his first two games as a starter: making plays. On the first series of the game, Ellis Hobbs came in on a corner blitz, sacking Losman and forcing a fumble which Green recovered. Then, Green recorded his third sack of the season in the third quarter, which puts him in a tie for fifth amongst the league leaders.

All and all, it was another complete victory for New England, who now get an extra day to prepare for their upcoming Monday night game at Cincinnati (1-2). The Pats' secondary will be put to the test, but from all indications, it seems like they will be up for the challenge.

I'll be recapping the rest of the week, as well as share some last tidbits of the roller coaster ride that has been the Boston Red Sox. Groovy. Take care. Peace.


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