Clint's Corner Archive

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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 9/5/2000

Outplayed...

...but not outcoached. The Patriots on Sunday lost to the better team. There is not too much that Bill Belichick and his new staff of assistants could have done differently, or better, in order to have beaten a very, very solid Tampa Bay Buccaneer squad.

While it's true that Pete Carroll could also be no worse than 0-1 after one week, the lack of immediate improvement in the win column does not mean the Patriots were not a better team yesterday than they were at the end of last season. Even with Ben Coates, Zefross Moss and Shawn Jefferson, how do you think the 1999 Patriots would have fared against the Bucs at home last season in, say, mid October? There is no way any Pats fan could have hoped for a game this close.

The consensus among NFL scouts is that the Patriots have one of, if not the worst, offensive lines and running games in the NFL. You will not find a better front 7 on defense in the entire NFL than in Tampa Bay. These are indisputable facts, which should have resulted in a Tampa Bay blowout. While Bledsoe was sacked 6 times, and knocked down a total of 20 times, the Pats still found themselves on the Bucs 45 yard line with 1:54 seconds remaining down 21-16. With the game ending on an incomplete pass from the 22-yard line, it could be argued the game was lost on the botched 2-point conversion attempt. 21-18, and Vinatieri would have come on to attempt a 39-yard field goal to force overtime. In a game in which all of their offensive shortcomings were exposed like an Oval Office scandal, the Pats still had a chance to win.

The bright side...

As I left the stadium on Sunday, I already had the first few paragraphs of my column in my head, and it wasn't pretty. It would have been very easy for me to write 10 pages on how terrible the Pats offensive line is, however, I'd hardly be a "Web columnist" if I simply stated the obvious. I took advantage of the Monday holiday to review the entire game on tape, making a point to squint and strain for some positives, and I found some. Believe me, I'm as disgusted as anyone by that offensive display, but simply picking up where talk radio leaves off did not appeal to me as much when I sat down to write as it did when I was stuck in traffic on Route 1. When a mismatch as glaring as the Patriots offence versus the Bucs defense does not translate to the scoreboard, you must credit the coaching staff, and here's why...

The Patriots opened the game in the two-minute offense. While New England was not able to move the ball effectively in this offense, it forced the Bucs to burn an early time out and to be slapped with a sideline warning as the Bucs players and coaches were on the field during live play screaming and yelling in adjustments. In the first few minutes of play, it was Tony Dungy's staff who was on the defensive. The Patriots were dictating the play, forcing the Bucs to make adjustments.

Charlie Weis knew the Pats would not be able to run the ball, and he also knew that Bledsoe would not have the time to throw the deep ball. He implemented short drops, short receiving patterns, and a few wrinkles which included a reverse and some designed rollouts. While the Bucs defense still wreaked havoc with the Pats offensive line, it was obvious throughout that Weis was not trying to jam a square peg through a round hole, as was the case with the Zampese offense for the final 8 weeks of last season. You can bet your life Charlie Weis did not take Labor Day off, and we won't see the same offense next week in the Meadowlands.

To an extent, the game plan worked. Brown was able to break a big play, and Faulk and Bledsoe were able to create a de-facto running game with 11 receptions for 62 yards. Despite the relentless pressure, Bledsoe still completed 66% of his passes, and the Pats held onto the ball for 28:25 without ever holding a lead in the 2nd half. I would like to see any other offense in the league get that poor a performance from their offensive line and still be in the game as the final gun sounded.

How Drew Bledsoe managed to keep getting up is unreal. The leadership and toughness he displayed during the worst beating of his 7 year career is a glaring positive that Drew-bashers must make note of. From the stands, you could hear and feel how hard he was being hit more so than through Fox sound bites. Also from the stands, you get a better appreciation of how fast the Bucs defense was on top of Drew. Bledsoe now has the respect and admiration of a Bucs defense that feasts on quarterbacks game after game after game. They see first hand what type of toll a beating can take on a QB, and they did not see those results from Drew Bledsoe. On the 39 yard TD pass to Terry Glenn with 3:01 remaining, Bledsoe hung in the pocket under the blitz and took a shot as he unloaded a perfectly thrown ball. This was after taking a beating on more than half of the previously called pass plays. Bledsoe (somehow) managed to complete 26 of 39 passes without throwing an interception. In many ways, Drew's performance in this loss was more impressive than his dozens of past 300+ yard passing games. Steve Grogan would be proud.

Another reason the Pats inept offense was able to hold the ball as long as they did was the play of the Patriots defense. As has been the case in recent years, the Pats defense was about 3 or 4 plays away from being equally as dominant as Tampa Bay's. Allowing a conversion on 3rd and 19 is unacceptable. There was also a long pass play allowed in the first quarter on 3rd and long when the Pats had the Bucs pinned deep in their own end. While neither of these Bucs drives ended in points, they were both critical in terms of field position. The worst mistake was allowing the "fake spike" touchdown pass to work with 0:31 left in the 1st half with the Bucs on the 8 yard line with no timeouts remaining. Had the Pats held there for a field goal, there's the difference in your ballgame.

While all three of these plays were awful, the Pats were able to effectively shut down Tampa Bay the rest of the afternoon. For all the credit being given the Bucs defense, the Bucs offense generated just 3 more first downs and 18 more total yards than New England's. After driving just 24 yards to take a 21-10 lead following a Kevin Faulk fumble, the Pats defense allowed the Bucs just one first down over the final 18:09, and none at all in the 4th quarter. This is all the proof you need that while outplayed, the Patriots defense was not out-physicaled. Rather than the Bucs vaunted offensive line and running game taking control in the 4th quarter, it was the other way around as the Bucs offense was more reliant on Mark Royals in the final quarter than Mike Alstott to hold the lead.

The winning score was set up when a great hit by Derrick Brooks jarred the ball loose from Kevin Faulk. John Lynch recovered, setting his offense up first and 10 at the Pats 24 yard line. Don't forget that two plays later, a jarring hit from Chris Slade forced Mike Alstott to cough up the ball. Two great hits, two fumbles, but the Bucs were able to fall on the ball both times. The Alstott fumble was simply another bounce that went Tampa Bay's way in a 21-16 affair.

Long way to go...

So the Pats lost to the better team. Not that I can sleep any better at night, but it's not like they just lost a road game to a 3-13 team like they did a year ago. I'm not saying the Pats had no chance here, but I'm anxious to see how Tampa Bay plays the rest of the AFC East. The Bucs host the Jets on September 24th, the Bills on November 26th, and will visit Miami on December 10th. The rest of the division looked impressive in week 1, with the Colts and Jets posting big wins on the road and the Dolphins looking very impressive at home. The Bills are also off to a good start having defeated the defending AFC Champions on national television.

So from Pete Carroll to Bill Belichick we're still all alone in last place. Don't for one second think that means this team has not already shown signs of improvement. As I said in my preseason column, the difference Bill Belichick will make may not show up in the standings this year. I still think we have before us an 8-8 team here, but I'm not driving 10 hours round trip next Monday for a 9 p.m. kickoff at the Meadowlands just for my health.

See you next week.