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 1/16/2002

All aboard!

You know something has gone very right for the Patriots when you can't pass a local pizza place, liquor store, of fast food establishment without "Go Pats" lettered on the sign out front. It's the '97 playoffs all over again, and I love it.

We diehards of Patriot Nation are a select few, so it's great to get all of New England excited and on the bandwagon again. How far can you walk down the street or through a shopping mall without seeing a Patriots jacket or hat? Everyone is talking Patriots. Our Web site has seen traffic up dramatically the past few weeks, and emails are pouring in.

You no longer have to wait until 6:26 to get Patriots coverage on the 6 o'clock news. Patriots' talk-radio has migrated from the AM dial to all of the usual FM morning crews. I can see children in my neighborhood wearing their Pats gear on their way to school, and still more silver-and-blue at the bus stops I pass on the way to work. My "GOPATZ" vanity plate has always drawn the occasional comment or stare, but I get honked at now more often than a "just married" stretch limo.

These are great times in Patriot Nation, and they're only going to get better if the Pats advance to the Super Bowl. For a guy who couldn't give away the seat next to me in section 108 for years, these are indeed days to behold.

Stepping up...

After Tom Brady's abysmal first half, I'll admit I was among the dissenters yelling for "Bledsoe!" to enter the game. Brady looked lost on obvious passing downs, and to start the 2nd half he missed open receivers in the end zone on consecutive passes. The Pats had to settle for a chip-shot field goal to narrow their deficit to 7-3.

I was thinking to myself that if the Pats were going to win this game, either the running game was going to have to get in gear, or the Pats were going to have to score on defense or special teams. I knew Brady would once again get the credit now matter how they won, but was very surprised that in his first playoff start, Brady was able to put the offense on his shoulders and lead the Pats back from a 13-3 deficit to the AFC Championship game.

Brady was just 6 of 13 in the first half, 3 for his last 10. In the second half, Brady connected on 24 of 39 passes, an amazing completion percentage of 61.5% in blizzard-like conditions.

On the Pats first touchdown drive, Brady single handedly led the team 67 yards on 9 passes before finishing off the drive with a 6-yard TD run up the middle to cut the deficit to 13-10 with just under 8 minutes remaining.

After Vinatieri hit the kick of his life, the Pats got the ball first in OT and, again behind Brady, drove 61 yards for the winning field goal, including a clutch pass to a kneeling David Patten on 4th and 4. On the drive, Brady was 8-for-8, accounting for 45 of the drive's 61 yards.

Drew Bledsoe could not have done it better. Joe Montana or John Elway could not have done it better. All season long I've been happy for Brady, but have continually thought that the better quarterback was on the bench. Today I still believe that Drew Bledsoe is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, but for the first time, as a card-carrying member of the Bledsoe supporters guild, I will say Brady perhaps led them back in the 2nd half where Bledsoe may not have.

They say that great players rise to the occasion in the big games. Brady passed the test last week with flying colors. Next week the exam is a lot harder.

The call...

Frankly I'm already sick of talking about it and listening to all sides, but I'd be remiss in this column if I did not address the controversial reversal of the Tom Brady fumble that sent the Patriots home for the season and the Raiders onto the next round of the playoffs.

I can 100% sympathize with the Raiders and their fans. I vividly remember Vinny Testaverde "fumbling" the football in week 2 against the Patriots in Foxboro. When the call was challenged, I remember looking at the big replay board and thinking "Pats ball." Vinny clearly had changed his mind mid-motion, and was not attempting to throw a forward pass when the ball came lose. The reversal of the call was not as meaningful as last Saturday's call, but the Patriots did eventually lose that game 10-3.

I learned of rule 3, section 21, article 2 as a result of that play. I learned that the official had made the correct call, but I thought the rule was bogus. Not much attention was given to the call or to the ruling at the time. Standing at 0-2 with Bledsoe in the hospital, Patriot Nation did not expect that ruling to someday aid the Patriots cause in the 2001 playoffs.

The rule is written as follows: When a team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the players loses possession as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body.

"Tuck" is loosely defined, but essentially it means the ball has been secured against the player's body, as if the player was intending to run with the ball. It is very obvious that when the ball was knocked out of Brady's hands he was no longer trying to complete a forward pass, but that is not relevant according the rule as written. He had not "tucked" it against his body, so by definition the ball coming lose is an incomplete pass.

In order to have "justice" for the Raiders, and for the Pats in week 2, the rule would have to allow for the official to determine the intent of the quarterback's arm motion. Was he attempting to pass? Tuck the ball back in? Pump Fake? In some instances, last week being a good example, such intent is obvious. In other cases, however, it may not be.

The NFL does not want, nor should they want, their referees or replay officials to be forced to read a quarterbacks mind in a scenario where a quarterback's intentions are not obvious via live action or even slow motion replay. How does one even define "obvious?" The potential controversy in such a case, particularly in the playoffs on a game-turning call, would be worse. By authoring the rule as it stands now, the referees don't have to guess.

Sometimes that call will work in your favor, and sometimes it won't. I agree 100% that the Brady play looked a lot more like a fumble than an incomplete pass, but I also think the NFL would make matters worse in some cases if they changed the language of the ruling, necessitating that the officials infer intent in order to make the proper call.

Many have pointed to this call as "payback" for the roughing the passer call in the '76 playoffs. I don't agree. The call last Saturday was according to the rulebook, the call in '76 was not. The call last Saturday left the Pats with a 2nd and 10 near midfield, down 3 points in the blinding snow with no timeouts and a minute to play. The call in '76 set the Raiders up 1st and goal at the 1-yard line on a perfectly sunny afternoon with even less time left on the clock.

The biggest difference between the two calls was that even though the '76 game was just round 1 of the playoffs, going into the game it was known that the winner would be the odds-on favorite to advance and win the Super Bowl, more so assuredly than even the 2001 Rams of today. The '76 Patriots were the best team in franchise history, and had handed the 13-1 Raiders their only loss of the season, 48-17 in Foxboro Stadium.

The Raiders went on to win the AFC Championship over the Steelers 24-7, and defeated the Vikings in Super Bowl XI, 32-14. That should have been the Patriots. That would have been the Patriots. If the Patriots are hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the day on February 3rd, perhaps comparing those two calls will be more justifiable.

Living history...

I know it's cliché, but trust me when I say, "you had to be there". The Patriots have played 140 home games in Foxboro Stadium since the end of the 1984 season. With the exception of about 5 games between the '88 and '91 seasons, I've attended every one. Nothing even comes close to the experience of last Saturday night. I thought I'd devote some time in my column this week to a few of my personal memories of Foxboro Stadium now that it's permanently closed for business.

There were so many factors that made this last game special. First and foremost, no one in his or her right mind a few months ago envisioned the last home game in that stadium to be a divisional playoff game. Secondly, of the 135 games I've attended over the past 17 seasons, it has never snowed like that. Add in a 4th quarter comeback, a controversial call going against Al Davis, a final-seconds 45-yard field goal kicked off of 4 inches of compacted snow to force overtime, and you have an instant NFL classic.

Even long before the outcome of the game was decided, and even when things looked all but lost for the Pats, I couldn't help but take a look around the stadium with the snow falling all around me and think "wow." This was vintage NFL Films footage made to order. The slow motion replays on the big screen looked like something you'd see on ESPN Classic, yet the plays were only seconds old at the time.

I've sat through worse weather. The cold of the 1988 December home win over Tampa Bay was enough to send an ice fisherman home shivering in tears. The monsoon winds and rains that swept the stadium in 1993 against the Jets would have shut down the set of "Survivor". Enough rain fell during the '87 home opener against Miami to irrigate a small desert nation.

My first "memorable" game was my first game, a 1984 loss to the Cardinals. The game itself was nothing special, for the Patriots got killed. I'll never forget walking into the stadium for the first time, seeing the players on the field, and watching my first-ever live NFL game. It was even better than my Dad took me. I remember thinking how great my Dad was to take my friend and I to the game - he wasn't even a sports fan, let alone a Patriots fan at the time, but we all had a great time. Today my Dad is the 2nd biggest Pats fan in all of New England, also having missed but a handful of games since that day in 1984.

The first "big" game I can remember was the '85 season finale against the Bengals, where Robert Weathers broke lose on a 4th and 1 for a long TD run that sent the Pats into the playoffs. Perhaps next on the timeline was the '90 season finale against the Giants, where the 1-14 Patriots battled the eventual Super Bowl champs to the wire in front of 40,000 Giants fans and very few devout Pats fans. The Patriots were dreadful that year, but I was damned if I was going to let visiting fans cheer louder than me that day, even if the Pats were 14-point home underdogs.

A long TD from rookie Drew Bledsoe to Michael Timpson in overtime eliminated Miami from postseason contention in the '93 season finale. We left that game not knowing if any of us, or the Patriots, would return for the '94 season, a season which eventually saw Bledsoe complete 45 of 70 passes in a stunning OT victory over the Vikings. 1995 was not a good year, but I'll never forget the feeling of attending my first ever Monday Night Football game, a game in which the Patriots got their first victory of the season against the heavily favored Bills. The game was sealed on a Willie McGinest interception return for a touchdown in front of a national audience.

The '96 home win over Miami saw the Pats role up 42 points, including a memorable 84-yard TD pass to Ben Coates. I had never before and not since seen a man that size run like that. The '97 playoff win over the Steelers would have to be considered the most exciting game in the history of the stadium. It had been 19 years since the Pats had hosted a playoff game, and the crowd simply erupted with enthusiasm before the teams were even introduced onto the field. The AFC Championship win over the Jaguars the following week was more meaningful, but did not match the aura of the "fog bowl" just 7 days earlier.

The 1997 wild-card win over Miami was great, but we were still too spoiled from the recent memories of the 1996 playoffs to appreciate it. The back-to-back walk-off touchdown wins over Miami and Buffalo in 1998 were awesome. The Pats needed both of those games to stay in the playoff hunt, and both were won behind the heroics of a 4-fingered passer.

All of those games were great. Each sticks out in my mind like they were played last week. All factors considered, no game in that stadium will be as memorable for me as the win in the snow last Saturday over the Raiders. Not even close. For me personally, and I'm sure for thousands of others in attendance as well, last Saturday's game was my single greatest memory in all of Boston sports. Watching the tape simply doesn't do the game justice.

It's almost fitting that the Patriots will go on the road next week to play the Steelers, for even beating the Ravens at home to clinch a Super Bowl birth could not have topped the win over the Raiders. Tom Clancy could not have authored a better scenario for the Patriots final game in the 31-year history of Foxboro Stadium. I hope Billy Sullivan was up there watching.

That's why they play the game...

The Patriots have already been established as 8-point underdogs in Pittsburgh next week, and rightly so. The Steelers are 13-3 and deserve to be considered the best team in the AFC. However, rather than tell you how great the Steelers are, allow me to attempt to knock them down a few pegs.

The Steelers did look fantastic in beating the Ravens last Sunday, but lets not forget that these are the same Ravens who went a collective 1-3 against the Browns and Bengals in the AFC Central, and defeated the Steelers in Pittsburgh back in early November.

Bill Cowher was correct in his post-game statements that "…this isn't Minnesota. This isn't Miami". Do the Steelers think the Patriots are the Baltimore Ravens? In the entire 2001 regular season, the only winning team that the Steelers defeated at home was the NY Jets by a score of 18-7. That was the week after the Patriots had defeated the Jets in the Meadowlands.

The Steelers finished their home slate at 7-1, but aside from the Jets , they went 6-0 against a sextet that went a collective 26-54 this season. Don't you think the Patriots compare rather favorably to Cincinnati, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Detroit, or Cleveland? Remember how you felt in week 1 when the Patriots dropped a 23-17 opening day contest in Cincinnati? The Steelers allowed John Kitna to pass for 411 yards in their week-16 loss to the Bengals in overtime. John Kitna? 411 yards? Please don't tell me the "Steelers weren't trying."

The Steelers are #1 in the AFC in defense, and are largely successful by taking the big play away from the opponents offense, forcing them to take the short stuff to move down the field. While this would frustrate many opponents, this is exactly what the Patriots offense thrives on. Against the Patriots, Pittsburgh's defense will be asked to shut down the bread-and-butter short game and force Brady to beat them with the 15+ yard completions.

This is what Buffalo did a few weeks ago in Buffalo, and they were largely successful at it. This mode of defense is a departure from the Steelers normally aggressive nature, so they'll be a bit out of their element. How successful they'll be in shutting down the screen passes and how successful Brady will be going up top will determine how well the Patriots offense will perform.

Indeed the Steelers appear to be a better all around team than the Patriots, but the fact remains that the Patriots, at 12-5, will be the toughest opponent Pittsburgh has faced all season, especially at home. Does this mean the Patriots will win? No. Does it mean the Patriots have a lot better than a snowballs chance in hell to advance to the Super Bowl? Absolutely. Pittsburgh may be the class of the AFC, but the Patriots are not exactly in awe, and the NFL will mandate that this game be played as scheduled.

See you next week. Go Pats!