Clint's Corner Archive
Clint's Corner Archive
The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.
Last Sunday's 41-38 OT nail-biter over the mediocre Kansas City Chiefs is just what the Doctor ordered to slap the Patriots, their fans, and the media back to reality. Like any good physician's prescription, the medication cured the required symptom with no ill side effects. The Patriots were fed a spoonful of reality, but still emerged a quite healthy 3-0.
I forewarned in my last column that the more we'd learn along the road of the 2002 season, the more we'd realize what we didn't know. Entering the game as 9-point favorites, with many predicting a Patriots blowout, the Patriots came within a coin toss of losing to the same team who had been manhandled the week before by the Jacksonville Jaguars in their own stadium. The possibility of losing to the Chiefs 17-13 was more conceivable than beating them 41-38.
How could the Patriots defense look that bad? It's not like the Chiefs did anything fancy on offense, they just lined up and ran the ball again, and again, and again. Even when the Chiefs trailed by 14 with just over 6 minutes to play in regulation the Chiefs did not abandon their running game. Holmes picked up 37 of his 180 yards and two touchdowns on 6 carries (of 17 total plays) after the Patriots had taken their 38-24 lead. With :03 left in the game, everyone in the stadium knew Holmes was getting the ball, and he scored up the middle having met little resistance from a very tired Patriots front line. Sure the Pats were without two-thirds of their starting linebacking corps, but that should not be offered up as an excuse.
Yes, there is good news! How many teams in the NFL can commit so many penalties (12 for 100 yards vs. 1 for 5 yards for KC), have almost every borderline call and non-call go against them, beat themselves early on with dropped passes on offense and blown coverage on Defense, and still win the game? The old saying around here once was, "the Patriots are not good enough to overcome penalties and mistakes." Now they are.
In my eyes, this win was the most impressive so far this season. The Chiefs may not be the Eagles or the Dolphins, but they're not exactly the Lions or Bungals either. To beat the supposedly great Steelers and Jets (now a combined 1-4) handily when every bounce is going your way is one thing. To beat a middle-of-the-pack team with an outstanding running back when seemingly nothing aside from the call of "tails" in OT is going your way is another. The Patriots D was asleep at the wheel, the Pats offense was comatose for an entire half, the referees were closet Chiefs fans, and the Pats still won.
I am among the contingent that believes that there is no such thing as an "easy" game in the National Football League, and that the gap between the best teams and the worst teams can easily be closed with poor execution on the part of the former. There's no such thing as an ugly win (especially on the road), and there's no such thing as not winning by enough points. This time it was the offense that bailed out the D, but last season it was the D who came to the rescue in a crucial field goal battle won by the Patriots in Buffalo 12-9. Games like this will happen, and the great teams win the shootouts as well as the field goal battles more often than not by finding a way to win. I for one am not complaining, nor am I worried. Just be glad you're not a member of the Chargers offense next Sunday.
Get use to it...
With 13 weeks left in the regular season, Pats fans had better get use to more games like the one we saw last Sunday. Every team who plays the Patriots will bring their "A" game, especially as long as the Patriots keep winning. Not only will opponents be looking to knock off the defending Champs, but also they'll be looking to be the first to beat the Patriots in 2002. Opposing coaches will not be short on material for their pre-game locker room speeches.
The first game of the rest of the season begins this Sunday in San Diego against a Charger team not only looking to beat the Champs, but for the same respect at 3-0 that the Patriots, Broncos, Saints and Dolphins are getting (The 3-0 Panthers have similar motivation heading into Green Bay). A win over the Patriots to get to 4-0 and they'll have everyone's attention. Add to the mix the revenge factor for last season's Patriot come from behind win which dealt the Bolts their second straight heartbreaking loss after a 3-0 start. The then 3-2 Chargers finished the season 5-11 and fired their head coach (sounds a lot like the 2001 Colts example from last week, right BB?). This is also a great example of a win that at the time looked huge, but in hindsight was just a close game over a 5-11 team. I now wonder if we'll eventually be saying the same thing about the "big win" over the Jets in week 2.
Should the Patriots emerge 4-0, it doesn't get any easier. A trip to Miami (3-0) will be followed up by visits from Green Bay (2-1) and Denver (3-0) before heading on the road for three straight weeks against the Bills, Bears, and Raiders. Forget 16-0. If the Patriots host the Vikings on November 24th with a record of 7-3 or better, I'll be extremely impressed.
This schedule is murderous, but has nothing to do with the fact the Patriots won the Super Bowl. This season is the first year in which 14 of a team's 16 opponents are set regardless of record. The NFL has already established the games for every team in the NFL through 2009. Each of the Patriots other 3 division rivals shares the same common opponents save for 2. Those 2 are determined by order of finish the prior season. Each team in the AFC East will play the other 3 divisional opponents twice for a total of 6 games. Each AFC East team will also play the Packers, Lions, Bears, Vikings, Broncos, Raiders, Chargers, and Chiefs.
To round out the schedule, the remaining two games pit the AFC East against the AFC South and Central with the #1's playing #1's, #2's playing #2's, etc. That's why the Patriots played the Steelers, the best team in the Central last season, and will play the Titans, who although they finished at 7-9 in 2001 had the best record of any team in the newly formed AFC South. Buffalo, on the other hand, coming off a 2-14 season, drew the Bungles from the Central and the expansion Texans from the South. Get it? If you do, stop complaining that the Patriots are playing a "Super Bowl" schedule. Each team in the East has a similar problem, and the Pats are already 1-0 in their non-common games with a Monday Nighter in Tennessee on deck for December 16. (Incidentally, my sister & I chipped in for Club Seats to that game as a gift to my parents for their 35th wedding anniversary, celebrated earlier this month. Congratulations Mom & Dad and enjoy your trip!)
Having just walked you through the schedule math, two things should stand out. First, you're probably wondering why I did that after week 3 and not before the season started. Second, it should stress to you the importance of games within the division. When, for the most part, your divisional rivals are playing the same schedule that you are, getting a leg up on your division rivals in head-to-head games becomes more crucial. Some would argue that with 6 divisional games rather than 8 they mean less. I completely disagree.
Not to look past San Diego, but the Patriots matchup with Miami on October 6 is monumental as both the Pats and Dolphins look to be the early season favorites to win the division. With the entire division playing a tough schedule, and with the division being strong top to bottom (I'll give the Jets the benefit of the doubt for now), how likely is it that the runner up in the East will be one of the two wild cards in the AFC? If you want to make the playoffs, winning the division is of paramount importance. Should the Patriots lose to Miami, they won't get their chance to even the score until week 17, and that's an awfully long time to wait.
Although I'm an overly-cautious optimist, rarely make predictions in this column, and understand that the Patriots are facing a 3-0 team on the road next week possessing a damn good defense and a solid running back, I really like the Pats chances after being slapped around a bit by the Chiefs. Like I said at the top, I pity the Chargers offense after the Pats D gave up 38 points and over 200 rushing yards to the Chiefs at home.
See you next week...