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 11/13/1997

What a difference...

...a week makes. If you were to look through my archived columns, that would have to be the most often used phrase. Not only are we celebrating a victory for the 1st time since October 12th, but the Pats are suddenly back in the post season driver's seat after much talk of not even making the playoffs. The victory over the Bills has even swayed public opinion across the country, as the Pats are actually 2 point favorites on the road next Sunday against the 7-3 Tampa Bay Bucs.

Clint, the man in black?!
Next week - a tan!

The 31-10 victory was especially sweet for me for two reasons. First, I do not have to eat crow this week after publicly supporting the team and encouraging others to get behind them after their third straight loss on November 2nd in Minnesota. I really had the feeling that the Buffalo game was the Pats week to rebound, and I was right (for once). Secondly, and if you read the column last week you know this, I drove out to the game!! Seeing the Pats lose in person is bad enough. Embarking on a 7.5 hour ride home following a loss would have been down rite depressing. Fortunately, the victory gave myself and Scott "Rumble Strip" Comstock the energy to make the long drive home along I-90. No thanks to Jim "the Bagel Man" Balnis, who slept the entire way back.

The good, the bad, and the coach...

First and foremost, let me take this rare opportunity to congratulate Pete Carroll on a job well done. It may have taken a little longer than it should have, but he finally managed to push all the right buttons and get the most out of his team. Not only were the big plays a plenty, but the other 52 guys on the sideline continually erupted whenever a big play was made. The entire team finally showed some emotion, and that was GREAT to see from the stands.

As for the good, the Pats won this game on a complete team effort. The offense scored 2 TD's, Cullors and the special teams kicked in with the first kickoff return for a TD since 1992, and Slade scored the second TD of his career on defense to complete the hat trick. What's even better is that the Pats did not really need the special teams and defensive touchdowns, since the Pats offense outscored Buffalo on their own, 17-10. Denver's offense was outscored 20-13 by the Bills in regulation, and NEEDED a fluke interception return for a TD to force OT and win the game. Don't discount this win as meaningless over a weak opponent. Buffalo may not be an offensive juggernaut, but their only loss since playing at New England was against Denver, a game which they gave away to the 9-1 Broncos.

Against the NFL's #1 pass defense, Drew completed 15 of 22 passes for 200 yards and a TD. For the first time in a while, Drew did not throw the ball to a member of the defense. These numbers came against heavy pressure. What's good is that Drew was able to hang tough and make the big completions, the bad news is that the offensive line, with Heath Irwin getting his first start at guard, did a poor job of pass protecting. This has been a problem all year, however. The sack numbers may not look bad, but Bledsoe has been under fire all season, even during the 4-0 start.

Martin also had a good day, gaining 93 yards on 26 carries. Not stats for the Hall of Fame, but they were workman like yards given that he rarely had a hole to run through. On the Pats 84 yard TD drive near the end of the 2nd quarter, it was a Martin 32 yard run from inside his own 20 that dug the offense out of the hole and got them rolling in what at the time was a 10-3 game. Three plays later, it was the quite familiar "Bledsoe to Coates" for the touchdown, extending the lead to 17-3.

A couple of things do concern me, however. Once again, the Pats offense was very sluggish in the early going. They punted on their first three possessions, and were trailing 3-0 before the kickoff return for 6 with :34 left in the first quarter. The 2nd quarter was 10 minutes old before the offense got rolling. Drew and Co. can thank their defense and special teams for keeping them in the game during that time.

On two occasions the Pats defense (Hitchcock, then Clay) gave the ball back to the offense at the Buffalo 30. Neither of those drives resulted in 1st downs, and the Pats had to settle for long field goals, with Vinatieri converting 1 of 2. The Pats also failed to capitalize on a Ty Law interception, and on Derrick Cullors kickoff return across the 50 yard line to start the 2nd half. That's 4 opportunities to turn the game around, and the Pats offense mustered just 3 points, failing to get even a 1st down on 3 of those 4 opportunities. Don't blame Vinatieri for the 2 missed field goals. He was bound to miss a couple after the tear that he had been on. After the punt following the second half kickoff, it was still just 17-3, with Buffalo very much in the game. Failure to capitalize on outstanding field position will not be as easily overlooked when the Pats play out their remaining schedule against teams with a combined 33-17 sans the Colts.

Perhaps we can overlook the offensive woes seeing as how Buffalo has shut down every offense they have faced after losing on opening day to the Vikings. Also, even though the offense did not use the short field to their advantage, their 2 TD drives were of 84 and 71 yards. They do get some credit for that. Don't get me wrong, I'm psyched with the win, and overall the team responded to Carroll's challenge, but the team must step it up another notch if more wins are to follow.

Lastly on the topic of this game, I would like to congratulate Pete Carroll and Larry Kennan on learning one lesson the hard way. On 1st and goal from the 9, the Pats pulled a trick play and actually handed the ball off to Martin behind a Gash lead block. Much to the surprise of the Buffalo defense, Gash and Martin remained in the game at the 1, and their number was called on two consecutive plays. On 3rd down, Martin went in for 6 behind Gash against the #1 rated defense in the AFC. What still makes me sick is that they did not do that against the Packers from inside the 1. It will still take some time for me to forgive Carroll for that embarrassment, but at least it appears as though he won't make the same mistake twice.

Let's talk playoffs...

Shall we? What the hell, there are still 6 weeks left, but it's always fun to start to put the post season puzzle together in mid November. Besides, if the Pats lose to Tampa Bay, I will have to further delay this topic.

Even after a three week snooze that would rival a Rip Van Winkle cat nap, the Pats are still in 1st place in the AFC East by virtue of their 4 wins within the division. Miami currently has 3, and the Jets, also at 6-4, have just 1 win where it counts the most. The Dolphins and Pats each control their own destiny, as these two division rivals will square off twice down the stretch. The regular season finale is on Monday Night Football, in Miami on December 22nd. Oh my.

Surveying the current AFC landscape, it appears at least for now that the only way to make the playoffs out of the AFC East would be to win the division, but it is certainly possible that the Jets, Pats, and Dolphins could all go. Depending on how they do head-to-head, it looks like either the Dolphins or Pats will win the division, needing at least 10 wins. The schedule favors the Dolphins outside of the head-to-head matchup, so it is the Pats who more desperately need the season sweep of the series. The Jets will need at least 10 wins to make a wildcard, and they have the tie breaking edge over Seattle, having beaten them on opening day. Ten wins for the Jets may be asking too much however. Give credit to the Tuna for having them at 6-3, but the loss at Miami dropping them to 6-4 may be a dose of reality for Gang Green.

Lets concede the West to Denver, and we'll throw in home field advantage while we're at it. While currently tied at 7-3, and having split their season series, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh will go down the wire in the fight for the Central crown, and the likely #2 seed. The schedule favors the Jags, but the Steelers will still get in, looking now to be the #1 wild card team, which is good for a #4 seed in the conference playoffs. The Chiefs, at 7-3, seem poised for a wild card, but without their savior, Elvis, at QB, that could change in a hurry. With games at home against Denver and the 49ers sandwiched around a road trip to face the red hot Seahawks, 7-3 could become 7-6 in a hurry before Elvis Grbac returns. It is instead the surging 6-4 Seahawks who appear to be headed toward a wild card slot in the West.

That leaves one more slot. Can Kansas City stay afloat in stormy weather? Can the Jets continue to defy the critics and go to the dance? Will a Jeckyl and Hyde 5-5 Oiler team put together a string of wins in the final weeks? There's lots to be decided, but here's my guess in the AFC. Those who know me know that this guess is worthless, but it's still fun to throw out a possible scenario.

West Champ Broncos
Central Champ Jaguars
East Champ Dolphins
Wildcard Steelers
Wildcard Patriots
Wildcard Seahawks

The only reason I have the Dolphins winning the division is because I can't see the Pats, playing inconsistent of late, winning both games against the Dolphins. Miami can afford a split, the Pats cannot, particularly if the Pats suffer the same fate Miami did down in Tampa Bay. What will you be watching on December 22nd?

What comes around...

...goes around. In case you missed it, the Jets were down 7 late in the game in Miami when Foley connected with Chrebet on a huge 4th down play to keep a drive alive deep in Miami territory. Alas, the refs did not see it that way, and Miami took over on downs. The Jets did get one more chance, but not nearly with as much opportunity. The Tuna was irate at the officials after the game, and the blown call was the hot topic in the Jets locker room following the game.

Rewind to October 19th, Pats down 5 in the Meadowlands with the ball, under 2 minutes to play, on 4th and 17. Under heavy pressure, Bledsoe steps up in the pocket and relies solely on arm strength to hit a diving Shawn Jefferson for the 1st down right at the marker.

The replay clearly showed a good catch, but two refs ruled that the ball skipped first on the turf, and the Jets took over on downs, went to a knee, and won the game. Jefferson went on a tirade, chewing at the officials ear all the way off the field. I wrote in my column that week that the call was indeed blown, but that the Pats should never have gotten into that situation in the 1st place. Sometimes those calls go your way, sometimes they don't. I was more than delighted to see the shoe on the other foot just 3 weeks later, with the Jets getting the short end of the stick in a key division road game.

I LOVE IT!!!

See you next week.

P.S. If you happen to be headed down to Tampa Bay this weekend, stop by the Adams Mark Hotel on Clearwater Beach, look me (and Mike!) up, and we can talk football over some cocktails at the calypso bar. I am looking to go to 2 1 this week on the road. Go Pats!!!