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.
"Welcome to Bell Atlantic. What city?"
Now now, it's not that bad, but that's certainly how I and 60,000 other fans felt when we witnessed Norm Johnson's overtime field goal attempt sail through the uprights.
With just over two minutes to play, the Pats had the ball leading 21-13. The Bus had been detoured, "Slash" had been contained, the Blitzburgh "D" was without a sack despite 35 Bledsoe pass attempts, the Steelers were out of time outs, and my hands were raw, right through my mittens, from clapping and high-fiving. This game was over. The Pats had just convincingly beaten the team that just beat Denver, and were in the drivers seat for the #2 seed at 10-5. Pittsburgh never threatened. The closest they ever came was 7, at the very end of the first half. This was a huge win for the Pats, on national television.
Enter Bill Buckner, stage left. Everything was great until Bledsoe's 36th pass attempt. Kevin Henry recorded just the 2nd interception of his 5 year NFL career, and returned it to the 18 yard line. We were shocked. How could this happen??? Not to worry, the Steelers had not done much all afternoon against a stingy Pats D, and there was no reason to think they would get the TD AND the needed two point conversion to tie.
Three plays later, the D was still holding. Pittsburgh had mustered only three yards after the big interception, and now faced a do or die 4th and 7 from the 15. You cannot possibly place any blame on the Pats Defense for what happened next. Yancy Thigpen made a hall of fame catch going out of bounds at the 4 to keep the drive alive. Give Kordell some credit for making the throw, but that play was 95% Thigpen. Ty Law could not possibly have covered Thigpen any better. You could put any Pro Bowl roster out there on defense, and Thigpen would still have made that catch. It was indefensible. That play more so than the interception broke the Pats back. What ensued was a wide open TD toss, and a wide open conversion try to tie the game.
The defense did not regroup in OT. After backing the Steelers up five yards on their first two plays after Pitt won the coin toss, the Pats D looked like the keystone cops when Hawkins caught a short screen pass and rumbled 41 yards down the field to set up the winning field goal. At least three Pats defenders attempted arm tackles on that play. The others ran into one another and were never in position to make the tackle.
The bottom line is that the Pats outplayed the Steelers for 58 minutes, and then Murphy's law took over. Quite literally, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and that led to one of the most heartbreaking and stunning Pats loses in this writer's recent memory.
When the Pats throttled Pitt in last years playoff game 28-3, Pittsburgh players and all their fans cried "no fair" as Jerome Bettis played that game with an ankle that was not 100%. OK crybabies of the Steel City, lets take Bettis OUT of the game, and throw Thigpen on the sideline with him! How would that sound?
That's the situation the Pats were facing as two time all-pro and 1,000 yard rusher Curtis Martin and last seasons rookie sensation Terry Glenn did not dress for the game. Those are two of the biggest offensive impact players in the AFC, let alone on the Pats roster. Despite being short handed, the Pats were up 21-13 with 2:10 to play, with the ball. Only a cruel God prevented the Pats from going on to victory. In the torrid aftermath, I have not heard one mention of the Pats using injuries as an excuse.
That's one area where the Pats come out ahead of Pittsburgh all day long.
And nobody's fault...
I honestly can't justify blaming anyone for this loss. I simply chalk this one up to being a victim of bizarre circumstance. The Denver loss could be pegged on the special teams return game. The Jets loss could be pegged on the secondary. Green Bay on the play calling inside the 1, Minnesota on the offensive line, and Tampa Bay on everyone from the owner to the towel boy. This loss had no culprit.
Bledsoe? Hey, three weeks ago hall-of-fame bound Dan Marino threw three interceptions. Two were in the end zone, and two were returned for touchdowns. Stuff Happens. The first INT was not Drew's fault, and he also threw 3 TD passes. Granted Meggett stole the ball from thin air on the last one, but the intended receiver was also in position to make the catch for a big gain. Bledsoe converted his share of 3rd and longs for first downs, and he stood up well in the pocket. Had it not been for the one mistake, Drew would have had a solid day, and proved for the second straight week that he could win the big game.
275 pound lineman are not suppose to be out in the flat. Drew's claim that he never saw Henry was supported in the replay. You could tell that all Drew could see was a wide open Meggett. Henry was simply in the right place at the right time, or actually in the wrong place if you aren't a linebacker or safety. That was good 'ol fashion bad luck. I personally do not hold Drew accountable for that pick.
The play calling? After the Green Bay loss, I was completely disgusted with the goal line plays resulting in a turnover on downs. I am not going to blame Carroll and Keenan for this one. On 3rd and 7, close to midfield, a 1st down wins the game for you. Bledsoe had done very well prior to that, including a 3rd and long to Troy Brown 3 plays earlier. Drew is a smart QB, who does not usually force things. Time and again we've seen him pass it to the coaches when no one is open. Had the play worked (and Meggett was open by the way) the coaches and Bledsoe would have been praised.
With 2:10 left, a run into the middle would have killed all of 10 seconds, and undoubtedly forced New England to punt. Anyone who has watched prevent defenses in the past can tell you that Pitt would have gained 50 yards on the 1st 4 plays anyways. Big deal. They would have been at the 18 with 1 minute left instead of 2. Had New England punted, and had the Steelers driven 85 yards to tie, Patriot Nation would have wondered why the coaches were so conservative running the ball on 3rd and 7 when a 1st down would have won the game.
The Pats played their heart out in this game. This was not a "Tampa Bay" affair. Both the offense and defense did their jobs, the cards just weren't in their favor. All the blame laying and finger pointing in the world won't change the score. Let's move on to...
Squish the Fish!
When the NFL schedule was released early last summer, we Pats fans should have known that it would be impossible to finish the season in Miami on a Monday Night without the game having gargantuan appeal.
Two Tuna Bowls, a 4-0 start, a 2-5 collapse, a 3-0 resurgence, a non scheduled bye week in Tampa , and a mosh pit dive are all in the past. All of the excitement, drama, and discord of the 1997 football season now comes down to one final game, and 28 of the NFL's 30 teams will have already finished out the string. The entire country will be watching as the AFC East is decided in the final chapter of this storied Patriot season. Forget that the Pats are 9 6. A win in Miami, and they're 0-0, just like Green Bay, San Fran, Denver, KC, and the rest.
Fair or unfair, to many this game will answer three big questions. Did Bob Kraft blow it by letting the Tuna leave town? Is Pete Carroll worthy of the final four years of his contract? Did the players do what they set out to do in training camp - prove that they could win without Bill Parcells? Next Monday at around midnight, we'll all know the answers. If the Pats don't win the East, there will be a gray cloud over this team until kickoff '98. Should the Pats fail to make the playoffs, the curse of the Bambino will be replaced by the plague of the Tuna, and everyone in the organization knows it.
It's all relative...
You think Carroll and the Pats are stinging heading into this game? How about Jimmy Johnson and the Dolphins, fresh off a 41-0 pasting at the hands of the Colts? This is a team on the verge of winning the division? No way. The Pats just lost a game they all but won, and they are pissed off. If they could play Miami tomorrow, they would. The Dolphins enter this do or die game with their tail between their legs. They should be embarrassed to even take the field on National TV. Dare I say this was more of an embarrassment than the Pats loss to the Bucs? Perhaps, but that is a great segue to prove that the team that plays on one week is not necessarily the team that shows up the following week.
Remember the total domination the Bucs had over the Pats in that 27-7 disaster on November 16th? That same Tampa Bay squad has won one game since, and was just pasted 31-0 by the Jets. The Pats went 35 minutes in that game without out a 1st down, and scored their only points of the game on a Zolak TD pass with :14 to play. The Bucs amassed a whopping 6 first downs, and 21 yards passing, and didn't score at all. This just goes to show you that you never know what can happen. Don't let Miami's play in that 41-0 debacle fool you. Monday Night is a whole new ball game.
Keep the faith...
I am as hardened and beaten by Boston Sports as the next guy. Believe me. Having said that, I honestly think the Pats will go down to Miami and show the country their best football of the season. Following the Pats 3rd consecutive loss to the Vikings, I wrote that I had a good feeling going into Rich Stadium, and the Pats won big in that game. Before you say "but that was the Bills", consider that the Pats were Buffalo's only home blemish within the division, and that Buffalo swept the New York Jets. The Bills also took Denver into OT, and Jacksonville down the final minute in Rich Stadium.
I have a good feeling about this game as well. The Pats backs are against the wall, and they know it. They also know that they are the superior team. If the Pats play their game, like they did in Jacksonville (and against Pitt for that matter) they'll be fine. If the Pats could snap the Jag's 13 game home winning streak, why can't the Pats win on the same field where the Chicago Bears got their first win of the season in week 9?
Even if the Jets lose to Detroit, the Pats must win this game. To back into the playoffs with back to back losses would mean certain disaster. Regrouping in time to face the Dolphins in Miami for the 2nd consecutive week would not be a good thing. Coming home off the heels of victory for the tri fecta against the Fish, or better yet, Tuna Bowl III, would be a whole lot better.
The Pats not only blew the game last week, but they blew a 1st round bye. The good news is that should they win a first round playoff game at home, they would not have to wait long at all to exact revenge on the Steelers. You can bet the Pats would love another shot at the Steelers, and would like nothing more than to turn the tables at Three Rivers Stadium. Normally I would say the Pats would have little chance of wining a playoff game on the road, but against the Steelers with Saturday's game still fresh in their minds, the psychological edge has to go to the Pats. The Steelers won the game, but to a man they know they were beaten, and I doubt they would want to see New England again, even at home.
Lets go one step further. Ya know Denver? Everyone's pick in the AFC to go to the Super Bowl? To get there, they first have to play in the AFC Championship game, and if the Pats beat the Steelers in the grudge match, that game would take place at Foxboro Stadium for the second straight year. If the Pats do have to go on the road for the Championship game, it wouldn't be in Mile High Stadium, so you just never know. With Terry Glenn back healthy, the sky is the limit.
One more for the Gipper...
Like I said following the loss to Minnesota, let's not get down on this team. Now more than ever is the time to get behind them and cheer. If I hadn't already used up all of my wife's "get out of town free" cards on 4 away games this year, I would be in Miami with the team. (P.S. Photos from those 4 away games will soon be available in tailgate). I'm hosting a party at my place for the Monday Night Game instead, and parties are for celebrating.
Should the Pats win the AFC East down in Joe Robbie Stadium, they just may find one of their biggest fans in a old silver van with 4 foot Pat's logos waiting for them at 4am in the stadium lot when they return home, and I don't mean that Grandmother who just won "fan of the year". Give me a break.
Go Pats. New England is still behind you, awaiting your finest hour.