Clint's Corner Archive

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 1/6/98

Editor's Note: Upset with some of the calls last week? You're not alone! Check out the Mad Fan's Web site, promoting instant replay.

Devastation...

The 7-6 loss to Pittsburgh has torn my heart out. Mike and I (and others) drove 10 hours to Three Rivers Stadium for that game, and the ride home seemed more like 30 hours. Fair or unfair, at the end of every professional sports season there is only one winner, and the rest are deemed to be "losers." I was upset when the Pats lost in the Super Bowl to the Pack, and saddened when they bowed out the Browns in '94, but the one point loss in the Steel City has me more down than I have ever been before. Had I been in the post game locker room, I doubt Leigh Steinberg and Ryan Leaf could have made my chuckle. I doubt that even Bill Murray and Chevy Chase could have forced a smile on my face.

For those of you who know me, or who have followed Clint's Corner for the past three years, you know what a big fan I am, and how much this loss hurts. Sure most of New England is upset, but there are a few of us who honestly won't be over this for a while. Since I was 7 years old in 1977, I have been saying "maybe next year."

Still my team...

It is the down times like this that will make the Pats' forthcoming Super Bowl Championship that much more precious. Winning it all will be such sweet reward for those of us who have stuck by the team through 1-15 seasons and 1 point losses in the playoffs.

I am down, but I am certainly not down on the team. Having to go into Three Rivers to face a healthy, rested Steelers team with half your offense banged up is asking a lot. Martin and Meggett never touched the ball on offense, and Coates and Glenn entered the game hurting and were out completely by the start of the 4th quarter. Even Martin's replacement, Derrick Cullors, was playing hurt. If the Bus' nagging groin was the reason the Steelers lost to the Pats by 25 points last year, then you had better believe that losing 3 Pro Bowlers and a rookie record setter was worth at least one lousy point this time around.

Longtime Pittsburgh sports columnist Bruce Keiden had this to say in the Sunday paper about the Patriots:

"They lost the game, 7-6, and they're out of the playoffs; but if there's a war, I want those guys on my side. It was a suicide mission. They were battered. They were in Indian country, Three Rivers Stadium, and they were surrounded. They circled the wagons and fought to the death."

No excuses...

To the Patriots' credit, not one of them ever offered injuries as an excuse following the game. Pete Carroll was offered many chances by the media to pull the injury rip cord and bail out in the post-game press conference, but he never did. That is a sharp contrast to the 1996 Steelers who whined after the game and for the entire off-season about how an injury to Bettis, which didn't even prevent him from playing, was the reason they lost the game 28-3 last season in Foxboro.

Bledsoe took much of the blame himself, saying that as the quarterback it is up to him to score points, and to kick two field goals is "inexcusable." Not once did he ever mention that it would have been nice to have Coates, Glenn, Martin, and Meggett in the lineup. Instead Bledsoe had to throw to Purnell, Cullors, and Brisby down the stretch. The only familiar faces were #3 wideout Troy Brown, and Shawn Jefferson.

No blame...

To blame Drew Bledsoe for this loss is nothing short of insanity. I don't care if you're Butch from the Cape or Willie Clay, to put this loss on Drew is grossly unfair. The Pats offense is sadly one dimensional, and four key weapons were not at Bledsoe's disposal.

Take Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Derick Lovelle, and Rod Smith out of the Denver offense, and how well does Elway play? Do they still win at KC, or even at home against Jacksonville? Take Chmura, Freeman, and Levens out of the Green Bay lineup and suddenly Brett Favre would be in a world of you-know-what as well. Folks, the healthy Pittsburgh offense, with Stewart, Thigpen, and the Bus, scored just one more point than the Pats. To say a banged up Pats unit facing the AFC's #1 rated defense in their stadium should have scored more is outrageous.

On four separate occasions, the Steelers offense took the field in Patriots territory in a close game. They scored a total of zero points in those 4 tries, including failing to get one inch for a touchdown which would have made a Pats comeback nearly impossible. Because of the play of the Steelers defense, the offense is off the hook. Bettis averaged just 2.68 yards per carry in rushing 25 times for 67 yards. Stewart completed just 14 of 31 attempts for a measly 134 yards. When the Bus starts high stepping every time he gets more than 3 yards on a carry, you know their offense is not playing well.

Had THE fumble not happened with 2:00 to play, the Pats may have won 9-7 and all we'd be reading about is how much the Pittsburgh offense sucks, how badly they let their defense down, and how Bill Cowher cost his team the victory with a bone-head decision at the 1 foot line.

I would expect the media and talk radio to beat up on Drew and the offense, but the Pats defense? Willie Clay and whoever else complained has a lot of nerve. I wonder how many points Pittsburgh would have scored if Milloy, Law, Johnson, and McGinest were on the sideline? What would Clay have said to that? What was the defense saying in the locker room following the Green Bay game in which they allowed a 10 minute 99 yard touchdown drive in the third quarter to effectively end the game? This is a team sport, and you win and lose as a team. Sometimes you lose 7-6, and sometimes you lose 39-35. Exactly how many points are "enough" for the offense to score? When does a loss become the defense's fault? 10-9? 14-13? 21-20? When?

Plain and simple, you lose a football game when the other team scores more than your team does. It's the offense's job to outscore the other guys, and it's the defense's job to make sure the other guys score less than your offense. Both units failed in their respective jobs on Saturday. The defense played perhaps their best game in years, but it wasn't good enough. Be a man and don't point any fingers.

Count your blessings...

Those of you fans out there offering multiple trade scenarios to get Bledsoe out of town sound like a 17 year old who doesn't like the color of the Mustang convertible your parents just gave you for your birthday. Of the 40+ quarterbacks who started games this season for the other 29 NFL teams, how many would you take over Bledsoe? Favre? Elway? Young? The list grows very short and questionable after that. At most, there are maybe 5 or 6 QB's in the league who I would rather have seen wearing a blue #11 in that game, but Drew is only 25, and his best years are still ahead of him.

The two fumbles in the game were not Drew's fault. In both cases Drew was blindsided shortly after taking the snap from center. On the first fumble, the snap and the hit were damn near simultaneous. Would Montana have held onto those balls? Please folks. As for the interceptions, sure he underthrew Glenn on the first one, but it's not like he turned it over on the 35. Pittsburgh still had to go 62 yards to paydirt. The second interception was on a Hail Mary on the game's final play. Picks like that should not even count. Honestly.

Following the defenses big stop on 4th and goal late in the game, Drew began a drive standing in his own endzone with 60,000 screaming Steelers fans in his ear, and Coates, Meggett, Glenn, and Martin on the bench. Under a ferocious rush, Drew completed 6 of 7 passes and led the team out to the 42 yard line at the 2:00 warning. With two timeouts left, the Pats were down by 1 and within 28 yards of a Vinatieri field goal attempt. I was convinced that the Pats were going to win, and so were all the Steelers fans sitting around me in the stadium. Had the O-line not allowed the Steelers to come in free from Drew's backside, we very well may have witnessed Drew's defining moment as a pro. It would have been a drive ala Elway or Montana, but he was never given the chance after coming within 28 yards.

The one thing I'll say I didn't like one bit was Drew enjoying a few laughs with his agent Leigh Steinberg and buddy Ryan Leaf in the locker room after the game. There is a time and a place for everything, and Drew should have know better on that one. I'm sure bottom feeder sports agent Leigh Steinberg had some influence in that decision.

That aside, Drew is a player, and we are lucky to have him under contract and playing here in New England. If John Hannah and Steve Grogan say they like Drew Bledsoe, that's enough for me. Butch from the Cape can keep his opinions to himself.

Kudos to Carroll...

As the off-season grows on into March and April, perhaps we can look back and see what a great year the 1997 Pats had. Facing injuries to McGinest, Wohlabaugh, Ferric Collons, Israel, Moss, and the "big 4" mentioned countless times above, a Parcells replacement implemented a new system and guided the team to it's first repeat divisional title in the history of the franchise. If you recall, many of the preseason publications had the Pats finishing 9-7 or 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Many of the "experts" never expected Carroll to guide his team within 1 point of the AFC Championship game, and that was assuming he had a healthy team.

During the 2-5 stretch in mid season, the lynch mob was after Pete Carroll and his staff. I would have filled the cement shoes myself after the disaster in Tampa Bay. Despite the enormous criticism and pressure, Carroll never wavered from his philosophy. The Pats won 5 of their last 6, and clinched the division title with a big win down in Miami on Monday Night Football. In four seasons in New England, the Tuna won just once in Miami, and that was during the 6-10 1995 season.

Down the stretch and in the two playoff games, Carroll proved that he not only deserves to be a head coach, but that he is a good head coach. As for his assistant staff, keep in mind that the Pats were the last team to lose their head coach in an off-season filled with head coach comings and goings. All of the other new hires had a bidding war for assistants, and Tuna took all the Pats assistants with him to the Meadowlands. Carroll was left to pick from what was left, and for the most part it worked out well.

The offensive assistants, namely coordinator Larry Kennan and line coach Paul Boudreau, may be on the hot seat. Carroll's first choice when he came to New England was Philadelphia coordinator John Gruden, but Ray Rhodes would not give him permission to speak with the Pats. Following a disappointing season for the Eagles, Rhodes may let Gruden leave this time for greener pastures. Carroll has also expressed his appreciation in the past for the offensive mind of departed Colts coach Lindy Infante. If he could score points with the Colts, he should be salivating over the prospect of running the Pats offense.

Bledsoe expressed his support for Kennan before he took off for Washington, and it would be tough to have the Pats learn a whole new offensive system, but the lack of toughness exhibited by the offense all year is a major reason for concern given the current roster. Even when the Pats were 4-0, I smelled a rat, and I said so in one of my September columns when the Pats were undefeated. (Check the archives!)

If the lack of toughness wasn't enough cause for change, 4 passes from the 1 foot line against the Packers on Monday Night Football should be.

Change is not good...

Despite the words of our President, Slick Willie, change is not always good. If the Pats are to contend next year and beyond, it is important that they keep their young talented nucleus together. The Pats must resign unrestricted Free Agents Willie McGinest and Bruce Armstrong, and should also come to terms with restricted Free Agent Curtis Martin.

Other who's contracts are up are Bartrum, Byars, Gash, Gisler, Lane, Moore, Rucci, Villa, Hitchcock, Wohlabaugh, Grier, Wyman, and Vinatieri. I will have a more in depth look at what is needed this offseason in a future column, but for now you had better believe McGinest and Armstrong are a priority.

Should Curtis Martin sign elsewhere, the Pats would receive draft pick compensation, but with Gus Sunseri representing Curtis, don't be surprised if he's a training camp holdout. Sunseri said that "God spoke to him" and told him to hold Sean Gilbert out of the Redskins' lineup for the entire year. That is no joke. Sunseri has already turned down a 6 year, $20 Million offer from the Pats, saying that Martin should be paid among the league's top wage earners at his position, such as Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. Don't hold your breath on this one folks. Martin is a great player, and the fans love him, but signs are he may have a touch of Mo Vaughn disease.

Gash, Byars, Wohlabaugh, Vinaterieri, and Hitchcock should also be on the top of the list. Max Lane and Todd Rucci may be lucky to even get a phone call. They have as much bargaining power with the Pats as Emperor Hirohito did with Harry Truman.

Farewell 1997...

As a closing thought on my last column of the 1997 season, I would like to thank the New England Patriots for a great year. I went to 5 road games this year, and despite my 2-3 record in those game, it's always a great time to see your team play on the road in enemy territory. The home opener was a blast, and who can forget the Sunday Night TNT Tuna Bowl? The Pats won two road games in Florida this year, and ended up 7-1 in the division, something else Parcells never did here. They lost their final game, but ultimately that's what 11 of 12 playoff teams do every year. Only the Super Bowl champ goes into the off-season without having to answer the nagging questions of what went wrong.

I would also like to thank Mike "Phenom" Maddaloni for his efforts in designing this magnificent Web page which provides me with the forum to write about my favorite team on the planet. Mike is a great friend, and was an usher in my wedding last June, which brings me to my final point.

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank my beautiful new bride Karen. Not only is my season ticket account still secure for years to come, but so is the PAT VAN (a.k.a. the money pit). I even got out of the house for those 5 away games without a fight!! Not knowing anything about football, Karen spent the first 6 months of her married life enduring the ups and downs living with a man who needs his Patriots as much as he needs oxygen, bread, and water. For that she deserves endless praise.

Special thanks to everyone for reading throughout the season. Clint's Corner will now appear on a monthly basis. Please look for my Pat's Free Agent and Drafting needs in February, as well as my entire NFL draft preview and post draft analysis in March and April. Goodbye and farewell 1997. With the loss to the Steelers, Karen finally has her husband back (at least until the preseason in August).