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 12/21/1999

Eliminated...

The last time that word applied to the Patriots in the regular season was 1995. It’s a dirty, nasty word that I for one did not think would be associated with this team for a long time. Even after the Pats lost at Indy two weeks ago, I honestly thought the Patriots were still going to the playoffs. I guess I overestimated the talent or desire (or both) on this team. This loss has me on suicide watch. I have that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I have not had since watching the Pats drop a 10-7 decision in the RCA Dome on December 23, 1995. New England was playing out the string, and the Colts victory clinched them a wildcard playoff spot. Four years later, it’s as if nothing has changed.

Next Sunday the Patriots will play their first "meaningless" home game since December 10, 1995. On that Sunday the Patriots scored 31 points in a victory over the Jets. That Patriot team entered the game 5-8, out of playoff contention, and still managed to put big points on the board to win their final home game of the season. With two home games left in the 1999 season against the defenses of Buffalo and Baltimore, it will be a minor miracle if the beleaguered Patriot offense can even find the endzone in Foxboro Stadium again this year.

The 1995 team finished 6-10. That team was coached by the Tuna, and had a lot of talent on offense with a young Bledsoe, Coates, Armstrong, Meggett and Gash. Rookie sensation Curtis Martin had 1,487 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Vincent Brisby had 66 catches for 974 yards, and Coates was in Pro Bowl form with 84 receptions and 6 touchdowns. One year removed from a 10-6 season and a playoff birth, the talented Patriots were preseason favorites to go deep into the playoffs, yet inexplicably fell to 4th place in the AFC East and were never considered a postseason contender after stumbling to a 1-5 start.

The similarities to that team and this one are evident, but the ’95 squad did not quit. The Pats continued to play hard for Bill Parcells. They won 5 of their final 9 games, including impressive blowout road victories over the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills. In week 15, they went into Three Rivers Stadium to play the eventual AFC Champion Steelers. The Pats tied the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion with less than two minutes to play before finally succumbing to a very talented team on the road. That 6-9 team came to play, and damn near pulled the upset. The 1999 edition goes into the Vet with a playoff birth on the line and raises the white flag to the 3-10 Eagles. How else can you explain this 24-9 loss other than (lack of) effort? I’m all ears for the answers. Clearly, this 7-7 team is worse than the 6-10 edition of 1995.

Even the 5-11 team of 1993 never gave up, with rookie Drew Bledsoe leading them to 4 straight victories at the end of the season. Who in attendance will ever forget the last home game of 1993? The team was 4-11, and James Orthwein had just a few "I’s" to dot and "T’s" to cross before shipping the team to St Louis, and believe me, it was cold outside. That team had every reason to pack up their tents and head home. Instead, facing a Dolphins team needing a win to make the playoffs, they played arguably their best game of the season. The final play of 1993 saw Bledsoe hit Michael Timpson down the right sideline in overtime for a touchdown to post a dramatic 33-27 overtime victory and send the team into the off-season as winners, and the Dolphins home for the off-season along with them.

The 1993 and 1995 Patriots may not have made the playoffs, but they continued to play with purpose. It is not surprising that in both cases, the Patriots made the playoffs the following season with the 1996 team turning 6-10 into 11-5 and an AFC Championship. Even in the final game of the Dick McPherson era, starting quarterback Jeff Carlson led the 2-13 Pats in their final home game against the 10-4 Miami Dolphins before less than 35,000 fans on that cold December day. Miami needed to win that game to clinch the AFC East title over the Buffalo Bills. Everyone knew that coach Mac was history at the end of the season. To make matters worse, the fans wanted the Pats to lose the game so we’d get the #1 pick (Drew Bledsoe) instead of the Seahawks. With everything working against them, that team fought hard, and with seconds left to play in a 13-13 game, the Pats had a 3rd down in field goal range for kicker Scott Bauman to win it. Carlson dropped back to pass and was sacked. New England was forced to punt, and the Dolphins went to 11-5 with a victory in overtime. How is it that THAT team came to play and the 1999 team does not?

To sum it up, what we have seen from these 1-5 Patriots since the bye week is the worst football since the nightmare 1-15 season of 1990. The blame here is endless. Bledsoe, the offensive line, the receivers, and the running backs have all played well below expectations. The defense may be doing some finger-pointing at the offense, but when the 31st ranked passing offense led by a 3rd string quarterback has three touchdown passes of 50, 11, and 44 yards, you are not exactly blameless. When you make Damon Huard, Ray Lucas, Brian Griese, and Koy Detmer look like the QB class of 1983, you have a lot of nerve blaming the offense for the collapse. The coaching staff certainly will be replaced at the end of the season, but that will do nothing on it’s own to solve the problems this team is having.

The franchise-worst 1-15 1990 team was indeed bad, but they too can serve as an example to their 1999 counterparts. In the final week of that season, Bill Parcells led his eventual Super Bowl champion Giants into Foxboro Stadium. The Patriots had lost 13 consecutive games, and were fresh of a 7-42 road whooping by the Jets. Of the 60,000 seats in the Stadium, Giants fans filled 40,000. In all my years going to these games, it’s the only time I’ve been heckled at a home game for wearing my Patriots jacket. It was the ultimate indignity you could possibly place on a team – to play a "road" game in their home stadium. Rod Rust was history, and he knew it. Disgusted with the team allowing 42 points in week 15, Rust dismissed his defensive coordinator and assumed those duties himself for his final game as an NFL head coach.

In their final possession of the season, Tommy Hodson led the Patriots out onto the field needing to drive his team for a tying field goal with the Pats trailing 13-10. Veterans such as Mosi Tatupu and Irving Fryar made huge plays on that drive, refusing to give an inch with less than 2 minutes to play in a disastrous season. They methodically drove up the field against the Giants defense, and with seconds left to play were in range for Jason Staurovsky to tie the game. His kick sailed wide, but I will never forget how that team came to play in front of their 20,000 fans, including myself, who were there to cheer them on. It said a lot about the character and heart of that talent-starved team. The Patriots are not going to the playoffs, but they have two homes games left on their schedule. How they play in those games will say a lot about the character and heart of the 1999 Patriots.

I will save my thoughts on the future of this team and it’s coaching staff for another column. Right now all I want to see is this entire team come out and give 110% against the Bills. If they do that, they will win the game. Rolling over at home will not look too good on the films that some yet-to-be-named coaching staff will be reviewing starting sometime in early February.

See you next week...