October 31, 2006

FOOTBALL IS ALL ABOUT FUNGIBILITY:

Airing it out was group effort: Receiving corps shows its depth (Christopher L. Gasper, October 31, 2006, Boston Globe)

New England threw the ball 43 times and Watson, who had a career-high 95 yards on seven catches, and receivers Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, Troy Brown, Chad Jackson, and Jabar Gaffney combined for 23 catches for 288 yards, quieting criticism about the group's ability to provide quarterback Tom Brady with targets.

"Internally, in this group we knew what we had in here," said Watson. "We knew it from the beginning. We know we're going to have ups and downs each week. We know that every week is not going to be a great passing week, but we know that with the guys in this room we work hard and we try to correct our mistakes."

The Patriots' receiving corps had been blamed for a lack of big plays in the passing game. Before last night, New England didn't have a pass play longer than 35 yards. Gabriel (five catches for 83 yards) took care of that on New England's first drive, when he took a third-and-10 pass from Brady around the Minnesota 30 and turned it into a 45-yard gain.

Four plays later, Caldwell (seven catches for 84 yards) capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown reception, his first in a New England uniform. Caldwell was the first of four pass-catchers to haul in a touchdown from Brady. Watson, Brown, and Jackson also got into the act. [...]

The touchdowns were a welcome reward, but the most encouraging sign from the much-maligned group was the big plays, all of which were the result of running with the ball after the catch. In all, it produced three plays of 34 yards of more, all of which led to scores.

Watson had a 40-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter on a drive that resulted in a Stephen Gostkowski 23-yard field goal, and Caldwell went 34 yards on a wide receiver screen to pick up a key first down on the drive that ended in Watson's TD catch. [...]

By the time Jackson took a pass from Brady, shook free from safety Dwight Smith, and burrowed into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown reception with five seconds left in the third, giving New England a 31-7 lead, the Vikings were probably air sick. Up to that point, New England had passed the ball 38 times and run it just nine.


Chris Mortensen said he talked to an NFL scout who had a pretty good line: "Everyone talks about Brady losing his favorite receivers, but his favorite is the one who's open."

MORE:
Belichick takes Childress to school: Nothing the Vikings tried seemed to work on Monday night. It was just the opposite for the well-tuned Patriots and their crafty coach. (Jim Souhan, 10/31/06, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Over the past week, you couldn't tell whether Childress was poking fun at Belichick or offering the sincerest form of flattery. Childress closed his practices as much as NFL rules allowed, and flooded his injury report with silliness and subterfuge in the classic Belichick style.

By Monday night, you had a Vikings team that is as healthy as any in the NFL playing in front of a loud crowd at home against the Patriots' banged-up offensive and defensive lines.

It was no contest.

Oh, it's easy to give Belichick all the credit when the Patriots win, because the sworls of his fingerprints stand out so prominently on the Lombardi Trophy.

It would be a mistake to conclude that his teams lack talent, though. They just lack the kind of talent that demands constant attention.


Hard lesson brought home to the NFC (Ron Borges, October 31, 2006, Boston Globe)
In the NFC, the Vikings are a playoff contender. Against the AFC, they are cannon fodder. In the NFC, they are a physical team that can run over you with a massive offensive line or shut down yours with a massive defensive line. Against the AFC, they are no more than an annoyance.

The Vikings came to the Metrodome to make their first home appearance in five years on "Monday Night Football" armed with those massive fronts, a raucous crowd, and an abundance of confidence after manhandling the defending NFC champion Seahawks just a week ago. By halftime, they had learned a sad truth: Beating the Seahawks may be a big deal in the NFC, but in the AFC, you haven't beaten anybody until you've beaten the iron -- the Patriots, Broncos, and Colts -- and the Vikings couldn't even beat the Bills, the AFC's version of cannon fodder.

Minnesota had sound reasons to believe it could face down the Patriots, who walked onto the field with a depleted offensive line reduced to using third-string guard Billy Yates to block massive Kevin Williams and with All-Pro defensive end Richard Seymour clearly impaired by the braced left arm he nearly broke a week ago. Yet by halftime, it was obvious that these football teams were in two different classes.

For unsuspecting Viking fans, it was like going to the zoo for the first time and learning the difference between a hyena and a lion. One may be irksome at times but the other is to be feared at all times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 31, 2006 4:38 PM
Comments

Sure, the players are all fungible. Just plug any other quarterback into the Patriots lineup and the result would be the same. I remember all those Super Bowls they won with Drew Bledsoe.

Oh wait.

Posted by: Brandon at October 31, 2006 5:44 PM

In the NFC, they are a physical team that can run over you with a massive offensive line or shut down yours with a massive defensive line. Against the AFC, they are no more than an annoyance.

Goodness gracious, that's over the top. In the NFC, they are a completely unproven commodity doing better than expected. And then they played a good football team and had their arse handed to 'em.

Posted by: kevin whited at October 31, 2006 6:26 PM

One of the local Boston papers had a stat on all the players the Patriots lost this year and how they were doing. Except for Vinatieri (who was hurt most of the year so far but has had some good games) and a little bit of Branch none of the other players have done anything.

Kevin - maybe over the top but when the Steelers (#6 seed) beat the #1 seed (Seattle) it solidified the believe that the NFC wasn't as good as the AFC. We'll see in a few weeks when Chicago and the Pats play.

Posted by: AWW at October 31, 2006 6:44 PM

Exactly. Football is so coach driven that even Bledsoe has made it to the Super Bowl. he'd have won three with Belichik.

Posted by: oj at October 31, 2006 8:09 PM

All this talk about 'losing players' is nonsense that misses the point of the NFL's salary cap. Every high-paid guy means a weakness somewhere else on the team. Some teams pay millions extra and cripple their defense to get a mismatch between their #1 receiver and the opponents #1 DB; the Patriots pay hundreds of thousands extra to create a mismatch between their #3 reciever and the other teams #3 DB.

The Patriots can continue to win as long as they continue to draft well and refuse to overpay, especially in positions the opposition can stay away from (ie, CB).

Posted by: Mike Earl at November 1, 2006 10:49 AM

The cap misses the point. By the time a guy's a free agent you'd be better off drafting a replacement in the 3rd round or later.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2006 11:20 AM

OJ:

Oh, very likely; but there aren't enough draft picks to replace all the free agents/retirees every year, so you need to do some astute signings of veterans. If you can get a proven linebacker for $2M, use the pick for the defensive line. $10M for the best QB in football is money well spent, as critical as that position is. And O-line success appears to be about continuity and coaching as far as I can tell; you don't much need either money or picks there...

Posted by: Mike Earl at November 1, 2006 3:59 PM
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