Monday, November 06, 2006

Pats fall flat in ugly 27-20 loss to The Mannings

Maybe it was partially due to my disorientated state of mind thanks to the virus that struck me but I am still finding it hard to believe some of the things I saw in the game last night.

Was that really Adam Vinatieri in Indy blue?

"So Adam, what's it feel like to be the Judas Demon of the NFL"?

Seriously, it's not that I can't believe the score, which was extraordinarily close considering how poorly New England played, or the outcome, since these same Mannings had bashed my Pats last year in the same building, 40-21.

No I am baffled by the fact that this New England team, which looked like the best team in the NFL last week when they dissected the Vikings on Monday Night Football, 31-7, could look so bad just 1 week later against a team that should have brought out their best.
I mean we as fans can all take losses (okay most fans) and we accept them as part of the game, no matter how painful they may be. But a loss like this one leaves a bitter feeling inside the pit of your stomach, like a sourball doused with kerosene. Or maybe that is just the remnants of my bug.

On a chilly night in Foxborough the Mannings came out and played like they were the best team in football as Peyton carved up the New England secondary like they were Thanksgiving birds. On the other hand the Pats came out playing the role of givers, as in giving the Mannings every opportunity they needed to dominate the game, including a mind-bending 4 interceptions thrown by Tom (not so) Terrific. Toss in 8 penalties for 81 yards and numerous untimely dropped passes, including one by Kevin Faulk in the final minute as the Pats were mounting a possible game-tying drive, and it was the poorest performance you'll see out of a New England team against anyone without "Denver" stamped on their uniforms.

The game started off badly and went downhill from there. The Pats mounted an excellent opening drive, moving from their own 19 to the Mannings' 34 in just over 6 minutes thanks to a steady dose of Corey Dillon(13 rushes, 48 yards, 2TDs) & Lawrence Maroney (13 carries, 63 yards) against the notoriously porous Indy run defense. But just when it looked like New England was about to take a 7-0 lead Brady threw a horrendous interception in the end zone to Antoine Bathea (who?!), who ran it back to the 32. It was the first time (of many) that the sellout crowd at The Giant Razor Blade fell silent. As if that mistake weren't painful enough Peyton Rain-manning went to work immediately, OCD-ing and ADD-ing his troops down the field by mixing a steady dose of quick passes & short runs wrapped around a Manning-to- Marvin Harrison 44-yard reception. It would be case of foreshadowing when Harrison hauled in a 5-yard TD catch to end the drive because Harrison torched the Pats secondary early & often all night on his way to a 145 yard, 2TD game. Adding injury to insult for New England, on the drive S Rodney Harrison went out with an arm injury after getting rolled over on a tackle and did not return to the game. NBC cameras did not show pix of Manning salivating on the sideline however.

The 2nd of Dillon's 2 TDs kept the Pats in the game early

Down 7-0 after one the Pats came alive and looked like a team that was capable of knocking off the undefeated Indy squad. They mounted an 11-play, 68-yard drive that spanned 5 minutes of the 1st & 2nd quarters, highlighted by a gutsy 4th & 3 conversion from Brady to Faulk that went for 14 yards. Inspired by that ballsy play the Pats immediately scored on Dillon's first touchdown of the game, and the game was tied at 7. But on this night the Mannings were not going to let New England get the upper hand in any way, and that became obvious when they immediately answered their score with a 2-yard TD run by Joseph Addai. In what was beginning to look like the metaphorical heavyweight fight the Pats answered right back with Dillon's 2nd touchdown after a 66-yard drive that brought New England & their fans their one true highlight of the night: veteran receiver and all-around great guy Troy Brown's 535th reception as a Patriot, eclipsing the great Stanley Morgan's team record.

But that tie at 14 would be the Pats last time the Pats would be that close until the closing minutes as Payton and his 2-headed tandem of Harrison & Reggie Wayne(6 catches, 90yds) used the Pats the same way Brady & his 10 different receivers dismantled the Vikes secondary a week prior. It was as if the Indy receivers and Pats defenders were playing in alternate universes because it on every play either the coverage was too lax or the defender was bumping, grabbing & interfering with the receiver for a penalty. By the time Corey Dillon fumbled twice in one series, one that was overturned and Harrsion mad a spectacular, one-handed grab in the end zone for a 24-14 lead entering the 4th it looked like New England was dead in the water.

But as bad as the team looked no one will ever accuse the 3-time champs of giving up, and with the help of 2 missed Vinatieri field goals (his 1st 2 of the season- figure that) they crawled back into the game for one last gasp. Rookie kicker Steven Gostkowski nailed a 49-yarder to bring the Pats within 24-17, but a Vinatieri 31-yarder pushed it back to a 2-score game, 27-17. The Pats drove down the field again and were in great position for a momentum-building score but had to settle for a field goal when Faulk dropped a pass on 3rd & 8 from the Indy 8 and had to settle for another FG. But if the battered defense could hold the Mannings one more time they would have a chance to tie it.

They didn't hold em, but it was the next best thing-Vinatieri's 2nd miss of the night allowed New England to have one last gasp at pulling this thing to OT, where anything could happen. Alas it was not to be for a team that didn't deserve to win on a frigid New England November eve. As Brady led the troops on one last downfield march, he hit TE Ben Watson() for a 25-yard pass that got them to the Indy 39 and there was a whiff of "this is going to happen" in the air. Unfortunately what did happen was Faulk doinking the ball off his hands and into the arms of Cato June for the game-sealing INT, Brady's 4th but definitely not one of his own doing.

So there it was, all the talk of the Pats being the best team in the AFC for sure, and with the Bears loss earlier in the day probably in the entire NFL, gone up in smoke thanks to a commercial spokesperson and his merry band of talented-yet-humble pass catchers. The Mannings outplayed The Pats, and dare we say it, Dungy out-coached the Hooded Genius; why did they try to run a bunch of trick plays, screens, and end-arounds when everyone knows the way to attack Indy is to run the ball right up their gut? They can't stop it, the Pats have 2 of the best runners in the league right now, yet they only ran the ball 33 times (yes they had 148 yards, but they could have kept pounding it more) compared to 35 passes (Brady was 20-35 for 201 yards, no TDs & those 4 nasy picks.) "What do you mean I should have stuck to the grey cutoff job I wore last week?!"

But it is not luck that is the reason that these guys keep winning. It's just plain old execution of plays. Indy executed last night, New England didn't. And that's why the Mannings are the best team in football-right now.

We'll see if the roles are reversed for the Regular Season Wonders again come playoff time.

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