NFL Championship Sunday Playoff Picks

Championship Sunday is here and 3 of the 4 teams playing today were playing on Championship Sunday last year.  The Patriots, Ravens, and 49ers are all making their second trip in a row to their Conference’s respective championship game.  The Falcons are the new team in the equation, replacing last year’s eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.  The Harbaugh brothers were swept out of a chance to make the Super Bowl last year.  Will it happen again this season?

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

NFC Championship Game – San Fransisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons, 3:00 PM on FOX – The Falcons are 4-point underdogs at home to the Niners and most people don’t have much faith in the home-team.  While the Falcons got their first playoff win in the Matt Ryan-Mike Smith era last week they were practically begging the Seahawks to steal the game from them before putting it away on a last second field goal.  There was some question as to how 2nd year Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick would acclimate himself in the playoffs and he answered those questions resoundingly last week when he passed for 263 yards, ran for 181 and scored two touchdowns each through the air and on the ground.  I’m not sure if Kaepernick will match the success of his first career playoff start but the Falcons defense will need all hands on deck to stop him.  Veteran defensive end John Abraham missed the second half of last week’s game but should be good to go for this week.  Falcons cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson will try to slow down the Niners weapons on offense.  The bottom line is that while the 49ers offense can beat you the strength of their team really lies on the defensive side of the ball.  Good defense is sometimes forgotten during the post-season when guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are flinging around the rock.  The Niners have the best defense left in the tournament and it’s not really that close.  I’m going to predict that Matt Ryan and company will have a long day dealing with that San Fransisco front 7.  Michael Turner will have trouble as well.  The game will rest on the shoulders of Matt Ryan and I just don’t see him making enough big plays to win this game.  The Falcons defense won’t do enough to overcome this and the 49ers will head to their first Super Bowl since the 1994 season.

Final Score Prediction – San Fransisco 49ers 30, Atlanta Falcons 17

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

AFC Championship Game – Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots, 6:30 PM on CBS – They’ll be a lot of cliches used to describe this game – a battle, a bar fight, a bloodbath.  I expect a great game and a close one as well.  No matter what people say about either side anytime these two teams come together they usually play it close.  The Pats are always up for big games like this and you don’t have to ask if the Ravens are going to be ready as it could be Ray Lewis’ last game.  Anyone looking for a blowout in Foxboro should go looking somewhere else.  This is going to be a close game.  I envision more points being scored in this one than last year’s 23-20 AFC final.  The Ravens are a year older on defense and aren’t the juggernaut that they have been in the past.  Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis are both hobbled but I’m guessing Lewis just gets through this one on adrenaline alone.  Ed Reed is the key.  He was quiet last week but he didn’t let Peyton Manning get anything behind him.  He’ll try to do the same with Tom Brady this week.  Defensively the Pats are better than they were last year but I still don’t see a championship caliber defense (not to say that they can’t win a championship, just not on defense alone).  There are some match-up problems for them.  Torrey Smith may be a handful like he was earlier in the season.  If the Pats play the long ball it should open up opportunities for Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice in the middle of the field.  I’ve criticized Joe Flacco a lot but he has come to play during this post-season.  I think he has another strong game today but Tom Brady will be a little bit stronger.  I think the Pats use the home-field to pull this one out but it will be by the most razor-thin of margins (no pun intended).

Final Score Prediction – New England Patriots 31, Baltimore Ravens 30

Follow me on Twitter

Sunday NFL Playoff Picks

So I didn’t do so well yesterday going 0-2.  I guess it serves me right for going against both Harbaugh brothers.  I’m still 4-2 on the post-season so hopefully I can get back on the winning track today.  Here are the picks:

Falcons QB Matt Ryan

Falcons QB Matt Ryan

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons (1:00 PM, FOX) – I love Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson.  Pete Carroll not so much though.  The Seahawks have been an incredible story, coming out of nowhere to win 11 games and then winning on the road against RG III and the Redskins last week.  The Seahawks have a great defense but they will be tested today in the dome against Atlanta’s high-powered offense.  The match-up between Seattle CB’s Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman facing off against Atlanta WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White will be a fun one to watch.  I’m not too sure who will get the upper hand in that one.  The Falcons are OK on defense.  Hopefully they were watching how Green Bay handled the read option last night against San Fransisco and do the opposite of what they did.  Seattle uses the read option to feast on opposing defenses and if they get that going it could be a long day for the Atlanta defense.  A lot of people have pointed out this week that rookie Russell Wilson already has more playoff wins than Matt Ryan.  Despite being the NFC’s #1 seed people aren’t expecting much from the Falcons.  I think Matty Ice finally gets it done today as the travel will become too much for the Seahawks.  If the Seahawks had home-field advantage I would ride them all the way to the Super Bowl but they don’t.  I think Ryan does just enough to get his first playoff win and put Atlanta into the NFC Championship game.

Final Score Prediction: Atlanta Falcons 27, Seattle Seahawks 24

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley

Houston Texans at New England Patriots (4:30, CBS) – I’m thinking that this game will be much closer than the one in Foxboro last month.  Matt Schaub has struggled in the last few weeks but he can wake up today against a below average Pats secondary.  On defense J.J. Watt has to show up more than he did in New England.  The key for Houston is to slow down the Pats offense just enough to keep it close.  Another factor for the Texans will be to limit the mistakes on offense.  On the Pats side obviously they have a lot of playoff experience and the best playoff coach in the game in Bill Belichick.  The Pats will try and do their thing on offense and they should move the ball with everyone healthy.  Stevan Ridley will be key as they will need him to move the ball without fumbling it.  The team who plays mistake-free ball will be the one who advances.  I expect to see a more efficient Matt Schaub this time around against the New England defense but his one mistake will be the difference in the game.  The Pats will take advantage and go into a re-match of last year’s AFC Championship game against the Ravens.

Final Score Prediction – New England Patriots 34, Houston Texans 24

Follow me on Twitter

Super Bowl XLVI Preview and Prediction

In what might be the most anticipated Super Bowl rematch in its history the Patriots and the Giants will square off in a rematch of their Super Bowl battle 4 years ago in which the Giants defeated the Patriots for their first and only loss of the season.  The Patriots will no doubt have revenge on their minds but like 4 year ago the Giants match up extremely well with the Patriots.  Like the Championship games I expect this one to be close and maybe another game that comes down to the last possession.

Super Bowl XLVI – New York Giants (12-7) vrs. New England Patriots (15-3) – Sunday, February 5, 2012, 6:30 PM at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, to be broadcast on NBC and announced by Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth

Both the Patriots and Giants have had a fair deal of roster turnover since their Super Bowl meeting 4 years ago but the schemes that both teams run are by and large the same.  The Patriots run more out of the 4-3 than the 3-4 on defense these days but they have basically been a hybrid team for years.  Obviously the Patriots use the middle of the field more than the edges now on offense with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez replacing the production of receivers Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth from 2007.  Offensively the Giants were more of a ball control offense in 2007 with possession receivers like Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer.  They can stretch the field more now with speedier receivers Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham.  Here’s how the two teams match-up

Giants pass offense vrs. Patriots pass defense

Hakeem Nicks and the Giants' receiving corps could present match-up problems for the Pats

Eli Manning had a pretty good game 4 years ago but this time around both he and his supporting cast are improved.  The Patriots have struggled in one-one-one match-ups on the edges all year.  They’ve done a decent enough job getting to the quarterback but the loss of defensive end Andre Carter was a big blow to the Pats’ defensive line.  Outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich has stepped up for the Patriots towards the end of the season and in the playoffs and he’ll need to have a big game if they want to harass Eli Manning.  If they don’t put pressure on Manning it could make for a long afternoon for the Pats’ defense.  Cornerback Devin McCourty has struggled in one-on-one match-ups all season long and could have a long night if he’s put on an island with Cruz or Nicks.  Another match-up that may be problematic would be a potential match-up between cornerback/receiver Julian Edelman and one of the Giants receivers.  They all have a pretty good height advantage on Edelman and Edelman has been dealing with the likes of Lee Evans and Matthew Willis in the first two weeks of the playoffs.  The Giants are 3 deep at receiver and are likely to present a match-up problem in the slot that the previous two playoff opponents were not able to exploit.  One game plan that the Patriots could revisit is the one Bill Belichick used in 1990 with Bills’ receiver Andre Reed.  He could line up a linebacker opposite Cruz when he’s in the slot and chip him on every passing route.  Reed caught 8 balls for 62 yards in that Super Bowl but he said that was the hardest that he had ever been hit in a game.  I’m not sure that the Patriots have the personnel to do that, particularly if they are playing with 4 down linemen and only 3 linebackers.  I think Eli Manning has a big game.  The Patriots don’t have the personnel to slow down this offense enough.

Edge – Giants

Patriots pass offense vrs. Giants pass defense

Hernandez will need to step up with the ankle injury to Gronkowski

The biggest weapon in Brady’s arsenal is Rob Gronkowski and he is hobbled.  I think he may be slowed a bit in this game but that just means he won’t have as many yards after the catch.  I am guessing that between Bill O’Brien and Josh McDaniels they can come up with something to offset that.  The Giants weakness is at the back of their defense.  On paper they should have a pretty good secondary but cornerbacks Corey Webster and Aaron Ross have struggled at times this year.  The Giants also have a weak spot at middle linebacker.  Starter Chase Blackburn was picked up off of the street halfway through the year after rookie Mark Herzlich went down.  Herzlich was replacing veterans Clint Sintim and Jonathan Goff, both of whom landed on IR.  Herzlich might be back for the game but he is coming off of a broken ankle and did not have much experience to begin with.  The key guys for the Giants defense will be safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle and how they match up with Gronkowski and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez.  Rolle and Phillips have also struggled at times this year.  Look for Hernandez and Gronkowski to possibly switch roles and Hernandez will be the one to stretch the field and Gronkowski will be used more underneath.  The Giants, like all other teams will try to keep Wes Welker in front of them.  I like the guy so I hate to say this, but don’t expect Chad Ochocinco to be a factor.  He’s just not that guy anymore.  The big elephant in the room here is the Giants pass rush.  Obviously it’s one of the best in the league.  The way I see it Bill Belichick had one major priority above all others in the past two weeks – slow down the Giants pass rush and keep Tom Brady upright.  Bill Belichick is one of the best game planners in league history and I’m guessing that he’ll have something in mind to protect Brady on Sunday night.  The Giants will get sacks but I don’t see them repeating their performance from 2007.

Edge – Patriots

Giants rush offense vrs. Patriots rush defense

Big Vince Wilfork ahs been a monster in the midle during the playoffs

The Giants have the same two running backs that they had in 2007, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.  Both of these guys are sometimes underachievers and Bradshaw comes into this game hobbled.  I expect that the rushing game won’t be a focal point of the Giants offense but Jacobs and Bradshaw can get the job done when they need to.  The wild card in this match-up is Vince Wilfork who was a monster in the AFC Championship game against the Ravens.  Wilfork wants that second ring and looked extremely motivated two weeks ago.  Worse for the Giants is that center David Baas was banged up in the NFC Championship and has been limited in the practices leading up the the Super Bowl.  That sets up a very favorable match-up for Wilfork and the Pats D-Line.  If the Giants needs to use one of their guards to help Baas expect things to open up for the rest of the Pats front 7.  They’ll need Brandon Spikes and guys like Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick to come up big if the Giants try to take Wilfork out of the game.  Still with Baas and Bradshaw banged up I think Wilfork and co. will be too much for the Giants offensive front.  The Giants will find a little success in spurts but I don’t see a ground game getting established over the course of the whole game.  I don’t think the Giants running game finds a rhythm.

Edge – Patriots

Patriots rush offense vrs. Giants rush defense

Defensive lineman Chris Canty keys the Giants run defense

The Patriots will start BenJarvus Green-Ellis at running back.  He is a similar running back to Laurence Maroney who started the game in 2007 for the Pats.  Danny Woodhead will get plenty of time but he has not been as effective recently.  I’m not sure how much you’ll see of the formation with Aaron Hernandez in the back field since Gronkowski is hobbled.  The secret about the Giants’ pass rushers is that they are pretty good against the run too.  Linebacker Mathais Kiwanuka has proven to be very versatile, which is why the Giants moved him from end to linebacker.  Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul are pretty good at stopping the run as well and Chris Canty is an addition to the middle of the Giants defense that wasn’t there in 2007.  Defensive lineman Dave Tollefson is another underrated, versatile player on the Giants front defensive line.  Again I see the Patriots failing to get in a rhythm with the ground game because their assets on offense are in the pass game and they will go back to their crutch if they feel that they are not being successful against the run.  The Giants have really stepped up their run defense in the end of the season and the playoffs so I don’t expect the Patriots to run much on the Giants.  This one will be won by air.

Edge – Giants

One of these QBs will add another ring to their resume

So there you have it, as far as match-ups go the tally is New England Patriots 2 and New York Giants 2.  We could bring Special Teams into the conversation but both teams have good kickers, punters, and coverage units.  Like the game in 1990 between the Giants and Bills, this one is very evenly matched.  The game will be won in the air and the quarterbacks will be key in the game.  Both are former Super Bowl MVPs and both enjoyed one of their better seasons to date this year.  This is cliche, and obvious, but the game will come down to whoever protects the ball better.  If there are no turnovers in the game I give a slight edge to the Giants.  However there have only been two Super Bowls in the 45 previous games that have ended with no turnovers by either team.  Considering that the Patriots have Brady, who has been intercepted only once in 155 Super Bowl pass attempts, and Green-Ellis, who has never lost a fumble in his life, I think they are the ones who are less likely to turn it over.  Still, when Eli Manning is bad he is very bad and when he is good he is very, very good.  Right now he is good.  Does he turn the ball over?  Maybe it comes down to Bradshaw and Jacobs?  Either way you slice it this one is a tough game to pick.  I almost want to flip a coin on it.  I hate to do a gimmick prediction but I’ll do it anyway (Just call me Chris Berman).  Like 21 years ago neither team will turn the ball over.  There will be a few more points scored in this one than the 1990 game between the Giants and Bills.  The Patriots will lead 28-27 and Eli will try to rally the Giants down the field and set Lawrence Tynes up for the game winning 47 yard field goal.  The kick will sail wide right and the Patriots win by a point.

Final Score Prediction:  New England Patriots 28, New York Giants 27

Follow me on Twitter

Best Super Bowls of all-time – #2 – Super Bowl XLII – New York Giants vrs. New England Patriots

The New England Patriots finished the 2007 season as the first team to go undefeated in the regular season since the Miami Dolphins in 1972.  They were the first team to win all 16 games since the NFL season was expanded to 16 games in 1978.  They had easily beaten the Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Diego Chargers at home in their two playoff games.  On the other side the New York Giants earned a wild card berth in the NFC with their 10-6 record.  They beat Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Green Bay all on the road to earn a spot in the Super Bowl.  They were all that was standing in the way of perfection for the New England Patriots.

Super Bowl XLII – New York Giants vrs. New England Patriots – February 3, 2008, broadcast on FOX, announced by Joe Buck and Troy Aikman

Maroney scored the first TD of the game in the 1st quarter

The Giants took the ball after the opening kickoff and decided that the best defense against the Patriots offense was keeping them off of the field.  They embarked on a 16 play drive that took almost a full ten minutes off of the 1st quarter clock.  The Giants marched 77 yards before the Patriots finally stopped them and Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes came on to kick a 32 yard field goal and give the Giants an early 3-0 lead.  The Patriots responded quickly, aided by a 43 yard kick return for running back Laurence Maroney to their own 44 yard line.  Maroney started the drive off with two runs for 15 total yards.  Brady then followed up by hitting 3 consecutive passes.  The Giants defense held the Pats to a 3rd and 10 but linebacker Antonio Pierce interfered with tight end Ben Watson on the 3rd down pass in the end zone to give the Pats 1st and goal from the 1.  Maroney went in from a yard out two plays later to give the Pats a 7-0 lead.  Those were the only two drives of the 1st quarter.  Early in the 2nd quarter the Giants moved down the field when quarterback Eli Manning hit receiver Amani Toomer with a 38 yard pass completion on 3rd and 7 to move the ball to the New England 19 yard line.  Three plays later Manning was intercepted by cornerback Ellis Hobbs to end the drive and the scoring threat for the Giants.  The teams traded punts for most of the remainder of the first half.  Tom Brady tried to rally the Pats offense at the end of the half and he hit consecutive 18 yard passes to Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth.  At the Giants 44 ayrd line Brady was sacked for the 3rd time in the half, this time defensive end Justin Tuck forced a fumble and fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora recovered to end the Pats’ threat.  The halftime score was 7-3.

The Pats took the ball first in the 2nd half and went on a drive that was extended by a shrewd Belichick challenge on a 4th down and 2 punt play when he saw that the Giants had 12 men on the field.  The challenge gave the Pats a first down and they advanced the ball to the Giants 25 yard line.  Brady was sacked once again, this time by defensive end Michael Strahan and gave the Pats a 4th and 13 from the Giants 31 yard line.  Belichick decided to forego the long field goal attempt and go for it.  Brady’s pass to receiver Jabar Gaffney was wide and the Pats turned it over on downs.  The 3rd quarter ended with neither team scoring and the Super Bowl went into the final quarter with a score of 7-3 New England.

Tyree made a miraculous catch to keep the Giants' final drive alive

Manning started off the 4th quarter with a big 45 yard pass to tight end Kevin Boss.  Four plays later Manning hit receiver Steve Smith with a big 17 yard completion on 3rd down to keep the drive alive.  Manning ended the 7 play drive by finding receiver David Tyree from 5 yards out for the Giants’ 1st TD of the game and a 10-7 4th quarter lead.  The two teams traded punts until the Pats took over at their own 20 with 7:54 left to go in the game.  Brady quickly took the Pats down the field with a 5 yard pass to receiver Wes Welker and a 10 yard completion to Moss.  Maroney took the ball down to their own 44 yard line with a 9 yard run.  Brady continued to work methodically, finding Welker for 13 more yards and then finding running back Kevin Faulk for 4.  He once again hit Welker with a 10 yard completion, giving the Pats 1st and 10 from the Giants 29 yard line.  Brady hit Moss for 11 yards and then Faulk for 12 giving the Pats a 1st and goal from the Giants’ 6 yard line.  After missing on his first two throws Brady hit Moss on 3rd and goal after Giants cornerback Corey Webster slipped.  The Patriots took the 14-10 lead with 2:42 left to play.

Burress scores the game winning touchdown

Manning had one last chance and needed to get into the end zone.  The Giants’ drive started from their own 17 yard line.  Manning hit his first two passes to Toomer for 20 yards but the Giants were quickly faced with a 4th and 1.  Big Giants running back Brandon Jacobs gained two yards on 4th down to keep the Giants alive.  With 1:15 remaining Manning threw a pass right into the hands of Pats’ cornerback Asante Samuel but Samuel couldn’t hold on to the ball and the Giants were still alive.  On the next play, a 3rd and 5 from the Giants’ 44 yard line, the Pats had Manning dead in the backfield.  Manning turned around to allude linebacker Adalius Thomas but went right into the hands of defensive ends Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour.  Manning broke out of their grasps and flung the ball downfield to Tyree who leaped over safety Rodney Harrison and grabbed the ball with one hand and held it against his helmet as he went to the ground.  He never lost control of the ball and came down with the 32 yard pass completion.  3 plays later, on 3rd down and 11, Manning found receiver Steve Smith to once again keep the drive going for the Giants.  That gave the Giants a 1st and 10 from the Patriots 13 yard line.  Manning found receiver Plaxico Burress wide open in the end zone on the next play for the touchdown to put the Giants ahead 17-14 with :35 to go in the game.  Brady and the Pats had one last-ditch effort to score and salvage their perfect season but defensive tackle Jay Alford sacked Brady on 2nd down and 10 and Brady missed on his last two pass attempts.  The perfect season was dead and the Giants were Super Bowl champions.

Final Score: New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14

The Patriots seemed destined for a 19-0 season but the Giants weren’t about to be a footnote in history.  It’s hard to quantify the biggest upset in NFL history but this might have been the most historic as the Giants ruined the undefeated season.  The two teams combined for 73 points just a month earlier when they met in the regular season but after only combining for 10 points in the first 3 quarters of this game they treated us to a 3 touchdown 4th quarter filled with drama and great moments.  Of all of the catches in Super Bowl history Tyree’s probably ranks as the best.

Follow me on Twitter

Best Super Bowls of all-time – #3 – Super Bowl XXXVI – St. Louis Rams vrs. New England Patriots

The New England Patriots came out of nowhere during the 2001 season.  It was coach Bill Belichick’s 2nd year with the team and they had finished 5-11 in his 1st.  Longtime quarterback Drew Bledsoe was badly injured during the second week of the season and the Pats started off 0-2.  In came Tom Brady to save the day and help turn the Patriots’ franchise around, as Bledsoe had done a decade earlier when he took the reigns.  They made the Super Bowl and had to contend with the Greatest Show on Turf, the St. Louis Rams who won the Super Bowl just two years prior.

Super Bowl XXXVI – St. Louis Rams vrs. New England Patriots – February 3, 2002, broadcast on FOX, announced by Pat Summerall and John Madden

Ty Law scored the first TD of the game on a pick-6

After a defensive start to the game the Rams struck first midway through the 1st quarter.  Quarterback Kurt Warner went 6 of 7 for 43 yards on the 10 play, 48 yard drive and the Rams settled for a 50 yard field goal from kicker Jeff Wilkins.  That was all of the scoring in the 1st quarter.  Warner led the Rams down again at the start of the 2nd quarter but once again the Patriots’ defense stiffened up and forced another long field goal attempt, this one from 52 yards out.  Wilkins couldn’t convert and the score remained 3-0 St. Louis.  The Patriots continued to strugle offensively and Warner got the ball back but the Pats defense stepped up to make a play when cornerback Ty Law intercepted a Warner pass and dashed 47 yards for the first touchdown of the game and gave the Pats a 7-3 lead.  The Rams got the ball moving again but this time receiver Ricky Proehl turned the ball over when he fumbled the ball away to Pats cornerback Terrell Buckley at the St. Louis 40 yard line.  Brady took the Pats down the rest of the field and capped off the drive with an 8 yard TD pass to receiver David Patten to give the Pats a 14-3 lead at the half.  It was the largest deficit that the Rams had faced all season long.

Proehl's TD tied the game with a minute and a half left

Both teams started the 2nd half by driving the ball modestly then stalling, resulting in a few punts to start off the 3rd quarter.  The Pats defense came up big once again late in the 3rd quarter when cornerback Otis Smith intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and returned it to the Rams’ 33 yard line.  Brady could not get the Pats in the end zone but kicker Adam Vinatieri came on and connected on a field goal that made the score 17-3 New England.  There was one more quarter of play and the Rams trailed by two full touchdowns.   The Rams responded by finally driving down the field inside the Pats 10 yard line.  On 4th and goal from the 3 the Rams decided to go for it and Warner was tackled and fumbled the ball away and safety Tebucky Jones picked it up and ran it back 97 yards for a touchdown.  During the play however Pats linebacker Willie McGinest was called for holding when he grabbed running abck Marshall Faulk coming out of the back field and the Rams were given 1st and goal and the 1 1/2 yard line.  Warner snuck it in himself two plays later to cut the Patriots’ lead to 17-10.  The teams exchanged punts and the Rams got the ball back at their own 45 yard line with 1:51 left in the game.  Warner hit receiver Az-Zahir Hakim with a 18 yard pass then connected with receiver Yo Murphy for 11 yards.  On just the third play of the drive Warner found Ricky Proehl in the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game at 17-17 with still 1:30 left to go in the game.

Vinatieri celebrates his game winning kick

The Patriots had a minute and a half and timeouts left and despite commentator John Madden saying that the Pats should sit on the ball and play for overtime the Pats attempted to get into field goal range.  Brady hit the first three passes of the drive, all to running back J.R. Redmond, to move the Pats down to their own 41 yard line with :33 left.  After an incompletion Brady connected with Troy Brown for 23 yards and then hit tight end Jermaine Wiggins for 6 yards at the St. Louis 30 yard line.  Brady rushed up and spiked the ball with :07 left on the clock.  Vinatieri, who was the hero of the Snow Bowl three weeks earlier against the Raiders, came on to try the 47 yard field goal attempt to give the Patriots their first ever Super Bowl victory.  Vinatieri hit it right between the uprights and the Pats won their first Lombardi Trophy.

Final Score:  New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17

This was the game that started a dynasty for the Patriots as they went on to win two more Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004.  This was probably their most satisfying win, as a heavy underdog (the last time they were underdogs in the Super Bowl) and it put the franchise on the map after years of futility.

Follow me on Twitter

The history of Super Bowl media day

Ah, Super Bowl media day is upon us.  It’s become a clown show in recent years with way too many media credentials being given out.  I guess that’s the way it is in the age of TMZ and all of that.  Every year there is a gorgeous Spanish model masquerading around as a reporter (and this year was apparently not an exception).  The real stars of media day however have been and always will be the players.  Sometimes they say dumb things, sometimes they say emotional things.  Some guys two opponents get together in good fun.

In 1979 outspoken Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson gave the media the first great, outlandish quote on a Super Bowl media day by saying of Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw “he couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the c and the a.”  Bradshaw and the Steelers went on to win the game but even afterwards Henderson was defiant saying “I didn’t say that he couldn’t play, just that he couldn’t spell.”  Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan and Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe took the trash talking to a whole new level in 1999 with the below back and forth on media day

Super Bowl media day in 2001 offered contrasting interviews from two stars with troubled pasts.  Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was involved in a stabbing in front of a club at last year’s Super Bowl and was found guilty of obstruction of justice in relation to the incident.  Lewis offered these ridiculous quotes on the matter on media day: “Yeah I got money. Yeah I’m black. Yeah I’m blessed, but at the same time let’s find out the real truth. The real truth is this was never about those two kids dead in the street, it’s about Ray Lewis. And that’s the same thing this is about and that’s not right.”  On the other side Giants starting QB Kerry Collins opened up with his past battles with alcoholism.  “The type of drinking I did was not every day, it wasn’t every other day. But when I drank, I didn’t stop. I never had just one beer. That wasn’t the way I drank. That loss of control was the main crux of my alcohol dependency.”  Collins felt a weight lifted off of his shoulders after spilling the beans on media day.  “I’m glad that it happened because it’s therapeutic for me in a sense. When you tell the truth, it frees you a little bit.”  Collins was crushed by the Ravens defense in the Super Bowl and Ray Lewis was named M.V.P. of the game.

Here is a clip involving some of the best, and worst, moments from Super Bowl Media day:

 

Follow me on Twitter

 

Best Super Bowls of all-time – #8 – Super Bowl XXXVIII – Carolina Panthers vrs. New England Patriots

The Patriots were in the midst of starting a dynasty.  They had just won their first ever Super Bowl two years prior and finished the 2003 regular season with a record of 14-2, the best in franchise history.  Meanwhile the Carolina Panthers were 1-15 just two years prior and new head coach John Fox had turned things around in Carolina.  They won the NFC South in 2003 with an 11-5 record and then embarked on an improbable playoff run to face the Patriots in the Super Bowl.  The Pats were heavy favorites but the Panthers weren’t about to back down.  It made for an entertaining game.

Super Bowl XXXVIII – Carolina Panthers vrs. New England Patriots – February 1, 2004, broadcast on CBS, announced by Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms

Brady was starting his 2nd Super Bowl for the Pats

The first half was mostly a defensive struggle between the two teams.  Troy Brown tried to help the Pats early by returning a punt after the Panthers opening drive into Carolina territory.  The Pats made it all the way down to the Panthers’ 9 yard line but the Carolina D stood up and Adam Vinatieri missed a 31 yard field goal attempt.  Carolina went 3-and-out on their next possession and once again the Pats got the ball off the punt in Carolina territory.  They made it down to the Carolina 31 yard line but Carolina linebacker Will Weatherspoon made a great play when he tackled Brown for a 10 yard loss on an end-around on 3rd down.  Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme was stymied by the Pats defense in the 1st quarter.  He had hit on only one of his first nine passes and he had been sacked three times.

The 2nd quarter played a lot like the 1st quarter in the beginning.  Delhomme could do nothing and the Panthers defense played bend but don’t break.  The Pats moved the ball down the field and once again Adam Vinatieri was set up with a 36 yard field goal attempt but this time his kick was blocked by Carolina defensive end Shane Burton.  Late in the 2nd quarter Delhomme was sacked by linebacker Mike Vrabel and fumbled deep in Carolina territory.  The Pats recovered at the Panthers’ 20 yard line.  3 plays later quarterback Tom Brady found receiver Deion Branch for a 5 yard TD throw and gave the Pats the first score of the game and a 7-0 lead.  At this point the Panthers had a net of -9 offensive yards so far in the game and a holding penalty would cause them to start their next drive on their own 5.  The Carolina offense finally came alive and on the 8th play of the drive Delhomme found receiver Steve Smith on a 39 yard TD strike to tie the game at 7-7 with 1:07 left in the half.  The Pats got the ball back and on the 3rd play of the drive Brady found Branch for a 52 yard gain to set up the Pats deep in Carolina territory.  3 plays later Brady found receiver David Givens from 5 yards out to give the Pats a 14-7 lead with :18 left in the half.  The Pats tried to play it safe and squib kick it to the Panthers but up man Kris Mangum picked the ball up and returned it to the Carolina 47.  Then on a nice play call the Panthers ran a draw to running back Stephen Davis who picked up 21 yards to set up a 50 yard John Kasay field goal as time expired in the half with a score of 14-10 New England.  After putting up no points for the first 26:55 of the first half the two teams combined for 24 points in the last 3:05.

Panthers WR Muhsin Muhammad looks the record breaking 85 yard TD throw into his hands

Defense returned for the 3rd quarter and both teams were held scoreless in the 3rd, much like they were in the 1st.  Brady started to lead the Pats down the field towards the end of the 3rd quarter.  He took the Pats down the field on an 8 play, 71 yard drive that ended on the 2nd play of the 4th quarter when Pats running back Antowain Smith brought it in from 2 yards out to stretch the lead to 21-10 Pats.

Vinatieri does it again

Once again the Panthers responded with offense after a Patriots score.  Delhomme brought the Panthers down the field on just 4 plays, the last being a 33 yard TD run by Carolina running back DeShaun Foster.  The Panthers went for 2 and failed, making the score 21-16.  Brady took it right back down the field for the Pats and settled at the Carolina 9 yard line but a 3rd down Brady pass was intercepted by cornerback Reggie Howard in the end zone.  3 plays later, on 3rd and 15 from their own 15 Delhomme hit receiver Muhsin Muhammad with an 85 yard TD pass to give the Panthers their first lead of the game.  It was also the longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.  Another 2 point conversion failed but the Panthers led 22-21.  The Pats once again took it down the field and Brady again settled deep in Panthers territory.  This time he hit his 3rd and goal pass when he found linebacker Mike Vrabel, playing tight end, in the end zone for a 1 yard TD.  Running back Kevin Faulk ran in the two point conversion to give the Pats a 29-22 lead.  The Panthers went down the field yet again and the drive was capped off by a 12 yard TD pass from Delhomme to wide receiver Ricky Proehl.  Two years prior Proehl had caught the game tying TD in the Super Bowl against the Patriots as a Rams receiver and watched the Pats go down the field to set up an Adam Vinatieri field goal.  Kasay kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds and gave the Pats the ball at their own 40 yard line.  Brady once again maneuvered the Pats into field goal range, thanks in large part to a 17 yard completion to Branch on 3rd down and 3.  Vinatieri nailed the 41 yard field goal to give the Pats their 2nd Super Bowl victory in 3 years, both on last second field goals by Vinatieri.

Final Score: New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29

After combining for 24 points in the final 3:05 of the first half the two teams broke a record by combining for 37 points in the 4th quarter of this game.  The Panthers held their own and despite being heavy underdogs matched the Pattriots play for play but in the end it was Brady and then Vinatieri, a familiar combo, that led the Pats to another Super Bowl victory.

Follow me on Twitter

 

NFL Championship Weekend Predictions

The time has come for me to make my picks.  It should make for an exciting championship weekend, as the two games are far better match-ups than people may give them credit for.  My favorite storyline of the weekend is the young upstart Harbaugh brothers, 49 year old John in his 4th season with the Ravens and 48 year old Jim in his 1st season with the 49ers, going against 59 year old Bill Belichick, with 17 seasons and 175 wins (most among active coaches) under his belt and Tom Coughlin, with 16 seasons and 129 wins (4th most among active coaches) under his.  A lot of people expect to see a 2007 rematch between longtime rivals and coaching mates Belichick and Coughlin but I wouldn’t be too quick to count the Harbaugh bros. out just yet.  They are tough games to pick but here are my predictions for Championship Sunday:

AFC Championship Game – Baltimore Ravens (13-4) at New England Patriots (14-3), 3:00 PM (CBS)

Tom Brady will play in his 6th AFC Championship game

The top two seeds meet in Foxboro on Sunday to determine the AFC representative in the Super Bowl.   The Patriots have averaged 40 points in the last 4 games but two of those games were against the same opponent, the Denver Broncos.  I am, a bit surprisingly to be honest, in the minority that think that the Patriots have not been tested enough this year.  The Baltimore Ravens were the 3rd best defense in both points and yards allowed this season.  The only defense the Patriots played all year that had a statistically better defense was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were 1st in both yards and points per game.  The Pats only managed 17 points against them.  There’s been a myth perpetuated in the last few weeks that the Broncos had a good defense because they had two guys that racked up a lot of sacks..  They were 20th in yards per game and 24th in points per game.  In other words they weren’t very good.  The other team they faced in the last 4 games was the Buffalo Bills who were 26th in yards per game and 30th in points per game.  Meanwhile the team that they didn’t score 40 points against, the Miami Dolphins, were 15th in total yards and 6th in total points.  The point is despite the offensive proficiency throughout the season the Pats’ production seemed to drop off against better defenses.  A lot of people are expecting big numbers for the Pats offense this Sunday.  I am not.  Does that mean that I am picking the Ravens to win?  Not necessarily.  How for real is the Patriots defense that we saw last week against the Broncos?  Let’s go back to the numbers.  The Broncos’ offense was 23rd in yards per game and 25th in points per game for the regular season.  Contrast that with the Ravens who were 15th in yards per game and 12th in points per game.  The Ravens are a far more versatile team on both sides of the ball.

Terrell Suggs has been a thorn in Brady's side

Obviously the key for the game is Ravens running back Ray Rice.  The Ravens were 10th in rushing yards per game during the regular season.  The Patriots were 17th in rushing yards given up per game.  It will be a tough match-up and Rice has had success against the Pats in the past.  Receiver Anquan Boldin will be a tough match-up for the Pats as he is a superior route runner and the Pats DB’s have struggled in one-on-one match-ups with receivers like Boldinall season.  Joe Flacco can’t make mistakes, if he turns the ball over he might lose the game for the Ravens.  Obviously the way to neutralize Tom Brady is to put on a pass rush and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.  Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has had a great deal of success against Brady and the Pats.  The Ravens are strong up front so one of the more intersting match-ups will be the middle linebackers and safeties of the Ravens vrs. the tight ends of the Pats.  Brady had better watch out if Ed Reed is shadowing Rob Gronkowski all game because, as T.J. Yates found out last week, if you keep throwing it Ed Reed’s way he’ll eventually get his hands on one.  Like Flacco Brady will have to play flawless football because a turnover may gave the Ravens offense the extra opportunity that they need to make a play to win the game.  The receivers will be important this game for Brady as they may have to use the outside of the field more.  That means they need big games from Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco.  The x-factor for the Ravens defense may be safety Bernard Pollard (yes, that Bernard Pollard).  He is the weak link up the middle for the Ravens but he is still pretty good.  Ultimately this game will come down to turnovers and pressure on the quarterback.  Flacco was harassed all day by the Texans front 7, but they are a much superior to the front 7 than that of the Pats.  Brady had all day to throw last week but the Ravens are much more stout than the Broncos on defense.  This game is going to be close.  I don’t see the Patriots scoring more than 24 points in the game.  The question is can the Ravens score 24 points or more in the game?  I am going to go very conservative with this pick and say that both teams play a clean game and Brady makes at least one more play than Flacco for a Pats win.  I can see it going the other way too though.  Maybe whoever has the ball last.  Either way I am expecting a good game, not a blowout this Sunday at Gillette.

Prediction: New England Patriots 24, Baltimore Ravens 21

NFC Championship Game: New York Giants (11-7) at San Fransisco 49ers (14-3), 6:30 PM (FOX)

Patrick Willis will have to keep the Giants ground game in check

21 years ago these two teams faced off in a great showdown between Bill Parcells’ Giants and George Seifert’s 49ers.  The Giants won that game without even scoring a touchdown on Matt Bahr’s game winning last second field goal.  The Giants won that day by a score of 15-13.  While I expect a few more points to be scored this weekend look for defense to reign again in San Fransisco.  The Niners were consistently good all season on defense.  They finished 4th in the NFL in yards given up per game and 2nd in points given up per game.  The Giants were a mess on defense most of the year due to injuries and underachievement.  They were 27th in yards given up per game and 25th in points per game.  The Giants defense has heat up in the last month however.  They got one of their injuries linebackers, Michael Boley, back for the playoffs and might get another, Mark Herzlich, back for this game.  Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Uymeniora, and Mathias Kiwanuka have all stepped up their games considerably these past few weeks.  They always had the talent to do it and now it’s showing.  They match up well against the 49ers.  The Niners receivers are nothing special, there are no Jerry Rice’s on this team.  That’s good for the Giants because their weakness on defense is on the edges.  Frank Gore is key for the Niners, much like Ray Rice is for the Ravens.  If Gore gets going that will open up play action and Alex Smith will be able to use the middle of the field with Vernon Davis.  The Giants need to get pressure on Smith and force a mistake.  Smith is a game manager, much like Joe Flacco, and if he turns the ball over then he is not doing his job.  Look for the Giants to bring heavy pressure early.

Victor Cruz went from Zoomass to the NFC Championship Game

On the other side of the field it is all about Eli Manning.  Much like his brother and Tom Brady he will pick you apart if you don’t get pressure on him.  Manning has three dependable targets in Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, and Hakeem Nicks.  He likes to use Bear Pascoe and Jake Ballard in the middle of the field.  The Niners have to get the Smith brothers from another mother going quickly.  Justin Smith can get pressure from any spot on the line and Aldon Smith is one of the best hybrid end/linebackers to come into the league in the last few years.  The 49ers secondary is pretty good but you can beat Donte Whitner with your tight ends and their top cornerback Carlos Rogers is a gambler.  If a Nicks or a Cruz can get behind him then it’s off to the races.  The 49ers will key in on stopping running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.  They will try to make Eli Manning beat them on his own.  Not that he can’t do it, but it will make it easier for the Niners to game plan for just Eli and not Eli and the running game.  Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman were key in stopping the run and keeping everything in front of them last week against the Saints.  They will need to do the same thing this week against the Giants offense.  Still, this Giants run looks eerily similar to the one of 2007.  If you don’t remember they beat Green Bay in Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game and went on to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.  But this is a new year and the Niners are a different opponent.  I need to apologize to Alex Smith for expressing doubt in his ability to lead the Niners deep into the playoffs.  He played a hell of a game last weekend against the Saints, particularly in the 4th quarter, but I have to admit that he has not totally swayed me.  The Giants represent a different kind of challenge than the Saints.  They will bring more pressure.  Last week Gregg Williams had to dial up blitz after blitz to generate pressure on Smith which led to more favorable one-on-one match-ups down the field for the 49ers.  The Giants will put pressure on you with a 4 man front which means they can double team and put a shadow on tight end Vernon Davis.  Eli Manning will face a far tougher test this week when he faces the 49ers but Eli has proven himself to be a big game quarterback.  I know people in New England are dying for a 2007 re-match and I hate to appease the masses but I think that Eli and the Giants will be too much for the Niners who will turn the ball over at least twice.  Like I said earlier, I can see the Ravens winning and likewise I can see the 49ers winning this one, especially in their home stadium but I have to go with the Giants on this one with a gun to my head.

Prediction: New York Giants 27, San Fransisco 49ers 20

Follow me on Twitter

My AFC East First Half All-Pro Offense

A lot of people like to do a list of their mid-season all-stars to feel self important and I am no exception.  This is my All-AFC East Team – 11 starters on offense, 11 starters in a 3-4 defense, and 4 special teamers.  Today will be the offense and kicker and tomorrow I will unveil the defense and punter.  Here is the AFC East First Half All-Pro Offense (1st team write up, second team in parenthesis)

Quarterbacks

  • 1st team – Tom Brady, New England Patriots (212 of 321, 2,703 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs, 66.0 comp. %, 100.0% QBR) – It’s been another banner year for Pats QB Tom Brady.  He hasn’t been efficient as he has in years past, including last year when he had an unreal 36/4 TD/INT ratio.  But his stats for the first half of the year are as gaudy as anyone’s in the league and he’s leading a Patriots offense that is one of the best passing attacks in the league.  He’ll be in the MVP conversation at the end of the year again
  • 2nd team – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills (170 of 260, 1,930 yards, 15 TDs, 9 INTS, 65.4 comp. %, 92.3% QBR) – Fitzpatrick has emerged as the Bills’ long term answer at QB, a stature made official with a contract extension signed two weeks ago.  Fitzpatrick is once again on pace to put up numbers that only rival that of Jim Kelly and Drew Bledsoe in the past twenty years for this Bills franchise.

Running Backs

  • 1st team – Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills (150 car. for 803 yards, 5.4 avg., 6 TDs, 1,194 total yards) – Jackson is far and away the best halfback in the AFC East.  He’s already got 1,194 total yards halfway through the season, which is on pace to eclipse O.J. Simpson’s single season Bills record.  He’s also on pace to crush his previous career high for rushing yards in a season.  He is the workhorse behind a potent Bills offense and like Brady will be a candidate for NFL MVP at the end of the year.
  • 2nd team – BenJarvus Green-Ellis (108 car. for 452 yards, 4.2 avg., 5 TDs, 501 total yards) – Green-Ellis narrowly beats out Reggie Bush because he’s been more in touches (and scores) and Shonn Greene because he is more consistent in average per carry.  Green-Ellis is the workhorse in a Patriots offense that uses many different pieces.

Fullbacks

  • 1st team – John Conner, New York Jets (7 car. for 26 yards, 3.7 avg., 1 TD, 35 total yards) – Conner is emerging as a top fullback in the league this year.  He’s been by far the most versatile fullback in the division this season, contributing in the rushing, passing, and blocking games.
  • 2nd team – Corey McIntyre, Buffalo Bills (No stats) – McIntyre hasn’t been utilized as a ball-handler in the Bills offense this year but he is a physical load.  He is a grinder who opens up huge holes for Fred Jackson in the short yardage and goal line situations and Brad Smith in the wildcat formation.

Wide Receivers

  • 1st team – Wes Welker, New England Patriots (66 cat. for 960 yards, 6 TDs, 42 1Ds) – Welker has been off the wall this season and is on pace for his best season to date.  He is one of Tom Brady’s security blankets and is virtually impossible to cover with Brady throwing him the ball.  Oh, and he’s a free agent at year’s end so don’t look for him to slow down any time soon.
  • 1st team – Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins (46 cat. for 644 yards, 2 TDs, 31 1Ds) – Marshall edges out Stevie Johnson for the second WR starting spot on my team.  He’s made headlines for what he’s said off the field so for this year but what he has done on the field has been nothing to sneeze at.
  • 2nd team – Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills (42 cat. for 523 yards, 4 TDs, 28 1Ds) – Johnson was edged out by Marshall for first team honors but makes a fine first receiver off the bench.  Johnson is one of the best route runners in the league.
  • 2nd team – David Nelson, Buffalo Bills (35 cat. for 402 yards, 3 TDs, 19 1Ds) – Nelson beats out Deion Branch for the last WR spot on the team with a bit more consistency.  Nelson has seen fewer targets but has more receptions.  Nelson’s hands are as sure as anyone’s in the league and as such a big target he gets to balls that other receivers can’t.

Tight Ends

  • 1st team – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (44 cat. for 596 yards, 6 TDs, 34 1Ds) – Gronkowski is a beast in the passing game, plain and simple.  He is versatile, he can block and catch, but he is most dangerous in the middle of the field where his big body and athleticism make him incredibly difficult to defend.
  • 2nd team – Dustin Keller, New York Jets (29 cat. for 436 yards, 2 TDs, 21 1Ds) – THE AFC East tight end pool is deep with Aaron Hernandez and Scott Chandler also getting consideration but Keller is just two big a part of the Jets offense to overlook.  He is their best receiver through the first half of the season.

Tackles

  • 1st team – Jake Long, Miami Dolphins – Long’s Dolphins might only have one win but Long is still among the best left tackles in the game in 2011.  Reggie Bush’s 4.9 yards per carry would help speak to that.
  • 1st team – Wayne Hunter, New York Jets – Hunter is probably not the best tackle on his team (see below) but he is the best right tackle in the division with Sebatian Vollmer splitting early time with rookie Nate Solder.
  • 2nd team – D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets – Ferguson is definitely not a high first round disappointment for the Jets, playing again at a extremely high level while guarding Mark Sanchez’s blind side.
  • 2nd team – Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots – Vollmer has been plagued by health problems and has dealt with the emergence of fellow right tackle Nate Solder but is consistent as ever when he’s in there.

Guards

  • 1st team – Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills – Levitre has been a monster this season for the Bills.  He’s done all that’s been asked of him, including kicking out to left tackle the past two games for the Bills’ injured tackles.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked just twice in those two games.
  • 1st team – Brian Waters, New England Patriots – Waters was a great veteran pickup by the Patriots just before the start of the regular season.  Waters has stabilized a line that was inconsistent at time for the Pats last season.
  • 2nd team – Logan Mankins, New England Patriots – Mankins is having another great season, just not one as good as Andy Levitre’s up in Buffalo.  Mankins is the anchor for the Pats offensive line.
  • 2nd team – Vernon Carey, Miami Dolphins – Carey has not skipped a beat moving inside from right tackle to right guard this year, playing at his usually high level and being a beast in the run game.

Centers

  • 1st team – Nick Mangold, New York Jets – Mangold missed a few games earlier this year due to a high ankle sprain but he is by far the best center in the NFL when healthy.  He is dominant virtually any time out there.  He was sorely missed during his injury, a huge blow to the Jets offense
  • 2nd team – Eric Wood, Buffalo Bills – Wood is playing at a Pro Bowl level in his first season back at his college position.  He would probably  a 1st teamer if he was in any other division, or Mangold wasn’t in his.  He might be the best pull center in the league.

Kickers

  • 1st team – Nick Folk, New York Jets (12-13 FGs, 23-23 XPs, 50 long) – Folk has been the most consistent kicker in the division, only missing once and being 2 out of 3 from over 50 yards out.
  • 2nd team – Rian Lindell, Buffalo Bills (13-15 FGs, 25-25 XPs, 49 long) – Lindell has had his usual consistent season with 13 makes, including a game winner against the Patriots.  Unfortunately he will miss the next 4-6 games for the Bills with a shoulder injury.

Defense tomorrow

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Thoughts on Cowboys/Patriots

Well, I guess we were due for a vintage Tom Brady performance.  Brady did his best superman impression by overcoming the kryptonite supplied by his nemesis Rob Ryan and lead the Pats down for a game-winning touchdown.  Here are some thoughts.

  • You can talk about Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch all you want.  Rob Gronkowski is the Patriots’ best weapon.  The guy is near unstoppable.  Those other guys will win match-ups when you get them one on one but Gronkowski is the guy you have to game plan around.
  • BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley look like they would make a pretty good tandem if they were used and balanced consistently.  Ridley is raw but there is a ton of skill there.
  • Tom Brady has been sacked 7 times in the past two games.  That’s almost a season’s worth for him.  Not sure if it’s the O-Line or just facing a couple good pass rushing teams in a row.  They’ll face a stiff test in a few weeks against Pittsburgh.
  • Defensively the Pats improved over the last few weeks but still have some work to do.  Andre Carter stepped up today.  The advantage of stock-piling these veteran linemen is that these guys will take turns stepping up. When Mark Anderson has an off game, Andre Carter is on.  When Carter struggles, a Shaun Ellis steps up, etc.
  • Seems like all we’ve talked about this year when mentioning Vince Wilfork is his new found penchant for picking off passes.  I just feel like this needs to be re-iterated – Vince Wilfork is as good as it gets when it comes to stopping the run up front.  He is so good you almost start to forget.
  • Brandon Spikes was very active on the blitz and was a huge asset in th pass rush.  When the light totally goes on this kid has a chance to be a stud.
  • So the last two times the Patriots haven’t scored 30 or more points (scanning the last 15 games) was against a Rob Ryan coached defense.  I guess that bodes well considering the fact that they aren’t scheduled to face Ryan again for another 4 years.  Of course there is a chance he gets a head gig by then.  Stats like that could attract him to a team like Miami.
  • So, I hated the coaching by Jason Garrett at the end of the game.  Yeah, their defense played great all game against Brady but after all, it’s Brady, and you might as well not play with fire if you don’t have to.  This is what I said earlier about coaching to win or coaching not to lose.  Jason Garrett coached not to lose.  Of course I guess that what you do when your QB is Tony Romo and not…
  • Tom Brady, what more can you say.  Since the Pats run up 30-40 points seemingly every week the comebacks are becoming few and far between but you can never forget that Tom Brady is the most clutch quarterback of the generation and he’ll beat you when it counts  Count it as just another notch in the belt.

The Pats are 5-1 at the bye and when you look at the schedule it’s hard to envision anything more than another 1-2 losses.  It’s all about seeding now, unless Buffalo can do something extraordinary, and staying healthy.  The Pats have been lucky with injuries this year and hope to be able to continue that going into the last 10 stretch.  Hey, maybe Ochocinco will start to contribute sooner or later too.