10:57 AS MANNY WOULD SAY, TURN THE PAGE Pats starting a drive down 14 at the start of the fourth quarter. I daresay this is it, or something trending heavily toward it. I believe we used to call this Brady Time. Or maybe that was must me, or maybe no one said it. But it certainly felt like we were gonna score. Today? Maybe not so much, but a touchdown drive would be huge. After missing Sam Aiken for a bomb on the first play, the next two plays go nowhere, and the Saints easily move the ball for a touchdown to put the game out of reach with 7:49 left. It’s Brees’ fifth touchdown, and to the Pats’ credit, they weren’t out of it until it struck. But it did strike. I would have expected absolutely anything in this game, so I’m not surprised, and I still think the Pats can win the Super Bowl. Can they beat the Saints if they play again? I have no idea how they would, but if they got that far I’m sure they could find a way. Right now it doesn’t look possible, but it’s just one night. The next five teams are the Dolphins, Bills, Panthers, Jags and Texans. We’ll talk about other teams in January. Let’s see what we do with these five.
10:40 I AM NOT IGNORING THE GAME I have largely avoided saying anything, but the Saints are absolutely humming on offense. They scored in no time whatsoever after the Pats touchdown. The Patriots’s secondary is suspect, but Brees is making them look worse than Manning did. Dude just distributes the ball and keeps coming at you. Now, thanks to Sam Aiken, Brady just converted another third down. Whatever the result of this game, this Patriots team looks and feels much more like the 2003-04 bunch than the 2007 crew did. Those teams won with third down conversations, turnovers and breaks. If it’s true that you “make your own luck,” that team had it, and this team seems to have a knack for the opposite. When the 2007 Pats showed up to face the Bills, they got extremely lucky and won; now the old-school team can’t quite get a break on the road, though Ravens fans might disagree. It is unclear if this game is coming down to breaks or execution, but we’re probably a wash on the first and behind in the second. There’s still time, but if the Saints get the ball without the Patriots scoring it could get late out pretty early here, and stay late out very late in New Orleans.
10:22 THERE’S THE MADDENING PART On the flip side of halftime, Laurence Maroney fumbles on the first play because he bowled someone over to get an extra yard. I mean, the Patriots lost to Colts game because he fumbled on a 1-yard run that would have been backbreaking to the Colts, and no one cared. No one in the national media, that is. Sammy Morris replaced him the backfield, and I expect that might last for a while. Morris favors the unspectacular philosophy of “run forward, avoid defenders, and hold onto the ball” that tends to serve Patriots backs fairly well. Maroney may be a good or even great running back, but his style and that of the Patriots’ mesh like two mismatched images overlaid on vibrating overhead projector. Meanwhile, the Pats recovered a subsequent fumble on the same play—with Maroney the strip—and continue to drive, earning a 1st and goal after some nifty Brady footwork kept him alive long enough to find Moss on a 40-something yard catch. It was a broken play, and the Patriots seem to be up against the wall right up until they execute. The Saints are relentless, but Maroney just popped it in from three yards out. That’ll happen.
9:45: WHOA Laurence Maroney just got knocked well out of bounds while he was running full speed, fell down, and scrambled back to his feet like he was still running. He hit his head pretty hard on the play; did he think he was still in bounds? All the evidence says no, because he smiled and walked back to the huddle, jawing with the Saints. But isn’t the problem that concussions are so prevalent that even stopping the completely obvious ones doesn’t prevent many of the problems? It’s either that or Maroney is so jacked up to play that he literally couldn’t stop his legs, which is kind of awesome. Maroney is just a bizarre player. I’ve never seen anyone so unafraid of contact be afraid of the line. It’s like getting to the line is one problem, deciding where to go is another one (hence his legendary happy feet), but going there is not a problem—except maybe for you. He’s absolutely punishing tonight, and he’s seeming to get stronger every game. After all the hype about what he could be, he’s turned into a fascinating, occasionally maddening player who ages like a decent bottle of wine: still fairly good, but slightly different from year to year and a better complementary piece than a show-stopper. But there is time yet. The Patriots have less time. Brady just missed Watson on a 3rd-and-10 and the Pats don’t score going into halftime, and are trailing 24-10.
9:09 IT WOULD BE HARD FOR ME TO PROPERLY REGISTER MY DISGUST WITH THAT BRADY INTERCEPTION So let me get this straight: we stop the Saints around midfield, return a punt to their 40, and on the first play Brady throws across the middle, on the run? That is a baaaaaaaaad decision. On the bright side, I can buy a phone that “trades hairdo for can-do” and is has a name that is licensed to Google by George Lucas. While trying to figure out how to follow this up, the Saints had another 4th-and-1 inside the 20 and went for it, and got it. Good job. They had done something cool with the aforementioned punt, lining up in a standard formation on 4th-and-4 near the 50, then rotating everyone to the punt formation. The idea, I’m guessing, was to keep the Patriots’ punt team off the field, but a) If the Saints didn’t take 4th-and-1 earlier, why would they go crazy with 4th-and 4? and b) Their punt team allowed a 60-yard return, so maybe the moving around messed their concentration. Still, I like the call, and the decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 again. That the decision worked and the punt one decision doesn’t make wrong and one right.
I can’t think of anything to follow that up, so we’re on to the next one…
8:51 OBSERVATIONS PRIOR TO NOW THAT PROMPTED THIS: a) The Saints should have gone for it on 4th and 1 on their first drive, and b) Smart play by Darren Sharper to dive for Maroney’s legs while running beside him; shows that he knows Maroney’s signature move is the stiff-arm and was able to recall it so quickly. Also, Maroney did it once prior to that on the drive. And also, Sharper did it five plays later, only this time he was coming right at Randy Moss, and could have easily sent his kneecap into the stands. Geez. The Saints are pretty much hitting the #### out of the Patriots… who are still driving. They are amped up. I didn’t buy the “Superdome Craziness” argument they were pitching before the game, but seeing as this is the biggest game in their history, I think it was just a difficulty to adjust, on my part. The Saints’ D has the energy, but even on offense, the Patriots are hitting back. Kevin Faulk just ran down the sidelines for 15 yards and instead of going out of bounds, he ran smack into the man in front of him. Then Laurence Maroney bounced off three people on a 2nd and four. Yesterday was billed as the old school, phsyical matchup, but this game is far harder hitting so far. And now the Patriots have 4th and 1 inside the 10. And they’re going for it. Gotta love that symmetry.