Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Still Unbeaten

It looks like my McBlogging buddy beat me to it, but theres no way I could not blog about last nights Patriots-Ravens game. I'll make a few of my own observations before responding to McBlog.

1- Have I mentioned Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever? To put up 27 points, on the road, in the wind, with that crowd, and with that defense as fired up and playing at the high level it was playing at ... it's nothing short of amazing.

2- The Patriots got beat up last night. Last week I said they got punched in the mouth- this week they got pounded from start to finish. Every other team in the league will take notes that you can run on the Patriots and you can make their defense look old. Vince Wilfork played a great game eating up double teams, but Richard Seymour got blocked man on too many times, and every single one of the Patriots linebackers looked slow and could not shed blocks.

3- Despite getting pounded for three quarters, the Patriots defense some how managed to stand tall and stop the Ravens in the 4th quarter.With a 24-17 lead, the Ravnes got the ball back in the 4th quarter after sacking Brady on consecutive second and third down plays and returning the ensuing punt to the Patriots 31 yard line (which became the Patriots 26 after a penalty). With all the momentum going against them, the Patriots defense held. The Ravens drive went McGahee no gain, McGahee 1 yard, Kyle Boller stupid interception. The Ravens got the ball back again, with 8:41 left and a four point lead. McGahee 2 yards, McGahee loss of 1 yard, Boller incomplete. After the Ravens defense forced another Patriot punt, the Ravens had the ball with 5:21 and a chance to run out the clock. Pass to McGahee for 7 yards, McGahee run for 1 yard, pass to McGahee for 1 yard. It was awesome. It was like one of those classic war movies where the bloodied and over matched heroes could not afford to give an inch to the enemy. Just like in the movies, the Patriots held their ground.

4- Kevin Faulk is a great football player- he picks up the blitz well, catches the ball, and runs well when the Patriots really needed him too. And that tackle and strip of Ed Reed had shades of the Troy Brown play against the Chargers in the playoffs last year, which, just so happens to be another game in which the Patriots were physically over matched.

5- The Patriots were somewhat effective running the ball last night. Maroney and Faulk combined for 20 carries for 77 yards- Not great numbers, but passable, particularly against a Ravens defense that was giving up under 2 yards per carry on an ordinary day. Interestingly enough, the majority of the Patriots runs came from the shotgun. They've done this all year, but they seem to be getting more and more effective at it. I think the Patriots can run the ball when they need to. And, they can convert some short yardage situations. What worries me is that without Sammy Morris they don't have a back like a McGahee that can run in bad weather, chew up clock in the second half, and take over games.

And on to McBlog! .... Of course the Patriots had some luck last night. Good teams generally do have luck go their way. As to the Patriots being a finesse team .... ehhhhhh .... Whatever you want to call them, they did manage to beat one of the most physical teams in their most physical game of the year. I'm not saying that there's not some truth to the finesse label, only that I'm not sure it means much of anything. The Patriots already won the most physical game of the year. What more can their opposition do in the realm of being physical to beat them?

Updated 12/4/2007 @ 4:25 PM: I want to be clear about something. The Ravens were the better team on the field last night. There's nothing odd about saying this. Football fans tend to get caught up talk of who's good and who's bad while forgetting that the talent level between the teams at the top and the teams at the bottom is really quite small. You see much, much wider gaps in talent in high school and college football, but in the NFL just look at how quickly teams can go from elite to struggling or from mediocre to elite. The point is that shocking upsets are not always the shocks we think they are. Any given Sunday any one NFL team can beat another- we see this year in and year out and we're always somehow shocked when it happens.

The truth is that the best teams are not the best teams because of superior talent- talent is certainly a factor, but talent alone doesn't win you anything. Coaching counts a hell of a lot (see Bill Belichick versus Brian Billick). So does preparation and most importantly, execution. The Patriots blowouts this year- particularly the recent ones of Buffalo and Washington are example of what happens when a bit of talent executes flawlessly and the other team just plain doesn't show up.

Last night the Ravens showed up and for three and a half quarters they executed far better than the Patriots did. The Patriots talent dropped balls and got dominated at the point of attack. The Ravens talent dominated the line of scrimmage, ran like he actually was the best RB in the NFL, and intimidated the Patriots receivers. The fact that the Ravens had underachieved the rest of the season means nothing in the moment- and by the moment I don't just mean the game, but each individual play each individual battle in that game. And in the same vein, what the Patriots did to Buffalo and Washington meant absolutely nothing last night.

This is the beauty of sport, and more specifically the beauty of football where you only have one game, one chance. This is why last night was incredible- it would still have been incredible if the Patriots lost, just more personally painful.

I've written so much on this subject because I think both the Patriots and the Ravens deserve praise for last night's game. It's rare to see a game played at such a high level and it just goes to show you that won-loss records don't always tell us everything about a team. We tend to put so much stock in what teams and players have done and so little in what they are actually doing. I don't mean that past performance can't be a predictive tool, only that past performance means next to nothing in the heat of battle in a hard fought game.

At the end of the day, good teams are good teams because they do all the right things on a consistent basis. Bad teams struggle because they are not consistent in their preparation and execution. This is an important part of the Patriots quest to go undefeated this season. The Patriots have a chance to do it, not because of the way they executed at a high level against teams that let themselves get walked all over, but because of the high level that they execute in adverse circumstances and tight games. Four teams have given the Patriots a game this year and all four times the Patriots came out on top. Last night was the first night that they really needed fortune to fall in their favor, but I don't think any team could ever win 19 games without a loss without having a bit of good fortune. So with at least 5, hopefully 7 games left, we shall see.


Blogger McMc said...

All I'm going to say is this....Pats fans have been using the past two games as examples as to why the Patriots are so great. Guess what? THEY BEAT KYLE BOLLER AND AJ FEELEY!?!? Kyle Boller handed the Pats the ball in the 4th quarter on that interception and Feeley played good that game but he wasn't as great as people made him out to be. The fact is, the Pats struggled against two mediocre QBs that couldn't shut the door on them in the end.

Here's the thing though and Moss even said it after the game. The Patriots did get beat up but you know what? Every other team has been beat up consistently all season. Moss said his body was hurting and this is after two weeks of physical play? How are they going to hold up against the Steelers or in freezing cold weather in New England? This is what I mean by finesse. The Pats don't seem like they can sustain many more beatings and they're certainly going to get some. Just you wait.

8:03 PM  

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