Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Return of Tom Terrific

My assessment of last night's Patriot 25-24 comeback win over the Bills seems to differ from most of the critics. I was impressed, if only because snatching a victory out of the jaws of defeat is the sign of a good team (whereas blowing a two-score fourth quarter lead is the sign of a team coached by Dick Jauron). Maybe I'm an optimist for seeing the positives, but there seemed to be plenty last night that left me hopeful going forward. There is a shadow hanging over this victory, and that's the shadow of Jerod Mayo's injured knee, but in terms of the Patriots other 43 active players I remain surprisingly hopeful.

I'll get to Brady in a minute, but first the defense, which has been the focus of most of the criticism today. The 24 points put up by the Bills are obviously deceiving because they include Aaron Schobel's touchdown, so without them, we see the Bills putting up 17 points and 276 yards. Not great numbers (and the yardage figure is skewed lower because of the Bills relatively low number of offensive plays), but hardly the worrisome trend some seem to be fuming about. The Bills had 7 real offensive drives on the day, 2 of which (both Bills touchdown drives) the Patriots looked terrible on and the rest of which they looked pretty damn good. Of the other 5 drives, the Bills one field goal drive was set up by a 27 yard Terrell Owens catch, the only first down of the drive. On the other 4 drives the Bills were forced to punt and totaled only 3 first downs.

Here's where my glass half-full analysis comes in. Jerod Mayo, team defensive captain and a player who was becoming the leader of that defense left in the midst of the Bills second drive. Yet despite that, the Patriots D still put together a decent effort. Clearly they planned on taking Terrell Owens out of the game and they held TO to only 2 relatively inconsequential catches on the night. And on 3rd down, the Patriots bugaboo the past few years, they generally excelled. The Bills did convert 3 of 3 third downs on their final touchdown drive, but over the course of the rest of the game, they converted only 1 of 7.

And then there's just the fact that the Bills looked sharp. This goes backed to my axiom from last season, that teams in the NFL don't get blown out unless they deserve it and last night, the Bills didn't deserve it. Other than the terrible fumble at the end of the game, they held on to the football. Trent Edwards was pretty damn accurate with his passes and Fred Jackson looked like a man who wants Marshawn Lynch's job for the entire season.

In terms of individual players, Gary Guyton, Bruschi (and now Mayo's) replacement looked good at times and lost at others. Richard Seymour was missed, as I saw Jarvis Green being pushed around and trapped on various plays. What looked better than expected was the secondary, which held TO and Lee Evans to 5 catches for 71 yards. But ultimately, we're waiting on Mayo. The sentiment seemed to be that he was ready to make that step to Pro Bowl-level this year and there's just no one who can replace that level of talent in the middle.

But even if Mayo is done for the year, his lost hurts much more for the rush defense than it does the pass. And if the offense can keep making the moves to return to it's 2007 level of efficiency, the holes in the run defense might not seem so troublesome.

In terms of the offense, first off let me cite my axiom of teams getting blown out. The Patriots offense muddled it's way through three quarters, but the Bills as they say, came to play ball. Aaron Schobel looked to be performing at a particularly high level, as he gave Matt Light fits all night. Light by the way, is my biggest worry after week one other than Mayo's injury. It's not just that he had a few bad plays, it was that Schobel just seemed to own him for much of the first half. The running game didn't look particularity good from the O-lines point of view, but both Taylor and Maroney had a few nifty runs. And in terms of the passing game, well, it was fairly well documented during the game by Jaws how Brady looked tentative and struggled a bit with his accuracy early on. But of course, by the end of that forth quarter we had the confident Tom Terrific Patriot fans know and love and in terms of sheer efficiency, this may have been one of his better comebacks yet. Moss, Welker, and Kevin Faulk work with him in that passing game as well as any group of receivers in NFL history and Watson for whatever reason still has Brady's confidence. Joey Galloway didn't catch a pass, but that's just another indication that these things take time.

I'm excited for Brady, excited for the defense, and hopeful, oh so hopeful that Mayo isn't done for the year.


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