By Mark Beauchamp, Contributing Writer & Loyal Patriots Fan
The New England Patriots weathered still another blown 4th quarter lead before rallying to force OT and finally pulling out a badly needed 29-26 victory over their bitter AFC East Division rival the New York Jets last week. The win left the Patriots with a 4-3 record and alone atop the pyramid of parity that is the AFC East. This week the Patriots journey across the pond to take on the St. Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium in London, England.
We haven’t seen Winning this ugly since Charlie Sheen’s epic bender.
A win is a win in the NFL. There are no style councils arbitrarily assessing the quality of victories. You are what your record says you are. You look to make it out of each week alive and have fun doing it before moving on to the next challenge. Survive enough weeks and you make the playoffs and maybe even win your division and host a playoff game. It is what it is. The fact is that the Jets lost this game as much as the Pats won this game. This one was there for the taking for Gang Green. Jet Head Coach Rex Ryan and his staff will be sick over this missed opportunity. This one was anybody’s ball game until Jet Killer Rob Ninkovich stripped sack Jet QB Mark Sanchez in OT to bring this game to a merciful end allowing fans across New England to breathe again.
Everything is always worse somewhere else. In the NFL it’s not all about being great in October, it’s about staying alive and solving issues come December. Still, knowledgeable Patriot fans can’t help seeing all the way through. Fans spoiled by one 12 plus win season after another are stressed out. Very un-Patriot like things keep happening – bad things man – like only having 10 men on the field on the Jets first touchdown of the game for example.
The offense despite impressive stats just can’t seem to find their groove thing. They’ve struggled in critical moments and have failed to deliver the knockout punch. Theories abound about what ails the offense in New England. Nobody seems quite sure what Prodigal Son Hoodie In Waiting Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels is doing. The offensive line is banged up with injuries. The dynamic tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are playing through injuries and clearly not at full speed.
Some even wonder if maybe QB Tom Brady’s not the cat he used to be. He’s got two kids. He’s 35. He misses retired Tackle Matt Light. He looks scared out there – ducking at shadows. Yada yada. You know things are bad when Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick start taking heat in New England. The QB’s legacy in Boston sports lore is secure – he’s going down as the greatest Patriot of all time. He’s a legend joining the likes of Bobby Orr, Ted Williams, and Bill Russell. The Coach may leave us scratching our heads from time to time but it’s still In Bill We Trust. Pats fans should give it rest when it comes to worrying about the Head Coach and the QB. You know what – maybe if some of these fans made more noise at Gillette Stadium than they do on the fellowship of the miserable radio talk shows their team might actually enjoy a home field advantage. Do your job Pats fans.
But it’s New England so we have to worry about some shit – it’s in our nature. So how about the so called pass defense which appears to be historically bad. Injuries play a role in this mess with Safeties Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung both out. This not only affected the safety position but also the cornerback position and the play at both positions has been wicked bad. The pass rush hasn’t been scary enough to slow opponents aerial attacks on the beleaguered secondary. Opposing QB’s look pretty comfortable on their spot in the pocket finding open receivers. The deep pass has been killing the Pats. The big pass plays have been crushing. This is the reputation the Patriots defense has now earned - test them down the field. Until they prove that they can put an opposing QB on his ass consistently or defend the deep pass consistently opposing offenses will continue to challenge them down the field. When you make Dirty Sanchez look like Dan Marino it’s pretty damn discouraging.
This week it’s on to London and another test this time against the St. Louis Rams.
The timing of the Rams game may be perfect for soul searching Patriot fans. If you’ve been around long enough you may recall that it could well have been the St. Louis Patriots before Robert Kraft bought the team. The first of three franchise Super Bowl victories for the Pats came with a huge upset win over the Greatest Show On Turf Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Pretty much since that time the Patriots have been among the elite franchises in the NFL. It might not be a bad thing for Pats fans to recall a time when Division Titles and playoff appearances were hard earned and celebrated – not simply assumed and taken for granted.
New Head Coach Jeff Fisher and the 3-4 Rams have already surpassed last year’s two-win record, including victories over the Seahawks and Cardinals – teams that have defeated New England this season. The Patriots are looking to avoid starting 0-3 against the surprisingly tough NFC West with the powerful San Francisco 49’ers still to come. Fisher is a good football coach. He’s tough, smart, and intense. In just a short period of time the Rams have taken on his style and personality. St. Louis is a is a very aggressive team, a physically and mentally tough team. They like to hit and they can be a little chippy after the whistle. The Rams have proven that they won’t quit and they will play hard. The Patriots have to be prepared for another tight, hard fought match up.
Defense is the strength of this Rams team. St. Louis will play a base 4-3 and their young defensive line has been impressive. The front four has been able to generate a strong pass rush on their own but the Rams aren’t afraid to blitz. They have confidence in their cornerbacks in man coverage so they will bring extra pass rushers frequently. Protecting Brady, establishing a strong running game and take advantage of mismatches with their tight ends will all be priorities for the Patriots offensively.
The Rams offense is led by Sam Bradford the number one overall selection in the 2010 draft out of Oklahoma. Bradford is an accurate quarterback and he’s done OK not great this season. Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer want the Rams running game to be a team strength, but they’ve struggled with injuries along the offensive line and they’re averaging fewer than 20 points per game. But Bradford is more talented than Dirty Sanchez and the Patriots are coming off a game where Sanchez threw for 328 yards against them, so Bradford will take his shots. Rams running back Steven Jackson (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) has seven straight 1,000-yard seasons. The Pats D while wondering how to stop anyone from lighting it up in the passing game must also figure out a way to keep Jackson from having a big day.
Like every week in the NFL it’s gonna be a big one.
Never mind the bollocks – this is the NFL.
F the Rams.
Go Pats Go.