At Cincinnati, BENGALS Win, 31-3
By Pats67

Before we begin, let’s pause and consider for a moment that there are no real game plans in pre-season, and certainly no free looks for opponents that you’ll face again in the fall.

There. I feel better already.

Actually, I don’t. I’m no football expert, but I’m pretty sure you don’t need a game plan to avoid being shoved 10 yards in the other direction on every play from scrimmage. Refusing to show your regular season goodies doesn’t have to mean that you’ll trail every pass play like red, white and blue streamers on an orange bike.

There’s really no excuse for the Patriots’ thoroughly listless and uninspired performance in Cincinnati last night.

There’ll be more than a little made of this in the next few days (for example, Greg Dickerson probably thinks he’s due some kind of journalism award now – maybe a Peabody). But you know what? I’m guessing the Patriots will get over it. I’m guessing that Gillette hasn’t suddenly become THE summer vacation hot spot for soft, self-satisfied football players.

I’m guessing that when they go back to work next time, the Patriots will remember that you can’t just get bored with training camp and mentally check out for a few days, even in pre-season. They’ll remember that by letting their minds wander ahead to more meaningful dates on the calendar, they lose the everyday things – focus, intensity, mental toughness, attention to detail – that are their lifeblood, the very things make them so special in the first place.

They’ll remember the NFL doesn’t give those gaudy Super Bowl hats and t-shirts to just any team, so they’ll put down their European carryalls, dust off their lunch pails, and get down to it.

That’s what’ll happen, right? Right?

Patriots on Offense

This is one game in which I would have welcomed the sight of Shannon Sharpe calling in the National Guard.

The Patriots were behind by a touchdown by the time they took their first snap, and that feat qualifies as the offensive highlight of the evening – at one point, we were only behind by seven points!

I agree. As highlights go, that’s kind of underwhelming. Look, it was either that or the 7 total yards (seven!) in the first quarter. Not much to choose from.

The Patriots got muscled off both sides of the ball all evening, and as a result, Tom Brady appeared to hurry several early throws. The good news is that the boys got to practice their three-and-out drill.

It wasn’t until part way through the second quarter that Brady was able to get anything happening, after stitching together a couple of down the middle darts to Daniel Graham and Deion Branch. Yet the drive petered out where so many Patriots drives have gone to die – inside the Red Zone. After another Brady to Branch completion brought them to the 14, the Pats turned to Corey Dillon, who lugged three times for a first down to the 3. From there, Dillon broke out his “man running into a brick wall while stuck in cement” impression, and I have to say it was convincing.

At the moment, Dillon looks for all the world like a guy who’s fully prepared to average three yards a carry this season. Later on, he capped his Homecoming Game by carelessly laying the ball on the ground after a successful screen pass. The only thing that didn’t happen was Bengals fans raining pieces of Corey’s old uniform down on him from the stands, but I swear if he’d stayed there much longer, that would have happened too.

Brady played the entire first half (and got picked after an ill-advised pass was tipped) before giving way to Rohan Davey, and if you thought things were going to get better at that point, you must have been sopping up Seabreezes with a sponge. Davey did appear to be slightly more comfortable under center this time, at least until guys started hitting him from behind. More good news – the Pats offensive unit got in some work on recovering fumbles.

So far, Davey has been the quarterback equivalent of a gawky teenager – all arms, legs and two left feet. Even on the rare instances when he’s been given adequate protection, he has been unable to step up and deliver a crisp, well-timed pass. When he’s forced to throw on the move, forget it. He might as well be throwing a wiffle ball on a windy day. I think it’s safe to say that Damon Huard’s Q Rating is moving towards heretofore unimagined heights.

There really isn’t much more to say about the rest of this unit, unless like me, you’re wondering if there was anything deeper to Adrian Klemm and Brandon Gorin starting the game as the tackles on the first-string offensive line, over Matt Light and Tom Ashworth. Last night seemed to be a night for coaches to send subtle and not so subtle messages. Was that a small one for the Contract Twins?

Oh, I almost forgot: Ben Watson managed to overcome the blow of being fired by Tom Condon to make his Pats debut with a couple of catches. I’ll say this; when Watson is running with the ball under his arm, he’s already the Patriots most impressive tight end.

Patriots on Defense

Let’s put it this way – the entire first team defense got benched.

It was the merciful thing to do. In their first two defensive series, the Pats allowed almost 130 yards on 13 plays. Now, math can be tricky sometimes, but if I’m not mistaken, that’s 10 yards a play. A first down on every snap. At this point, Bill Belichick had no other choice but to dig a big hole behind the bench and throw his entire defense in it.

They couldn’t tackle anybody. They couldn’t cover anybody. Those orange traffic cones would have shown more resistance on running plays, and broken-wheeled shopping carts would have taken more direct routes to the passer.

So Belichick banished them to the sidelines, and sent out the second teamers, who were so thankful for the opportunity that they immediately allowed a 75 yard touchdown drive. Thankfully, the Bengals collapsed from exhaustion shortly afterward, quelling any fears I might have had about them scoring in triple figures. It was all they could do to drag themselves to another 10 points later on.

But Belichick is like any good parent – he knows how to hold a grudge against his kids. So he trotted the first team back out after the half to battle the Bengal second and third-string. Can I just tell you something? It’s kind of disheartening to see your championship defense celebrating over the fact that they finally managed to stop Kenny Watson.

Most notable developments: Keith Traylor and Vince Wilfork getting rag-dolled on every offensive snap. Asante Samuel becoming the early season’s “illegal contact” breakout star. And these “FF” and “INT” columns on the scoresheet? What are they for?

I suppose if we’re looking for a bright spot, we might mention Rosevelt Colvin played a good bit of the game despite the Bo Jackson-like degenerative hip condition that was supposed to end his career and render his acquisition a bust. Oops! He even managed to record a sack on Carson Palmer. Until then, the only Pats on Palmer’s back were the ones he was getting from his teammates and coaches.

Patriots on Special Teams

This one’s easy – special teams sucks. They can’t cover, and they can’t tackle, and they can’t go a whistle without picking up a stupid penalty. They can’t field a kick cleanly. They can’t block. Maybe this has a little to do with the fact that the teams are stocked with some people who won’t be around on September 9th, but maybe it doesn’t.

Dexter Reid gets a slight exemption here because I figure that when they have three guys assigned to hold, punch and kick you on every play, you must be doing something right.

Cody Scates, where the hell were you last January?

Patriots on the Sidelines

If the Patriots keep playing like this, they’ll supplant the Red Sox as the most talked about team in Boston.

I stuck around and listened to Belichick’s post game press conference, and I thought he summed it up beautifully when he said, on two occasions, “ah…I don’t know.”

Final thought here – I love Pepper Johnson, and credit him with being a key figure in the development of the team’s character over the last few years (not to mention the stellar linebacker play), but I have to say so far, his work on his new position assignment (defensive line) is nothing to write home about.

Patriots Next Week

Off to the bright lights of Charlotte and CBS Television, for a Saturday night rematch with Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith and rest of the Panthers. I thought I told you I never wanted to see these guys again. Especially not in the week that most people consider the only meaningful one of the pre-season. Criminy.