September 2, 2004
At Gillette Stadium, JAGUARS win, 31-0
By Scott A. Benson

You don’t know how much I wish Coach Bruce Allen would lift me after a couple of paragraphs tonight, so that some practice-squad Pats yahoo could finish this column while I chill and save myself for the regular season.

The fourth pre-season game is kind of like the third nipple: no good can come from it. Except maybe to remind one that “Jaguars” can be kind of hard to say on a full tank of oil.

Not that this is any kind of revelation (the fourth pre-season game thing, not the nipple or the oil thing) – it was pretty clear that this game had “limited upside” when Bill Belichick declined to start any of his front-line players. As someone who lived through the Tippett/Lippett/Veris atrocity, I sincerely appreciated it.

It turned out to be the highpoint of the evening. I am here to attest that it is, in fact, entirely possible to be utterly deflated by a game you could give a rip about.

I guess what I’m supposed to say now is that this was a meaningless, going-through-the-motions pre-season game featuring no starters and very few other players of significance, and when the bell rings next week, the real Patriots will emerge.

Right. I love those “when the bell rings” teams. I’ll just say it: I can’t shake the feeling that when the history books are written, this will not prove to have been a particularly effective training camp and pre-season for the defending champion New England Patriots.

I am just saying.

Patriots on Offense

Rohan Davey had almost four quarters to put up one point on the Jacksonville Freaking Jaguars and did not. He probably had as many turnovers (two picks and a fumble) as he did first downs. Davey may put his game together and become a capable NFL quarterback, but can we all agree by now that this will not happen in 2004?

I am sick of talking about Rohan Davey. Somebody change the subject.

The 2nd and 3rd team offensive line seemed to fare reasonably well tonight, yielding only a late sack of Kliff Kingsbury. Reserves Klemm, Neal, Gorin, Hallen and That Center Whose Name I Can’t Spell (Gene Mruczikowski) had even greater success with the run, at times opening some pretty reasonable creases and holes for workhorse Mike Cloud.

If there was anything good about this game, it was Cloud. In many respects, he had his most impressive game as a Patriot, finishing with 93 yards on 19 carries. He seemed to make good choices at the line, finding holes and then hitting them quickly and with authority. Even a late fumble doesn’t change the fact that in the final pre-season game, Mike Cloud did everything he could to earn a job. That’s got to count for something.

There weren’t too many receiving highlights because of, well, you know. Bethel Johnson had a couple of nice grabs, including a tough over-the-middle first down, before wisely heading for the hills.

Finally, to end in upbeat fashion, I present Mr. Ben Watson of Georgia! (Applause) Once again, Watson showed uncommon strength and speed with two catches for 37 yards. In the third quarter, he leapt high to grab an errant toss by (deleted) before righting himself and sprinting for gain of 22. Boy, some fantasy football owner would be pretty shrewd to grab this guy with one of their late picks.

Patriots on Defense

Before things got out of hand in the second half, I was actually pretty pumped by the job the Pats 2nd team defense did against Byron Leftwich and several other Jags starters. They forced punts on each of Leftwich’s three possessions and generally made him look like a flummoxed NFL Europe MVP.

Vince Wilfork continued to see time at the defensive end position, which will undoubtedly lead to a media assault on Bill Belichick. Somebody’s bound to bring up Bobby Hamilton, or jump to the conclusion that Ty Warren’s a bust. But for tonight anyway, I prefer to leave it at this: Vince Wilfork is a pretty athletic football player with good strength and an impressive push on pass plays. For a guy who ended up with only one tackle, he sure caught your eye.

Like Mike Cloud, LB Justin Kurpekis can go to sleep tonight knowing that he did everything he could possibly do to survive the final cut. He’s got some pass rush skills off the edge and hustles everywhere. With special team ace (and valuable backup OLB) Matt Chatham’s health seemingly an unknown, Kurpekis may get a further chance to prove he belongs.

From the charred remains of a defensive backfield that surrendered 28 fourth quarter points emerges the noble visage of CB Christian Morton, who saved a long Jacksonville touchdown (albeit only momentarily) with a startling all-out burst to catch Ernest Wilford from behind. At times, the reed-thin Morton seemed to be bullied off the line by bigger receivers, but I like a guy who doesn’t quit, particularly when he runs a 4.4.

Patriots on Special Teams

And it is here we find the one unqualified success of the Patriots pre-season. How much do you think the Pats improved their punting this off-season? I say a billion percent.

Patriots on the Sidelines

It’s late, and I’ve had a little to drink, but you know, next time we’re getting slaughtered in the fourth quarter, it would be nice if our players could at least attempt to hide the sideline smiling and laughing from the rest of us. Even if this game didn’t mean a damn thing, that scoreboard STILL said “Jacksonville 31, New England 0”.

Pardon the Interruption

You may have noticed there’s a different by-line on Game Day this week. I’m going to try a pen name for awhile. Honestly, this Pats67 (my real name, strangely enough) stuff is out of control. I can’t go out in public anymore. Do you know how many peed-on shoes I’ve signed? How many pictures I’ve taken with drunken college kids wearing off-the-shoulder Michael Vick jerseys? So I thought I’d go with something more literary, in the hopes I could sneak out for a steak and cheese once in a while without some greasy neighborhood kid on a bike yelling “Manning rules!” Anyway, I’ve decided to use “Scott”, as in F. Scott Fitzgerald or Sir Walter Scott. In fact, I even toyed with “Sir Scott”, but I decided that’s pushing it. In due time.

Im adding the middle initial “A” for “affectation”. The “Benson” I picked just because I liked that show. The governor was a stitch.

Patriots Next Week

Some game against the Colts, I think. I don’t know, I haven’t checked the schedule. It’s going to be hard to top a Thursday night exhibition skunking by the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is probably why they’re bringing in Beyonce.