September 10, 2004
At Gillette Stadium, PATRIOTS win, 27-24
By Scott A. Benson

Remember the old show Emergency, when Randy Mantooth and Kevin Tighe would happen upon a prone, lifeless body (like maybe a football fan whose team was in the process of blowing a 10 point 4th quarter lead), they’d rip open the guy’s shirt, put those hot-wired ping-pong paddles against his chest, yell “CLEAR!”, and electroshock the poor guy’s heart into next week?

I was just thinking, with all the technology we have today, why hasn’t anybody thought to offer a home version of this appliance to consumers?

I’m not asking for any particular reason, mind you. Just one of those crazy brainstorms I get when I’m just idly sitting around, like on a rainy September evening. I’m an idea man. They just come to me.

Admit it – you’ve been thinking about this Patriots season-opener ever since the NFL announced the 2004 schedule a few months ago. If you’re like me, you probably even played and re-played a few series in your head, imagining all kinds of Peyton Manning interceptions and Edgerrin James fumbles and Tony Dungy grimaces as you waited for September 9th to finally arrive.

Still, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t have imagined anything as thrilling, as mind-melting, as Depends-requiring as the Patriots utterly wild-ass 27-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night.

Here’s the first thing you’ve got to do. You’ve got to look at the big picture. Unfocus your eyes a little so you can’t see all the detail. Just like at the proverbial sausage-factory, it’s probably better that we don’t focus on every ingredient in the first game of the Patriots title defense.

Better we should take the long view. Which is, the defending champions took some pretty vicious kill shots last night, the worst ones self-administered, and yet remained standing at the end. This was no illusory, blowout-on-roller-skates victory-lap laugher, like the Pats’ ultimate false impression win over the Steelers on the night the first banner was unveiled in 2002. This one required nerve, ingenuity and perseverance. This one was a real test.

As we know by now, recent history is not on the side of NFL teams who are attempting to defend their Super Bowl championships. It seems to me the common thread running through all those teams, including the 2002 Pats, is that when the “tests” came, when they needed to summon the iron-willed qualities that had made them champions, their “It”, they couldn’t. They were startlingly, suddenly mortal again. Despite sincere preparation, despite the best of intentions and efforts, there was no “there” there. Whatever “it” hey had was just gone, in the mist of an all too familiar champagne and rubber chicken hangover.

So the only really important thing about last night is that the Patriots passed the test. I’m a little less worried today about spleen-crushing home losses in December.

Patriots on Offense

I need to write a Patriots book. Everybody’s doing it – Nick Cafardo, Pepper Johnson, Michaels Felger and Holley – so I need to write a Patriots book.

I’e got one problem. I think every chapter is going to begin, “Tom Brady is effing unbelievable!” That could get tedious.

You know what? I don’t care. Hey, lemme ask you – if you had to pick one of those quarterbacks last night, which one would you go with?

In many ways, Tom Brady wrote his own new chapter on Thursday night. The most in-control quarterback in the NFL began his 2004 campaign with an even greater command of the game. I’ll tell you this – he’s never thrown the ball better. He’s never looked better in the pocket. He’s never looked defter as a ball-handler. He’s never looked more able to control the game by the sheer force of his competitive smarts and ice-cold will.

Some Brady highlights: in the second quarter, answering the Colts’ first touchdown with two laser beams to David Patten (20 yards on 2nd and 17) and Deion Branch (for a 16 yard score). Later, after his defensive teammates had been pummeled by yet another relentless Colts drive, three quick strikes to Daniel Graham to set up a 45 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal with only seconds remaining in the half. Then, firing on all cylinders in the third quarter, peeling apart the Colts secondary with big third-and-long throws on two drives that concluded with book-end, feathery-soft touchdown passes to Patten and Graham.

And I think it’s nothing short of a miracle that when the gremlins took control of the Patriots communications equipment in the fourth quarter, rendering things kind of haywire for awhile, Tom Brady threw only one devastating interception. That’s a hell of a quarterback.

He’s only 27. He’s won two Super Bowl MVP’s. And he’s getting better.

Some of this may be due to the presence of Corey Dillon, who confused Pats fans for a brief moment when he suddenly appeared in the open field, free from defenders, running towards the Colts goal line. WITH THE BALL. Not having seen such an occurrence in many years, I figured the Patriots running back had picked the ball up during the commercial break when nobody was looking, but no, it turns out it was an actual play from scrimmage. The refs counted it and everything.

That 38 yard sprint in the second quarter keyed the Pats first touchdown drive of the season, and became the centerpiece of an impressive 15 carry, 86 yard night, but I’m here to tell you that Corey Dillon made one really HUGE play in this game.

Not one to be spooked by those pesky gremlins, Dillon saw the ball curiously laying unattended at the Patriots 19 with only two minutes to play, so he jumped on it. He didn’t pause to wonder why the hell the Patriots were throwing the ball with 2:08 left, in a three point game with the Indianapolis Colts, though you couldn’t have blamed him if he did. To his credit, he just jumped on the ball, leaving the questions to people like me. Thanks, Corey. That play alone was worth a second-round pick.

Though Brady, Dillon and the clutch team of Patriots receivers (Branch, Patten and David Givens each finished with more than 80 yards; Daniel Graham added another 50) were the offensive stars, they were supported throughout by a steady offensive line that gave Dillon just enough room to run, Brady just enough room to pass, while keeping the casualties to a bare minimum.

Patriots on Defense

Look at it this way: at least this game produced some nice new candids for our Memories of Peyton photo album. I particularly liked the slack-jawed one following Mike Vanderjagt’s inexplicable 48 yard miss that ended the game. Priceless.

Otherwise, eeewwww. At one point, I started boiling water, because I had to do something. I found myself yearning for the relative serenity of Super Bowl 38’s fourth quarter.

I’m sure the clucking hens of the dailies have already penned volumes on the perils of being so arrogantly tight-fisted with 350 lb. nose tackles, and I’m sure more than one jackass will make a good living this week arching his eyebrows and, sotto vocce, offering the most dire prognostications for what lies ahead.

I’ll just say this – this wasn’t about personnel, and this wasn’t about coaching adjustments. It was about execution. Make the damn tackle. Know the friggin’ coverage. Win the little one-on-one battles. They did virtually none of it. It’s no more complicated than that.

Thankfully, this is the Indianapolis Colts, and this is Gillette Stadium, so the Patriots were the beneficiaries of critical turnovers at the worst possible time. It’s good to know that you can still count on a few things in this crazy world.

There are four names that should be removed from any indictment. First, as the rest of the world continues to foresee either his retirement or his pink slip, Willie McGinest keeps making the biggest of big plays for the Patriots defense. Are you telling me you didn’t fly out of your chair as McGinest lurched towards an oblivious Manning, driving the Colts back 10 yards and forcing the liquored up idiot kicker’s game-ending miss? Willie McGinest saving a game against the Colts is becoming an annual tradition.

Secondly, somebody should keep an eye on Chad Eaton this weekend to see if he has HALF the game Ty Warren had last night. I’m guessing he doesn’t. Warren had a game befitting a first-round pick, pressuring Manning into a bad interception and forcing one of two James fumbles inside the Patriots five yard line. Proving once again that not only is Chad Eaton a big blabbermouth, he hasn’t the slightest idea what he’s talking about. Never has.

Lastly, second-year d-backs Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel. By delivering a hammer-strike on Mr. Butterfingers with only four minutes to play, Wilson prevented James from scoring to give the Colts the late lead. A play of Fred Marion or Roland James proportions.

Samuel stepped in for a gimpy Ty Law and, late (and completely bogus) pass-interference calls notwithstanding, played very capably throughout.

A Thought

You just know that somewhere on Thursday night, as ABC’s cameras brought Elton’s John’s piano-playing digits into tight focus, Jamin Elliot took one look at the gaudy new jewelry on the former Reg Dwight’s right hand and said “now ain’t THAT a bitch.”

Hey, at least the Patriots had the good sense to give a Super Bowl ring to a celebrity that won’t make a habit of hanging around the park. I mean, they could have given it to Affleck. Now THAT would have been a bitch.

Patriots on Special Teams

I’m giving him fair warning – the next time Deion Branch tries to catch a punt like that, I will personally wring his neck. If there’s not too much of a line, that is. A third-year guy with as much talent as Branch should have never allowed that to happen. Bottom line – for all the good he did on the offensive side of the ball last night, Branch very nearly cost his team the game. Hurry back, Troy Brown.

Patriots on the Sidelines

Look, I understand that you can never have too many points when you’re playing the Colts. I understand that the best way to stop their offense is to keep your offense on the field and in possession of the ball.

But Good God Almighty, the Patriots ran just four running plays to NINE fourth quarter passing plays last night, and this is with the lead. The atrocities included two straight pass plays – one the aforementioned sack/fumble and the other a near interception – on 2nd and 5, with two minutes to play and the Colts left with only one time out.

I’m sorry, no matter which way you cut it, that’s just hideously stupid.

But at the moment, I can’t help but recognize that the object of my morning’s steaming hot cup of derision also played no small part in that banner that somehow brought the all those emotions welling into my throat and into my eyes at around twenty minutes to nine last night, and made me feel so fortunate to be bearing witness to these events at this time and place. So I’ll deal with it.

For now.

Patriots Next Week

You mean there’s more games? This last one has such an epic feel to it, it’s hard to imagine there are 15 more on the schedule. First stop: Arizona. I’ll worry about that tomorrow. For now, I’m going to see if I can find that old prescription of nitro.