September 19, 2004
At Sun Devil Stadium, PATRIOTS win, 23-12
By Scott A. Benson

So, the big story all week was how hot it was going to be at Sun Devil Stadium for the Patriots game with Arizona Cardinals. Many expected temperatures to exceed 100 degrees at game time.

It did end up getting pretty steamy out there, but still, I知 guessing it was nothing compared to how blistering hot it got at my house.

(cue Nelly)

Before I go on, I値l acknowledge that the Patriots in fact dispatched the overwhelmed Cardinals 23-12 today, and that the defending world champions won their 17th consecutive regular season game. I do understand that.

But it was needlessly taxing, in large part to New England Offensive Coordinator Lewis Carroll. I mean Charlie Weis. In a bizarre second quarter that left my entire left side numb, the Mad Hatter started with the stupid riddles again, and in doing so invited a disheveled Arizona team – already kicked to the curb by the champs (14-0) in a little over a quarter – back to a party they had no business being at.

The Cards were on virtual life support when Corey Dillon痴 early 2nd quarter bobble/fumble set them up them their first score, an eventual field goal. That seemed bad enough, a needless error that gave a besieged opponent another breath. But these things sometimes happen.

However, there is no rationalizing Adrenaline Weis痴 decision to follow that regrettable sequence by immediately ordering a bomb from deep in Patriots territory, even though Dillon had run for 5 on first and ten against an Arizona run defense that had been impersonating 11 folding chairs.

Hurried and harried by a fierce pass rush that had to this point been the Cardinals only hope, Tom Brady predictably underthrew the ball, it was intercepted, and bang-bang, now it痴 14-6.

The Cards went on to stop the pass-happy Pats on their next possession, but missed a long field goal that left New England with the ball at their own 48 with four seconds left in the half. The Pats would surely take a knee and end this miserable Alice in Wonderland quarter.

Nope. I am stupid naive. The Patriots 礎rain trust� actually tried to squeeze TWO MORE utterly stupid pass plays in those four seconds. And as a result, the half ended not with points, but with their most productive receiver, Super Bowl star Deion Branch, writhing on the ground with a leg injury that didn稚 look at all minor. In retrospect, taking the knee might have been advisable. Nice work in that second quarter, fellows.

Yes, the Patriots reassumed control of the game in the second half, and it was two reasonably-plotted drives by Weis痴 offense that did the bulk of the work.

But in those completely ridiculous and irresponsible 12 minutes, with a 14 point lead, the Patriots coaches had endangered their MVP quarterback, ignored their running back, hurt their best receiver, and wore out their swarming defense (pretty hard to pitch a shutout when your offense keeps setting you up with those first-and-goals), and there was no damn need for any of it.

By the way, I pulled up old carpets in my dining room and living room this morning, revealing some very nice oak flooring. We池e pretty happy with it. But you wouldn稚 believe how freaking loud it gets in there when you start angrily screaming your head off.

Patriots on Offense

Despite an eye-popping 158 yards by the workhorse Dillon, my undisputed offensive star of the game was wide receiver David Givens, who stepped up in Branch痴 absence and became the go-to guy during the extended third quarter scoring drive that gave back control of the game to the Patriots. Givens finished with 118 yards on six receptions, most in the second half, and if Branch is out for long, the big, tough, dependable Givens will play an even greater role in New England痴 offensive fortunes.

Not to say Corey Dillon wasn稚 completely fantastic. He lugged the ball an awe-inspiring 32 times in the searing heat, racking up his buck-fifty without a run longer than 17 yards. Most impressive was his propensity to lower his pads and drive for the kind of extra yardage that often times extends drives. The verdict is in � the Patriots haven稚 had a running back like Corey Dillon for a very long time.

Daniel Graham continued his hot start, making me wish I壇 taken him, rather than the inactive Ben Watson, in my fantasy football draft. In those heady few moments when it seemed as though the Pats would blow Arizona out, Graham worked free to grab two scoring passes from Tom Brady, the second on a wide open touchdown on a 3rd and goal from the Cardinal 19. I look for a full media blitz on 禅he Maturing Daniel Graham� over the next two weeks.

That痴 the good news (except for Graham, that is � now he痴 got to spend two weeks talking to Kevin and Nick). Now here痴 the bad.

Though he made his usual assortment of clutch throws, Brady seemed off his stride at various points throughout. I知 attributing this to a pretty decent pass rush led by the Cards� Bert Berry. This was not one of Tom痴 finest hours, let痴 put it that way. After they sprung to the two touchdown lead, the Patriots consistently moved the ball inside Arizona痴 20 but were never again able to punch it in.

Though the offensive line surely deserves credit for creating the space for Dillon to get into the Cardinal secondary, they were conversely ineffectual in combating the Arizona pass rush. They sprinkled a few nut crushing penalties in for good measure, like Christian Fauria痴 motion penalty that wiped out a Dillon 3rd quarter touchdown. Strange but true – a Patriots offensive line totals over 170 yards in rushing yet still has only a mediocre game.

Let痴 end on a high note. Just who does Rabih Abdullah think he is, anyway? That was a nice 4 yard run on third down that allowed the Pats to take three knees to end the game.

Patriots on Defense

Four words: out-freaking-standing effort. Particularly considering their tongues had to be dragging by the time the Charlie Weis 2nd Quarter Follies wrapped up.

The Patriots defense did exactly what you壇 expect them to do to an inexperienced quarterback on a mediocre team. First, they proved to be quite sturdy against the runs of Emmitt Smith, putting the onus squarely on Jump Around Josh McCown to move the ball for the Cardinals. And like I said, that worked out exactly how you壇 expect it to.

Willie McGinest had a monster game, leading a relentless Patriots pass rush that also included linebacker Mike Vrabel and a blitzing Rodney Harrison. Together, they sacked McCown five times and pressured him on countless other occasions. Late in the game, they were joined by a fresher Jarvis Green, who probably ran three miles in the fourth quarter alone.

A word about McCown: in a few years, when his middle starts to thicken (as it inevitably does to all quarterbacks), he値l suddenly lose that little quick jog move to the right that allowed him to elude McGinest and Vrabel those many times, and when that happens, I知 pretty sure he値l be joining all the other non-playing McCowns at wherever it is they gather. How does a 6-4 quarterback get so many passes batted down at line of scrimmage? By not being very good.

Impressive rookie Vince Wilfork joined with ends Ty Warren and Richard Seymour to clog up the point of attack and render concerns about the Pats run defense null and void, at least for the next two weeks. Attention handwringing mediots: If Dwayne Robertson was half as good as Wilfork, he壇 be spokesperson for Visa by now.

The secondary had a very imposing game as well, led by Ty Law, who took prized Cards rookie WR Larry Fitzgerald (36 yards on 5 catches) out of the game from the start. Eugene Wilson followed his strong opening night with some of the best centerfielding since Paul Blair, snatching two interceptions and giving promise for well-timed turnovers for years to come. No matter what the future holds, Wilson should remain at free safety. He痴 an absolute natural.

The only down note to the whole affair was an extended Cardinal touchdown drive in the third quarter, which featured two maddening conversions on 3rd and long (including a frightening 42 yard screen and run by Josh Scobey that set up a short Smith TD run and tighten the game to within eight). However, as noted earlier, the defense was likely a little winded from having to race out on the field every other thing during the 2nd quarter to bail out a certain 訴maginative� play caller.

Patriots on Special Teams

Not much to talk about here, though it would have been nice if Shawn Mayer would have grabbed that Larry Izzo forced fumble on the opening kickoff.

Probably the most unimpeachable Patriot today was Adam Vinatieri, who continues to justify his exorbitant salary by being a very reliable son-of-a-gun.

Oh, and welcome back, punt-returning Troy Brown. Very nice to see you.

Patriots on the Sidelines

Let me just say this. Charlie Weis started having a lot better game once I directed my ire towards the malfeasance of the officiating crew of Referee Tony Coolatta, or Tony Coolio, or whatever the hell his name is. I don稚 want to argue with anybody about this � these idiots didn稚 miss a chance to stick a shiv in the backs of the Patriots while allowing Arizona offensive linemen to consistently grab and throw pass rushing Patriots defenders to the ground not three feet from where Coolatta (whatever) was obliviously standing. This is how bad Coolio (whatever) and his jackasses are � when my dogs see his puss on TV, they run and hide under the table. C-level hacks.

Final note. Bill Belichick is Charlie Weis痴 boss, and thereby is ultimately responsible for the actions of his employee.

Patriots Next Week

I never thought I壇 ever feel like a third-week bye is well-timed, but after today, I知 ready for a break. In two weeks, it痴 back to Buffalo. So we know that if Law is ever going to be released, it will be a week from Tuesday.