October 17, 2004
Seahawks vs. Patriots
At Gillette Stadium, Patriots WIN, 30-20
By Scott A. Benson
Someone痴 going to have to get up really early to slip one by these New England Patriots.
Someone almost did today � almost � but now, safely in the aftermath of the Patriots see-saw, 30-20 home win over the Seattle Seahawks this afternoon, the only thing that matters is that they didn稚.
The rest of the NFL has to be wondering what its going to take to hang a loss on the Patriots. Once again, the defending champs won a game by making all the plays that make all the difference. Same story, 20 straight episodes. They always find a way.
Like today. The fact that today痴 素ind a way� play was made, improbably, by a petulant, previously-inactive, umbrella-swinging second year wide receiver can稚 make the situation any less vexing for New England痴 rivals.
For while there, it seemed like today was the day the rest of the NFL would finally catch up to the Patriots. This game had so many momentum shifts, at one point all my furniture slid to one side of the room. The Patriots absolutely rolled over the Seahawks in the first half, driving the ball at will on Seattle痴 defense and wreaking turnover-happy havoc with their prized offense. The Pats hit the break with a 20-6 lead and the game seemingly in control.
But the half brought new life to Seattle, and when the Patriots suffered a rare fourth quarter stumble, the Seahawks were there to close the game to within three points with three minutes left. The outcome was left to be decided by a Patriots offense that, save for a third quarter drive that ended in a field goal, had done little to replicate its first-half success. The Patriots� 4-0 start, its heralded winning streak, its lead in the division�..all on the line.
Guess what happened?
Patriots on Offense
Like I said, that first-half offensive performance was something. Crisp catch-and-run passing. Vigorous head-butt running. Four possessions, four scores. It would be hard to pick one or two players who stood out during that stretch, not the quarterback, the backs receivers or linemen � it was like eleven men operating as one remarkably efficient unit. It痴 hard to imagine the Pats offense looking any better.
The credit goes to Seattle痴 defense for making the second-half adjustments needed to slow the Patriots offense and allow the Seahawks back in the game. They hung a three-and-out on the Pats to start the second half, and then forced a Josh Miller punt after a Matt Light tripping penalty stalled a drive at the Seattle 38.
It was on the next two New England possessions that things got really interesting. A scrambling Tom Brady lunged, rather than slid, towards a first down and got both his hat and the ball popped by Michael Boulware just inside Seattle territory. The helmet went one way, and the ball the other. For the second week in a row, Brady was left rubbing his jaw.
The Seattle offense was forced to punt three plays later (after driving for a field goal on its first possession of the half), but as they say, the worm had turned.
Did it ever. Here came Boulware again on the next New England drive, diving in front of David Givens to intercept Brady痴 pass at midfield. I was wishing there was some kind of NFL legacy rule that would have had Boulware off somewhere else, playing for the Ravens. We need to get someone on that Competition Committee.
Anyway, Boulware intercepts, and bang-bang-bang, its 20-17 with eleven minutes left. The Pats had squandered a two touchdown lead. Gulp.
Fortuitously, the teams wasted the next eight minutes trading field goals. Yet when Seattle handed the ball back over to the Pats at their own 37 with 2:55 remaining, trailing by three, they did so with an emboldened defense and a full compliment of time outs. Gulp.
This brings us to Dame Bethel Johnson, who deigned to honor the Gillette Stadium throng with his presence today, after vacationing on the Isle of Inactive last week. It was nice of him to come, since two of his position mates were once again unable to attend due to entirely legitimate reasons.
Over the previous 47 minutes, Johnson had contributed little to the cause. In the first quarter, he had looked for the ball over the wrong shoulder on a third down Brady pass inside the Seattle 10. It痴 a pass you often see Brady complete to his more focused, better prepared receivers. This time, the pass fell incomplete and the Pats settled for a field goal.
Now, Johnson lined up wide as the Pats faced a 3rd and 7 from their own 40. A conversion here seemed critical to avoiding, at the least, overtime.
As he had occasionally done during the afternoon, Brady rolled to his left to buy time and then launched a 50 yarder toward a streaking Johnson, who had found his way inside the Seattle 20. Amazingly, brilliantly, the Locker Room Sultan of Swat fully extended himself through the air and snared the ball, smartly protecting it as he tumbled to the ground at the Seahawks 12.
A ridiculous flurry of red bean bags followed, but there was no denying that Johnson had caught and secured the pass, his only one of the day. Two Corey Dillon runs later and the Patriots had iced it with a touchdown. The 壮treak� lives on.
It was an oddly jarring ending to the day, a sudden heroic turn by the last guy you would have picked to do it. It made you wonder what kinds of things Bethel Johnson could do if he took his job as seriously as some of his less-naturally gifted teammates.
Between the lines, he could find no better role model than Dillon himself. Though he had missed most of the week with a foot injury, Dillon was in the starting lineup and running effectively from the start. He ended the day with 105 yards and two touchdowns. Say what you want about his history in Cincinnati, this guy is all football player. He can outrun them and run through them. And he does it in the toughest, meanest looking manner possible. It痴 like having the 1980痴 Mike Tyson as your running back.
The line is obviously creating sufficient space for Dillon痴 exploits, and today seemed to give Brady ample time whenever he tried to go upfield. David Patten (despite a run of troubling late drops), Daniel Graham (who also excelled as a blocker) and Kevin Faulk (admit it � this guy is a very valuable player) were the leading receivers, though it wasn稚 a numbers day. Eight different Patriots receivers caught a pass. Hey, even Dan Klecko grabbed one and ran for a first down.
Patriots on Defense
For starters, I guess I can cut back on the hand wringing over the Patriots pass defense.
Admittedly, they were aided by a Seattle receiving corps with hands like canoe paddles, but the Pats pass coverage limited the big plays and kept the Seahawks out of the end zone despite repeated attempts. Matt Hasselbeck had almost 350 yards, but produced only one touchdown, a run by Shaun Alexander.
What I値l remember about Hasselbeck today is him shuffling in the pocket as he ran through his progressions, finding none of them particularly appealing, and finally having to settle for the least spectacular, least intrusive option.
The Seahawks came out heavy on the pass right away, and ended up running the ball only infrequently (curious, as Alexander was relegated to a mere supporting role). Even though Seattle threw fifty times, the Patriots linebackers and secondary bent but never broke. Gaudy passing totals be damned, I知 giving the pass defense a gold star for this game.
The whole unit gets a sticker for they way they opened the game, convincingly putting their thumb down on the upstart Hawks like an annoyed big brother dumping his kid brother in the garage trash cans. For the weekend.
After Seattle had opened the game by driving into New England territory, Richard Seymour leaped and batted a Hasselbeck pass into the waiting arms of Willie McGinest, who lumbered to the Seattle 26. Five plays later, the Patriots had an early lead.
On the next drive, Ty Law collected the second of Hasselbeck痴 interceptions, a diving grab off the ground in front of Darrell Jackson. An Adam Vinatieri field goal followed, and Seattle had no more than gotten off the bus and was already down 10 in the stadium of the defending champions.
In the second half, as Seattle drew closer, the Patriots defense grudgingly gave up ground. They forced the Hawks into extended drives that in the end yielded only field goals. With the clock inside four minutes remaining and a precarious six point margin at stake, the Patriots flushed Hasselbeck into an intentional grounding that essentially ended Seattle痴 drive at the Pats 12. The defense dodged a bullet and in the process held on to a field goal lead. By the time they returned, they were again comfortably ahead by 10.
Eugene Wilson led all Patriots tacklers with 12, as he ranged far and wide with well-timed collisions that recalled his impressive rookie season. Rodney Harrison had 6 tackles and 6 assists, his second strong week in a row. Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi were steady as usual, two indispensable towers of strength that joined with the front line to ensure that Alexander痴 occasional runs would be unmemorable. Though Hasselbeck was elusive in the pocket, the Pats applied occasional heat as Vrabel, Ty Warren and Jarvis Green all had sacks.
Patriots on Special Teams
Kickoff coverage was a little better this week, thanks mostly to some very solid Adam Vinatieri kick offs. They池e still running in cement on returns. Punt coverage got a lift from a nice play by the returning J坦od Cherry, who pinned Seattle at their 17 after a 52 yard Miller kick. Vinatieri was again at his reliable best, hitting three field goals that helped to make the difference.
Patriots on the Sidelines
Here痴 a fun fact: the Patriots ran their record to 5-0 for the first time since 1974, the only other time a New England team has gone this far into the season undefeated.
If this was the Boston Globe, I壇 be reminding you now that the 1974 team finished 7-7 after a disastrous run of injuries and bad fortune. Like it meant something.
Instead, we値l say this: I think the talent level of the Patriots is often understated. Though I致e guzzled the Kool-Aid on the whole 奏eam� thing, there痴 still some pretty talented individuals in the Pats locker room.
Yet, no matter how talented those individuals are, when they collectively deliver such consistent performances week after week, to the extent that we池e now talking about a year since they lost, then I don稚 think it痴 unreasonable to think we might have one of the best coaching staffs anybody痴 ever had.
Patriots Next Week
The Game of the Century, at least to the bonehead tabloids and a few under-the-influence Internet Heroes. 5-0 Jets meet the 5-0 Pats at Gillette.