October 24, 2004
Jets vs. Patriots
At Gillette Stadium, Patriots WIN, 13-7
By Scott A. Benson

Let痴 talk for a minute about this thing we call The Fourth Wall.

The website wordspy.com says the term 礎reaking the fourth wall� originated in theater circles, to describe the moment when an actor breaks away from a fictional scene to directly address the real live audience.

Well, it used to mean that. The term has been redefined, out of necessity really. Because we Internet Heroes needed a succinct phrase to describe that moment when we finally come face to face with the people we致e been anonymously – and quite safely, mind you – insulting for months.

A small but plucky group of Boston Sports Media Watch message board posters decided months ago that The Fourth Wall would come down forever on October 24, 2004, when the Patriots hosted the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium.

I don稚 mind telling you, I was a little intimidated. It was the oddest thing � here I was about to meet four of the people that I have engaged in a stream-of-consciousness running dialogue with for almost a year, and the only thing I could think of as I neared the stadium was 努hat in the hell am I going to say to these people?�

I guess the first thing would be 展here ARE you guys?�

There I was, trying to connect with the group of my fellow media-watching ruffians. Problem is I知 parked over by the stadium, and they池e parked in North Attleboro somewhere. Also, I have absolutely no idea what these people look like. Don稚 want to leave that little qualifier out.

After a fairly typical 層hy don稚 you ask somebody� exchange between my girlfriend and I, relative to finding the lot where my cyber-pals were parked (Her, exasperated: 努hy don稚 you ask somebody?� Me, scanning the sea of cars and people on the horizon: 努e don稚 need to ask anybody.�), we pulled out the cell phone.

I managed to raise one of my fellow miscreants, and we went through a set of directions that sounded like an episode of The Amazing Race (徹kay, look for the water tower. See the walking bridge? Walk through six lanes of traffic. Ignore that cop yelling. Now grab the clue!�). He guided us home until we found the lot and the awaiting tailgate festivities, mostly by process of elimination.

Let it be known that The Fourth Wall officially came down at approximately 12:30 p.m. yesterday when the poster known as 全anderson� and I walked right past each other, cell phones at our ears, each oblivious to the other as we searched for someone who, I guess, looked approximately like our message board avatar.

Hey, give us credit. He only got about 200 yards past me before we figured it out. It was the quintessential Fourth Wall moment, a singular second of weird poetry that made the whole damn thing worthwhile.

But there were a lot of other good moments. Finally shaking the hand of my partner-in-crime and chief foil, the poster lovingly known everywhere as 閃ark�, and enjoying the high comedy of being called 礎ub� in real time. Watching someone previously known to us only as 閃r. Magoo� graciously hurry around his completely outfitted tailgate setup (imagine the Stones� stage set-up for the 全teel Wheels� tour, only with stronger football overtones) making sure we had warm food in our stomachs and cold beers in our hands. Exchanging nervous glances and deep, cleansing breaths with the poster known as 銭ingasaurus� as the Jets drove for a possible winning score with only minutes to play.

Here痴 what I now know about The Fourth Wall. It really doesn稚 exist. Despite the warnings of Internet skeptics everywhere, people don稚 invent on-line personas to mask their deep-seeded real-life insecurities. That痴 urban legend (in other words, bullshit), propagated by the same people who regularly and summarily dismiss message boards and their participants, even though you get the feeling they never take their eyes off them.

Look, I致e been to the other side now, and I知 telling you, people are just what they say they are, even on the Internet. They were funny, they were sarcastic, they were prescient, and they were hospitable in words and deeds. They weren稚 a damn bit different from the people I致e 遡nown� now for more than a year. There wasn稚 a thing done or said by anyone that surprised me in the least.

I think that痴 just about the best news I致e had all week.

The game? Oh, yeah. Good news � The King and I were finally able to exhale, and the Patriots remained perfect with a bruising 13-7 win over divisional rival New York (yes, yes, the Yankees suck, I know). The Pats ruined the Jets perfect record and seized early control of the AFC East.

And a renegade band of Internet Heroes climbed out of the basement and into the sunlight (well, drizzle actually) without breaking anything. Except a fictional wall, I guess.

Patriots on Offense

Can you tell I致e run out of things to say about our New England Patriots?

I have to admit, I知 not the most qualified person to comment on yesterday痴 proceedings. Thanks for that go to that thoughtful lady sitting directly in front of me, who reflexively stood straight up (and in my line of vision) anytime the Patriots did anything. I知 sorry, but I don稚 usually stand up for one yard losses on 2nd and 7.

Here痴 what I did see. I saw Tom Brady complete almost 75% of his passes, despite a constant spritzing by the sky and an occasionally cranky Jets pass rush. I saw Corey Dillon mercilessly bang away at another defense until they wearily stepped aside and let him crank off another 40 yard run. I saw David Givens lead a depleted receiving corps by making one tough catch after another. I saw Kevin Faulk come off the bench to run his menu of draws and screens that � as usual � extended a crucial scoring drive. I saw David Patten work his way across the back of a crowded end zone to score the game痴 last (and biggest) touchdown just seconds before the half.

Two key passages:

1) After two early Pats field goals, Chad Pennington chewed up almost eight minutes of 2nd quarter clock before rolling left for a one-yard scoring run that put the Jets up with less than two minutes to play in the half. The offense responded with no huddle, shotgun scoring drive (featuring Faulk) that ended when Brady deftly stepped up to avoid a rush inside the Jet 10 before drilling a fastball at Patten, who appeared to be running his route through a human jungle gym of New York defenders. Touchdown Patriots. The New England spoilsports had allowed the Jets to enjoy the lead for all of 1 minute and 50 seconds.

2) Later, here came the Jets again, this time driving for a go-ahead score as the game reached its conclusion. Even when Willie McGinest, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison and Randall Gay conspired to stop the Jets without a score, the two minute warning and two Jet time outs remained. Plain and simple, the Patriots needed one more first down. In one of the most predictable scripts this side of Everybody Loves Raymond, the Patriots rode Dillon left, up the middle and left again for 12 yards and the game-sealing first down. The fact that it was so predictable made it all the more beautiful.

Patriots on Defense

Yeah, the Patriots occasionally had trouble getting off the field on third down, and Pennington (though throwing a football that seemed to be made of balsa wood) found his share of open receivers, but let me ask you two questions: how many points did the Jets score? And who won?

As noted above, the Pats key stops of the day were made when the Jets frighteningly drove towards a winning score as the game dipped inside the three minute mark. On a 3rd and 5 from the Pats 27, McGinest and Seymour burst deep into the New York backfield to pummel Curtis Martin for a 3 yard loss. The play never developed thanks to the push of the Patriots defensive right edge. I値l say it again: there is no bigger defensive playmaker on the Patriots than Willie McGinest. I would argue that it痴 not even close.

Then, forced to go on 4th down, the Jets spread the field with receivers and tried to hit the ancient Wayne Chrebet as he moved from the right slot towards the end zone. Not happening. Rookie Gay (another strong effort by the undrafted free agent) and veteran Harrison combined to build a wall in front of Chrebet and knock the pass to the ground, effectively squashing New York痴 last and best chance to win the game.

I don稚 think this year痴 version of the Pats defense can be measured on the same scale as their 2003 predecessors. I知 not sure the numbers will as easily quantify them, as last year痴 shutouts and league leading statistics did. But let me say this: this version has a decidedly better W-L record at this point in the season. Counts for something.

A final note: somebody tell me the last time Ted Johnson played that well. Holy smoke. He痴 certainly re-emerged as a major cog in the Patriots run defense this year, but for crying out loud, he looked like a first-team Pro Bowler yesterday. Wow.

Patriots on Special Teams

Adam Vinatieri hit two field goals that provided the winning margin. Bethel Johnson made another big play by returning a Jets kickoff 38 yards, which shortened the field for Brady and set up the Patten touchdown. And something you notice more in person than on TV: Rabih Abdullah is a pretty good freaking special teams player.

Patriots on the Sidelines

Sign you池e getting old: you can稚 tell the difference between Bill Belichick and Charlie Weis from where you池e sitting.

Best line of the day: my friend Mark referring to a curious and seemingly misplaced Faulk draw play during the touchdown drive as 敵round Chuck.�

Patriots Next Week

Pats and Steelers in Pittsburgh. I could make reference to the several hundred times the exceedingly lucky Patriots have dashed the hopes of the humble and hardworking Steelers, but I won稚. Here痴 my alternative theme for this week – Josh Miller triumphantly returns to Heinz Field. Note to self – we致e got to be careful which hash marks we have him kicking from.