November 7, 2004
Rams vs. Patriots
At the Edwards Jones Dome, Patriots WIN, 40-22
By Scott A. Benson
There. I hope you致e learned your lesson. I hope we all have.
Our lesson for today, of course, is � don稚 count 粗m out. EVER.
There may be bigger regular season wins over the last few years than today痴 40-22 skunking of the Rams in St. Louis, but I can稚 think of them right now. A severely undermanned Patriots squad went on the road today and delivered a stirring performance under some of the most adverse conditions the team has ever faced.
The ass kicking that they got last Sunday in Pittsburgh � a thorough beatdown that ended their 21 game winning streak – was bad enough. But in the days that followed, it got worse. Workhorse Corey Dillon barely practiced, after missing the Steelers entirely. The valiant David Givens nursed a sore knee, as did Deion Branch. Cornerback Ty Law, hero of multiple Super Bowls, was placed on the shelf alongside his fellow starter, Tyrone Poole. Tom Ashworth, the starting right tackle, went on IR. The colorfully-named Earthwind Moreland jumped from the practice squad to the nickel package, and soon after, to the starting lineup.
So let痴 just say that a few folks were a little squirrelly about today痴 game. And the Patriots responded by going on the road to stuff their highly-touted opponent by three scores. You were saying?
So the lesson is – don稚 count 粗m out, because they always find a way. Today, it was two-way performances by their kicker-turned-passer, their linebacker-turned-tight end, and their receiver-turned-defensive back. It was another star turn by the runner who wasn稚 going to play. The receiver who wasn稚 going to play wasn稚 exactly chopped liver, either. And somehow, some way, despite being extremely shorthanded along their edge, the Patriots defense all but stoned Marc Bulger and his crew of supposed game breakers.
This one takes the cake. Last week痴 loss, as complete a thrashing as you would never want to see, had more than a few of us wondering if this might be one of those years when the fates, and our failings, conspired against us.
Yet tonight, after witnessing yet another courageous and cerebral stand by the defending world champs, maybe one of their best ever, we can be more confident than ever that the still-proud Patriots will still be standing come January.
You don稚 win games like this, under these circumstances, unless you have the goods. The New England Patriots have the goods, ladies and gentleman, even when they池e down to their fourth and fifth defensive backs. They proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt tonight.
Patriots on Offense
Here痴 the story for the offense today � after the Rams went up 14-13 with three minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter, the Patriots outscored St. Louis 27-8 the rest of the way. And they really could have had more.
Corey Dillon came off his alleged death bed to rush 25 times for 112 yards and a third quarter touchdown that for all intents and purposes put the game out of reach. At this point, you壇 have to say Dillon is exceeding the expectations that came with him in that draft-week trade. By a wide margin. There are few runners that are more valuable than Dillon is to the Pats, particularly in these days of many damaged wideouts.
Speaking of which, David Givens caught five passes for 100 yards, including a 50 yard bomb from Tom Brady that set up the 2nd quarter field goal that gave the Pats the lead for good. Business is business, but there has to be a way to keep Givens in New England beyond this year. He is emerging as one of the toughest, most dependable receivers in the league.
Brady continued to feel heat from the opposing defense, as his patchwork offensive line still struggles to protect the passer. He was sacked twice and hurried several more times, and again had a turnover that resulted in a defensive touchdown. Leonard Little痴 strip and fumble recovery in the end zone gave the then-struggling Rams their first score as the 2nd quarter began.
But as we have come to expect, Brady handled it all with great aplomb, immediately leading the Pats downfield for a touchdown and the lead again. On the day, he hit nearly 60% of his passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He did not throw an interception.
This year痴 likely MVP was most impressive when he checked off at the line of scrimmage at several points throughout, audibling to runs and passes based on the given defensive alignment. Brady was seemingly right every time, setting up key Dillon gains as well as his big 50 yarder to Givens.
Brady was also superb with play action work in two key goal line situations, first hitting LB Mike Vrabel (a great catch by Mr. Touchdown for the Pats first TD) and then Bethel Johnson (a 4th quarter score that iced it) after sharp fakes into the line.
Finally, let痴 celebrate the returning Patrick Pass, who ran a toss play around left end for 19 yards, and added another 22 on a dump off from Brady.
Patriots on Defense
Here痴 the first thing � Asante Samuel, our last and best hope at corner since the loss of Law and Poole, went out of the game with a shoulder injury on the Rams second offensive play. That left undrafted free agent Randall Gay as the grand old man of the cornerbacks. Enough said?
Yet aside from a few anxious minutes in the 2nd quarter, when the Rams began to move the ball against replacement Earthwind Moreland, it didn稚 make a damn bit of difference. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt each posted touchdowns, but anybody who tells you that either one was a factor in this game is nuts. Without a 35 yard garbage time catch by Holt, they would have been lucky to total a hundred yards between them. Gay and Moreland can稚 get enough credit this week.
Neither can the Jim Thorpe-like Troy Brown, who jumped into the breach following Samuel痴 injury (he did return in the 4th quarter) and manned the slot whenever the Rams went to three and four receiver sets. He even had a near interception. Remember all the crap Bill Belichick took for using Brown in the defensive backfield during training camp? How痴 that decision looking today?
Willie McGinest was the day痴 big playmaker, forcing both turnovers by the Rams offense and setting up 10 New England points. In the 2nd quarter, with the Pats leading by just two and the Rams at the Pats 30, McGinest ran down and stripped a scrambling Marc Bulger from behind, causing a fumble that was covered just inbounds by Jarvis Green. Nine plays later, the Pats extended their lead to five.
Then, with the Pats leading by 12 in the third, McGinest fell back into coverage and tipped a Marc Bulger pass to Roman Phifer at midfield. Phifer ran it back to the St. Louis 21, and Dillon ran it home four plays later. Once again, Willie McGinest had made the biggest of big plays for the Patriots.
He did not stand alone, however. The front seven, led by Vrabel, held Marshall Faulk in check (66 yards on just 12 carries) and put significant pressure on Bulger throughout. Often, he was forced to hold the ball as he searched for an open receiver. McGinest, Green, Ty Warren and Richard Seymour all had sacks. Second-year man Tully Banta-Cain had his best game as a pro in relief of Rosevelt Colvin, flying off the edge and fouling up the Rams pocket each time they tried to pass.
Rodney Harrison again led the Pats with eight tackles, though he was burned for the Rams longest completion of the day. Fellow safety Eugene Wilson was also sturdy, finishing with five tackles and a few solid hits on the typically meek Ram receivers.
Patriots on Special Teams
Hey, listen, Adam Vintaieri is the greatest thing since stinkin� sliced bread. He kicked four first-half field goals (each one dead solid perfect) as the Pats struggled to take advantage of Ram miscues and good field position. But that was nothing.
With seven minutes to go in the 3rd quarter and New England leading by five, the Pats drove inside the Rams 10 yard line but were stopped on 3rd and goal from the 5. Vinatieri quickly ran on to kick the chip shot and extend the lead to eight points.
He never kicked it. In a move that was not without a little poetic justice, Vinatieri took a direct snap and quickly threw a surprise touchdown pass to a wide open Troy Brown, who was allowed to drift toward the sideline unattended before the snap. Vinatieri (think anybody else will win AFC special teams player of the week?) threw a strike to Brown, who stepped into the end zone as slack-jawed Rams players – and their brainiac head coach, who痴 usually the one doing these things – watched helplessly. The only thing missing was Ricky Proehl.
Long snapper Lonnie Paxton hustled down and grabbed an all-too rare special teams turnover after Rams returner Shaun McDonald muffed a 1st quarter punt at the St. Louis 28. It set up the second of Vinatieri痴 field goals.
Patriots on the Sidelines
Small quibble � the next time you池e pinned back at your own 10 yard line, and your opponent has grabbed the momentum even though you致e been dominating, EMPHASIZE THE FREAKING RUN. You池e killing me over here.
But you have to tip your cap to the staff for this one. We didn稚 have the highest hopes for this game, and the Patriots killed the Rams. Killed them. They moved the ball whenever they wanted and stopped the Rams whenever they had to. Great job all around.
I think they felt that way too. It’s rare to see Belichick and crew celebrate a win as openly as they did this one. They deserved it.
Final thought � If you fit Ed Hochuli and his crew with orange reflective vests, you wouldn稚 know the difference between them and the average public works crew. A bunch of guys standing around, talking. Have they ever called a penalty they didn稚 have to conference over? If one of those guys ever inadvertently dropped their handkerchief, the game would be delayed fifteen minutes.
Patriots Next Week
Home again for an ESPN Sunday night divisional match-up with 3-5 Buffalo. YOU THINK MIKE MULARKEY DOESN探 LOVE HIS DEFENSE?
Just think. We’ll be able to thank the Bills personally for sticking a shiv in the backs of the previously high-flying New York Jets earlier today. The Bills win gave the Jets two divisional losses and, combined with the Pats victory over St. Louis, helped the Patriots to a one game lead in the AFC East at the halfway point.
Hey, 船akota�, want to tell us some more about how the Pats are going to lose to the Rams? They won by EIGHTEEN points, for cryin� out loud! You weren稚 even close! Tell us some more, 船akota�.
Great column, Pats. I don’t think you can overemphasize what this team accomplished today under extremely adverse circumstances.