by Greg Doyle
Sunday’s visit to the New York Jets by the Patriots certainly started out for two and a half quarters as the dominating performance fans who have been watching this team grew familiar wih during the Super Bowl seasons. But momentum is a funny thing. A few plays turned the tide and almost got the Jets tied up in the game. Still, you have to credit the Patriots for putting the game away with an impressive, clock killing drive and the one thing that has become apparent about this Patriots squad thru the exhibition season and now into the regular season is they have the ability to put together long, clock killing, methodical drives at times. More so than at any time during the Belichick-era, at least by the early returns. If this offense starts to gell, that could be an ability that separates them from the pack at some point. On to the tape.
QUARTERBACKS: Tom Brady did not have the horrible performance that has been portrayed by some in the media. Really, only two glaring mistakes were evident. The long throw to Doug Gabriel that was picked off was an uncharacteristic forced toss. And the strip sack that resulted in a Jets possession in good field position was Brady’s fault. There were two blitzers coming from the back side, Kevin Faulk could only pick up one and did so, Brady has to account for the other guy and he seemingly didn’t recognize it coming at all. Still, he made some really good throws. The rifle shot on third and long to Ben Watson on the first touchdown drive was a key throw. His methodical completions to ice the game, practically, on their last drive was vintage Tom Brady. He’s working with some new receivers here, its still not finely tuned. But it should get better every week and I see nothing to indicate Tom Brady won’t be Tom Brady very shortly.
RUNNING BACK: Another good performance by all the backs. Corey Dillon actually looked quicker to me this week than last and has now put together two excellent weeks with his highly motivated, punishing running style. One concern to watch is an apparent injury he suffered on his last carry. He walked off okay, but after such a promising start it would be a shame to see him suffer a set back. Laurence Maroney wasn’t quite as good this week, but still very impressive. His quickness really is something to marvel at and you have to think its only a matter of time before he breaks off a 50-plus yard TD run some week. Kevin Faulk made some critical catches down the stretch. And Heath Evans, while he wasn’t in there much, could be seen throwing some nice blocks on several plays when he was in there.
WIDE RECEIVER: A good day for the most part. Troy Brown has played well and is picking up as a more focal point of the offense to the point he reminds one of his best days as a top NFL receiver again. Chad Jackson had a touchdown in his first NFL game and displayed excellent size and quickness, as well as the ability to play physically. He did drop a long pass, but his hands are good and he’ll haul that in most of the time. Reche Caldwell had a couple nice, short catches for first downs and, although not spectacular, has now done a solid job two weeks in a row, though he hasn’t been featured much. Doug Gabriel didn’t show much in his Patriots debut and did look a bit lost out there still.
TIGHT END: A good day for this trio of Ben Watson, Daniel Graham and David Thomas. All had big catches down the field and with the exception of Thomas on one play, all did a good job blocking. This is one of the better tight end units in the league.
OFFENSIVE LINE: An improved performance from the Buffalo game. Ryan O’Callaghan was far better this week than last and had a few dominating blocks which cleared the way for good ground gains. He was also very good in pass protection. Logan Mankins also had a very good game and plays with a mean streak. The rest were solid.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Ty Warren and Jarvis Green had tremendous games. Both made quite an impact and Green seemingly caused disruption on most series he was in there for. Warren was a force all game long and he is, by far, off to his best start as a Patriot. Richard Seymour proved too much to handle in the middle as well, to the point the Jets had to pull their starter at guard and try someone new. No Jets lineman proved much of a match for him. Vince Wilfork also was good and didn’t allow much to happen in the run game, though he did have a stupid double penalty that helped the Jets get untracked. Mike Wright didn’t do much in his first NFL start.
LINEBACKER: A good day for the most part. Rosevelt Colvin was far quieter this week, but Junior Seau picked up the slack and had a fine day filling gaps in the running game. His big stop on third down before the Jets got stopped on a fourth down play was critical and a beautiful play. It helped give the Patriots their final touchdown on their subsequent possession, a score which ended up proving big. Mike Vrabel had a decent day and a sack and Tedy Bruschi was up and down in his first action of the season. He showed enough, however, to make one think he’ll be up to speed quickly. Tully Banta-Cain also did a decent job. The defense on the whole was very good, save for a couple bad plays in the secondary.
SECONDARY: Through two and a half quarters, this unit was very good. Michael Felger pointed out Eugene Wilson as someone who got schooled “all day” by Laverneus Coles. I only saw two plays where Wilson was even in coverage on Coles and could be considered bad plays by him. Other than that, he had a very good day. Ellis Hobbs was not as good this week as last week and got embarassingly run over by Coles, who is deceptively strong and physical, on the Jets last touchdown. Asante Samuel almost jumped a route for a touchdown early in the game and was in general pretty good. Rodney Harrison improved as well and was in on many more plays than the previous week productively, but still is not back to his old form. Chad Scott did a decent job and the flukeish touchdown the Jets receiver Jericho Cotchery got after a very good hit by Scott really can’t be blamed on him. It was just a very good, athletic play by the receiver. Overall, this unit defintely had its scary moments, reminiscent slightly of last year, but the number of plays were fairly limited and not yet an area of concern.
KICKING GAME: Josh Miller was fine again and Willie Andrews showed some good stuff in kick coverage. Stephen Gostkowski seemed to rush his final field goal attempt after a somewhat bad snap. This cost the Patriots a chance to ice the game and was the first display of nerves by Gostkowski I have seen since he joined the team. The result was a low trajectory and a block. Adam Vinatieri was once almost cut early in his rookie season after missing several field goals, but rebounded with a big game in what was likely his make or break game in 1996. This was just one bad kick, the first one Gostkowski has made since July under game conditions. No reason to worry yet, every kicker gets an allotment of those on occasion.
Next week, a big rematch against Denver. The Patriots will be looking to get to 3-0 in the AFC. The media will focus on the bid to avenge last year’s playoff lost the Patriots suffered in Denver, but really its just about getting a leg up on what is likely to be a competitor for playoff seeding come January. I’m sure Belichick will be telling everyone last year is last year and doesn’t matter and will, thus, be accused of stonewalling for not buying into manufactured storylines. But he’s right, last year doesn’t matter. What matters is trying to knock off a team and get two games up on a team that could pose a threat down the line if you don’t get them while you have the chance now at home. It should be a great game.