by Scott Benson

The bye week is over. Let the games begin.

The Patriots have the next eleven Sundays booked, and they better get busy. Time will soon grow short for NFL playoff hopefuls to declare their intentions.

Will the Pats smooth out their inconsistent offense? Will Troy Brown and His Band of Little Renown coalesce into a useful tool for Tom Brady? Will the defense remain steady, and continue to force turnovers? Will the secondary tighten the ship? Will the kicking game settle down, or will the Patriots be left kicking themselves?

The time to start answering those questions is now.

Speaking of questions, let’s head to the Row of Chairs and see what our panel has been up to.

Come on, admit it……you were starting to believe those Randy Moss rumors.

Greg: No, I really didn’t. Though in some ways I don’t think Belichick hates Moss as everyone assumes. I mean, the guy was once on a team one missed field goal away from going to a Super Bowl. So how bad could he be for a team? If a Denny Green coached team with Moss can get within a missed field goal, couldn’t a Belichick team get to a Super Bowl and win it with Moss? I bet Belichick thinks so. Still, I don’t think he really fits in at this particular time, its too late to try to make sure he could maybe fit in and his salary doesn’t really fit the bill either. I didn’t believe the rumors.

Bruce: I wouldn’t say I was starting to believe them…but I was intrigued by it all. So many media people said that there was no way that Belichick would have a guy like Moss on his team that I was kind of hoping that they would get him. I can’t even imagine the amount of backpeddling a guy like Pete Sheppard would be doing. Beyond that, just adding a player of his talent would’ve been great to watch and see how he would interact with the guys in the Patriots locker room and if it would’ve had an effect on him.

Scott: Thankfully, no. To me, it was never about what kind of ‘guy’ Moss is; I just couldn’t get beyond the logic that the Pats would draw a hard line on two guys (losing them) and then turn right around and make a mid-season trade for one of the highest paid receivers in the league. A friend said, “well, Branch and Givens aren’t in Moss’s league.” Don’t look now, but neither is Moss, at least lately. Since otherwordly seasons in 02 and 03, Moss has averaged about 55 catches a year, and is on pace to do it again. Not bad, but not elite. And, as one of the most thoughtful Pats observers I know reminded me, Moss is one toke from going over the line. Sweet Jesus. None of this trade chatter made a damn bit of sense.

So what are they going to do with that 53rd roster spot, anyway?

Bruce: Patrick Pass will get it as soon as he is ready to return. That won’t be this week, as Belichick has said already, but I expect it sometime in the next week. They might throw a temp guy in there just to fill it for a week, but eventually I expect that spot to be filled by Pass…if he’s healthy enough to take it.

Scott: I’m with the Tall Man, I maintain that spot has Patrick’s name on it, though the time doesn’t appear to be this week. In the meantime, Russ Hochstein is struggling with a bad knee apparently, and I noticed Billy Yates won the coveted black jersey last week. Maybe Yates gets moved up to fill in for the ailing Russ in Buffalo, while Pass gets ready to begin practicing next week.

Greg: That is a good question. They just let Jonathan Sullivan go, so I suppose Santonio Thomas from the practice squad is a possibility. Eventually, I would imagine it will go to Patrick Pass and he’ll become their main kickoff returner.

We haven’t had a chance to opine on Dan Koppen and his new five year extension. What are your thoughts about the Pats re-signing of the redheaded pivotman?

Scott: Redheaded pivotman? What kind of writing is that? That’s TERRRRRRRRIBLE! What is Benson THINKING!? Anyway, for all the high-visibility turbulence of the off-season, how predictable is it that the Pats choose to quietly spend their money on a position that most of us never even see? In doing so, they’ve locked down – for the foreseeable future – the front line that is most directly responsible for protecting the team’s most valuable resource. I can’t remember the last time the Pats have so adamantly assured themselves of consistentcy and continuity on the offensive line. Wait a minute…..yes I can. Well, all we can do now is hope that Dan and the rest of the boys don’t care for Everclear.

Greg: An excellent signing and fair value. Although Russ Hochstein did a solid job filling in last year when Koppen was injured, it was really noticeable how much better and how good Koppen was when he came back this year. Now they have their line pretty much wrapped up for the next few years and that is excellent for the team’s future.

Bruce: I’m glad its done. Koppen is a big part of the team, and a very good friend to Tom Brady. It kills me that when the deal was announced, media people just assumed that he took less to remain with the Patriots. Then Mike Reiss comes out and posts that the deal puts Koppen in the company of the top paid centers in the league. Guys like Mike Felger grill Koppen about why he didn’t wait until free agency when he likely could’ve gotten more…well, I’m not sure he could’ve done better, and he’s happy here, so it seems to be a win-win for him and the Patriots.

The Patriots are in the midst of dealing with some very painful, and very public, lawn care issues. After the debacle that was the field condition for the Miami game, the League Itself has decreed that the Men of Kraft must get to Home Depot forthwith. One erroneous report said the Pats would install FieldTurf before the end of November, though it was later learned that league rules prohibit teams from changing surfaces in midstream(season). So for now, they’ll resod. In the long term, should the Patriots carry through with their reported plans to install the rubbery rug at the conclusion of the 06 season?

Greg: I would say no. I think the beat up field is condusive to winning teams in the northeast, like the Patriots have done, come playoff time. Yes, the field got a little bit more beat up earlier this year than usual. Probably a combination of factors there. But the short term fix is actually the answer in this case. Just re-sod and lets get on to more important issues.

Bruce: I’d rather just kick out the New England Revolution. I think they’re they real culprits in this. Let them play on the Patriots practice fields…I’m sure the stands there can handle the crowds that the soccer team attracts. I ‘m only half-joking about this. How about not having concerts on the field during the season too? I’d want to keep the natural grass, but if they’re finding they just can’t grow it, then I guess FieldTurf would be the answer. Interesting that a piece from David Pevear later in the week had the FieldTurf guys still making preparations to do a quick install at Gillette…maybe the field is so bad that the NFL grants them special permission to change to a synthetic surface in the middle of the season.

Scott: I’m like anybody else – I don’t want to see the Patriots have the worst anything, much less something as important as the field. But I’ll be damned if I want to see Gillette Stadium become the kind of place where the Indianpolis Colts feel comfortable. I’d be hanging on to that grass like grim death, man. You can’t just sweep frozen grass. The Patriots are of course responsible to ensure the field is playable and safe, but they don’t have to be fanatics about it, if you know what I mean. Why give away an indigenous advantage like that? Bury the hatchet with Dennis Brolin and end this madness. That said, if we end up with a turf toupee, there has to be a way we can use it to screw a Bill Polian-assembled team. There HAS to.

The Big Board O’ Predictions is gettin’ mighty crowded, fellas. Last week was a walk in the park for yours truly, as I posted a 4-1 record on the strength of my all-seeing, all-knowing picks of the Jets and Panthers. Neither of my competitors had the imagination or the courage to make such bold selections. That’s why I’m a suddenly resurgent 22-13 and bearing down on glorious victory. Both Bruce (26-9 overall) and Greg (19-16) lost 3 of 5, which means I’ve got them exactly where I want them. This week, let’s try Detroit at the Jets, Green Bay at Miami, Pittsburgh at Atlanta, Carolina at Cincinnati, San Diego at Kansas City, and Washington at Indianapolis.

Bruce: The Jets should be able to handle the Lions, Can Miami beat Green Bay? It’s at home…I’ll have to take the Dolphins. I think the Steelers should be able to win in Atlanta, I’ll take the Panthers over the Bengals, the Chargers over the Chiefs and the Colts at home.

Scott: I’m sticking with the Jets again, and in Miami, I figure Brett Favre will give the Dolphins all the ammunition they need to beat him. I like Pittsburgh to quiet down Atlanta’s running game and pummel the Falcons defense on the ground. Carolina seems like an obvious pick, coming off a big road win in Baltimore, and with the Bengals still reeling from the asskicking the Patriots laid on them three weeks ago. That’s exactly why I’m picking Cincinnati. You never know. Just like in Kansas City, where the Chargers have lost 5 of their last 6. Do I dare pick the Chiefs? Nah. I’ll take the Chargers, as well as the Colts over Washington, who will react to the loss by signing someone.

Greg: Detroit at the Jets…..could the Jets actually get over .500? I’m gonna say no and Detroit pulls this one off. The Dolphins will win at home in this battle of two awful teams. Pittsburgh will win after getting its act together last week. I’ll take the Bengals to knock off the overrated Panthers at home, San Diego to beat up the Chiefs and Indy to get by Washington, but it’ll be close again.

Tom Brady and the Patriots certainly had their hands full with the Bills on opening day, and that was at home. This week, they have to travel to always-tough Buffalo for their fourth divisional game of the young season. Care to make a wager?

Scott: I don’t care where Takeo Spikes is on the first play of the game, he better be blocked. I’m going to assume they’ve figured a way to account for Buffalo’s front seven this time, and that they can run the ball with the same success they had in Foxboro. The Bills are giving up nearly 120 yards a game on the ground (20th in the league). The Bills offense is 29th, so as long as the Pats don’t turn the ball over, Buffalo won’t score much. I’ll take the Pats to get by the pesky Bills D 20-10 to go to 4-0 in their division.

Greg: I agree with Scott, the Patriots should be able to run the ball. And perhaps get a big day from the tight ends as well against Buffalo’s defense, whose linebackers don’t cover well. I like the Patriots 27-17.

Bruce: These division games are always tough, especially on the road, however the only way I see this being a really tight game is if the Patriots just come into this game totally overlooking the Bills. I don’t see that happening, and look for a fairly easy 28-10 win this week. The Patriots should be able to run the ball, and I don’t see J.P. Losman picking them apart this week.

Last call for Mediot of the Week!

Greg: I think I’ll go a little different route this week and go with a caller to sports radio, mostly WEEI. No he’s not media, but he is broadcast in the media when he calls, so we’ll bend the rules a bit. I’m talking about the illustrious Steve from Fall River. This loser’s act and wrong pronouncements are so ridiculous, ill-informed and miserable, you wonder if he sticks his mother’s cat in the microwave every day. He displays about the same understanding of the salary cap as an elephant does. This guy is a charter member of the get-a-life club, calling 4-5 times a week to repeat the same crap over and over.

This week, I caught him on ‘EEI Sunday morning NFL show. It was his typical rant the Patriots can’t win a Super Bowl without Ty Law and the others who’ve left (no mention of the fact they DID win one without Ty Law when he was injured for 3/4ths of the season in 2004). Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli don’t know jack compared to this clown from Fall River, to hear him tell it.

So he goes on this rant about how is Kansas City 4th in defense and Ty Law is the difference and they should have signed him, yada yada yada. He kept asking, how did Kansas City improve to 4th….higher than the Pats? Kept calling the AFC East the Adams Division as if the Cincinnati win and holding them to 13 points was nothing. The same Cincinnati that had scored 23 on Kansas City WITH Ty Law.

So, what happens a mere few hours later? Kansas City gives up 45 to the struggling Steelers, including allowing them to complete 17 of 20 and throw for 244 yards. All with the struggling Ben Roethlisberger, who hadn’t thrown a TD pass all year before the game. And Ty Law? Toasted like a turnstyle all day.

I wonder if he’ll bring that up in his next call?

Bruce: Let’s go with the nags that suggested immediately that Koppen had taken a “below market” deal when he re-signed with the team last week. I guess we need to know what their definition of “market” deal is. Is it “a dollar higher than what the most out there potentially would be?” or is it “an average of the top x number of contracts at that position?” Apparently for some, a market deal seems to be the former…where it is the highest possible amount potentially out there that someone might be willing to pay. I think in reality, the definition should be more along the lines of the latter, which is certain what Koppen got, and which makes the questioner an idiot.

Scott: The whole NESN team, for reporting for at least a few days that the Pats were going to install FieldTurf in a matter of minutes. Turns out if they’d asked the league, they’d have quickly found out that no matter what their ‘sources’ were telling them, it couldn’t happen. I thought that’s what reporters were supposed to do – ask.

Food for thought from reader Dan.

We get letters – and sometimes, they’re not nasty. I liked this one, from longtime reader Dan.

“I saw something interesting in Belichick’s press conference today.

Towards the end of the conference, he goes into detail about the perils of inside passing routes vs. outside routes. He said each has its dangers. The outside routes represent the tougher throw, but in one sense they’re easier in that the QB only has to account for the one defender. On the inside routes, however, the QB and WR have to be on the same page about leading the receiver vs. waiting for a settle in the zone, going under vs. over the coverage, trying to stick the ball in there vs. waiting for the receiver to clear, etc.

I thought it spoke a lot to what we might be seeing right now with Brady’s choice of throws. With the exception of passes to Brown inside, and some long passes to the TE down the middle, I think Brady’s preferring to throw more outside routes to guys like Caldwell and Gabriel. You think it could have anything to do with lack of communication? That the over-the-middle throws are things you do only when you’re more in sync with your receiver?

Maybe what I’m seeing is just coincidence or maybe I’m forgetting some over-the-middle stuff to Caldwell. It just seemed like a plausible reason why we’re seeing a lot of outside routes. And also why we’re seeing Brady throw it into the sidelines or into the dirt.”

Bill Simmons wishes he had such erudite, attentive readers. It’s good for him that he doesn’t. They’d eat him alive.