by Scott Benson

I hate Monday Night Football.

Conceptually, I embrace it. I like that even after 10 or 11 hours of marathon broadcasting every Sunday (who else but the NFL gets away with this?), our football weekend isn’t quiiiiiiiiiiiite over yet – there’s still another game tomorrow night! I find that comforting, in an odd way.

So I guess I don’t really hate Monday Night Football. I just hate that the Patriots have to appear on it.

I’m sure you know why. If you’re a Patriots fan, you know that the bad has far outweighed the good when it comes to the Pats and MNF.

In short, over the past 35 years, the Patriots have a 13-21 record on Monday nights. Winning percentage in weeknight prime time? .382. THREE-EIGHTY-TWO. That’s a good average – if you’re George Brett.

The stories – the indignities – have become legend. Joe Washington, in the rain, no less….”No man can serve two masters”….after another loss in Miami, Michael Madden of the Globe writing, “the Patriots are losers”…..and that’s just the freaking 70’s. There’s almost three decades more.

Christ, the Patriots even killed a Beatle on Monday Night Football.

The good news is that during the Bill Belichick era in New England, the Patriots are a respectable 5-4 as a featured MNF player. The memories are largely good. They’ve humiliated the chest-pounding Steelers on on a banner-dropping, stadium-christening, season-opening night. They’ve used an intentional safety and late Tom Brady heroics to outfox Denver IN Denver. Heady stuff. Yeah, they also got their tired ass waxed by the formerly-dominated Indianapolis Colts last year, but back in the old days, Patriots fans would have been lucky to limp away from MNF with something as simple as a severe beating. Maybe the prancing Colts wounded our regional pride a bit, but at least nobody got pissed on.

Alrighty then, let’s move on. Panel?

Michael Felger seems pretty intent on convincing us that Eugene Wilson is a lousy player. He mentions it five times a week lately. Forgetting for the moment what Felger is up to, what do YOU think of the Patriots safety (who is still hurt and questionable for this week)?

Bruce: Wilson is one of the most low-key guys in the Patriots locker room, so I doubt he and Felger had any sort of tiff. I think perhaps Felger knows Wilson won’t bite back at him, so maybe that’s part of what has made him a target this season. The only change I’ve noticed out of Wilson last year and this is the lack of the huge hits that marked his first two seasons. I think part of that might actually be by design…Wilson used to “launch” himself into players, creating memorable hits, (I recall one one on Marvin Harrison, I believe.) but if he missed, it left him out of position. Perhaps because of injury, he’s stayed away from the big hits and has focused more on just being solid in coverage. Chasing down Willis McGahee last week despite a bad hamstring was an example of what he can do on defense. He may not be making big plays, but he’s certainly not hurting them back there, either.

Greg: He is a good player. He is in his fourth year and has had two extremely good years, borderline Pro Bowl and one so-so year. Contrary to Felger’s analysis, which he seems incapable of doing accurately in any aspect of the Patriots anyways, he was not awful last year. He must just have ticked Felger off or something. He wasn’t great either and certainly had his least effective year. This year, he has been fine. I mean, we’re talking about a defense that hasn’t given up more than 17 points in any of the games he has played in. He is a solid tackler, good in coverage and has good range. What’s the problem? You’d like to see a few more picks as he had his first couple years, but that could be just a function of randomness. Its not like he doesn’t know how to create turnovers. And we’ve seen several times this season where he has run down a ball carrier in the open field where they otherwise may have taken it all the way. That’s exactly what you need from a safety. Don’t trust Felger. He’s really become a pathetic obseverer of anything Patriots.

Scott: The lack of turnovers is the thing with me. He just hasn’t been creating them. After generating ten in his first two seasons (8 picks and 2 forced fumbles in 37 games), Wilson has dropped off considerably (just one interception and one fumble recovery in last 22 games). But generally, he seems like a solid, knowledgeable, reasonably productive player, a guy that’s proven that he can play at the highest level. Pointing out that he hasn’t become Ed Reed seems, well, pointless.

The Patriots defense is ranked 4th in the league in points allowed, 6th in rushing yards allowed per game, 10th in the league in red zone TD’s allowed, and thanks to their 10 forced turnovers, tied for 8th in the league in turnover differential (+4). Is the Patriots defense as good as the numbers indicate?

Greg: Yes it is. And it will get better. They’ve had a few slips here and there, but in general they have plugged a lot of the holes from last year’s leaky defense. I credit Dean Pees, Bill Belichick and the players. They are playing very well against the run, though they can do better. They have, with only a couple exceptions, not been burned by the big play like last year. And they’re creating turnovers now. I like what I see.

Scott: These past few weeks, I’m dying with every third down conversion they give up, and with every battle of field position they lose. Come ON defense, I cry. MAKE A F*****G PLAY! Then I look up at the end of the game and the other team has like 13 points. I don’t know what the hell I’m watching, frankly.

Bruce: Like Greg said, I think this defense is going to get better. In fact, it is a trademark of the Belichick defenses that they get better as the season goes along. I’m looking forward to seeing what the defense is looking like come December.

Ty Warren is off to perhaps the best start of his career. He’s on pace for season bests in tackles and sacks, and what’s more (fun fact ahead), he’s second on the team, behind only Asante Samuel, for passes defensed (4). He’s an ironman, of course, never missing a regular season game. Everyone knows that Richard Seymour is considered one of the best in the league, so where does that place Warren?

Scott: To Seymour’s left? Warren’s not the flashy pass rushing end like Freeney and them, so as far as Pro Bowls, he’ll only get them by outlasting the others. But those of us who watch him every week know how he can blow up the run, and mix speed and power to get into the pocket. You can’t say enough about the guy being there every week, either. You really get the sense this is a guy that’s still getting better, he’s stuck out that much. When was the last time the Patriots had this good of a defensive line? The Sixties?

Bruce: Warren has been getting more attention from the media this year, which is good for him, he deserves to be recognized for his play. I don’t think he’s getting the recognition around the league that is going to get him any postseason awards. If Seymour doesn’t play this Monday night, the Patriots are going to need to see Warren play at a Seymour level. I think he’s up to the challenge. All very good for a guy who had his work ethic challenged by some when he was coming out of school.

Greg: I think Warren is having a Pro Bowl season and has been the best player on defense to date. Now, given the way the Pro Bowl is selected, I doubt he’ll get in. But he really is playing that well and its nice to see. This is one first round pick that seems not to get the accolades as the excellent pick its turned into. But clearly, its becoming obvious the Patriots did a good job with that pick as well.

Everybody in New England noticed last week when Matt Hasselbeck went down with what looked like a painful – and potentially devastating – knee injury. With Seattle now at 4-2, and with Hasselbeck out a minimum of three weeks, is the stock of their first round pick (now, of course, owned by the Patriots) rising?

Bruce: The Curse of the Super Bowl loser! Someone should write a book on it. There aren’t enough sports related curse books out there, in my opinion. I think the pick could be low 20’s, but that’s about as good as it can get for the Patriots. Seattle’s division is just too weak for them to completely fall apart.

Greg: Yes, of course. They were lucky to beat St. Louis the previous game too and could be 3-3. Heading into games without Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander still out and likely not to be at full speed at least at first when he comes back, they are going to continue to struggle. Fortunately for them, they have some easy games that will help them pull out a few wins while they are ailing, but I think the end result is they’ll be a 9-7 or 10-6 team at best. That’ll place the Patriots pick somewhere in the low 20’s. Not too bad.

Scott: I’d say they have a pretty favorable schedule in general, so these guys are probably right when they say low 20’s at best. I can’t say that qualifies as ‘rising stock’. I have to admit I was expecting more when I heard about Hasselbeck – by the way, should I feel guilty about letting out a little ‘whooo!’ when the news came? That doesn’t make me a bad person, right? I didn’t think so.

Let’s pull out the dartboard and blindfolds – it’s prediction time. This week, let’s go with: Baltimore at New Orleans, Atlanta at Cincinnati, Seattle at Kansas City, Jacksonville at Philadelphia, St. Louis at San Diego, and in the big one, Indianapolis at Denver.

Greg (1-5 last week; 20-21 overall):Trying to pull a fast one on me, huh Benson? By my review of last week I picked both the Bengals and Indianapolis. That would put me at 2-4 not 1-5. Nice try pal, but I’m on to you. I call for a Big 8 accounting firm to review the season results and get to the bottom of this GDRV record scandal immediately! Anyways, for this week I’ll go with New Orleans to continue their hot start. They have found a rhythm on offense and their defense is pretty good as well. The Bengals will beat Atlanta. Michael Vick won’t play as well this week on the road. Kansas City beats up on the injured Seattle, Philadelphia rebounds at home versus Jacksonville, San Diego does at well at home and Denver hands Indianapolis its first loss in a big game.

Bruce (2-4 last week; 28-13 overall): Hmmm, Greg’s got me wondering about Scott making up so much ground on me the last few weeks. One week I’m lapping the field, the next Benson is right on my tail. I’m going with New Orleans, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Jacksonville, San Diego, and I think I’ll take Indy.

Scott (2-4 last week; 24-17 overall): Mistakes were made. Now is a time for coming together, in a bypartisan fashion, to look beyond those mistakes and forget they were ever made. Then, and only then, will true healing begin. I ask for your support. Now, let’s see….I’ll take the Saints over the Ravens, the Bengals beat the Falcons at home, I like the Chiefs to prevail at home, Philly too, and for that matter the Chargers as well. I fully expect the Denver Broncos to beat Indy, because that’s just the kind of thing those pricks would do. The Colts might get them if they were at home, but it doesn’t seem likely there in Denver. By the way, you crybabies, the corrected standings are below:

Bruce: (3-3 last week; 29-12 overall)
Scott: (3-3 last week; 25-16 overall)
Greg: (2-4 last week, 21-20 overall)

When the 06 schedule came out, I’m sure a lot of us marked ‘W’ next to ‘Minnesota’, what with those visions of of bawdy cruises and Mike Meathead Tice dancing freshly in our heads. Not so fast, kimosabe. The Vikings actually seem to be becoming a legit outfit under former Philly OC Brad Childress. And suprisingly, the team’s real strength seems to be defense. How do you like the Pats on the road in this intra-conference game?

Scott: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I’m thinking of the last time the Pats went on the road to play an opponent that had been playing well. I was convinced that the Bengals would push the Pats around a bit, and as it turned out, it was the other way around. Fool me once. I don’t know how they’ll do it, but I’m picking the Pats to come up big again, 30-14. The Vikes may be on a real upswing, but they were just another lousy team a few months ago. Once the opening adrenaline rush subsides, this rebuilding team is going to find themselves in a 60 minute football game against a bunch of guys that have been there plenty of times before. I haven’t heard anybody playing up that angle this week, so I guess I will.

Bruce: Well, the Patriots are 1-0 when I pick against them this year, so here’s hoping that streak continues. This is a tough game in a tough, loud environment. The Patriots are still coming together as a team, and that Seymour injury couldn’t have come on a worse week, given the strength of the Vikings offensive line. Tom Brady is going to need to have a big day in the passing game, as I think Minnesota is going to make it tough to run the ball. Ben Watson could have a big game Monday. I’m going to have to pick the Vikings though, let’s say 17-13.

Greg: Its a pretty tough matchup and the Patriots are a bit banged up. They could be without key players like Richard Seymour, Stephen Neal and Eugene Wilson. Still, I like the way they are playing and I think they’ll be ready. Minnesota is far from explosive on offense anyways, and the Patriots just aren’t allowing much on defense. I see a 23-13 Patriots win.

Coming down the backstretch…….it’s our Mediot of the Week!

Bruce: Bob Lobel attempting to set the AFC playoff seeds (if the season ended today…) after last week’s game was a bit much. It’s way too early for that, and with Denver and Indy playing this week, you had to at least wait until after this game to even be able to consider anyone the favorite to get home field. There’s plenty of things to talk about without trying to force talk about the playoffs. PLAYOFFS?

Greg: Can we go with Dennis and Callahan for their harping, panic-riddled calls for Laurence Maroney not to return kick offs a few weeks ago? Although we have expressed the sentiment that Patrick Pass return kicks here on GDRV, that was more because we preferred a different style and Pass role of a non-fumbling, hard runner who won’t break one but will do okay on kickoffs consistently. It wasn’t that we thought it was ridiculous to have Maroney back there. In contrast, on Dennis and Callahan, they basically claimed it was the height of idiocy to have Maroney back there and demanded he be removed for a good solid 20 minutes just before the Buffalo game. And now Maroney broke a couple good runs on kickoffs, including one near touchdown Sunday, and they go silent on the matter or their criticism of Belichick for using him in that role. Typical of those weasels.

Scott: Are you kidding? Didn’t you see the Boston Sports Media Watch afternoon update on Thursday?

Editor’s Note: Speaking of BSMW, don’t miss Bill Barnwell’s latest column, also posted on Thursday.