logoby Scott Benson

Welcome back to Five Questions, everybody. Now, you remember how we play our game – answer all five questions and you win one hundred thousand dollars, plus a invitation to play in our Grand Finals later this season……in Las Vegas!

Actually, that’s something else entirely. This is just Five Questions about football.

Shouldn’t retiring coaches wait until AFTER the season to announce their intentions?

This past offseason, Mike Holmgren came right out and said it. Tony Dungy may as well have. Two of the most successful head coaches of the last fifteen years would step down at the end of the 2008 season, leaving two teams that had become perennial contenders during their tenures.

Maybe they should have kept that bit of news to themselves for a while longer.

Holmgren’s Seattle Seahawks, coming off five straight playoff appearances, are 2-5 since learning their longtime head coach would step aside at the end of the season.

Dungy’s Indianapolis Colts, Super Bowl XLI champions and a playoff team in each of Dungy’s six seasons, are 3-4, giving the two lame ducks a combined record of 5-9 for 2008.

Sure, there are all kinds of reasons why this is the case; no Matt Hasselbeck puts a damper on things in Seattle (note to self: Sigh.), and the Colts have struggled with injuries and ailments from Peyton Manning on down (Sigh.). Neither team was impenetrable to begin with. Holmgren’s always been thin at one position or another (people were giving Belichick a hard time for having no better option than Matt Cassel; how does Seneca Wallace hit you?), and there’s been a subtle attrition happening in Indy that’s not all that dissimilar to the one in New England.

Still, you have to wonder how much “yeah, sure boss (eyeroll)” there is in that combined 5-9 record. It’s human nature, at least to a degree. If your boss came in this morning and announced he or she will be leaving at the end of the month, what would be your reaction to their next dictum? Yeah, sure boss.

I think it’s better than 50/50 that Holmgren’s Last Waltz won’t be Scorsese material. I guess we’ll get a look in week fourteen. But the Colts? I have to say I’m wary. They may have played themselves out of the division with their mess on Monday night, but four losses at this point disqualifies them from nothing else. Especially if they can get a big win on national TV this week.

What would beating the Colts on Sunday night mean to the Patriots?

Two things: the Bills will probably croak the Jets this week in Buffalo, so it would mean that the Pats would be keeping pace with the biggest threat to their divisional crown in five years.

Secondly, it’s a juicy conference win opportunity. I still have to believe the Colts will find their way back into the race before its too late, and a win in Indy on Sunday night would give the Pats a direct tiebreaker advantage down the line, God willing.

There may be something else. Talent will always come first, sound planning second, but I think the confidence and momentum that comes from having a few pelts on your pony (© Bill Parcells) is a big part of what wins in the NFL. If you know you can do it, if you have done it, you will do it, at least most of the time. You can almost see a little of that happening with the Patriots right now. A little. A win in Indy would most definitely be a very good pelt.

What would losing to the Colts on Sunday night mean to the Patriots?

See above. Aside from the obvious ramifications in the standings, it would mean that the Pats had the opportunity to win a big road game against a historical rival that may be more vulnerable than even the Brady-less Pats, and they couldn’t capitalize on it. That would further call into question their ability to deal with the Buffalos and Pittsburghs, even the New Yorks and Miamis, they have ahead of them.

Is Vince Wilfork a dirty player?

If he’s wearing – in the words of Gil Santos – a blue jersey, silver helmet and pants, then why do I care?

Why would I be complaining about a player on my team being dirty? I don’t get this. Is it the penalties, the fines or a possible suspension? Oh, God, it isn’t fair play, is it? Should I get you a tissue, Maddam PTA Chairwoman? Snap out of it, sweetheart. This is the NFL. You were expecting Fred Rogers in the trench?

In all seriousness, I don’t think asking Wilfork to dial it back is in anybody’s interest, except maybe Brandon Jacobs’. For my part, I wouldn’t want him to change anything for fear that it would change everything. He’s a violent player in the most violent spot on the field.  I’ll take the occasional penalty in exchange for the best nose tackle the Patriots have ever had.

No Love for Ellis Hobbs?

Here’s another thing I don’t get – Pats fans’ jaundiced view of Ellis Hobbs.

I’m aware that the Patriots defensive backfield has been giving up long home runs like John Wasdin. I also know that Pats fans have always been a little pissed that Ty Law, and then Asante Samuel, was allowed to leave without a proportional response by the New England front office.

No, Hobbs is not Law or Samuel or Champ Bailey, or even Al Harris. Even his strongest supporters will grant you that. He is, however, a competitive NFL corner that I’m certain would have found his way on the field alongside Law and Samuel for even New England’s best championship defenses.

You’re not going to bring up Plaxico Burress, are you? You know, you may have a point there. Every NFL fan knows Burress has never done a thing in the league when he wasn’t being covered by Ellis Hobbs.

He and Brandon Meriweather lead the Pats in passes defensed with eight, which puts Hobbs 14th among all AFC defensive backs and 23rd league-wide. By my count, there are at least 32 starting cornerbacks in the AFC, and 64 across the league, which means he’s at least a little bit better than average when it comes to defending the pass. As I noted, he’s not Law or Samuel, but he’s not the piece of burnt toast that most people believe him to be.

And Hobbs is nothing if not determined. For a guy that’s 5′-9″ and a shade under 200 pounds, he sure plays a lot of games. He’s played no fewer than 15 games in any of his three NFL seasons, many of them with injuries that have kept people like Eugene Wilson on the shelf. But Hobbs plays on, as he is likely to do this weekend in Indy, even after he awkwardly fell on his shoulder in last Sunday’s win over St. Louis.

Lastly – great kick returner, and a real threat for the Patriots every time he touches the football. Hobbs leads the NFL in return average through eight weeks, and so far has four returns of more than 40 yards. Ron Borges might think it embarrassing that he was taken down by Josh Brown last weekend, but if Devin Hester can suffer the same fate (as Brown noted he had), then maybe its not such an embarrassment after all.

I’m not arguing that Hobbs is the “shutdown” corner that Pats fans have sought since the departure of Law; simply, the argument is that he’s a determined competitor who ought to be appreciated more than he seems to be.