Crunch time came early, often for McCown

By Jerry Brown
Globe Correspondent / September 20, 2004

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- The statistics tell one story on how the Patriots' defense shut down the Cardinals' offense yesterday: It allowed just 167 yards of total offense, only 50 on the ground, during a 23-12 New England win that pushed a streak that threatens the NFL record to 17 games.

But for Arizona quarterback Josh McCown, who was sacked five times -- all in the first half -- and was chased all over soggy Sun Devil Stadium, the impressive numbers pale when compared to the overwhelming effort put forth by the defending champions.

"You don't win two out of three Super Bowls because you're not a good defense, but you really have to tip your hat to them for how hard they move around and work," McCown said. "Yeah, they have good personnel and, yeah, they have a good scheme.

"But it all works because they all play hard."

McCown completed only 13 of 29 passes for 160 yards and was intercepted twice -- both by free safety Eugene Wilson, and both on passes intented for rookie receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

"They are the model of consistency," said McCown. "They don't back down and everyone runs to the football. I got outside the pocket a few times, and there were people coming from everywhere. It's rare to see guys coming from the other side of the field at full speed. They are all coming and they play the whole play."

Arizona coach Dennis Green complimented the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick ("17 games in a row is incredible in the National Football League") but said his sputtering offense made things much easier for New England.

"We're a long way from where I envisioned this offense. It's hard to believe we're that far away," Green said. "It's hard to believe that we created this offense and we don't know how to run it.

"I think [Patriots linebacker] Mike Vrabel will probably think that he played the worst game of his career, because he had at least 10 rushes to the quarterback where nobody blocked him, and he didn't get there."

And every time Vrabel came in untouched, it was up to McCown to run for his life.

"We had miscommunication up front, and some guys got a free run," McCown said. "It happens once, you understand. It happens twice . . . but when it keeps happening, it's frustrating."

Vrabel did get to McCown once and linebacker Willie McGinest and safety Rodney Harrison each got there twice, as the Patriots overcame three turnovers -- including a pair of rare Tom Brady interceptions -- to win.

Even when the Cardinals used New England's aggressiveness against it -- a delayed screen from McCown to running back Josh Scobey went for 42 yards and set up Arizona's only touchdown in the third quarter -- the Patriots kept coming hard and kept hitting McCown.

"I just know it can't happen all the time, having [McCown] get hit by three or four guys on every play," Arizona rookie center Alex Stepanovich said. "It's not fair to him."

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