Ten lingering thoughts on the Patriots' escape from Qualcomm . . .
1. In the aftermath of the Patriots' win, which I think we can probably agree was due in large part to the Norvball Chargers' own ineptitude, I was resigned to the notion that the recurring theme among most media and the most skeptical of fans would be yeah, but.
Yeah, they won, but . . . the Chargers tried to give it to them . . . and tried again . . . and tried again . . . and still they had a chance to tie . . . and Brady struggled (for him, anyway) . . . and they couldn't run the ball . . . and we haven't even mentioned 4th and 1 yet . . . and . . . yeah, they won but . . .
Which is fine. They're all valid points to some degree. But ultimately, you know what? They won. On the road. Against a talented and desperate opponent in the Chargers, led by an outstanding quarterback in Philip Rivers.
I'll take the win, and I'll take 5-1, particularly with a rebuilt and improving defense and an adjusting offense in its second week post-Moss. I'll worry about the consequences of inefficient or erratic play later. They won, over a skilled foe in a tough environment, and while it might have been ugly and had some unnecessary suspense at the end, was a tremendous win. And in this year's version of the NFL, where parity rules and the best teams seem to vary week to week, every single victory matters a heck of a lot more than style points do. No buts about it.
2. OK, so this is what I wrote in this spot in response to the Patriots' selection of Devin McCourty in the first round of the NFL Draft in April:
I'm still not sure about the Patriots selection of McCourty -- it's disconcerting when the first thing you hear about a player is in regard to his special teams skills. But I'm smart enough to give Bill Belichick the benefit of the doubt, and the rest of their draft was pretty reassuring and encouraging.
OK, so that wasn't exactly an endorsement of the kid, but given the general "who the . . . Belichick, you've gone mad!" reaction to the pick among the more reactionary of the Twitterati, I'm feeling pretty good on where I came down on the pick competitively. It's evident six games into his NFL career that McCourty, who had a textbook interception Sunday, not only is a tremendous athlete, particularly for his size, but a fast learner. I can't wait to see him go stride-for-stride with Mr. Moss next Sunday. And in the future, when Belichick puzzles Mel Kiper Jr. by spending a first rounder on some massive defensive end from Southeast Texas State Agricultural and Tractor who Gary Wichard has never heard of, I'm going to put away my skepticism for fear of eating a heaping helping of crow once we actually see the kid play.
3. If there's an underutilized weapon in the Patriots' passing game, it has to be Rob Gronkowski, doesn't it? He presents a matchup problem at 6-foot-6, he's fast enough to get open in the middle of the field, has demonstrated to have stick-'em hands (Brady made a bad throw on his TD grab Sunday), and while he's already proven a Vrabelesque red zone threat (three TDs), he has just nine receptions for 96 yards. If defenses continue to focus on Wes Welker as the Chargers did, Gronkowski should end up as one of the beneficiaries. And you could argue that's already overdue.
4. One of the little reasons I generally prefer baseball (and to a lesser degree, NBA basketball) to the NFL is the seemingly smaller chance of significant injury to a player crucial you enjoy watching. That may sound ridiculous coming after a Red Sox season in which a talented and intriguing team was decimated by injuries, but it's my theory and I'm sticking to it. That considered, if the reports that Patrick Chung will miss no more than a week or two with an apparent knee injury suffered in the first quarter Sunday, I will absolutely take it, breathe a huge sigh of relief, and thank the football gods for sparing us from another season of the Meriweather-Sanders Step-Too-Late tandem at safety.
5. Bill Belichick will never admit it, but I'm convinced one of the reasons he decided to go for it on fourth-and-1, if not the main reason, was the erratic performance of long snapper Jake Ingram Sunday. Zoltan Mesko fielded more grounders and one-hoppers than Derek Jeter did in the entire ALCS, and the fear that Ingram had the yips for the afternoon and might be on the verge of launching one over Mesko's head to the Patriots' 25-yard line or so had to play some role in Belichick's thinking.
6. The last five Chargers head coaches, in chronological order: Kevin Gilbride, June Jones, Mike Riley, Marty Schottenheimer (with Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator), and Norv Turner. If San Diego ever lands a truly capable head coach such as Bill Cowher or that guy Jon Gruden, its going to feel to Chargers fans like they just got Lombardi in his prime. Or Belichick. Figured you'd say it if I didn't.
7. Tully Banta-Cain had 10 sacks last year, as many as he had in the previous four seasons combined. Five of those sacks game in the two games against the Bills, who played a season ago like they were unaware were required to field five offensive linemen. Banta-Cain has 1.5 sacks (none since Week 2) and 14 tackles this year -- a half-sack more and a tackle fewer than rookie Jermaine Cunningham, who has nine of his tackles over the past two weeks.The point is two-fold: Cunningham is yet another newbie on this rebuilt and blossoming defense who is hinting that he may be an impact player for years to come . . . and that three-year, $13.5 million contract Banta-Cain signed in the offseason is not looking like money well spent.
8. That was just a -- I don't know, weird? -- performance Sunday for Brady, who seemed to lack his customary sixth sense for feeling the rush in the pocket. He was sacked a season-high four times and tied his season-low with 19 completions, in eight more attempts (32) than his previous 19-completion game against Miami. Aesthetically, it reminded me considerably of his performance against the Chargers during the 2006 playoffs . . . .but upon checking out the recaps and box scores, it was actually sort of the opposite. Brady wasn't his usual close-to-flawless self in either game, but his rating Sunday (82.7) was higher than his 59.5 from the Marlon McCree Bowl . . . and that's despite throwing for a meager 159 yards versus 280 in the '06 game, a 24-21 win. The difference? Brady threw three picks in the playoff game, while he managed to avoid any aerial miscues Sunday despite being under siege by the unsung Kevin Burnett, Shaun Phillips, and the Chargers' very impressive post-Merriman defense.
9. Brett Favre may shrewdly position himself as a just-a-good-ol'-boy, never-meanin'-no-harm -- albeit one who apparently does a little ol' textin' from the John Deere -- but he's certainly done his share of harm to the Patriots through the years. You probably don't need to be reminded that Favre has directly or indirectly foiled some of the Patriots' best-laid plans -- beating them in Super Bowl XXXI, going through the motions in '02 against the Jets to keep the Patriots out of the playoffs, blowing it with one of his patented brain-lock interceptions against the Giants in the NFC title game in '07, and so on. So if there's any justice, he'll give it a go on his broken ankle Sunday, if only to keep his consecutive starts streak alive (and perhaps to spite his coach), and the Patriots will get to be the beneficiary of his poor decisions, his desire to force the ball to Randy Moss, and his declining skills. That 35-0 win over Favre and the Packers in 2006? Not nearly enough revenge for my liking, particularly since he made his escape near halftime and nearly ran over Ellis Hobbs while getting carted off the field with an elbow injury. Play, Brett, play.
10. As for today's Completely Random Football Card:
Now there's a welcome flashback. Ramsey was one of my favorite Patriots of the Raymond Berry/"Squish The Fish" era. ( I also had an appreciation of the Weathers brothers and Greg Hawthorne that wasn't necessarily supported by their production.) While Ramsey's time with the Pats was relatively brief -- he played 34 games over two-plus seasons -- the 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pounder had a terrific receiving season in '85, catching 66 passes for 792 yards and seven touchdowns. Now that I think of it, I wonder if Aaron Hernandez will surpass those reception/yardage numbers from Ramsey's fine season this year.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.