Welcome to the 12th installment of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday at noonish. This week, the 8-3 and rolling Patriots host
David Woodley Scott Mitchell Craig Erickson John Beck Cleo Lemon Ryan Tannehill and the better-than-you'd-ever-have-thought-after-watching-"Hard Knocks" Miami Dolphins. Let's get to the details.
THREE PLAYERS I'LL BE WATCHING OTHER THAN TOM BRADY
1. Reggie Bush: Impressively and somewhat surprisingly, the most well-paid running back in Southern Cal history has done a heck of a job reviving his career in Miami after washing out with the Saints. He's rushed for 662 yards and 4.4 yards per pop and also has 24 receptions. Have to figure the Patriots' emphasis on defense will be containing him. Who knows, maybe they'll even have some help from another Boston athlete. Rajon Rondo may have a budding vendetta against Kim Kardashian's exes, and he does have a couple of days off all of a sudden. Bet he'd make a heck of a free safety.
2. The unsung Patriots offensive player of the week: For all of the legitimate star-caliber talent on the Patriots offense, it's pretty remarkable how at least one of the perceived secondary or role players makes a significant contribution every week. Against the Jets, it was Shane Vereen with the 83-yard catch-and-humiliate-Bart Scott. Danny Woodhead had a couple of touchdowns against the Bills in Week 10. Julian Edelman has been everywhere lately. Based on how the season has played out, you have to figure one of them will be utilized to productive effect by Josh McDaniels Sunday. The money here is on Woodhead.
3. Justin Francis and Trevor Scott: With Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Chandler Jones expected to miss his second straight game with an ankle injury and Jermaine Cunningham beginning his four-game suspension for violated the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, the Patriots will require meaningful contributions from the lower tiers of the depth chart. Francis, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Rutgers, has impressive quickness, while Scott had 13.5 sacks in four years with the Raiders.
WHEN THE FISH WERE SQUISHED
It seems like so long ago now, and I guess it was, but the Patriots' victory at Miami in the 1985 AFC Championship Game was the biggest victory in franchise history to that point, and so improbable that it's still worth celebrating. The Dolphins had owned the Patriots at the Orange Bowl, winning 18 consecutive matchups there -- every single one -- since their first season of existence in 1966. But the Patriots, who had knocked off the Raiders and Jets on the road to get there, were ready for their moment. The defense forced six turnovers, Tony Eason stayed upright long enough to throw three touchdown passes, and Craig James, Tony Collins, and Robert Weathers ran for a combined 243 yards behind John Hannah in a redemptive 31-14 rout. The best part of this clip? There are a lot of best parts, actually, but I'll keep it to two. 1. Watching the late, beloved Mosi Tatupu plow into the end zone for the final touchdown/punctuation mark. 2. Steve Nelson, not exactly the outwardly sentimental sort even by inside linebacker standards -- think Ron Swanson -- raising his arms toward the crown and yelling, "New England, I love you!'' Good stuff.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD
You know, now that you mention it, Yepremian did throw a football exactly the way he looks like he'd throw a football.
GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK
You know what my grievance of the week is? That I keep having to come up with a grievance of the week. I've come to realize while trying to put together this segment each week that generally, I'm just not aggrieved when it comes to the Patriots. I mean, I suppose I could put on a concerned face about the PED suspensions, but I'd be faking it. I can't imagine being so naive to be surprised when someone who must be enormous and/or unfathomably fast to keep his high-paying, rewarding job tries to gain a chemical advantage, especially when it's easier to get away with it than it is to get caught. And grievances about the team itself? C'mon. Doesn't this look familiar? They're 3-0 in the second half, 19-0 after the midway point over the last three years, and barring catastrophe they'll enter the postseason as a Super Bowl favorite whether they have a bye or not. Don't gripe about it. Enjoy it. In a related note, I'll probably change the title of this to Unicorns, Rainbows and Ice Creams of the Week next week. Nothing wrong with a little sunshine when it's deserved, right?
THE MARINO-BLEDSOE SHOOTOUT
Though this clip from the Dolphins' 39-36 win over the Patriots in the '94 opener would be much more enjoyable if it were done in the classic NFL Film style rather than the bells-and-whistles-and-sound-effects-and-talking-heads style the NFL Network sadly is shifting toward, it's still pretty entertaining, just to watch young Drew Bledsoe alternate between trading bullets with Dan Marino and apparent barbs on the sideline with Bill Parcells. Can't help but thinking while watching this that our hopes then for what Bledsoe might become -- essentially, the next Marino, but with a title or two -- ended up being fulfilled and even exceeded not by him, but by his successor.
1. John Elway: Incredible arm, mobile, did the most with the least talent around him. I mean, he got them to Super Bowls with Sammy Winder and Vance Johnson as his best weapons.
2. Joe Montana: If you want to flip him with Elway, I won't argue. No one was cooler under pressure.
3. Tom Brady: And he's still building the resume. One more Lombardi Trophy and he's at the top. Also, is there any doubt he's breaking Drew Brees's record of consecutive games with a TD pass. Any at all?
4. Peyton Manning: Some will have him higher. But as his Buick Verano could probably tell him, the idea of being the greatest quarterback ever takes a hit when your kid brother has won more championships.
5. Marino: Arguably the best pure passer ever. No one has ever had a quicker release. I just wish he'd stare a hole through Shannon Sharpe on the "NFL Today'' set whenever he says something stupid like he used to do to his receivers when they dropped a pass. Of course, that would require a lot of staring. Endless staring, really. Like, permanent hate-lasers.
PREDICTION, OR HAS IT BEEN MENTIONED THAT THIS IS A 'HAT AND T-SHIRT' GAME?
The suggestion that this could a "trap game" for the Patriots is easily summoned by certain faux-concerned members of the media, who love the time-killing notion of such things as ... well, trap games. But there's no way the Patriots get trapped here. Bill Belichick made it clear, with detailed conviction, of how impressed he is with what the Dolphins have done to turn their program around. It's a tough, disciplined, well-coached team, which is kind of surprising given coach Joe Philbin's utter lack of charisma and conviction during "Hard Knocks." Who knew he wasn't a natural-born performer like that old "Hard Knocks'' snack-grabbing superstar Rex Ryan? Miami is headed the right way and is positioned to be the closest thing to a challenger over the next couple of years to the Patriots' AFC East supremacy. But their time is not here yet. The Patriots will contain Bush, and Tannehill and pesky Davone Bess won't be able to sustain enough drives to stay with a Patriots offense that is averaging 37.0 points per game this season and 47.5 points over its last four. The result? The clinching of a ninth division title in 10 years. Patriots 38, Dolphins 17.
Previous game's prediction: Patriots 27, Jets 17. Final score: Patriots 49, Jets 19, Mark Sanchez's dignity 0. Season record: 8-3. Just for posterity's sake -- and posterior's sake -- here it is, one more time before the next time, because it will never get old:
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.