Welcome to Season 2, Episode 3 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup that usually runs right here every Friday around noon. The Patriots, coming off a tense 13-10 win over the Jets in which Tom Brady challenged Dan Marino's single-game expletives-aimed-at-receivers record, take on
John McKay Leeman Bennett Sam Wyche Richard Williamson Jon Gruden Bill Belichick-wannabe Greg Schiano and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let's get this thing started already ...
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY THAT I'LL BE WATCHING:
1. Rob Gronkowski: Will he play? Should he play? I'm betting yes on the former, and even if he's at, oh, 87 percent, he'll obviously make an immense difference. As for the latter, the circumstances (Danny Amendola's injury, the trouble the young receivers have had holding on to the football) give me some trepidation that Gronkowski is being rushed back before he's completely ready. It's so much more important to have a healthy Gronk late in the season than to hurry him back now. I'm sure I'll feel better about it after he takes that first big hit, pops up, and does some sort of goofy "Gronk's Back!" celebration.
2. Dashon Goldson: Tom Brady this week described the former Niners All-Pro safety, who is in the first year of a five-year, $41.25 million contract with the Bucs, as one of his favorite players. Too bad they didn't become teammates when the Patriots had the chance. The Patriots brought in Goldson for a visit after the 2011 lockout, but he wasn't the established, fierce force then that he is now. The Patriots ended up making him an underwhelming contract offer, ultimately leading him to return to San Francisco. Old friend Greg Bedard talked to Goldson about the visit last January:
Goldson actually didn't have much of a choice. The Patriots offered Goldson a contract less than the one-year, $2 million deal he signed with the 49ers.
"Yeah," Goldson said when asked if it was a low offer. "And it was for one year, like San Francisco, so the choice was pretty easy."
Goldson said the chance to sit with Belichick for a few minutes made the trip worthwhile.
"Just the meeting alone," Goldson said. "I had a lot of respect for him, what he has done for the game of football and just giving me the opportunity to visit the organization."
Too bad the visit couldn't have last a few years longer. Goldson has a lot of similarities now to what Adrian Wilson was in his prime, and what Rodney Harrison and Lawyer Milloy were during their time as hard-hitting Patriots safeties.
3. Stevan Ridley: Threw this out on Twitter the other day in the aftermath of the stunning trade that sent second-year running back and former No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson from the Browns to the Colts:
Trent, by far RT @GlobeChadFinn: Who will have the better career: Trent Richardson or Stevan Ridley?— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) September 19, 2013
Got a couple of dozen replies, and exactly one said Ridley. Now, I understand that. Richardson was the premium pick, the college superstar, not to mention someone who was chosen in the first couple of rounds of everyone's fantasy football draft this year. Ridley? He was a fine if unsung player at LSU, but he was a third-round pick three years ago and wasn't even the first back the Patriots chose that April, with Shane Vereen coming off the board a round earlier. And we know he puts the ball on the ground, which is a surefire way to end up with some unexpected downtime on Sunday afternoons.
Richardson has the pedigree. I'm just not sure it's so obvious that he's going to have the better career. He averaged just 3.6 yards per attempt last year, and 3.4 through two games and 31 carries so far this season. He doesn't grind for the extra yard -- that's something Ridley does very well -- and his work ethic was supposedly suspect. Ridley has his flaws -- did I mention the fumbling? -- but he is a relentless, shifty runner who has averaged 4.5 yards per carry in his career.
I know this: I wouldn't want the Patriots to trade a No. 1 pick for Richardson, as the Colts did. And I don't think I'd want them to trade Ridley straight up for him, either.
HEY, LOOK, A VINTAGE FOUR-PART NFL FILMS SERIES ON THE BIRTH OF THE BUCCANEERS THAT IS TOTALLY WORTH YOUR TIME
NFL Films was embedded with the Buccaneers during their inaugural and ultimately winless 1976 season, and the final product ended up being one of the best projects Steve Sabol and his father Ed ever put together, which is saying something. The Bucs were an overmatched mess -- they would lose their first 26 games, including all 14 in '76 -- but they were a wildly entertaining mess, thanks in large part to the wit of their exasperated coach, John McKay. Of all of the great anecdotes and scenes in these clips, I think my favorite is when they cross paths with the mighty Rams in the hallway of the stadium and look like a freshman team in awe of the varsity. Seriously, check these out if you have a spare hour in between putting together TPS reports. The humor and pathos of the '76 Bucs is NFL Films at its most brilliant.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD: If you missed it, Jeff Pearlman reported the hell out of this homage to Bell, a good player and better person who was dealt a cruel hand, for SB Nation recently. Bell, who died at age 29 in 1984 from heart failure caused by a horrific disease dermatomyositis, was the first pick in the 1977 draft. He was integral in the Bucs' quick emergence from laughing stock to contender in 1979, rushing for 1,263 yards as Tampa Bay charged to the NFC Championship Game. I'll always wonder how history might have been different had the Bucs taken Tony Dorsett with that first pick in '77, leaving Bell to presumably end up with a stacked Dallas team.
GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK, OR GET OVER YOURSELVES ALREADY: I've got two this week. The sea is angry, my friends:
1. Why is Darrelle Revis getting his own episode of "A Football Life" already? I know, he's a star player coming off a major injury who is starting fresh with a new team. That's mildly compelling in a pretty basic way. But there are dozens of players and personalities past and present who would make much more compelling subjects. Give me one on, I don't know, Ronnie Lott or Steve Young or ... hell, Ricky Bell. Anyone with an interesting back story. Revis? His story is still being told. And so far, it's not all that interesting, just a series of big plays and small gripes.
2. I'm tired of football coaches as a species. Not all of them, mind you. Just the ones who take who they are and what they do way too seriously. The self-important preeners who take a my-way-or-the-highway, this-is-war attitude about what is ultimately a dangerous, entertaining, but silly-in-it's-essence game. The Nick Sabans and Urtban Meyers and all of their tiny-emperor imitators. The ones who refuse to talk like normal human begins or make eye contact with their minions for fear of ... well, hell, I have no idea. This Greg Schiano character seems to have all of the macho, smug hubris of a successful coach, which is sort of amusing given that the Bucs have won one of their last eight games, his talented young quarterback is regressing by the Sunday, and Revis, who endured Rex Ryan, is already wary of his act.
PREDICTION, OR IS THERE A LESS-INTIMIDATING MASCOT IN NFL HISTORY THAN BUCCO BRUCE? The answer, obviously, is no, though I know at least one of you said, "Yeah, Danny Woodhead." Not nice. Come to think of it, the Patriots offense could find a role for Woodhead and perhaps even swashbuckling ol' Bucco Bruce here given how inconsistent they have been in the early going. Tom Brady has the 31st-best completion percentage among qualified NFL quarterbacks thus far this season, ahead of only Blaine Gabbert and the Bucs' Freeman. Which is, of course, nuts. I wonder how much progress we'll see, if any, in the Patriots' aerial game this week given that Revis will be draped all over the only trustworthy receiver, Julian Edelman, who was roughly the sixth-best pass-catching option a season ago. It's going to be a grind, again, but the defense will feast on Freeman, and the Patriots will emerge with their third win.
Patriots 20, Bucs 13.
(Last week's prediction: Patriots 24, Jets 7. Final score: Patriots 13, Jets 10. Season record: 2-0.)
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.