EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 22, 2008

Two Minute Drill

Hector Longo

Big Shows

1. Jabar Gaffney - How does a University of Florida guy, who played his high school ball in Jacksonville, Fla., play possibly his best game as a Patriot, in a driving snow? Gaffney caught five balls, all in the first half when it mattered, for 90 yards.

2. Matt Cassel - Leave it to a Southern California guy to make hay in the snow, sleet and ice.

3. Chris Hanson/Stephen Gostkowski - Hanson netted, yes netted, 47.0 yards per boot, 15.0 yards per kick better than his opposite number.

Gostkowski was 4 for 4 on field goals and set a new team mark with 34. He is now 34 of 37 on the year, edging past Adam Vinatieri's 31 of 33 in 2004. All this in the heart of a New England winter mess.

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(Non-Cardinal) No Shows

1. Ben Watson - Sam Aiken and Heath Evans caught footballs yesterday. Guess who didn't? Of course, I knew Watson actually played when No. 84 was tagged with a holding call late in the fourth quarter. And let's accentuate the positives here. When a perfect Cassel throw hit Watson in the hands, his usual bump-set didn't carom right to a defensive back. It fell harmlessly to the Gillette turf. Baby steps, Ben. Baby steps.

2. Randy Moss - My agenda won't be so tough here, though, because Moss has delivered for this team when it counts. His first-half drops simply didn't matter. Plus, the guy went all out for his teammates a couple times with downfield blocking, one allowing Sammy Morris to waltz down the sideline on a 42-yard screen. Still, somebody has to be a "no show" even in a 47-7 rout. And he is a superstar. The bar is set quite high. Hey, I gave the receivers an "A," so this is the tamest of No Shows ever.

3. Wes Welker - I thought about Junior Seau, because it's just painful to watch him try to play the game at his age. But then again, he's older than me and he led the team in tackles. So that was out. Then, I thought about Richard Seymour, because he looked like the only guy on the team who wasn't in Kurt Warner's face. But he went out with a back injury. So I settled for Welker, not for his play (7 catches, 68 yards, 1 TD), but for his snow angel attempt. The first time this guy wants to show a little personality and he copies a Lonie Paxton move? Come on, Wes. Be more creative, especially if it's going to cost the team 15 yards.

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Grading the Groups

Offense

Line (A) — Did we like Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur, and their, let's put this nicely, failed attempts at bending the rules? No. But then you look at the numbers — 47 points, 514 yards of offense, and 38:35 in time of possession — and there are really no complaints.

Backs (B+) — Again, the big guys, LaMont Jordan and Sammy Morris, deliver, this time to the tune of 35 carries for 166 yards.

Receivers (A) —¬ ¬ Yeah, Moss had the drops, but you try catching those deep balls in the snow. Gaffney, Welker and Randy all deserve a top grade.

Quarterback (A) — Perhaps Brett Favre should have watched Matt Cassel on how to play the game in adverse conditions.

Defense

Line (A) — Had Kurt Warner begging for an early exit at the 1:35 mark of the second quarter.

Linebackers (A) — When the elements take over and render speed useless, defensive savvy takes over. This unit teems with savvy.

Defensive Backs (A) — At least, they wanted to be on the field. The same couldn't be said for the Cards' DBs.

Coaching (A) — Flawless effort under brutal conditions.

Note: For the second straight week, we had to consider the opposition, its lack of effort, and the fact that the entire second half was simply garbage time.¬ 

Turning point

¬ A low-pressure system, fueled by an Alberta Clipper, came roaring up the coast, producing snow, sleet and¬ ¬ awful conditions ... for a team that plays its home games in a retractable dome in the desert.

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Pregame adjustments won this one

NFL talking heads often bring up in-game adjustments and halftime adjustments as measuring sticks for a coaching staff.

How about pregame adjustments?

Bill Belichick and his staff had the Patriots ready, with superior game-planning on both sides of the ball.

By the time Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals had corrected the errors in his gameplan, it was 21-0 Pats and a team begging for a reason to roll over had it.

The Pats attacked on defense, loading up the box and taking away all the short stuff, with Belichick anticipating that move from the Cardinals.

Arizona didn't pick up its initial first down of the game until 10:53 remained in the second quarter.

Offensively, the Pats attacked against a very soft Arizona front that often put five or six men in the box with New England in a four-receiver set.

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Nostradamus, times two

Matt Cassel was attempting to spew the usual team-mandated drivel on Thursday when he noted: "You know, we're going to do what we do."

Little did Arizona know that Cassel (20-for-36, 345 yards, 3 TDs, 0 interceptions) was actually handing out the gameplan.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow (nor the inept Arizona defense!) could slow the Patriots, who are averaging 411.7 yards and 30.8 points per game since the Oct. 12 humbling by the Chargers.

Yesterday, the Pats enjoyed their third 500-plus yard outing of the year, with 331 through the air and 183 on the ground.

Of course, the Cardinals weren't paying attention, a point that was clearly predicted by ESPN's Mike Ditka in the pregame when he stated Arizona's effort in that weather was sure to be like a "drive by." Obviously, the ex-Bears coach meant "drive-thru" but we all got the point.

And both his and Cassel's predictions were spot on.

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Will the Man-Genius help his old friends?

The Patriots, who have had to overcome a training room and a half full of injuries, may now see their playoff hopes reside in, gulp, the hands of Eric Mangini.

That's right. The Jets (9-6) opened the door to the AFC East title, falling flat on their snow hoods yesterday, 13-3, in Seattle.

Will the Jets show up Sunday in the Meadowlands against 10-5 Miami?

If they do, and can knock off the Dolphins, all the Pats (10-5) have to do is win at 7-8 Buffalo, and they will win the AFC East.

Timing is everything, and New England is fortunate that the NFL has not moved the Miami-New York game to 4 p.m. or prime time.

The reason, simple.

For the Jets to have anything to play for, they need a Jacksonville upset at 10-5 Baltimore.

New York can still earn the wild card with a Ravens loss and a win over Miami, which the Patriots desperately need.

New England, also playing at 1 p.m., must beat the Bills to have any hopes.

After that, a Miami loss would give New England the division.

Or a Ravens loss would assure the wild card.

Amazingly, New England, with the NFL's most prolific offense over the last 10 weeks, still needs help or it will be sitting home for the playoffs.

Even with a win at Buffalo to go 11-5, the Pats would be out of the playoffs if Miami and Baltimore both win.