EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 21, 2009

Two-minute drill

By Hector Longo

Big Shows

1. Randy Moss — He was a difference-maker. Five catches for 70 yards and one TD. Drew a 37-yard pass interference call. Was active and open. Made plays on 50/50 balls. He's absolutely infuriating. Where has this Moss been?

2. Tully Banta-Cain — Three sacks and tremendous pressure.

3. Mike Wright — Gets a bushel of "Tommy Points" for his motor. Finished with five solos and one sack.

4. Derrick Burgess — Hey, we've pounded the guy all year. He had six solos and one sack, the first semblance of life from No. 53.

No Shows

1. Jerod Mayo — Fred Jackson carried 15 times (ask Perry Fewell why it was only 15) for 80 yards and did his best work running right down Mayo's throat. The reigning NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year had five solo tackles, good for Buffalo gains of 4, 10, 7, 13 and 2 yards - or 7.2 yards per play. He was the only Patriot without an engraved invitation to the Buffalo backfield.

2. Pierre Woods — There has to be a better option than Woods at outside linebacker. His one-tackle performance made Adalius Thomas look active.

3. James Sanders/Brandon Meriweather/Brandon McGowan - Buffalo's inept passing game prompted the safeties to play up in the box, and there was simply wasn't much impact. Meriweather had a handful of tackles and dropped an easy pick, but this was a game the safeties could have claimed as theirs but didn't.

Grading the Groups

Offense

Line (C+) ... Can't say they dominated the NFL's worst defense against the run, and while Tom Brady went sack-free for the third straight week, he did take a physical pounding.

Backs (C+) ... Would it be illegal for Laurence Maroney to pick up 4.5 yards a carry for once? His 23 rushes for 81 yards is nice, but ...

Receivers (B) ... Randy Moss showed up as did Mr. Reliable, Wes Welker. It's just too bad this team has nothing after these two for Brady to work with.

Quarterback (C-) ... Brady made an awful lot of bad throws on a day that, again, he wasn't sacked. He was 11 of 23 for 115 yards, and truly was saved by Moss and some shabby secondary play by the Bills.

Defense

Line (A) ... Can't give the A+ on a pretty much perfect day, simply because of the deplorable offensive line display by Buffalo. Richie Incognito? The guy couldn't start for the Mill City Maulers, and he wasn't the only stumblebum up front for Buffalo, just the worst.

Linebackers (C-) ... As I write this, rookie Clay Matthews - whom the Pats chose to pass on for the likes of Darius Butler, Ron Brace, Pat Chung and Sebastian Vollmer - is strip-sacking Ben Roethlisberger, the rookie's ninth sack of the year. Nondescript would be the best modifier for the work of Rob Ninkovich, Junior Seau, Jerod Mayo, Pierre Woods and Gary Guyton yesterday and all season.

Defensive backs (B-) ... Leigh Bodden was solid in coverage, getting away with plenty of clutching and grabbing. I love the motto, "it's not cheating if you don't get caught." Same story with these guys. Against awful QBs, they look great. Awful quarterbacks don't play in January.

Coaching (D-) ... What if the official misses that offside on the onside kick? It should never get to that point, and whoever is running this thing has to take the blame.

Perry Fewell fails

It has been well known for readers of this Two-Minute Drill that we've pummeled ex-Bills coach Dick Jauron for his lack of competence on the sideline.

After watching Buffalo's Perry Fewell for less than one half, I'm ready to deem him as incompetent as well.

The Bills were flagged for 104 yards of penalties in one half alone. That's a reflection of the coach, but we'll let it slide.

The Bills ran 15 times for 84 yards in the first half — without New England showing any ability to stop the run — yet he chose to throw the football 10 times. Fine, I accept that as the fact that his play-caller, Alex Van Pelt, is still learning the ropes in his first year.

But I cannot and will not accept a coach not using his timeouts when the Patriots had the football, first-and-goal from the 1-yard line inside the final two minutes.

Had Fewell used his timeouts with the Pats holding the football, Fred Jackson's 41-yard return wouldn't have been wasted with only 13 seconds left. He could have had 90 seconds to work with and maybe pick up points instead of settling on a 56-yard field goal try that had no chance.

Instead, he took his timeouts to the locker-room. Unacceptable at the high school level. In the NFL, it's a fireable offense.

Coaches in the NFL, real coaches in the NFL, should never make rookie mistakes like that. With Fewell in charge, we can state unequivocally that the Bills will remain a laughingstock, the Baltimore Orioles of the AFC East.

What if ...

Those proponents of the Richard Seymour trade, and you know who you are, take note.

Do you think that Richard Seymour might have helped yesterday on your defensive line, which featured Mike Wright, Jarvis Green and second-round draft pick Ron Brace?

Wright is fine, an able journeyman, but Green and Brace? Yikes.

Vindication or indictment

Randy Moss stepped to the podium sounding like a man vindicated by his five-catch, 70-yard, 1-TD performance.

Can't you consider today as much of an indictment of Moss as it was a celebration?

If Moss brought this intensity, ran his routes with this kind of vim and vigor — not just the deep routes but all routes — every week, he'd never hear a peep from the media again.

Did he really say that?

Clearly, Bill Belichick is no student of recent NFL history.

"It's a real dogfight with (Buffalo) all the time," said the coach whose team has now ripped off 13 straight wins over the Bills by an aggregate margin of 233 points (17.9 per game).

"They gave us a real good fight like they always do."

Talk about words that ring hollow.

Stop it, Tom, please

Mark my words. Sometime in the near future, Tom Brady is going to be listed on the injury for a cricked neck.

Every time, the QB gets hit now, he cranes his neck, looking back at the referee for a flag. It's nauseating, and it's dangerous.

Please, Tom, the begging has to end. It's so beneath a talent like you.

Remember when

Those were the days when the New England Patriots:

Rode a stretch of three Super Bowl titles in four years;

Took awful opposition like the Bills and absolutely obliterated them;

Didn't need 124 yards of penalties from the opposition to squeak out a victory, right up to the rarely-called — but correct — offside flag on Buffalo's successful onside kick;

And were among the top teams in the game, a marquee draw that struck fear into each of the game's 31 other franchises.

If one point is to be derived from yesterday's win over the Buffalo Bills, it's that the New England Patriots are no longer a top five team in the National Football League.

No rational mind can think, "all we have to do is make the playoffs and Tom Brady gives us a fighting chance," and be taken seriously.

This team now resides well below Indy, San Diego and Cincinnati in the AFC alone. They look like the kind of division winner that hosts a Wild Card game and loses.

With Brady healthy, that simply shouldn't happen.

The playoff picture

The graciousness of officials toward the Pats spilled over into the Tennessee-Miami game when a questionable personal foul call against Miami receiver Greg Camarillo — hardly known as an assassin or head hunter — placed Tennessee in field goal range in overtime.

That gift sunk Miami, and with the Jets losing at home to Atlanta, gave the AFC East division to the Pats.

New England now holds a two-game lead on both with two to play.

As far as the AFC playoff picture looks:

Indianapolis (14-0) - The clear shoo-in for the top seed with games remaining against the Jets and Buffalo.

San Diego (11-3) - Huge win at home yesterday over Cincinnati to close in on the No. 2 seed. A victory at Tennessee or at home against Washington or a Patriots loss clinches the bye for the Chargers.

Cincinnati (9-5) - Hanging on to the division lead by a game, clearly on track to host a Wild Card playoff game with a home game against the Chiefs and a trip to the Jets remaining.

New England (9-5) - Pencil the Pats in for the 3 or 4 seed.

Baltimore (8-6) - Thumped the Bears yesterday to take control in the race to the Wild Card. Nothing is easy, though. They go to Pittsburgh - never an easy trip - and Oakland to close out the year.

Denver (8-6) - If they tumble and don't make the playoffs, the Broncos will lament yesterday's last-second loss to Jamarcus Russell and the Raiders yesterday. A date next week at Philly will most likely determine this team's playoff fate.

On the outside looking in, but still very much alive, are the Dolphins, Jets, Steelers, Jags, Titans and Texans, all of whom reside at 7-7.