Monday, December 10, 2007
The Juggernaut Continues to Roll...13-0
This was the last true hurdle. The Steelers are the last team on the schedule with the talent to legitimately beat the Patriots. The Jets and Dolphins are outclassed by the Patriots in every aspect of the game, the Giants are outclassed as well, but to a lesser degree. I don't think these games are a forgone conclusion, not because of the talent of these teams, but because all the Patriots need is one win (or one Colts loss) in the remaining 3 games to clinch the 1st seed in the AFC. The games against the Ravens and Eagles showed the Patriots can be lulled asleep by terrible teams and rest on their impressive W-L record. The competition doesn't get much worse with the Jets in a tie for the second worst record in the NFL and Miami having the worst record in the NFL. As I said earlier, it may actually be more beneficial to the Patriots to lose these games so that the 3-10 49ers can move under them in the standings and get the Patriots a higher draft pick.
Their opponents on the other hand have every reason to win. The Jets got embarrassed at home in the opening game of the year with the Patriots in which the SpyGate/CameraGate incident occurred. Jets fans hate the Patriots for this and if the Jets can break up 19-0 in Foxboro this could make an otherwise atrocious season a bit more bearable and possibly buy Eric Mangini another year at the helm. If the Dolphins break up 19-0 it could be one of the biggest upsets of all time. Think about it. The race for 19-0 and 0-16 ending at the same time with two weeks left in the season? The NFL couldn't write a better script than that.
If that's not the perfect storm for a big upset, then I don't know what is.
On to the game itself.
There were signs that this one could be the end of the line for the Patriots perfect season. Cracks in the armor had begun to show for the Patriots against the Eagles and Ravens with the "only lose by a field goal" blueprint. Perhaps a better team, such as the Steelers, could upgrade the plan to "Don't lose to the Patriots". But as I predicted, the Patriots were going to wake up for this game because they recognized the Steelers as one of the most talented teams in football.
The Numbers are somewhat deceiving for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger had a downright respectable day behind center with 19/32 and 187 yards. Steelers RB Willie Parker also had what may have been his best game of the season putting up 124 yards on 21 carries. It is somewhat telling however that both of these solid performances only yielded on touchdown. But this doesn't really explain why the Steelers lost, the Patriots offense does.
Without strong winds messing with his passes, Tom Brady got right back to business as usual. His 32/46, 399 yard, 4 TD day had Brady back to "video game on easy mode" form. This game was all Brady as the Patriots only had nine carries this game, one being a 4-yard run by Brady. Laurence Maroney couldn't capitalize on Brady's fireworks drawing defenders out of the box with a pathetic 18 yards on 8 carries.
While we're on Maroney, I'd like to point out how this guy's terrible season is being swept under the rug while everybody is distracted by Tom Brady and Randy Moss. I often feel that a RB's numbers have as much to do with his talent as it does with the threat of the passing game he's working with. I consider Joseph Addai a heavily overrated RB because he reaps the benefits of Peyton Manning drawing defenders back into coverage and away from the line of scrimmage. Laurence Maroney enjoys a similar benefit, but seems completely unable to capitalize on it. He's 23rd in the league in avg yards/carry and 31st in yards/game. Sammy Morris is 14th and 24th in those categories respectively. This is why I think the Patriots should consider taking Arkansas' Darren McFadden should he be available to them in the draft rather than trading down their pick as they have often done in the past.
This win was a flat out beating. The Patriots resolved to beat the Steelers through the air and the Steelers linemen couldn't properly pressure Brady and the Steelers secondary couldn't cover well enough to stop them. Simple as that.