Hippo Manchester
October 27, 2005

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LONGSHOTS: Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat

by  Dave Long 

To say the least, it has been an eventful first six games for the world champion New England Patriots. It has led many hand-wringers in Patriot Nation to forecast doom and gloom for their playoff hopes come January. In the doom criersí defense, it is undeniable that the Pats havenít been the dominant team weíve become accustomed to seeing. At 3-3, theyíve already lost more times than in all of 2004.

The rough start has been due in equal parts to a tough early schedule, the transition that comes when several key pieces to the puzzle are replaced and an onslaught of injuries that has made the defense look very mortal. On the bright side, they donít play in the AL Central, so they still are tied for first place in the division. Since theyíve just completed the bye-week break, which preceded what was considered the ďif they can just get through that periodĒ segment of the season, it seems a good time to see where they stand before they face Buffalo on Sunday night for first place in the AFC East.

The good: I donít know about you, but the high point for me was seeing them come back in Denver from being down 28-3. That sounds odd, Iím sure, but almost every other team would have packed it in early and said, given our injuries, 3-3 at the bye ainít too bad. But they didnít. Instead they closed to within one possession before losing 28-20.  It demonstrated their admirable fight remains intact, despite all the new pieces, and tells me if Richard Seymour and some of the others can get back on the field theyíll be in it when it counts.

Beyond that, gut-check wins in Pittsburgh and Atlanta were huge, as has been the play of Tom Brady and Adam V and the real professionalism exhibited by this proud team.

The Bad: Itís been defense, the running game and penalties ó which were killers in the first four games. The D has allowed points all 19 times the bad guys have entered the red zone and given up a whopping 21 plays of 20 yards or more. On offense many wonder if an ďagingĒ Corey Dillion is why opponents have out-gained the Pats 752 to 494 on the ground. I think it would be worse if he werenít playing, as to me the problem lies with an offensive line that isnít creating much daylight. Although those seeing that Patrick Pass is averaging 6.1 on his 18 carries, especially when none have been longer than 17 yards, gives ammunition to those who think it is Dillion.

The ugly: The coaches and the players donít want to hear it, but the story of the first half has been injuries. It peaked in Atlanta when 15 guys were listed as doubtful or out. Itís been so bad we havenít even really gotten a chance to see if replacements for key personnel losses are up to the job.  

AFC East: The Pats arenít the only ones hurt by big injuries. Buffalo lost their best defensive player in Takeo Spikes for the year, as did the Jets with All-Pro center Kevin Mawee and their first TWO quarterbacks. Even before that, it was a defensive division, as the 164 points the Patriots have given up is 52 points more than the Jets, whoíve allowed second most in the east. Of course, the 138 theyíve scored is far and away the best in this offensive- challenged division. Having scored 47 points the first two games after switching from J.P. (another) Losman to Kelley Holcomb at QB, Buffalo looks to be the team that bears watching.

Stat Sheet: Does anyone realize Deion Branch is on pace to catch 100 passes? That no one in the defensive backfield has an interception and that with 21 the Colts have 10 more sacks than the Patriots? Or that after week six Drew Bledsoe had three more touchdown passes and the same number of interceptions as Tom Bradyís eight and four?

The Schedule: The next four weeks are easier where they have to win three of four with Buffalo at home, Indy on Monday night, Miami in Miami and a trap game with the homeless Saints. After that itís KC in KC, Buffalo in Buffalo and NY and Tampa Bay at the razor. Weíll have all we need to know by then.

X-factor: It is the returning Tedy Bruschi. If heís close to the pre-stroke Bruschi, it should boost the big play ratio and their meager turnover total of three.

Prediction: They play rope-a- dope until the injuries subside and key pieces return from the DL. Then they take command of the division to win the East. But they face a sterner test in the playoffs this time, as theyíll be on the road most of the way.

Overall Grade: As usual the grade exceeds the sum of the parts. The best thing I can say is amid the injuries they hung in to lead the division. So despite the flaws itís a C and Iíll throw in a + for toughness.