January 11, 2007

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LONGSHOTS: Patriots marching to Miami promised land?
by Dave Long

Well, itís that time of year again. And while itís amazingly warmer now in January than it used to be in these parts, itís still the best time of the sports year for me.

I love when the Sox and Yankees play, especially in May and September; the opening week of the NCAA Basketball Tournament; rivalry weekend in college football; assorted other big events like the U.S. Open in golf, and once upon a time in tennis; and when the Celtics were the CELTICS I also used to love the NBA playoffs. But there is nothing like watching your NFL team surviving week after week in January on their way to the big game.

Yes, it is playoff time and the Patriots lived to play another day by beating the J-E-T-S, jets, jets Sunday with a closer-than-it-looked 37-16 victory. But at the same time it was a very Patriot-like win where they came out strong, survived a few counterpunches and closed the deal by knowing how to win it in the end better than anyone else.

Itís the latest notch in the belt for an organization on its way to standing the test of time necessary to someday become one of the few real dynasties in NFL history. Only time will tell on that, but in the win against the Jets, and by scoring 40 or more in two of their last three regular season games, theyíre doing what they have always done in the Belichick era and for that matter under his mentor Bill Parcells as well. Theyíre peaking at just the right time.

They arenít perfect. Theyíve had me mumbling under (and over) my breath during a regular season that Bob Ryan perfectly summed up in the Boston Globe the day after it ended by saying, ďThat didnít feel like 12-4, did it?Ē Couldnít have said it better myself.

It just seemed they had more than their share of unfocused moments, like needing a safety to beat Buffalo on opening day, losing three of four in one stretch at Foxboro, the last-minute ďwinĒ over soon-to-be 3-13 Detroit and the turnover-happy period in November. But they did wind up 12-4 and Iíll admit that had me wondering, as far back as October, if it was them or if I was just a sports brat spoiled by all the success this century. At least until Ryanís comment, which let me know at least one other person felt that way.

But thatís in the past and now itís on to San Diego for Sundayís game with what many think is the NFLís best team. However, that will come only after weíve all spent all week talking and talking and talking about it. And while it will be analyzed ad nauseum, it will be done with an endearing rhythm unmatched in any sport.

It will go something like this:

Monday, everyone talks about how great Sundayís win was.

On Tuesday theyíre still talking about Daniel Grahamís catch for the key TD, Vince Wilforkís ballerina elephant lope down the sidelines after only he seemed to realize the ball batted down by Roosevelt Colvin was a fumble and not an incomplete Chad Pennington pass. But San Diego is the more prominent part of the discussion.

On Wednesday theyíre talking about Belichick getting into the head of yet-to-be-tested quarterback Phillip Rivers and barely remember Eric Manginiís name.

By Thursday not only do you know every one of the record-breaking stats in his fabulous 2006 season, but even I can now spell Ladainian Tomlinsonís name. Plus the yahoos are predicting a Patriot blowout.

On Friday we know all kinds of nice-to-know-but-donít-need-to-know facts, like that Marty Shottenheimer is 7-1 lifetime against New England and that the first time the two teams met in the playoffs was the 1963 AFL Championship game.

By Saturday, it seems like the game will never arrive and youíre like a guy lost in Mojave Desert crawling on your hand and knees in the blazing heat desperately searching for an oasis.

Then itís game day, where the first thing you think of when you open your eyes is the game and the entire day is built around the 4:30 kickoff.

Other sports, like baseball with its ebb and flow of a seven-game playoff series, offer their own brand of drama. But with baseballís 9 p.m. starting times for almost every game itís more grueling for fans to get through than players. After all, the players can sleep in after a 12:30 a.m. finish and we have to be at work bright and early. And it certainly is in stark contrast to the college football championship. Since each team has had five weeks off thereís little building drama. Although Iíll admit that since last yearís game between USC and Texas was probably the greatest football game Iíve ever seen, my argument isnít perfect. But, this year? Ohio State and Florida got the ho-him treatment from me.

How will it come out? Well itís Monday as Iím writing this so Iím not even close to the over-analyzing stage. But Iím pretty sure itíll come down to the readiness of Rivers, keeping the Chargers pass rush off balance, and of course turnovers.

Tomlinson? Well, I could be wrong, but while you know heíll do some great things, I canít see one guy beating them. Remember everyone was scared stiff of Marshall Faulk in 2001 and Peyton Manning in 2004.

I canít say I have quite the same level of confidence overall as in 2003 and 2004, or in a way coming down the stretch in the surprising 2001 season. But much of the defense is intact and they have the same coach and quarterback. Thatís a pretty good start. So I like the Pats 27-24.

Even if it makes me a yahoo.

Dave Long can be heard on Sports Night with Dave Long nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. on 610 WGIR-AM


1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007

12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Heroís death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The†Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat