September 11, 2008

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LONGSHOTS: After disaster Brady’s bunch won’t pass on season
by Dave Long

So much for the high expectations of Patriots Nation I talked about last week. I was concerned that the expectations it had for its football team could be derailed by the lethargy seen during an 0-4 pre-season. But instead, they were undone by the great equalizer in sports — a key injury.

Unless you have been residing on Mars since about 2:30 p.m. Sunday, you know the kid who has led a charmed life since walking on the field to replace fallen starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe, in the waning minutes of Game Two in 2001, himself went down for the count Sunday. It happened to Tom Brady less than eight minutes into the new season and it took the air out of the region when it learned the next day surgery was needed and he would not be walking through that door anymore in 2008.

You have heard all week and will again, injuries like this are part of football and happen every year. True, but inevitable is actually more like it. That’s why Brady’s streak of playing in 128 straight games is remarkable. It’s a testament to his toughness and dependability, which the team and coach have come to count on in the clutch. And now with him gone for the year, they won’t be able to do that and it has the proud team looked upon a lot differently around the country than it was on Saturday afternoon.

But guess what, as bleak as it looks, it doesn’t mean the season is over, even if Vegas has changed the odds on the big board for who they think will win the season’s final game. History shows teams have overcome the enormous loss of their starting quarterback to either win that final game or get darn close. To discuss it, though, we have to go below the Tarrier line, so hold your nose and here goes.

The 2001 New England Patriots: Actually, my friend Pete Tarrier will be happy I didn’t have to go below 1993 to come up with an example of a team overcoming the loss of a QB and still having a better than expected season. The dynasty crowd remembers this one, as the Belichick era run really started when Drew Bledsoe went down with a horrific injury courtesy of a hit by Patriot killer (almost literally) (no) Mo Lewis in the closing moments of a 10-3 Jets win. That left them 0-2, with Peyton Manning and Indy coming up the next week.

The circumstances now are a little different. Today’s Patriots lost the league MVP and arguably the NFL’s best player, while the earlier edition lost a starter who’d played poorly the previous year and a half. But expectations for their replacements aren’t much different, are they? Yes, Matt Cassel comes off a terrible preseason. But after his only being a sometime starter at Michigan, few knew much about Brady in ’01. Yet, as he went 13 for 19 for 159 with, of course, no picks, they toasted Manning and the Colts 44-13 the next week. They went to Miami next, where they always lose, to drop to 1-3 and after losing to Super Bowl favorite greatest show on turf they were 5-5 after Week 10. Then they reeled off nine straight wins with their untested quarterback via stirring (they call it lucky in Oakland) wins over the Raiders in a nor’easter, Pittsburgh when Brady went down and Bledsoe stepped back in and vs. St. Louis in the Super Bowl with a lot less talent than they have on the current roster.

1999 St. Louis Rams: Guess this isn’t going to be an “it’s better in the olden days” kind of lecture after all. This was before they became known as the greatest show on turf. Coming off a 4-12 season newly acquired starter Trent Green went down for the year with his annual injury in pre-season and into the breach stepped a former grocery store clerk and Arena League stiff named Kurt Warner from 1-AA Northern Iowa. The 28-year-old had 11 career attempts prior to 1999 and all he did was throw 41 TD passes and win the MVP as the Rams went 13-3 and beat Tennessee in a thrilling Super Bowl.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins: I’d do anything to not give Mercury Morris anything more to chirp about, but they lost starting quarterback and future Hall of Famer Bob Griese in Week Five and didn’t get him back until the playoffs and still became the (gulp) only team to go through the regular season and playoffs undefeated. Their back-up was a good one in 38-year-old Earl Morrall, even with his a Buckneresque stigma attached to him from an earlier day. Still, while there was concern in Miami, it wasn’t the depressed state of affairs projected throughout Patriot Nation the next day in either 2001 or especially in 2008.

The 1968 Baltimore Colts: Yes their biggest claim to fame is losing the Super Bowl to Joe Namath and the Jets in the biggest upset in NFL history. But before that debacle they rolled to the NFL’s best record despite losing Johnny Unitas in pre-season — who people spoke of then with the exact same reverence folks now have for Brady. Filling his shoes was none other than the aforementioned Morrall, who, before spitting the bit vs. the Jets, threw 26 touchdown passes as they went 13-1. They didn’t win the Super Bowl, but they got close after losing the league’s best quarterback — sound familiar?

1965 Baltimore Colts: This is my favorite. They were leading the West when Unitas went out in Week 11. Then the league’s best back-up, Gary Cuozzo, went down two weeks later and they were forced to use halfback Tom Matte at quarterback. He hadn’t done that since 1960 at Ohio State, who threw it up under Woody Hayes less than George Bush the father did on his last state visit to Japan. Still they beat the Rams 20-17 the final week to tie the Packers, but lost to them 13-10 in special playoff the next week.

There are five examples of where certain defeat in the eyes of fans and the media was turned into a very nice season. The last three on this list were coached by Don Shula, arguably the top coach of his era. He adapted to the trouble, changed the strategy three different times and still won. Bill Belichick is the Shula of his time (though with a better record in the big game). He’ll do the same, especially since he’s done it once before. In 2001 they were 14-3 with young Brady starting. If it could happen with that inexperienced group, why not with a just as unheralded QB and the more seasoned and talented team of today?

All is not lost. It just seems that way to some.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns

8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial — stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
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
Hero’s 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