September 16, 2010

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LONGSHOTS: Pats Jet to New York for big Week 2 match-up
By Dave Long dlong@hippopress.com

Your New England Patriots passed the year’s first test Sunday in beating the Bengals 38-24. And while I’m not surprised by the win, the ease of it surprised me, where the big question is whether the Pats’ giving up 21 points in the second half was a function of the Bengals’ finally waking up to realize the regular season had started or a case of just managing a 31-3 lead at home?

This week brings a bigger test when they travel to the new Meadowlands to meet the highly touted Jets. Though there is no truth to the rumor the NFL will present them with this year’s Super Bowl trophy even though everyone south of New Haven seems to think they’ve won that game already.

Don’t get me wrong; I liked the way the Jets played in the playoffs with an aggressive defense and a strong running game. That is the formula the Patriots used, along with the decision-making of Tom Brady to win those three Super Bowls. A formula they have gotten away from since 2007. Plus I love the way Tex Rex Ryan goes after the quarterback as max pressure leads to mistakes by hurried quarterbacks. But when you yap as much as they have it does put a target on your back and leads many dimwits to believe they’re better than they actually are. Which I suppose is what makes them the most interesting early story of the year.

That’s because it could go either way. Like free agent Reggie Jackson joining the defending AL Champion Yankees in 1977 amid talk of being the straw that stirs the drink. Or it could be like massive Tony Mandarich talking a great game after being taken second overall in the 1989 draft while being hailed as possibly the greatest lineman to ever come out of college. He turned out to be a total bust and major embarrassment to Green Bay, who bought all the hooey about how good he said he was. But Reggie lived up to the “Mr. October” moniker he gave himself by leading the Yanks to their first world title in 15 years after having the entire team, manager and seemingly rest of the world on his back all year. He did it by hitting five homers in the World Series, which he punctuated with three in the climactic game including a titanic blast to dead center in his final at bat. That is what you call delivering when it counts.

Those in Jets country are hoping for a Reggie or a Muhammad Ali-like story line, while the rest of New York, New England and the rest of the country is hoping for Mandarich-like crash.

The first chance to see them came after I filed this on Monday night. An annoyed Ray Lewis fired back last week at all the yapping coming out of NY with the basic theme being that New Orleans is defending Super Bowl champ, not the Jets, and he added “I’m glad he [Darrelle Revis] is back, so they’ll have no excuses” — which I liked because it sets up what I expect to be a hard-hitting, intense game. Though my rooting for Lewis and the Ravens is like my rooting for anything good to happen to Jose Canseco — hard to fathom.

The real question about the Jets is: were they a team coming of age last year who’ll take the next step in 2010? Or one that just got hot at the right time? There’s evidence to suggest the former after only making the playoffs because the then undefeated Colts pulled everyone in the second half in week 18 before the Jets rallied to luck into the playoffs — which is almost like getting in on a forfeit. They beat the Bengals in the opening playoff round (we saw how tough that was Sunday) and the Chargers the next week with a nice 17-14 win in SD. And after coughing up the 17-6 lead they had with a minute to go in the first half they lost 30-17 to the Colts to end it. Not exactly like the Patriots in 2001, who won their last six to earn a spot in the playoffs and then ran the table once they got there, is it?

On the other side, I like bringing in the prolific Antonio Cromartie to man the other corner with Revis. Having two strong defenders out there who you can leave on their own is exactly what a team that wants to send everyone at the quarterback needs. It’s what the Pats may have finally done themselves for the first time since they let Ty Law walk with the young tandem of Darius Butler and Devon McCourty. The pressure gave Tom Brady real trouble in their first meeting last year when the Jets were 16-9 winners in Week 2, but not so much when the Pats thumped them in Foxboro 31-14.

All of which sets the stage for Sunday’s encounter, which I expect to be very interesting for the retooled Patriots — who I bet will be facing a team that lost in Week 1 to Lewis and company. I caution anyone not to make too much out of Sunday’s blitz of the Bengals besides that’s progress. They are a team that is growing and will have their ups and downs on defense. But while the secondary is young, the Jets’ QB Mark Sanchez is young too, so it’s not like Dan Marino’s back there to carve them up with guile.

So I think this one will be won in the trenches and by who makes the least mistakes. Can the Patriots, who held Cedric Benson to 2.9 a carry last week, have the same kind of impact vs. the Jets’ overhauled running game? With a plus being no Leon Washington — who just killed the Patriots every time they played. I’ll take the trade for the fading LT any day. And can they run enough to help keep the blitzers off Tom Brady’s back when he goes back to pass?

Those are the questions we’ll have answers to around 8 p.m. on Sunday, when we’ll also have an early track on whether the Jets are one step closer to a Reggie-like season or to a crash landing in Mandarichville.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Saturday Morning Sports with Dave Long from 11 a.m. to noon each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua.


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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