Ten Patriots-related thoughts from wild card weekend
|01.10.11 at 12:18 am ET|
Here are 10 Patriots-related thoughts from wild card weekend:
1. Taking a look at the numbers from Saturday’s wild card contest, it appears that the Jets have gotten back to what they do best. The Colts aren’t the best team in the league against the run — Indy allowed 127 yards a game over the regular season — but it was clear that New York stuck with what worked against Indianapolis: ground and pound. The Jets committed to the run, and they made it work. If New York is to have a chance Sunday in the divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium, it has to do the same, even if they fall behind by 7-10 points in the second half.
2. New York got great work in the kick return game on Saturday, thanks in large part to the work of Antonio Cromartie. The cornerback had a pair of great runbacks against the Colts, including a 47-yarder late in the fourth quarter that set up the eventual game-winning field goal. With the Patriots struggling on special teams recently, expect kick coverage to be a major point of emphasis around Gillette Stadium this week.
3. The Jets’ running game is important to their success, but New York’s ultimate hope when it comes to beating the Patriots hinges on their quarterback, Mark Sanchez turning things around when it comes to facing the Patriots in Foxboro. While the USC product played well as a game-manager Saturday night against the Colts (18-for-31, 189 passing yards), he has struggled in his two career games at Gillette Stadium. His line in Foxboro: one touchdown, seven interceptions and has fumbled the ball away twice.
4. As far as many New England fans were concerned, it was unfortunate to see how things ended up for the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon. Early on, Kansas City certainly looked capable of knocking off the Ravens, but the Chiefs were unable to sustain things in the second half, as former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel threw three second-half interceptions on the way to a 30-7 defeat. Kansas City has many well-documented ties to the Patriots organization — including Cassel, Mike Vrabel, the departing offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli — but there’s a real belief that Sunday’s game was the first step on the way to bigger and better things for the Kansas City organization. (That being said, you have to believe the distraction of Weis’ departure had some sort of an effect on the Chiefs’ stagnant offense.)
5. It was a miserable afternoon for Cassel, who was making the first playoff start of his career. The former Patriots signal-caller was just 9-for-18 passes for 70 yards with three interceptions, three sacks and a 20.4 rating — one of the worst playoff quarterbacking performances in NFL playoff history. It was quite a change for Cassel, who threw just seven picks all year. “I forced a few balls in there and it did not turn out well,” said Cassel, who credits Tom Brady with helping him develop into an NFL starter. “As leader of the team and a leader of the offense, I can’t do that. Our hats go off to the Ravens. They have a good defense. We knew that coming in. Hopefully, they do well going forward. But this one definitely hurts a little bit.”
6. The Ravens showed their typical toughness on Sunday against the Chiefs, but there was also an emotional side to their win. Safety Ed Reed — a longtime favorite of Patriots coach Bill Belichick — was playing the game with a heavy heart. His younger brother Brian has been missing since Friday after fleeing police near New Orleans and jumping into the Mississippi River. (Police called off their search Saturday after finding Brian Reed’s jacket and shoes.) Teammates, who awarded Reed a game ball, said the game provides a distraction for Reed during this difficult time. “For now, you just want to keep him on the field as long as possible,” Baltimore wide receiver Derrick Mason told reporters. “At least that gives him something else to think about. When this is over, that’ll be the hard part. But we hope it won’t be over until February.”
7. The Patriots and Jets aren’t the only two teams readying for Chapter 3 of their blood feud. Baltimore’s win sets up a Ravens-Steelers battle on Sunday at Heinz Field — the second time in three seasons the two teams will face each other three times in the same year. The AFC North rivals always play fiercely physical games, and with a trip to the AFC Championship on the line against the winner of the New England-New York game, this one shouldn’t be any different. “This is the NFL at its best,” Ravens Pro Bowl defensive end and Chairman of the Tom Brady Fan Club Terrell Suggs told reporters. “This is what the world wants to see. They want to see Baltimore and Pittsburgh.”
8. In their win over the Eagles on Sunday, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers showed great mental toughness, going into Lincoln Financial Field — a tough place to play — and coming away with a 21-16 win. Rodgers was an efficient 18-for-27 for 180 yards and three touchdowns, but it was the work of relatively obscure running back James Starks running for 123 yards. (They also got some help from Philly’s skittish kicker David Akers, who missed a relatively easy pair of field goals.) The combination of luck and grittiness continues to show many people why sixth-seeded Green Bay has suddenly become a chic pick for many to represent the NFC against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLV.
9. Let’s just say New England is glad they never saw this out of Marshawn Lynch when he played in the AFC East:
10. Even though the Patriots do not have media availability on Monday — Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio and linebackers coach Matt Patricia will all hold separate conference calls — there will be a few things to look for on Monday, including the official return of Brandon Spikes. Spikes, who was working out with the team last week, received a seven-day roster exemption upon his return, an exemption that is set to expire on Monday. Spikes had one of the best games of his young career in last month’s Patriots-Jets matchup, coming away with seven tackles and a key third-quarter interception of Sanchez in the red zone.
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