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Sunday, January 15, 2006 

Over Easy

The Patriots bid for an unprecedented three Super Bowls in a row ended with a thud last night, as that sound you heard was the defending champs falling back to earth. New England had four critical turnovers (five overall) that led to 24 of Denver's points and cost the Patriots at least 3 of their own. But don't be misled - Denver's defense was the reason they won the game. While the turnovers made the score more lopsided than it should have been, the Patriots couldn't put the ball in the endzone. Even on the drive that ended with Champ Bailey's interception (and amazing play/tackle by Ben Watson) I doubt the Patriots would have scored more than a field goal anyway. Plus, that inteception was caused by pressure - not just pressure on that play, but the consistent pressure all night that frustrated Tom Brady. This game was similar to the one earlier this season in that Brady was roughed up all night and could not get in ryhthm. The 420-286 edge in yardage doesn't tell the story. New England was backed up in its own end for most of the first half, to the point that their first big play, a 50+ yard pass to Andre Davis, resulted in a long field goal attempt.

Folks like to compare Brady to Joe Montana, and I think the comparison is a great one. Montana also saw some seasons end due to defensive pressure from teams like the Giants. I've watched every one of Brady's 11 playoff games, and this was the first time his offensive line couldn't protect him effectively. Of course, there is an easy excuse for this. Not only were Dan Koppen and Matt Light out for the season, but replacement Nick Kaczur was scratched just before game time, which was a bad sign. FB Patrick Pass also missed the game, which weakened their blitz pickup.

In the playoffs, where every team is pretty good, you have to make the quarterback uncomfortable. Whether you do that with pressure or great coverage (as the Patriots have done against Peyton Manning), you have to mix things up.

And finally, as a Patriots fan, I'm disappointed but not excessively so. They've won 3 titles in 4 years, which is a lot more than I ever expected that franchise to do. Just overcoming all of their injuries this year was an accomplishment they can be proud of. Now we can start looking forward to a busy offseason...

But first, I'll try to enjoy the games today :-)

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