If you write a review of the most boring game of the season a day late, will anybody read it? Maybe not, but I’ll write one any way. After all, as mundane as the Patriots victory over Carolina may have been, there was still some interesting subplots that developed. I’ll avoid focusing too much on the X’s and O’s and concentrate more on some of the important themes I noticed during the course of the game.
Game Ball: This one goes to Wes Welker, without question. For a while, I was considering handing the game ball to (gasp!) Laurence Maroney, but then Welker blew the game wide open in the second half en route to his 6th double-digit receiving game of the season. Forget about all the yards and the movement of the chains that Welker created, perhaps his biggest impact on Sunday was the energy that he injected into the game. On a dreary afternoon where neither team appeared interested in winning, Welker provided the jolt of enthusiasm that woke up the indifferent Patriots. For that reason, Welker gets the nod for the game ball. He was instrumental in making sure the Patriots didn’t apathetically toss this game away.
Mixing it Up: I mentioned in my game preview that the Patriots needed to get away from their two-man game with Welker and Moss and start allowing the tight ends to be involved. Looks like Bill Belichick has been reading this blog, as Ben Watson had three receptions, including the Pats’ only touchdown grab. I also mentioned the importance of establishing a running game. Sure enough, New England’s 185 rushing yards was their second highest total of the season, trailing only their 59-0 drubbing of the Titans. When the Patriots are able to keep their opponents off-guard, they’re at their most dangerous. If they’re going to go anywhere in this post-season, they’ll need to employ the strengths of their total offensive package, not just their top two receivers.
At a Loss for Moss: I don’t think for a second that Randy Moss “quit” on his team as so many members of the media are implying. Randy certainly had an awful game and was clearly responsible for one turnover (his fumble) and possibly guilty for another (Brady’s interception where Moss didn’t follow through on his route). Still, to equate a bad performance with quitting is taking a fairly large liberty. Could Randy’s lack of preparation from being sent home on Wednesday have played a role in his lack of production on Sunday? That’s certainly another way to look at it. However, if you consider Randy’s track record as a Patriot, he certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt. Even the best player has a bad day. Nobody said Tom Brady was mailing it in on some of his four-interception games. Moss certainly didn’t make me happy on Sunday, but he didn’t deserve the chorus of boos that the Foxboro faithful unleashed upon him. Seriously, people. That’s just asking for trouble.
Rewind: Last year, at 7-5, the Patriots faced an underwhelming Seahawks team in Week 14. Similar to this season, there was a bit of a logjam atop the AFC East and New England desperately needed to knock off their inferior opponent. The Patriots came out flat and I saw their season begin to slip away as Seattle jumped out to a significant lead. Finally, the Pats turned it on in the second half, and the momentum carried through to the end of the ’08 season. By the time Week 17 rolled around, the Patriots looked like legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Unfortunately, as we all know, they never got their shot at the playoffs. This year, if New England can learn to channel the ghosts of seasons past and use this comeback victory over Carolina as a springboard, they will get the shot they were denied last year. I’ve said all season long that this team has the talent to hoist the Lombardi, if they can just learn to play the right way. Here’s hoping that the versatile offense they displayed and the strong second half that they dominated are signs of things to come.