I recently got the opportunity to exchange 5 questions with tommassee of Pats Pulpit, SB Nation's fine New England Patriots blog. Below are his responses to my questions. And to see my responses to his questions, head on over to Pats Pulpit.
My take is this: There was a rule. Many teams were violating it in one way or another. The league sent a memo to every team warning them to cut it out. The Patriots were caught further violating the rule. The league severely punished them. That should be the end of it.
There have been plenty of former coaches and players who admitted that all kinds of "bending" the rules happens all the time. People using this "cheating" to belittle the Patriots past accomplishments need to look at the 2007 Patriots who, under the direct scrutiny of the league, are destroying every team in their path.
Other than that, it's just so much noise, people making excuses for why the Patriots have been so much better than the rest of the league for the last half-decade or so.
I don't want to seem like a Patriot hater, but I'd love to hear how you feel about how the Pats have clearly been running up the score late in games this season. Does it bother you at all as a fan of the team?
You'd have to provide an example. "Running up the score" is pretty vague. If you want to take the Dallas game, the Patriots had the ball on the Cowboys 20 yard line with 3:45 to go. They ran the ball seven straight times. Dallas called timeout eventually leaving New England with too much time to kill by kneeling. Ultimately, it was 4th-and-goal and New England had their fourth-string running back in the game. Why should they turn the ball over on downs? If Dallas didn't want New England to score, they should have (a) not taken that timeout, or (b) stopped Kyle Eckel. I mean, Kyle Eckel!
The Patriots margin of victory isn't even a record, and I don't remember anyone complaining about the St. Louis Rams running up the score in 1999 (after a 27-10 season-opening victory, the Rams beat teams 35-7, 38-10, 42-20, 41-13, and 34-3). Every year you see Indianapolis score in the 40s, even 50s against any number of teams. In 2004 when Indy was on a singular mission to get Peyton Manning to break Dan Marino's single-season passing touchdown record, they were trouncing teams just so Manning could break a record. No one complains about that. And no one said anything about Dallas running it up before they played Buffalo.
It's just so much whining and all any of these pathetic people can do to tear down a great team.
What should the Patriots do? Start taking knees after halftime?
So let's get right to the major issue. Do you think this team has what it takes to go undefeated? If so, do you think they will go undefeated? And in which game do you think they could get tripped up (other than the game at Indy)?
Do they have what it takes? I'll defer to someone (among others) who knows more about and has seen much more football than I: Mike Ditka. When asked if he thought the Patriots could do it, he said stone-faced and emphatically, "Absolutely."
Yes, I think they have what it takes. This team won three Super Bowls and went 14-2 twice with a roster that didn't approach the capabilities of this one. Whether they will go undefeated (I think it's unlikely) depends on so many factors, especially injuries. Every team New England plays is going to be giving the Patriots their best shot, and when teams have nothing to lose, they can play recklessly, and when they play recklessly, there's a better chance of injury. There's also weather, luck, and the plain fact that teams some times have bad games.
Six games into the season, it's just too early to realistically consider an undefeated season.
Which game could be the one to ruin it? Heck, this weekend. Doesn't much matter to me that Miami is 0-6. The Patriots rarely win down there. Then, of course, Indy, followed by Baltimore (on the road Dec. 3) and Pittsburgh (Dec. 9, short week after Monday at Ravens). And then, if the Patriots are fortunate enough to wrap up the No. 1 seed or some other goal the coaches require, the last couple games of the season (Dolphins and Giants) could be the one(s) if they are deemed "meaningless."
If you were coaching a team, how would you gameplan on defense to stop this Patriots offense? What is the key to slowing this offense down?
Unlike Wade Phillips who said his plan was to stop the running game and dare Tom Brady to beat them, I would jam the receivers at the line, much the same way New England jammed the Rams receivers in Super Bowl XXXVI. And, using the same strategy the Patriots employed in that game, I wouldn't rush extra pass rushers or blitz, maybe at all. Brady will find the open man. If you blitz, someone will be open. Brady has shown that he can get rid of the ball in a little more than 1 second. Jam the receivers. Make them not want to run routes. And hit the running back out of the backfield every chance you get.
For six years that Brady has been quarterback, I have yet to see a team do what Belichick does. The game films are out there. Every team gets them. Watch what Belichick does to "confuse" other quarterbacks, and do that. Sunday against Dallas, the Patriots lined up with one down lineman, four linebackers and six defensive backs. Take away Tony Romo's end-of-half two-minute drill and he had less than 100 yards in the game, and he had been leading the league in passing through five weeks.
Let's get to the predictions. Put your name on the line here: How does this game on Sunday play out (or should I say how badly does New England beat the Dolphins)? What will the Patriots' record be at the end of the season? And how far will they go in the playoffs?
Man, you had to ask that, didn't you? At this point, I'm going to assume that both Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris will be out, leaving New England with Kevin Faulk, Kyle Eckel and Heath Evans. That may leave the Patriots "one-dimensional," but it's a pretty good dimension. For whatever reason that Miami is giving up 30.5 points per game (31st), that one dimension should be enough. I also can't imagine Cleo Lemon having tremendous success against a Bill Belichick defense, especially his first experience against one. I'd expect a two-touchdown game.
The odds are just too great against any team to go undefeated. I think New England will finish 13-3 or 14-2, barring significant injuries, especially to Tom Brady, Randy Moss or a group of others, which of course would change everything. A 14-2 record should deliver a first-round bye, and I would expect New England to reach the AFC Championship. I, of course, will be rooting for an undefeated season and a Super Bowl title, but, hey, it's Week 7.