THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

There's no faking a team effort like this

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / November 8, 2004

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ST. LOUIS -- Look for the drop-kick next week. And while they're at it, don't forget the Statue of Liberty play, the fumblerooskie, and the time-tested "everybody go long" that's worked so well in schoolyard playgrounds during recess through the years.

The Patriots at this hour are a little bit like the Acton-Boxboro Colonials of the Dual County League. Every player is expected to be able to do everything. They do whatever it takes, and it's even more satisfying if they can make the guys on the other side of the line look like stooges.

In yesterday's 40-22 victory over the confused Rams at the Edward Jones Dome (trust me when I tell you these St. Louis fans were not nearly as generous as their Cardinal counterparts when the Red Sox won the World Series here just 12 days ago), the Patriots had a linebacker catch a touchdown pass, a wide receiver play defensive back, and a placekicker throw a touchdown pass. There was also an indirect snap. Had the game gone longer, the Patriots no doubt would have tried the old "hook and ladder."

It was still a game midway through the third when Adam Vinatieri (four field goals, four extra points, and a touchdown pass in a Gino Cappelletti-esque performance) lined up for a short field goal, which would have made it a 22-14 game. While Rams coach Mike Martz wasn't looking, Troy Brown lined up wide left, almost out of bounds. All alone. He looked like a man waiting for a bus. The Rams must have thought Brown was an official. No Ram went to cover Brown and Lonie Paxton quick-snapped to Vinatieri, who threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brown. Not since the Patriots intentionally hiked the ball off the goal post in Denver last year has the NFL seen this kind of chicanery.

How good was the day for your Patriots? It was so good that Bill Belichick actually smiled when it was over. Normally Nader-esque in his postgame remarks, Belichick said, "That was a great football game. I wouldn't know where to start. It's as much a team victory as any I've been around. We made big plays. We had guys at different positions. I'm really proud of our football team."

Quite a day for Brown, New England's latter-day Chuck Bednarik. He caught three passes for 30 yards and a touchdown. When cornerback Asante Samuel went down to further deplete the New England secondary, Brown took the field and played defense. He knocked down a couple of Marc Bulger passes and had a chance for a couple of picks. He was flagged for pass interference. He was credited with three tackles. He was . . . tired.

It must have been confusing -- "Do I catch this one, or knock it down?"

Linebacker Mike Vrabel knew what to do with his moment on offense. He caught Tom Brady's first touchdown pass, a floater over the defense. Vrabel had to dive and drag his feet in the end zone before his momentum carried him out of bounds. It was Dwight Clark perfect.

"It's what you have to do," said Vrabel, who has made three receptions in his career, all for touchdowns, including one in last February's Super Bowl. "What Troy did was different. He was out there all day against Pro Bowl receivers. Mine was different. I never had to dive when we practice that on Fridays."

The Vinatieri TD pass was the piece de resistance. It was downright sneaky -- the worst part of the day for the once-again over-matched Martz.

"[Martz] is probably not a big fan of me right now, or any of us," said Vinatieri. "It's a play that's called on the sideline. It doesn't happen very often. Hopefully, you get their guys sleeping and we did. My eyes were pretty wide on that one. It's one of those plays you put it in all year and then it comes up at the right time -- once in a great while. When I saw where Troy was, I just wanted to get the play going."

Brown was similarly wide-eyed. "I was like, `Hurry up and snap the ball,' " he said. "I don't think their coach saw me either [Brown was standing along the Patriots' sideline]. We just couldn't snap the ball fast enough."

Belichick, who must have learned the play from Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino at the Naval Academy, said, "Troy was out there. He was open. It was just a play we thought might have a chance. It's tough down there on the goal line to see everything and they kind of missed him."

Brown was forced to play defense because three of New England's cornerbacks, Ty Law, Tyrone Poole, and Samuel, were out. We saw a lot of Dexter Reid, Randall Gay, even Earthwind Moreland (named after his mom's favorite band and aren't we thankful she wasn't a fan of The Who). A 12-year veteran, Brown is the senior member of the Patriots. He's been with the team so long, he drew checks that were signed by James Orthwein. But he was never a regular member of the defense until yesterday when the Patriots beat the Rams for the first time since Feb. 3, 2002, in New Orleans (ring a bell?). Brown reportedly watched the Oxygen channel on the flight home.

"I have no idea how many plays I was out there for," said Brown. "I'd be in trouble if I started counting. I got a little winded, but I've got to suck it up and do what I can do. I'm a football player. Any chance I can get to be on the field, I'm out there."

Football players. That's what these Patriots are. That's why they win.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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