Anticipation in Patriots Nation
JJ Feigenbaum is a freshman at Wesleyan and an Andover, MA native. He has followed the Patriots for the entire 18 years of his life. Fanaticism runs in the blood, as his father, Mark Feigenbaum, was Patriots Fan of the Year in 1996. Ladies beware; he plans to name his first born child, son or daughter, Belichick.
In the days leading up to the Pats first playoff game since Super Bowl XXXVIII (really not a long time, but the Sox World Series win has pretty much torn the time-space continuum and it feels like eons ago that Brady, Belichick and company hoisted the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy), all of New England was abuzz with Patriot fever.
Sitting at the FleetCenter on Monday, watching the Celtics demolish the Orlando Magic, the conversations all around me were not about Gary Payton's passing, but rather Peyton Manning's. Could Belichick's patchwork defense derail the MVP? There were more Flying Elvis logo-ed hats than Celtic Green anythings. I'm home from college for winter break and yet I've been asked about the Pats and Colts more than I've been asked about school. My dentist and I had a chat about the Pats' prospects. Well, he spoke and I mumbled, trying to avoid any drill and tongue related accidents. But it was all Pats, all the time. Even my mother is wondering if I'm worried about the Patriots this weekend... though I'm still not sure she knows who they are playing.
At the end of the day, from everyone, the story, or rather the question, is the same: can the Patriots defense, minus Ty Law, Tyrone Poole, approximately 50 percent of Richard Seymour's effectiveness, and who knows who else, stop Peyton Manning and the Colts' awesome offense? It's a great question. Being the homer that I am, I know they can. I have more faith in the Patriots than I do in the misfit Cleveland Indians of Ricky Vaughn and Jake Taylor putting it together in Major League, the movie. Belichick is probably the greatest football mind, well, ever, and if anyone is going to stop Manning, it will be Belichick. The Pats have been without Law and Poole for most of their season, and still only lost two games, equaling their impressive record from last year. Things tend to be blown out of proportion: sure the Colt offense is incredibly impressive and Peyton Manning looks unstoppable. But the Pats defense is smart, well-coached, and full of very good players, players who know how to win and are pretty much willing to do anything, like playing new positions, to do just that.
I think the real story, however, is on the other side of the ball. I can't take credit for the brilliance of my dentist, but what about the Pats' offense? For the first time in their recent history, the Pats have a great running back in 1,600-yard rusher Corey Dillon. Brady had a Pro Bowl season and has two things Peyton Manning doesn't have (I'll give you a hint, they rhyme with Super Bowl Rings), and as great as the Colts offensive fleet has been, the Patriots have just as many weapons. Harrison, Wayne and Stokley... yeah, but what about David Givens, Deion Branch, David Patten, Bethel Johnson and, oh yeah, Troy Brown? James and Dillon are basically a wash and now that Daniel Graham, I hope, has learned to catch the ball, he and Christian Fauria match up very well with Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard. The Colts o-line has been great: Manning has been sacked all of 13 times, but Tom Brady has only gone down 26 times, less than every other QB slated to start this weekend, except Manning and Chad Pennington.
I love the Patriots' offense and I really do believe they can keep pace with the Colts, especially considering the Colts' defense. But it is going to take some kind of a game from Tom Brady and Charlie Weis, managing the clock and exploiting the Colts' weaknesses.
Seeing the Pats demise first hand in Miami (thanks, Dad, for the trip) it really looked like, to me, that Charlie Weis, days after taking the job at Notre Dame, just didn't call a very good game. It was anything but classic Patriots, the last two drives especially. Against the Rams, the Panthers, the Raiders, the Etceteras, the Pats just seemed to know exactly what to do, exactly how to run the perfect two-minute drill. Dink and dunk passing, a draw or a delay here and there, screen passes and maybe a crossing pattern against a soft zone, and before you could say Adam Vinatieri he was marching out to kick home a winning or tying field goal. The situation set up all the same for the Pats in Miami... but it didn't have a happy ending. After that game, I was pretty worried the season would not have a happy ending either. But the play and the play calling returned to vintage Patriot form as they demolished the Jets and 49ers to close out the season and clinch a first round bye.
Again, I have to admit, I'm a homer, especially with the Patriots. It has been said before, but in many ways they are the anti-Red Sox, especially in how the fans see the team. I look at the Sox, and all I can see are question marks, potential disaster and heartbreak... not even a World Series has managed to cure me of this (honestly, I'm terrified that Boomer Wells is the third starter... the guy is what, 55? And then there's the chance he'll be pitching drunk as a lefty in Fenway... yeah). But with the Pats, there is hope. There is Tom Brady being Tom Brady, which is to say winning. There is Belichick, Romeo Crennel and Weis, in probably their final playoff push together, knowing, always, exactly what to do. And then there is the image of Rodney Harrison decapitating a Colts receiver on one of the first plays of the game, setting the tone immediately. Sure, there are questions, but the Patriots just always seem to have the answers. No reason why they won't do it again this Sunday in Foxboro.
(To be continued on Saturday)