Time to grind it out from here on in
FOXBOROUGH - The Week of Turmoil is over. The Patriots have beaten the Carolina Panthers. All right, then. Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
“Not perfect,’’ said Coach Bill. “But a good, solid effort we can build on here.’’
“Proud of the way we fought today,’’ said Tom Brady. “A hard-fought win. A December win.’’
Kind of makes you wonder what they really think. You think the coach and the QB don’t realize how easily this 20-10 triumph could have gone the other way if the Panthers had the services of an experienced quarterback, and not a sub named Matt Moore? You think they honestly believe this overall performance could have gotten the job done at home against a good team, or on the road against anybody?
We all know better than that.
Here are some of the positives:
The Patriots ran the ball, coming very close to posting a perfect yardage balance between throwing (192) and running (185).
They rediscovered the concept of a pass-catching tight end, in this case Benjamin Watson.
They actually had a pair of fourth-quarter sacks, one by the long-missing Derrick Burgess.
Wes Welker had another big afternoon, not that this qualifies as news.
Stephen Gostkowski provided a fourth-quarter finishing touch with field goals of 48 and 47 yards.
They scored on a 96-yard drive.
Here are some of the negatives:
It took them 28 minutes 52 seconds to score a point, thus extending their drought to 55:54, dating from early in the third quarter of last week’s game at Miami.
They were self-destructive, twice curtailing nice drives with fumbles.
Randy Moss played a horrible game.
The first touchdown drive was highlighted by a very cheesy pass interference call on Panthers linebacker James Anderson, who was in one-on-one coverage with Watson. Take that away, and the Patriots would more than likely have gone into the locker room trailing, 7-0, rather than tied at 7.
The Patriots started badly, and the crowd was not amused. They ran only 26 plays in their first six possessions, which went as follows: turn the ball over after failing on fourth and 1 at the Carolina 40; punt; interception; Moss fumble, killing a drive at the Carolina 21; punt; and punt. There was some serious booing heard, and though most of the ire was directed at Moss, the general message was that the fans had lost patience with the offense in general. No one around here is used to seeing the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady-led Patriots go nearly three quarters without scoring.
Was any of this related to the off-the-field events of the week?
Kevin Faulk, a noted voice of reason on this team, did not shy away from the question.
“I didn’t think our focus was there in the first half,’’ he said.
Now they did manage to pull themselves together, playing some decent offense while holding the visitors to 3 points in the final 47:43 despite losing Vince Wilfork (foot) and Ty Warren (ankle). But the fact is there were plays to be made out there, and Matt Moore couldn’t make them.
The Patriots were, frankly, quite fortunate to be playing a fading team at home. The mayor needn’t carve out a parade route as a reward for this one, if you know what I mean.
As for No. 81, all anyone can hope is that he has bottomed out. Randy Moss has now caught six passes in the past three weeks, and the returns are diminishing, since the tally is 3-2-1 (the last for 16 yards, at the end of which he fumbled despite absorbing a hit that was about one-10th as hard as a few withstood by Welker). He’s dropping passes, and on one occasion yesterday he had the alligator arms. Uh-oh.
Moss, of course, said nothing. The coach, of course, sidestepped a Moss query by responding in a classically Belichickian manner. “It’s important for everybody to do their best and play well at this time of year,’’ he said. “It’s important for the entire football team.’’ Thanks, Coach.
The quarterback, ever diplomatic, simply said that in matters like this, when someone is “frustrated with yourself and your situation, you’ve got to fight through it.’’
How far does anyone think they can go if Randy Moss keeps playing like this?
Once again, anyone watching this team was left wondering just how dire the current situation might be if Wes Welker were not in action.
His 10 catches put him over the 100-reception mark for the third straight year, and don’t forget he missed Games 2 and 3 of the season. He is the team MVP. There is no longer any question about that.
He’s been a great receiver and punt return man since the day he came here, but now he is blossoming as a personality, as well. After a typical 23-yard catch-and-run that gave the Patriots a first and goal at the Carolina 8 in the third quarter, he bounced up and began gesturing to the crowd in that “lemme-hear-it!’’ motion. This was not the normal Wes Welker M.O.
“It just kind of happened,’’ he said. “It wasn’t anything planned, or anything like that. I kind of took a hit and decided to get the crowd into it and try to get us going a little bit. We had been flat pretty much the whole game and we needed a big drive right there.’’
It helped. Every little thing helps these days. This was a tedious, uneven, artistically unfulfilling win against a team whose only goal is to get the remaining games over with and go home.
In case you haven’t figured out who the 2009 New England Patriots are after 13 games, Tom Brady has.
“We’re kind of a grind-it-out team. That’s what it looks like to me,’’ he said.
The days of style points are gone. They’re all going to be like this.