Maybe it's just a matter of perspective, or maybe it's because the pregame suspicion was that defeat in this one might be inevitable, but I wasn't as ticked off or frustrated or bummed out after the Patriots' suspense-free 33-10 loss to the Steelers last night as I would have been, say, three seasons ago. Ultimately, I suppose that's because I feel like the better team won, and that's how it should be.
That maniacal defense makes Pittsburgh a legitimate Super Bowl contender, more so if Ben Roethlisberger can continue to limit his mistakes they way he did last night. (Tell me again why the Pats rarely blitz? Because they prefer to prolong the agony rather than get it over quickly?)
The only real aggravation I felt came from the repeated and uncharacteristic physical and mental errors by the Pats, who looked like they had never played in lousy weather before and couldn't wait to get back to the locker room to grab some hot chocolate and a cozy blanket.
In way, it reminded me of the '05 playoff loss to the Broncos, when miscues repeatedly put Denver in great field position. The Patriots couldn't overcome their blunders then, and they couldn't last night, either. Hate to say it, but that's justice.
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I still think the Patriots' second priority this offseason -- after, obviously, getting at least one defensive back who is better than mediocre -- is finding a capable and consistent pass rusher, either at linebacker or defensive end. But I will admit that I now appreciate Ty Warren's contributions a lot more after watching Mike Wright look like a kid chasing a school bus for most of the night. He may not be the second coming of Tony McGee as a pass rusher, but there's something to be said for a lineman who knows how to hold his ground and allows others to get the glory. I won't take him for granted again.
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Anyone who ever had as much a fleeting thought that Matt Cassel should be the Patriots quarterback in 2009 and beyond is either someone who found "Football For Dummies" too complex and layered, a member of the Sharpe family, or both. Two terrific games did not make him the second coming of Tom Brady, and we got a harsh reminder last night that he's still got a lot of growing to do. I'm convinced that Cassel will be a very good NFL quarterback for whichever team he joins as a free agent, provided the system is the right fit for his skills.
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All right, I'll say it: Randy Moss has let down Cassel a heck of a lot more than he has picked him up this season.
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Two who did show up: The admirable Kevin Faulk had his typical Mr. Dependable game, and Richard Seymour was often beastly -- you had to laugh when he clobbered Roethlisberger a split-second after Ellis Hobbs bounced off the Steelers' behemoth quarterback like a bug on a windshield.
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Ben Watson might be the NFL's most specialized specialist -- there is no one better in the history of the NFL then running the length of a football field to tackle a defensive player at or near the 1-yard line after a turnover. Yup, it's quite a gift, though I think we'd all prefer he had more skills suitable for playing tight end -- like catching the football when it hits his bleepin' hands, for instance. Hmmm . . . maybe the Patriots should move Watson to linebacker and Mike Vrabel to tight end.
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I would like to take a moment to retract something I wrote earlier this season -- well, a lot of things, probably, but this one in particular: Deltha O'Neal is not the second coming of Terrell Buckley. In fact, I believe I would rather see Buckley, age 37 and long since retired, starting Sunday against the Seahawks if the only alternative is O'Neal, a grown-up version of Chris Canty. Hell, where's Duane Starks when you need him? Antonio Langham? Earthwind Moreland? Jimmy Hitchcock? Anyone?
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If you needed more proof that tackles are possibly the most misleading statistic in sports -- it's probably right there alongside saves in baseball in my mind -- let it be noted that Tedy Bruschi led the Pats with 10 tackles last night, seven unassisted. I'm not going to say he didn't make any plays, but I'd be willing to bet the majority of his takedowns occured well beyond the first-down marker. Sadly, he just can't get to where he knows he needs to be anymore.
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The top five teams at the moment, as seen through my beady eyes:
1) NY Giants. As long as Plaxico Burress doesn't accidentally shoot any of his teammates, they should cruise to the NFC title game.
2) Tennessee Titans. Although I still suspect Kerry Collins's prominent involvement might leave them ripe for an upset in the playoffs.
3) Pittsburgh Steelers. Man, I wish the Patriots had linebackers who moved like theirs. How did James Harrison go undrafted?
4) Indianapolis Colts. I don't know if they're more lucky than good, but they've won at least three games this season they could have -- and perhaps even should have -- lost.
5) Tampa Bay Bucs. I wonder if Al Davis ever regrets running Jon Gruden out of Oakland. Probably not -- the undead regret nothing.
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As for today's Completely Random Football Card:
I liked him much better as a quarterback than an analyst. Take that as you will.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.