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Knowing the score

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 27, 2010 04:16 PM

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Ten Patriots thoughts still lingering the day after another perfect fall Sunday at Gillette . . .

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1. Go ahead, put me in with the glass-half-filled crowd, because I'm in full agreement with Tom Brady's postgame theme after the Patriots' entertaining 38-30 victory over the Bills:

A win is a win.

Sure, the concern with having scatter-armed genius Ryan Fitzpatrick drop 374 yards of total offense on the Patriots defense in his first start of the season is a legitimate one, particularly since the Bills offense was ranked last in the league in a number of categories entering the game.

A lousy offense looked pretty capable against the Patriots defense, and that's alarming in part because of the suspicion that it could be a harbinger of things to come against teams far superior to the Bills, starting with Miami Monday night.

The victory did little to change the premise that the Patriots' best defense will be their own offense. I don't believe that is necessarily true in the long-term.

As I've said before and will probably say again a few sentences from now, there is a huddle's worth of legitimate bright young talent on this defense, and as the individuals blossom, the defense will improve.

But, hypothetically, what if it is? What if the Patriots are going to depend on Tom Brady's right arm, the receiving skills of Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman (and Danny Woodhead!), and a passing game that offers more versatility than even the record-setting 2007 unit could boast about?

Is that the worst problem to have three games into the season?

The if-you-can't-stop-'em-outscore-'em approached worked for the Saints last year, right up until their defense, ranked 25th in the league in the 2009 regular season, peaked in the playoffs. It worked for the Colts (21st in total D) in 2006, the year they won the Lombardi Trophy.

I'm not saying Patriots fans should book those hotels for North Texas in February. Given the strength of two of their division opponents, it's going to be a brawl to make the playoffs. But the defense is going to get better, and the offense is loaded.

Seems to me that's a recipe for plenty of fun and rewarding autumn Sundays.

* * *

2. While the inevitable improvement of the Patriots' young defense depends wholly upon the learning curve of undeniably talented players such as Ron Brace, Devin McCourty, Brandon Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham, and so on, I can't help but wonder just how much better this defense would look right now if Leigh Bodden hadn't been lost for the season with a shoulder injury.

We knew the blow was significant, but with Darius Butler's regression, losing the steady veteran corner stings with each passing week -- and each impressive passing performance by an opposing quarterback.

Kyle Arrington was adequate yesterday -- he made a nice play to bust up a pass intended for Lee Evans in the first quarter -- but the Patriots' best hope at that position is that Butler, a smart, talented kid whose confidence is close to mutilated right now, finds a way to play up to his considerable ability.

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3. It seemed appropriate to see John Hannah walking around and shaking hands with fans on the Gillette Stadium turf yesterday in the moments after a game in which the Patriots plowed for 200 rushing yards. The versatile running attack -- Danny Woodhead outside, but mostly BenJarvus Green-Ellis inside -- was a pleasant flashback to the late '70s Hog heyday.

Perhaps it's largely a sign of the porous Buffalo defense than anything else, but after the Patriots early abandonment of the running game last week against the Jets, it was encouraging that the Patriots ran the ball 38 times, averaging more than five yards per pop, with the aforementioned runners breaking runs over 20 yards.

I'm still not cool with giving away Laurence Maroney (despite his brutal performance yesterday for Denver), but the Patriots' ground game should remain effective, if for no other reason than it has to be a relative afterthought for opposing defenses whose first priority is to stop Brady and the diverse passing game.

* * *

4. Brandon Tate is fast -- he always seems like he's one grasping-at-the-cleat tackle away from going the distance. Bethel Johnson was faster. But I think C.J. Spiller may be the single fastest player I've ever seen return a kick (and I suspect Tebucky Meriweather would agree). If Chan Gailey doesn't find a way to get the rookie first-round pick 15-20 touches a game, he's not doing his job.

* * *

5. Two thoughts after watching Jets tight end Dustin Keller torment the Dolphins with six catches for 98 yards and a pair of TDs last night:

  • 1) Nice to see him light up the middle of the field against a team other than the Patriots for once.

  • 2) It's imperative that the Patriots expose the Dolphins in the same with with Hernandez and Gronkowski Monday night.

It cannot be exaggerated how much these two distinctly skilled tight ends bring to the Patriots offense, and yesterday's game was encouraging .

* * *

6. Randy Moss has five receiving touchdowns in three games. So far, this contract year thing is working out pretty well for the Patriots. I've said it before, and I will continue to say it until it happens. They must re-sign him.

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woodheadfinn.jpg7. How many Patriots fans with recently outdated No. 39 Maroney jerseys are desperately trying to figure out a way to change the name tag to Woodhead today?

OK, you got me. So I used that on Twitter yesterday; you know I have to milk the rare occasion when I have a decent line.

Recycled Tweets aside, it should be noted that Woodhead's a tremendously intriguing player. He's the height of your average rookie ball boy and jittery-quick, and in certain circumstances he could prove a real nuisance to opposing defenses, which will have a hard time spotting him behind the line, let alone catching him in space.

It's apparent from the postgame comments from Brady, Wes Welker, and Moss (who called him a "stub" in as admiring a way as you can call someone a stub) that his teammates have taken to him already. Better, they all seemed genuine in the belief that he is much more than just a double-agent from the Jets, but someone who is going to help this team.

* * *

8. Ryan Fitzpatrick has an NFL arm and better-than-average mobility, and we all know about his Hahvid Smahts. (He's legendary for scoring a 48 on the Wonderlic test. For what it's worth, Brady scored a 33, well above average for a quarterback. Brett Favre scored a minus-6, answering "Jon Deeer green trakter" on all 50 questions.)

But he has one fatal flaw that is going to continue to prevent him from being a quality starting quarterback -- he throws a wild pitch just a little too often.

Fitzpatrick confirmed the notion that both Patriots interceptions were on him, and the former in particular (Official TATB binky Patrick Chung's pivotal goal-line pick) would have been downright inexcusable had he not been hit as he threw.

* * *

9. I wonder if at some point late in the Fresno night, Logan Mankins pulled himself away from tending to his beloved cattle, looked at the Patriots' stat sheet, saw that they racked up 200 yards on the ground and Tom Brady was sacked only once and compiled a 142.6 rating, and immediately muttered to himself, "Drat, it would have worked, too, if not for that meddling Dan Connolly."

* * *

10. As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

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The more I see of Green-Ellis, and the more I hear his teammates praise him, the more I think he's capable of giving the Patriots very similar things to what Antowain Smith delivered to a pair of Super Bowl winning teams. Don't know about you, but I consider such a comparison pretty high praise.

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.

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