As one of the cool duties that comes with that new byline up there, I'll be writing a conventional Patriots column after every game this season. So I figured that to preview the game each week, I'd try something a little less conventional and yet still in the spirit of the serious-but-lighthearted, often-nostalgic prism with which TATB has always viewed sports. So here is the third installment of what we're calling the Unconventional Preview. Hope you have as much fun reading it as I have putting it together.
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY AND BILL BELICHICK BINKY ED REED THAT I'LL BE WATCHING:
1. Ray Rice: Yeah, it's just two games, but when you hold former 2,000-yard runner CHRIS JOHNSON to 4 measly yards in the opener and enter Week 3 allowing just 2.6 yards per carry, it's understandable to be very encouraged about the Patriots run defense. (And defense as a whole, really: It's currently ranked second in the league to Houston in yards allowed.) But the Patriots may not face a more dangerous running back than they do this week. The Ravens' Ray Rice, who ran for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns a season ago, is off to a terrific start this year, with 167 yards (6.4 per carry) and a pair of scores. If the Patriots can hold him in check, the run defense will deserve every accolade it gets.
2. BERNARD POLLARD: Because you've always got to keep an eye on him when he plays the Patriots, that's why. Don't make me talk about it anymore.
3. KELLEN WINSLOW JR.: I know, he's said ("I'm a soldier!") and done (purchasing a dirt bike -- not a good idea) some regrettable things. And while he's had a respectable career, with four seasons of at least 75 receptions, he's never lived up to his surname, tight end pedigree, or billing as the sixth pick in the 2004 draft. Yet I kind of root for him -- his dad was one of my all-time favorite players, and yes, this is an excuse to shoehorn in a card of an Air Coryell Charger for the second week in a row. But also because he is one tough dude, playing on a knee that would have many players on injured reserve or angling for an analyst job on one of the networks. Perhaps he'll be a factor filling in for Aaron Hernandez -- he did have 75 catches last year -- or perhaps he's just here as insurance. But I'm glad he's here. He was a knucklehead as a young player who grew up into a dedicated, respected professional. I never thought Kellen Winslow Jr. would be one of those guys, but he is, and you can never have enough of them around.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARDS, AND FURTHER EVIDENCE THAT CARDS OF COACHES ARE NEVER A GOOD IDEA
Bill Belichick, looking not at all awkward (nope not at all) in 1992 as the coach of the team that would steal away to Baltimore ...
... but not looking nearly as goofy as the charming if overmatched coach of the Patriots at the time.
HELLO, MY NAME IS STERLING MOORE. I PLAY CORNERBACK FOR THE PATRIOTS. NICE TO MEET YOU TOO. NOW HOW ABOUT GIVING ME SOME #*$@&% CREDIT? This can also double as my grievance of the week, I suppose. It's astounding to me that so many media members habitually refer to a particular, pivotal late play in the 2011 AFC Championship Game as a drop. Lee Evans did not drop that pass. Sterling Moore knocked it out of his hands. It wasn't Evans pulling a Jackie Smith, as it has so often been portrayed leading up this rematch -- it was Moore making a clutch, smart, athletic play at a precise moment when the Patriots' defense needed one if they were going to play one more game. I'm not sure whether calling it a drop -- and there are 302,000 results for "Lee Evans drop" on Google -- is laziness, faulty memory, or just a disingenuous way to emphasize how close the Patriots were to losing that game. But watch the video. It wasn't a drop. It was a hell of a play by Sterling Moore, and it should be remembered that way. Though I do suppose Lee Evans might have had 302,000 drops in his career.
BESIDES MY COLLEAGUE CHRIS GASPER'S GEM, THREE OTHER TREMENDOUS COLUMNS WRITTEN ABOUT STEVE SABOL THIS WEEK
I had the chance to talk to Sabol, the affable NFL Films mastermind who died of cancer Tuesday, just once, back in September 2010, when I was a newbie on the media beat and he was less than a year from learning he was ill. As someone who, like most football fans, has long been mesmerized and influenced by countless NFL Films productions and programs ("The Brady 6,'' the ones featuring '70s free-thinkers Fred Dryer and Tim Rossovitch, and a look back at the famous Chargers-Dolphins playoff game are among my favorites) it was a privilege to talk to him. And he was exactly as he seemed on the air -- engaging, enthusiastic, and a fountain of anecdotes and information. I wish I got to talk to him more, but I feel fortunate to have done it once.
Some superb remembrances:
Richard Sandomir, The New York Times.
N.F.L. Loses Steve Sabol, Its Loving Filmmaker
"Sabol was an eternal youth and an auteur. He stood always on the edge of childlike joy knowing that all he did in his adult life was shape the image of the sport he loved. He did it with his father in a way that rival sports leagues envied but could not imitate."
Joe Posnanski, Sports on Earth
"He really did help create today’s NFL essence. Much of it was subtle. The brilliant coach. The intense linebacker. The audacious quarterback. The indomitable runner. These are NFL Films themes. And it’s likely when you think back to a favorite NFL moment, you are really thinking back to how NFL Films framed that moment. When you think of the Immaculate Reception, you probably think of that blurry film of Franco Harris jogging and the ball floating, in slow motion, into his arms, as if by fate."
Jason Gay, Wall Street Journal
Football Loses Its Storyteller
"NFL Films could be bombastic, easy to satirize, but these qualities only seemed to make it more beloved. The older stuff is a pure blast. You watch an NFL Film from the 1970s and it's like being transported into an episode of "Starsky & Hutch"—you can practically smell the Brut and shag carpet.".
Speaking of NFL Films ...
REPORT: RAY LEWIS MIKED HIMSELF UP FOR AN ENTIRE SEASON AND FORCED NFL FILMS TO FOLLOW HIM AROUND
OK, maybe that's not quite how it went. But I wouldn't put it past Lewis, who may have more look-at-me tendencies than any defensive star since Deion Sanders. Heck, maybe Mark Gastineau.
I'm sure there was a time when the Ravens linebacker's habitual speechifying was genuine and natural and inspiring. But watching "Ray Lewis: A Football Life'' the other night, I was entertained -- his workout routine includes road cycling, which makes for a pretty unexpected visual -- and I gained some measure of respect for him. He does seem to try to be a good dad, though I don't believe it was ever acknowledged that his six kids are by four different mothers.
But I also came to this conclusion, one I've been on the verge of ever since his ridiculous dancing became a part of every NFL pregame show: He's completely full of it. He's an incredible, charismatic public speaker, but when you listen to what he's saying, he's really not saying anything at all. I'd love to know whether any of the students in the Harvard Law class he spoke to bought his explanation for his 2000 arrest in connection with a double murder outside a nightclub in Atlanta.
Explaining it away by saying there was no evidence probably isn't going to cut it in front of the Ridiculously Bright Future Prosecutors of America, you know?
PREDICTION, ALSO KNOWN AS "WHERE'S BILLY CUNDIFF WHEN YOU NEED HIM?"
Hard to expect anything other than a typical Patriots-Ravens battle -- in other words, it will be ferociously physical (probably more so with the replacement refs standing around in some combination of fear and awe and gulping down their whistles), Tom Brady will hang tough in the pocket behind that worrisome line long enough to make a couple of huge plays, Joe Flacco will alternately look terrific and Sanchezian, and it will come down to the final series, if not the final play. Put me down for a day of redemption for Stephen Gostkowski. Patriots 20, Ravens 17
(Last week's prediction: Patriots 37, Cardinals 14. Final score: Yeah, nothing close to that. Season record: 1-1.)
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.