Welcome to Season 2, Episode 4 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup that usually runs right here every Friday around noon. The 3-0 Patriots, coming off a reassuring 23-3 home win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, head to Atlanta to take on
Steve Bartkowski David Archer Chris Chandler Chris Miller Michael Vick Joey Harrington Matt Ryan and the 1-2 Falcons. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let's get this thing started already ...
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY THAT I'LL BE WATCHING:
1. Julio Jones: One of the juicier parts of Michael Holley's "War Room'' -- an enjoyable look at Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, and Tom Dimitroff's relationships and team-building philosophies -- occurs when Dimotroff tells Belichick he's considering giving up a bushel of picks to move up in the 2011 draft and select Jones sixth overall. Belichick advises him not to do it -- the money quote is that Jonathan Baldwin, a flop with the Chiefs, would be close to equal value to Jones. Dimitroff makes the move anyway, and it's hard to imagine he has even a shred of regret now. Jones has been the most productive receiver in the league this season despite battling a knee injury, and he was a dynamo last year, catching 79 passes for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jones has a chance Sunday to make Belichick wish Dimitroff had taken his advice. (Mike Reiss had a deeper look at the Jones trade on ESPN Boston a couple of days ago.)
2. Chandler Jones: If he keeps playing like this, it changes everything.
3. Aaron Dobson/Kenbrell Thompkins: The totals for the two rookie receivers in Week 3 against the Bucs: 10 catches, 93 yards, 2 TDs, not a single public admonishment from their quarterback. Now that's what you call progress. If they can make a similar leap forward against Atlanta -- no easy task, sure -- you'd have to start feeling very good about where this is headed. Now, please, someone inform Tom Jackson that Dobson is not a rookie free-agent, but a second-round pick. Thank you.
WHEN THE ATLANTA FALCONS DRAFTED BRETT FAVRE, OR WHATEVER HIS NAME IS
I've watched this 4-minute clip of the Falcons' selection of Brett Favre in the second round of the 1991 NFL Draft four times now, and I still can't pick a favorite part. So I'll let you guys decide. Here are the contenders:
0:00: The scroll of high first-round picks, a roll-call of epic flops, including the Falcons' first-round pick, cornerback Bruce Pickens. To recap: The Falcons chose Bruce Pickens a round before they chose Brett Favre.
0:06:"Atlanta has selected Brett FAVOR, quarterback, Mississippi ..." Funny, this has to be one of the first of a dozen-billion times Favre's name was mentioned on ESPN, and they botched it.
0:10 Chris Berman's predictably hammy ad-lib on the mispronunciation.
0:49: Chris Mortensen's report that the Jets tried to trade up to get Favre and failed.
0:58: The Jets ending up with Browning Nagle, followed by Mort's declaration that "he likes Nagle a lot."
1 minute: Mort's mustache. It's glorious. He needs to grow it back, and he needs to make Adam Schefter do the same.
1:46: Joe Theismann becomes the first of two-dozen-billion ESPNers to refer to Favre's toughness and tells us that he had 30 inches of small intestine removed after a car accident. Too much information, or an acknowledgment Favre literally lacked guts?
1:58: Theismann says Favre has nice feet. Are we sure Rex Ryan was never on board with that trade?
2:17: Theismann says "this is one of the strongest arms I've seen come out of college football in a long time." Favre, right? Nope. Nagle.
3:21: A graphic tells us that four quarterbacks have been selected: Dan McGwire (Seattle), Todd Marinovich (Oakland/Sublime), Favre, and Nagle. The next-best quarterback on Mel Kiper's board: Some dude named Zolak.
GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK
This isn't so much a grievance as a flashback/observation. Was it really nine years ago now that Ryan, starting his first collegiate game as a redshirt freshman at Boston College, struggled in a crucial regular-season finale against Syracuse, a game BC needed to win to clinch a BCS bowl berth> Ryan completed 24 of 51 passes for 200 yards and a late touchdown, but the Orange, which entered the game with a 5-6 record, routed BC, 43-17, Ryan has come such a long way, certainly to at least the fringe of NFL elite status, that it's funny to remember that he was once a wide-eyed downgrade from the likes of Paul Peterson.
CALL ME QUINTORRIS. OR JULIO. EITHER WORKS: Julio Jones's real name is not Julio. It's Quintorris. Either way, a pretty great name for a star wide receiver. Sounds way better than, say, Jonathan Baldwin.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD
I'll always remember Milloy as a Patriot first and foremost, of course, the appreciation lasting for the affable yet ferocious safety who was so essential in the franchise's first Super Bowl victory. And we'll remember him as a Bill, and his fleeting moment of perceived vindication in the 2003 opener. I'll even remember him as a Seahawk, wrapping up his career at age 37 in his hometown. (Bet he never figured he'd be reunited with Pete Carroll.) What I don't remember particularly well is Milloy's three seasons as a Falcon (2006-08), though the record shows he played 47 games and averaged 74 tackles per season. Instead, I remember a play he once made against the Falcons, during that snow-globe-dream of a 2001 season. The Patriots, on the way to evening their record at 4-4 with a 24-10 win at the Georgia Dome, limited starting quarterback Chris Chandler to 95 yards passing on 20 attempts before shattering him into a million little pieces and mercifully knocking him from the game? His replacement, some hot-shot kid named Vick, fared no better, going 2 for 9 for 56 yards in his fourth NFL game. And it was Vick, not "Crystal Chandelier," who took the wallop of the day. Rolling left, he was indecisive over whether to pass or run. Milloy, at the peak of his powers and on a heat-seeking mission from the same, was not indecisive: he buried Vick like he'd probably never been buried before. It was not the most memorable hit that season -- Bryan Cox's shot on Jerome Pathon and roughly 10 plays during the Super Bowl rank ahead of it -- but it was certainly among the most vicious.
PREDICTION, OR, YES, THIS MIGHT BE THE FIRST TIME I'M PICKING AGAINST THE PATRIOTS SINCE I STARTED WRITING THIS GOOFY COLUMN
Hey, what can I say ... I happen to believe they're going to win against most opponents in most weeks. It's always authentic, which is more than you can say for the lucrative, how's-the-sky-gonna-fall-this-week? approach. This week, though, I'm having a hard time seeing the Patriots as a favorite. It's a road game against a talented but desperate team that has won just one of its first three games. The Patriots could use this win, what with the Bengals-Saints gauntlet immediately ahead and the resurgent Fish a month from now. The Falcons need it, desperately, and with their talent and home-field advantage, they should be able to overcome their myriad of injuries to eke out the victory. Falcons 20, Patriots 17
(Last week's prediction: Patriots 20, Bucs 13. Final score: Patriots 23, Bucs 3. Season record: 3-0.)
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.