No. 96 in your program, Mr. Fletcher Christian.
These are bumpy days for Patriots coach Bill Belichick. New England’s own William Bligh’s play-calling has come into question and his players are beginning to point fingers as the Patriots, losers of three of their last four games, face a pivotal game Sunday against Carolina.
If they lose this one, and Miami and New York both win, there will inexplicably be a three-way tie for first in the AFC East.
And there will likely be insubordination.
Or have the Patriots already quit? Seconds before “Fourth and two” the Patriots might have been considered the team to beat in the AFC. That’s what you get for taking down the undefeated Colts. But ol’ Willie Bligh decided to go for it, kicking off a week of second-guessing and conjecture the likes we haven’t seen since Grady Little’s one sentence post-game press conference in 2003.
They beat the Jets the next week, in a game handed to them by Mark (Lou Brock) Sanchez, got blown out by the Saints, and smothered by the Dolphins’ out-of-nowhere passing attack, another game where a different call or two would have severely changed the outcome.
Now Belichick is trying to send messages to the likes of Adalius Thomas and Randy Moss by sending them home for arriving late. It’s a move that many figure should either inspire the team or backfire.
If they lose, to the Carolina Panthers, you might as well forget a happy ship moving forward.
It’ll be full-on mutiny.
Who they’re picking
Our roundup of picks for this week’s Panthers-Patriots game:
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: Patriots 28, Panthers 14. “The Patriots will shut down one of the league’s most ineffective passing attacks (58.5 passer rating, 31st; 5.27 YPA, 26th) while moving the ball easily against a Carolina defense that stops the pass well (6th in Defensive Passer Rating) but is vulnerable against the run (4.64 YPA, 30th).”
- ESPN.com staff: Seven out of eight pick the Patriots.
- Globe Staff picks: Patriots across the board.
- Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Patriots 27, Panthers 23. “The sense of urgency has been ratcheted up in New England, with the Patriots having lost three of four for the first time since 2002. On a horrific weather morning Thursday, four Patriots including Randy Moss were late for an 8 a.m. team meeting, and Bill Belichick sent them home. Tom Brady questioned his mates’ dedication this week too. All I can say is this: That run-defense had better be dedicated Sunday against DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, or it’s going to be four out of five.”
- Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 28, Panthers 13. “The Patriots have lost two consecutive games and they’re reeling some. But Tom Brady called his teammates out this week and that will help. Look for the Patriots to take out their frustrations on the Panthers, who are overmatched here.”
- CBS Sports staff: Five out of six pick the Patriots vs. the 13-1/2-point spread.
- Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 30, Panthers 10. “The Patriots are having issues with their passing game and pass defense, so it’s time for Bill Belichick to turn to no-nonsense smash mouth. The Panthers will bring that attitude, especially with DeAngelo Williams back in the backfield. New England should pound away as well, taking advantage of its great backfield depth. On the other side, the goal should be taking away the Panthers’ one game-breaking receiver, Steve Smith.”
- Peter Schrager, FoxSports.com: Patriots 27, Panthers 16. “Will you remember where you were when the Matt Moore Era officially started in Carolina? I will. And I’ll always remember thinking it came about nine games too late. John Fox finally yanked Jake Delhomme, and the move paid dividends. Well, kinda. I’m not sure Carolina beats Tampa Bay last weekend if Josh Freeman doesn’t throw five interceptions. The Patriots — an above-average team at best this year — get back in the win column on Sunday. Since 2000, the Pats are 17-2 at home in December. Tom Brady’s not losing at home to Matt Moore. Ever.”
- USA Today staff: Patriots across the board.
- Pete O’Brien, USA Today: Patriots 27, Panthers 17. “The Patriots’ much-maligned pass defense stiffens considerably at home. Opposing quarterbacks generate a 64.7 QB rating in Foxboro compared to 95.3 when they host Brady and friends.”
- Sam Farmer, Los Angeles TimesPatriots 28, Panthers 18. “Tom Brady has questioned their ability to close out games down the stretch, but they’re still the Patriots and tough to beat — especially in December home games.”
- Yahoo! sports staff: Patriots across the board.
- Our pick: Patriots 17, Panthers 12. Carolina is a well-timed opponent. While fantasy geeks everywhere are praying Moss doesn’t mess up their playoff game (gulp), the big concern for Pats fans is going to be Brady’s health. But since the Panthers are so ineffective against the run, look for a healthy dose of Laurence Maroney and Co., which should help limit Brady having to drop back.