Welcome to Season 2, Episode 5 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 4-0 Patriots, coming off an impressive 30-23 victory at Atlanta, head to Cincinnati to take on
Homer Rice Forrest Gregg Sam Wyche David Shula Bruce Coslet Marvin Lewis and the 2-2 Bengals. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let’s get this thing started already …
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY THAT I’LL BE WATCHING
1. A.J. Green: The Bengals’ third-year receiver is … well, he’s about as good as it gets, that’s what he is. He had 97 catches for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, and he’s on pace for 104-1,200-12 this year. But you know how we can tell he’s as respected as he is talented? When Bill Belichick draws a comparison to a past great at the position, as he did this week. His quote:
“His quickness, his ability to separate and get away from people is outstanding and his ability to go up and get the ball is very good too. Those other guys are big, strong guys that can go up and get it with good ball skills. He has that same kind of size, but Iï¿½d say itï¿½s a different type of athleticism. He makes some really spectacular catches, like Lynn Swann-ish.
“I’d say Green is as good a pure route runner as we’ll see. He’s a very good pure receiver: quick off the ball, creates separation, excellent timing, judgment on the ball, good deep-ball receiver, good third down, red-area receiver.”
Lynn Swann’s place in the Hall of Fame may be of some debate — he had just 336 catches in nine seasons, a number Green could surpass next season. But his status as one of the most graceful and spectacular receivers of all time is not. Maybe Green knows it, maybe he does not, but when Bill Belichick compares your knack for making incredible catches to Lynn Swann’s, praise doesn’t get much headier.
2. Aqib Talib: Four games, four interceptions this season, and you know what? I’ll say it: He’s the Patriots’ best cornerback since Ty Law. Asante Samuel? No. He was a ballhawk, but tackling wasn’t part of his job description, and his freelancing could be beyond detrimental to the defense. (I trust you don’t require examples.) Law knew when to jump a route with the best of ’em, but he also played so physically that he’s fortunate he never ran into Marvin Harrison in a dark alley. Hell, the rules were changed because of him. Talib is that same type of corner — he can play the style the moment and matchup demand, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch him deal with Green if that’s what the Patriots plan to do.
3. Geno Atkins: Two things I just found out about the Bengals’ relentless defensive tackle: 1) His dad was Gene Atkins, the former Saints safety. 2) The Bengals stole him in the fourth round in 2010, seven picks after the Patriots took Aaron Hernandez, and 30 picks after they chose Taylor Price.
GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK
More like a grievance from 31 years ago. Believe it or not, the Bengals — the mostly hapless Bengals — are a source of some lingering bitterness from my childhood. As I’ve mentioned here before, I was enamored with the Air Coryell Chargers as a kid. Dan Fouts, John Jefferson, the useful Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner — man, they were one of the most exciting teams in NFL history. Yet they never made a Super Bowl. In 1979, they lost to Vernon Perry and the Houston Oilers, who, it turned out, had a copy of the Chargers playbook. The next year, the Raiders beat them by a touchdown in the AFC Championship Game. But the most frustrating of their what-could-have-been postseason losses came to the Bengals in the 1981 AFC Championship Game. The week before, the Chargers won a classic against the Dolphins in Miami in 88 degree temperatures. The next week, in Cincinnati, it was slightly less balmy — the wind chill was minus-37. I’m going to assume now as I did then that the temperatures that day weren’t particularly beneficial to a team from San Diego that had just won a grueling game in Miami. My grudge against the Bengals and their stupid weather lives on. And I’m not going to get over it, so stop saying that.
THREE BENGALS WHO ARE HISTORICALLY UNDERRATED, PROBABLY BECAUSE THEY HAD THE MISFORTUNE OF PLAYING FOR, YOU KNOW, THE BENGALS
1. James Brooks: One of the unsung stars of those Air Coryell Chargers — he had more than 2,000 total yards in ’81 — he was dealt to the Bengals before the ’84 season for washed-up brute Pete Johnson. Brooks went on to run for more than 6,000 yards and gain another 3,000-plus receiving during eight seasons in Cincinnati.
2. Isaac Curtis: Elegant, effortlessly fast receiver averaged 17.1 yards per catch in his 12-year career, including 21.1 in ’74.
3. David Fulcher: For a brief time in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the ferocious 235-pound safety did a fine imitation of vintage Ronnie Lott. Made three Pro Bowls, and was an All-Pro in ’89 when he had eight interceptions.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD
Do you realize what a comedy jackpot it is when you’re 8 years old and you open a pack of football cards to find a guy named Boobie? Thirty-five years and very little maturity later, I still have to resist giggling like Beavis and repeating “Boobie … heh-heh … his name is Boobie …” every five seconds. By the way, Boobie’s real name was Charles. Charles is not nearly as funny.
PREDICTION, OR IS LEGARRETTE BLOUNT A SLIGHTLY SPEEDIER BEN-JARVUS GREEN-ELLIS?
Lesson learned last week: Keep picking these resilient Patriots until there’s a blemish in that loss column. It’s not happening this week, even with Big Vince done for the season. Patriots 24, Bengals 21
(Last week’s prediction: Falcons 20, Patriots 17. Final score: Patriots 30, Falcons 23. Season record: 3-1.)