Welcome to Season 3, Episode 2 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday afternoon. The Patriots, who were dominated on the line of scrimmage in the second half of a 33-20 loss at Miami in their opener, head to Minnesota in search of their first win of the season. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let’s get this season started already …
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY I’LL BE WATCHING:
1. Nate Solder, Jordan Devey, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer, and the random other mismatched linemen: OK, so it’s not a player. Forgive the loophole. It’s a unit. More specifically, it had damn well better become a unit. If there’s a repeat of last week’s debacle in Miami — I still say Tom Brady was hit more than the alleged six times — Dave DeGuglielmo is going to be feeling the heat before we even know how to spell or say his name.
2. Vince Wilfork: It was reassuring that my former colleague Greg Bedard, in his breakdown for theMMQB.com, wrote that Wilfork’s struggles against Miami looked more like rust than signs of a decline. But the performance was also something of a wakeup call for those of us (and I’m guilty) who just sort of assumed he’d be close to his former self in his first games back on a repaired Achilles’ tendon. The Patriots are counting on him in a major way, and I hope it’s not too much to ask.
3. Adrian Peterson: He’s on the short list of the best running backs I’ve ever seen, right there with Earl Campbell, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, and Bo Jackson one particular night in Seattle.
The Boz. Trucked. Heh.
Peterson is also indirectly responsible for our expectation that Rob Gronkowski would be as dominant as ever eight months removed from getting his knee rebuilt. How long did it take Peterson to return to the field and form after his knee injury? It was like two weeks, right?
Update, 5 p.m.: Forget him, man.
SHOULD THE PATRIOTS HAVE DRAFTED CORDARRELLE PATTERSON?
For those who like to gripe about Bill Belichick trading down in the draft — especially when it comes to moving out of the first round — the Patterson situation is their cause celebre of the week.
Or at least it’s their cause of the last day or two, once they discovered the Patriots could have taken the roadrunner-fast receiver with the 29th pick in last year’s draft.
Coveting Patterson is certainly understandable. While he’s averaged just 10.3 yards per catch in his career, he’s as dynamic as any receiver in the league when he has the ball in his hands. Oddly, that is most evidenced by his rushing stats: he has 15 carries for 260 yards — for an average of 17.3 yards per attempt. That’s decent from what I gather. Even Gale Sayers would be impressed.
He’s give the Patriots offense something it lacks, at least when Aaron Dobson is limping: A genuine deep threat, not to mention a receiver over 5 foot 10. But suggesting the Patriots blew it by passing on Patterson isn’t necessarily the truth.
Consider: In exchange for the pick, the Patriots received the Vikings Minnesota’s second- (52d), third- (83rd), fourth- (102d), and seventh- (229th) round picks. Here’s how they spent them:
No. 52 pick: Jamie Collins. Promising young linebacker. No complaints.
No. 83 pick: Logan Ryan. Promising young defensive back. No complaints.
No. 102 pick: Josh Boyce. Fast and … did I mention fast? Now on the practice squad.
No. 299 pick: Now here’s where it gets really interesting. The Patriots sent this pick, along with sprinter/quasi-football-player Jeff Demps, to the Bucs for LeGarrette Blount.
Blount was a one-year wonder here, but he was a relevant member of last year’s offense. The argument can be made that a useful year of Blount and two potential starters at positions of scarcity on defense is a heck of a return for one pick.
I’d love to see Patterson on the Patriots. But I’m not sure he helps more than what they got in return for that selection. I do know this: I’m really glad Denver didn’t take him at No. 28.
MATT CASSEL HAS HAD ONE EXCELLENT SEASON, AND IT WASN’T 2008 WITH THE PATRIOTS:
Oh, sure, Cassel was fine during his one season as Tom Brady’s called-upon understudy. He surpassed most expectations considering he was Matt Leinart’s never-called-upon understudy at Southern Cal, had just 39 passing attempts in his first three years here, and looked lousy during the 2008 preseason.
He finished with 3,623 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, and seemed to win the faith of hard-sell Randy Moss as the season went on . The Patriots finished 11-5, which in virtually every year would be good enough to make the playoffs. It wasn’t good enough that year. That wasn’t on Cassel, though it’s worth noting that the Patriots did lose five more games during that regular season than in the previous one. Because Cassel was surprisingly competent, it obscured how steep the dropoff from Brady really was.
But Cassel did have one brilliant season — two years after his relative emergence here. In 2010, his second year with the Chiefs, he threw for 3,116 yards, an adequate sum. The brilliance — relatively speaking — comes from his 27-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. It was actually 27-5 before he threw two picks in a season-ending loss to the Raiders.
What makes Cassel’s 2010 season stand out? This, the complete list of seasons in NFL history in which a quarterback has thrown at least 27 touchdown passes with no more than 7 interceptions:
I know — I can’t believe Vinny Testaverde is on there, either.
VIKINGS VIDEO NO. 1
Celebrating 25 years of Minnesota Vikings misery? Well, hell, I’m in, though I suspect the producer of this 12-minute-and-29-second masterwork was wearing a cheesehead when this was put together. The primary clue: Brett Favre’s dang-I’m-just-gonna-chuck-it across-his-body interception to end a 2010 playoff game with the Saints. It’s quintessential idiot gunslinger Favre, and it must have been cathartic for a Packers fan to see Favre gag in his trademarked way after joining their longtime rival.
VIKINGS VIDEO NO. 2
Man, I can’t get enough of late-’70s NFL footage, especially snowy outdoor games in long-since-demolished stadiums. And yes, that may well be the dorkiest sentence I’ve ever written, though there are plenty of contenders.
1) Fran Tarkenton was listed at 6 feet and 190 pounds during his playing career. He looks no bigger than 5-6, 145 here.
2). Think Michael Jordan has any idea Ahmad Rashad was an NFL receiver, let alone an excellent one in the late ’70s? There’s an equal chance he believes Willow Bay played in the NFL.
3) I believe that is Don Criqui calling Rashad’s go-ahead touchdown for the Vikings as a go-ahead touchdown for the Eagles. Patriots fans are not surprised by this.
PREDICTION, OR LOSING THEIR FIRST GAME DOESN’T MEAN THEY WON’T WIN THEIR FINAL GAME, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN:
Even in a season of justifiably grand expectations, it’s easy to have your confidence as a fan damaged by an early-season loss that you’d presumed would be a win. Suddenly, it makes you start reconsidering everything, and that leads to second thoughts about games that you’d casually checked off as certain wins when the schedule came out. This Vikings game is a classic example of that “we can’t go 0-2” paranoia. Minnesota has some electric talent on offense, and concerns about the Patriots’ line play are legit. But they’re not losing this one. They’re a damn good team. Sunday, they’ll show it a week later than we expected.
Patriots 34, Vikings 28:
Season record: 0-1.