December 1st, 2011
Putting win in perspective makes Saints great
It's OK to crack a smile Sale Alpinestars Motorcycle Jackets - Cheap Alpinestars Jackets Store, Sean Payton. Your team is pretty good.
Although you wouldn't know it, looking at the scowl on Payton's face with under three minutes remaining as he chewed out an official for what he thought was a questionable holding call, Payton's Saints had just turned in what was a few special-teams yips away from a perfect performance.
Forget a perfect season for now. The Saints just flew about as close to the sun as you can get in one of the biggest games ever at the Superdome.
Of course, Drew Brees also would scoff at that. Like coach, like quarterback. When asked after the game by ESPN sideline reporter Suzy Kolber about delivering a perfect game Absence of Patriots' Wright puts onus on Wilfork_292, Brees gave the company line: "It was far from perfect, trust me."
Fine. Then how about this: The Saints are marvelously and wonderfully flawed.
They could do no wrong Monday night, quashing the sentiment that the game meant more to the three-loss Patriots than it did to the Saints, who probably will cruise to a division title.
Want to revisit that thought? Not that New England didn't want to win. It was that the Saints felt they had to win to be taken seriously.
And you have to like that about them. They want to be good. They want to be the "overdogs."
In an NFL that is oversaturated with players and teams who prefer to be disrespected atriots positional anal, the Saints want the glory. They want what the Patriots have had.
Before the Colts won a Super Bowl, they had to act like a team that belonged. They could have played the poor-me card all day and night after annual beatings from the Patriots, but they flipped it on its head, beat the Patriots in the AFC title game and slayed the dragon in the process.
The Saints know this is just one step of the way, but a big one. A lesser team would trumpet this as its regular-season Super Bowl. But Payton and Brees have cast their unsatisfied shadow all over this roster. This team appears to know better than to get too moved by a regular-season win against a non-conference opponent it probably won't see again this season.
"We're glad we won, we're excited," an even-keeled Payton said afterward.
Brees and the offense clearly were humming. Take Marques Colston away, as the Patriots did early, and the Saints will throw it to the open guy. There's one or more on just about every play. The 75-yard touchdown to Devery Henderson was more shocking from the Patriots' defensive perspective, but every opponent knows that this team can sting you in a variety of ways from just about anywhere on the field with just about any formation.
"We had a few busted coverages, guys cutting loose," Belichick acknowledged.
And unless you're perfect defensively, you're not going to stop this team very much. From Brees to this six-deep group of receivers to the terrific offensive line and the stable of backs, there's depth and skill everywhere offensively.
But neglecting to mention what this team did defensively Monday night Alpinestars A-10 Air Flo Pants, as it has done much of the season, would be criminal.
This was the best defensive performance of the season by the Saints. Period. Forget the raw numbers. Turning Tom Brady and Co. into a scatterbrained unit was tremendous. And it might be the game that gets Gregg Williams another head-coaching opportunity.
Williams was asked to stop Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker without his top three cornerbacks, three very good defenders. Chris McAlister and Mike McKenzie have been on the roster a few weeks combined, and rookie Malcolm Jenkins only about seven months more. And yet Williams didn't get away from what he does well: mixing coverages with blitzes, playing man defense and trying to be physical at the point of attack.
You can't back down from a team like the Patriots, hoping not to get beat deep. And so Williams took McAlister and McKenzie, two man corners, and asked them to play teeth-gritting man coverage. On many plays the Saints dropped eight into coverage, so they knew they had help over the top if they missed a tackle or jumped a route. On others, the pressure threw off the timing of Brady and his receivers. It was a brilliant game plan.
And how else do you help a battered secondary? Keep the pedal to the metal offensively. I thought Payton should have gone for it on fourth down to send an early message to the Patriots on the first drive of the game. But he stayed in control and kicked the field goal. Only later would he show his patented aggressiveness, once he knew there was blood in the water against the Patriots' outmanned defense.
"I don't know how else to say it. They were better than us in every phase of the game," a very complimentary Belichick said. "They were clearly the better team tonight." The fact that he went out of his way to find Brees at midfield after the game and congratulate him speaks to just how much the coach thought of this Saints team, I think.
There will be talk of NFL scoring marks and an undefeated season over the next five weeks, and both are certainly possible. The Redskins, hard as they are playing lately, are 3-8. The two remaining road games are against the Falcons and Panthers, both of whom could be without their starting quarterbacks because of injury. That leaves a good but unpredictable Cowboys team at the Dome on a Saturday night (think the crowd will be jacked for that one?) along with the 1-10 Buccaneers.
But all that is ancillary. Payton and Brees, who are not going to demand anything less than perfection (even if it's unattainable in their eyes), only care about the looming playoffs. If it means losing a game in the regular season to achieve the ultimate goal — Saints fans, tickled as they are, appear scared to even say the words "Super" and "Bowl" in the same sentence just yet — then so be it.
And though part of Payton would like to look around a little and smile at what's going on in this gilded season, you know he won't do it yet. It's part of what it takes to be the best.
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Vikings-Patriots matchup of the day: Friday
Here's a look at a key matchup heading into Sunday's Vikings-Patriots game in Foxborough:
Vikings nickel offense vs. Patriots' third-down defense
Any matchup for this game must include the caveat that Brett Favre is injured, but this was written under the auspice that Favre plays. Why? He always plays.
The Vikings have had their share of ills offensively, this season, but they are getting better on third downs. After Sunday's 6-for-14 conversion rate on third downs, they now are converting 40.5 percent on the season, just over the league average of 38.4. And despite Favre's troubles this season, there is enough firepower on offense to make big plays after the catch.
Look for Percy Harvin to be a key figure in this matchup. Opposing slot receivers have led the team in receiving in the Patriots' past four games, and Harvin has been coming on. He has been used in a variety of ways — split wide, in motion, out of the backfield — but the slot is likely where he'll see a high number of plays.
Who the Patriots pick to defend him is anyone's guess. They have used a three-safety alignment at times in their nickel defense, though that remains to be seen for this weekend with Patrick Chung and Jarrad Page battling injuries. Jonathan Wilhite has been used as a slot corner utting win in perspecti, but he hasn't been heard from much recently. Kyle Arrington has vaulted up the depth chart, but he mainly plays outside, as does Darius Butler, who has been pushed down the chain and almost out of the picture of late. The Patriots have been a zone-heavy team Alpinestars A-10 Air Flo Pants, which would make a lot of sense against Harvin and Randy Moss.
But there's always the Favre factor or — if he plays — the Tarvaris Jackson factor. Favre has struggled badly against the blitz this season (50 percent completions, two TDs, five INTs) Scout's Notebook- Patriots ORT Sebastian Vollmer_327, and Jackson has struggled badly against additional pressure in the past. The Patriots could opt to blitz a defensive back from their nickel package on third downs as a way to jump start what is the worst unit statistically (48.8 conversion percentage allowed on third downs) in the NFL.
Patriots positional analysis: Tight ends
This is the fourth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Patriots' personnel entering the 2011 offseason. Today, we analyze New England's tight end position.
Overview: After five seasons of solid contributions from TE Ben Watson Alpinestars A-10 Air Flo Pants Patriots release TE Chris Baker_813, the team decided to part ways with him and revamp the position, making it a bigger focal point in the offense. The Pats drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and signed veteran Alge Crumpler, putting together one of the best tight end units in the league. The three combined for 1,161 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns.
The triumvirate provided quite the combination. Crumpler was the best run blocker Sale Alpinestars Motorcycle Jackets - Cheap Alpinestars Jackets Store, Hernandez was great in between the 20s and Gronkowski was a stellar red-zone threat.
Here's a breakdown of each of the tight ends on the roster:
Alge Crumpler: The veteran spent several of his nine previous seasons as a pass-catching tight end, having three seasons with more than 770 receiving yards in Atlanta. But with the athletic rookies on the roster, Crumpler happily took up the role as a blocker, being the team's de facto fullback and captain. He was considered a big reason for the Patriots' success in the ground game. Crumpler finished with two touchdown catches along with career-lows in receptions and yards.
Rob Gronkowski: "Gronk" got off to a slow start Brady sets record; Patriots clinch No. 1 seed_316, appearing to be solely a red-zone threat. But a big game at Pittsburgh in Week 10 when he had 5-72-3 receiving in a 39-26 victory helped Gronkowski see more targets on offense. He also is a better run blocker than Hernandez, as he saw some of the most snaps on the offensive side of the ball. He finished the season with 42-546-10 receiving. His 10 scores were second among rookies.
Aaron Hernandez: The athletic Hernandez, who often played out of the slot, saw his numbers go in an opposite direction as Gronkowski. Early on, Hernandez looked like he could make a run at being the first tight end ever to win NFL Rookie of the Year honors. But an injured hip slowed Hernandez at the end of the season. He still finished with 45-563-6 receiving, setting the franchise record for receptions by a rookie tight end.
Bottom line: Aside from quarterback, tight end is the Patriots' most solid positional group and the one that will see the least amount of change this offseason. After adding three new faces last summer with great results, the Patriots likely won't sign another tight end. The two rookies have a year under their belt in the offense and added a new dynamic to Tom Brady and the Pats' attack. Expect them to be just as productive in 2011.
Report: Patriots name captains
The Patriots named their captains and there are two surprising names on the list.
According to PFW correspondent and Boston Herald writer Ian Rapoport Alpinestars A-10 Air Flo Pants Patriots-Chargers matchup of the day- Wednesday_10, the following Patriots players will be the team's captains in 2011: QB Tom Brady, OLG Logan Mankins Sale Alpinestars Motorcycle Jackets - Cheap Alpinestars Jackets Store, ILB Jerod Mayo, DT Vince Wilfork, CB Devin McCourty and WR Matthew Slater.
The way we see it
Brady Five questions with Patriots correspondent Ian Rapoport_624, Mankins, Mayo and Wilfork are the obvious ones, as those are arguably the four best players on the team. It says a lot about how the team feels about McCourty, in just his second season, to honor him with the captain title. McCourty had a great rookie season, hauling in seven interceptions. Slater is the special-teams captain and also a bit of a surprise, but we know how much the team values his contributions on special teams, considering the Pats kept Slater in a logjam of wide receivers and cut Brandon Tate.
Browns starting quarterback still unknown
The Browns still haven't determined who will be their starting quarterback in Week Nine vs. the Patriots, as veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are each recovering from high ankle sprains.
Neither QB will practice on Monday Sale Alpinestars Motorcycle Jackets - Cheap Alpinestars Jackets Store, as rookie Colt McCoy will continue to take the snaps with the first-string offense. Head coach Eric Mangini said the decision on who will start will come later in the week, and it will depend on which player gives Cleveland the best chance to win.
McCoy started the team's last two games, throwing for 355 yards Alpinestars A-10 Air Flo Pants Polian discusses approach to Manning negotiations_777, with one TD and two interceptions, as the Browns lost to the Steelers and defeated the Saints, both on the road.
The way we see it
The bye week came at the right time for the Browns Cheap Alpinestars Octane S-Moto Gloves-Blue Sale - A5051, as the rest hopefully allowed Delhomme and Wallace to recover. Until they practice, however, McCoy still is the likely candidate to start vs. New England.