Mailbag time, and even after admitting that I'm a moron and done trying to figure out the Patriots after watching them put on a nationally televised clinic in Pittsburgh in a 39-26 win (a game I was absolutely convinced they would lose by a couple of touchdowns) some folks still won't let up on me.
But that's OK, I guess, and really that's why this little piece of real estate is here. So we take on the doubters this week, as well as praise Pat Chung (and slam the now-hideously overrated Troy Polamalu), figure out if this was Tom Brady's best game since 2007, distinguish what it is that separates me from Bill Simmons, tie in Matthew McConaughey and Janet Prensky and rank where exactly Rosie Perez fits on a certain natural chart.
So to the 'bag we go (and as always, send along any and all to firstname.lastname@example.org or @kirkmin on Twitter) ...
Would you change the O-lines grade given that the Steelers were missing two starting DEs in Keisel and Smith? Seems like in that situation it would be easier to put an extra guy on Harrison, Farrior or whatever other blitzers they wanted to bring.
They still played great, don't get me wrong. I just think the Pats were facing a gimped version of the vaunted Steeler pass rush.
A: No doubt that the Steelers were (and are) banged up, Rufus, and if the Pats O-Line was merely good on Sunday I would have probably factored that into the grade. But you tell me: First team to go over 100 yards vs. the Steelers this season, nearly double the yards per rush allowed by Pittsburgh in 2010 and almost zero pressure on Brady, allowing him to throw for 350 yards. What grade should I give 'em? And it's not like James Harrison and Farrior and Polamalu weren't on the field, I mean this is still a very good defense that was dominated by the New England O-Line on Sunday night.
Good call on Polamalu being outplayed by Chung. The only play Polamalu made was that cheap shot on Brady after his touchdown run. He's the most overrated player in the NFL by far. As far as Chung goes, I just hope he can stay healthy. They need him.
A: Dramatically outplayed, Ryan. Chung looked like Polamalu from about 2005, just flying all over the field. A total game-changer against the run and blasting guys after the catch (witness his hit -- totally clean, too -- against Mike Wallace at the end of the first quarter). I have to admit I did not come close to properly factoring in the absence of Chung when trying to figure out why the Pats defense tossed up such a stinker against the Browns. When he's at his best this is just a different defense.
Polamalu has now entered the "Bruce Armstrong/Brian Urlacher" phase of his career, where his level of play has markedly dropped but he'll still make Pro Bowls and have announcers wet themselves whenever he makes a play simply based on reputation. But it's OK -- as long as he doesn't cut his hair he'll still be able to show up in lousy commercials. Plus there's always a defenseless QB out there with a knee that's worth trying to rip up. I get that he was a great player for five, six years, but he's just not one of my favorites.
They surprised us all in a positive way last night [Sunday], as opposed to last week's debacle. Now the only issue with this team is can they be consistent on both sides of the ball week in and week out? With a lot of young players starting, that's going to be the test.
So Cal Chris
A: Be ready for more highs and lows, Chris. I just think that's going to be life with this team the rest of the way. Too many first and second-year guys playing key roles to expect anything else. But I'll say this: I did not think the 2010 Patriots could win a Super Bowl before the Steelers game. Now I think they can. Not that they are necessarily the favorites, but to handle a team like that on the road at least showed me that it's possible. Easily the best win of the season. San Diego was helped greatly by the Chargers mind-melt, and Miami was plenty fluky with the special teams madness. But what you saw on Sunday night was a beatdown of a team with legit Super Bowl hopes. The team that did nothing against the Jets in the second half and got run over by Peyton Hillis? I'm sure we'll see them again at some point. But I think we know now that -- at their peak -- this is a team in the Super Bowl mix. Did anyone really think that at any time last year?
I hate it when people compare you to Bill Simmons, but you are going to extremes. Best performance for Brady since 2007? How many times have you written that? Ric Bucher exposed Simmons on a podcast after he said Glen Davis was the worst power forward, worst trade not involving Isiah etc, finishing up with this is the best podcast ever.
A: I'm frankly getting tired of the Simmons comparisons myself. But when you've got two titans of the sports media with a similar style it's kind of inevitable. Look, all that separates me and Simmons is about 1.2 million Twitter followers, a million or so podcast subscribers and two best-selling books. But I ask Bill Simmons this: Did he get a $50 gift certificate from Medieval Manor for appearing on the "Planet Mikey" show last week? Checkmate, my friend.
Is it really so crazy to suggest that was the best post-Bernard Pollard performance by Brady on Sunday night? I guess you could go with his six-TD game in the snow vs. the Titans last year, but that was at home against a team that was 0-6 at the time and finished the year as the 28th-ranked defense in the NFL. I see no other serious candidates. This was 350 yards with a 69 percent completion percentage, three TDs and nothing close to a pick on the road against a top-five defense in a must-win spot. Sure, he had plenty of time of make plays, but Brady was brilliant vs. the Steelers. Just gutted that defense from beginning to end.
Re: Minihane knows nothing column
Some us had figured this out about you quite awhile ago.
A: What gave it away, I wonder? I didn't know any of you half-wits in 1998, when I mocked the Colts for passing on Ryan Leaf. And WEEI.com was just a dream of hackers with hopes of downloading Janet Prensky pictures when I called Kevin Morton "Steve Carlton with a better fastball" in 1991. As far as I can tell those were my only misses until Sunday's Pats-Steelers game. Oh, and I though Matthew McConaughey was perfect casting when I learned he snagged the lead role in "Amistad." Come on, a crusading Yale-educated lawyer living in the mid-19th century? That's basically Wooderson with mutton chops. Still don't know how it didn't work.
Don't be so hard on yourself. Its not a science and there are tons of contingencies. and I suppose you get credit for making forceful conclusions, even if they've been, well, inaccurate for a little while. Your main responsibility is to inform yourself to the point where you can make the best possible prognostics, but there's still guess work. It wasn't difficult to think the Steelers were going to either win or that the game would be a lot closer. Many of the things you worried about were real concerns, but the fact of the matter is that the play calling was awesome and the execution of those plays was much much sharper than almost every game this season. (BJGE wouldn't have had such a great game without the sweet play-calling; Wes Welker ran some different routes, Tate got involved). Nice shout out to the O line.
Also, Kramer was truly and exceptionally bad last night. Just awful - saying hilarious, mixed up things. Anyone else think Collinsworth is drunk for most games?
A: I'm OK with being a moron, really. Not a problem at all. It's the coat I wear. The point of that column was just to get across the idea that I will never dismiss the Pas chances heading into a game -- at least not as long as Brady and Belichick are kicking around. Probably I should have figured that out by now.
I'm actually a Collinsworth fan -- one of the very few national guys who sounds like he has actually watched every game of both teams. Yeah, his voice is grating and he gives off a know-it-all vibe, but I can live with it. I've watched the halftime report from Andrea Kramer on Sunday night four or five times and I still have no idea what she was talking about. It was as if she skipped every other third word on the teleprompter. Again, in the age of Twitter is there even a need for a sideline reporter?
Good report card however you only mentioned Gronkowski as an fortuitous target for TB. I thought that his 1st TD was an outstanding catch in traffic and that overall between his receiving and blocking, he had a terrific game.
A: Good point on the blocking, both Gronkowksi and Crumpler (who seems to spring a back or save Brady with a key block at least once a game) were huge on the line. And you're also right -- Brady got the credit for that first TD pass (deserved, a bullet that arrived in the only place that Gronkowski could have made the catch) but it by no means an easy snag. And I still think this Aaron Hernandez situation bears watching. Do I think he's going to be a year-in, year-out Pro Bowl tight end? Probably. But this is three weeks in a row that Brady has gone off on him for either running an incorrect route or not going 100 percent after a ball. You can write it off to a 21-year-old kid being tossed into The Show, I guess, but I wonder if there is more there.
Good column. PS- Rosie Perez's rack doesn't quite make up for her grill, in my opinion.
A: Yep, ranking Rosie Perez's rack in the top 15 of all-time resulted in more emails than anything Patriots related I've written all season. Which only cements my thought that we should just drop the pretense and switch the name of the website to rumorsnboobs.com.
But I'm standing by Rosie. Watch White Men Can't Jump (both career and rack peak -- a rare double hit) and disagree with me. Is she closer to No. 15 than to No. 1? Wait, are you daring me to rank the top 15?
The problem, of course, is the explosion of fake breasts over the last decade (not literally -- you know what I mean). You can't compare Pam Anderson to, say, Catherine Bach. It's like trying to figure out what to do with the steroid guys when ranking home-run hitters. So you know what? I'm leaving them out. Anyone who has come on the scene since 2000 -- or has had obvious enhancement work done (watch "About Last Night" and "Disclosure" if you really need a before and after example) is eliminated from the discussion. Only all natural (or as best as I can guess) makes the cut -- see, this is actually a very PC ranking.
15. Suzanne Somers (maybe not everyone's favorite, but the image of her rolling over after the water had been spilled on her back during the credits of "Three's Company" I think is the enduring image of my youth. Telling, when you consider both of parents died in my arms when I was nine. Kidding. Peak: "Three's Company, I'll go with Season 3)
14. Raquel Welch (Peak: "Fantastic Voyage")
13. Denise Richards (easiest peak call ever? Well, her and Brady Anderson, I guess. Peak: "Wild Things")
12. Loni Anderson (Peak as an actor: "Stroker Ace." No, seriously. Rack peak? I guess it has to be "WKRP," right?)
11. Salma Hayek (Peak: "Desperado")
10. Heather Graham (Only person on the list who I have ever spoken to. True story: I was at a bar in LA in 1999 and she came out of the bathroom with about a yard of toilet paper stuck to the back of her shoe. In a rare moment of courage (the closest I'll ever get to fighting in a war) I walked up to her and told her it was stuck to her foot. She looked at me, then at her friend, laughed and said, "You mean my shoe," before basically sprinting away in terror. In other words, she was playing extraordinarily hard to get. And Kirk Minihane doesn't get into playing games with the ladies, as I told the guy at White Castle two hours later before eating a sack of four cheeseburgers at a table by myself. Peak: "Boogie Nights")
9. Rosie Perez (Peak: "White Men Can't Jump)
8. Helen Mirren (Peak: "Caligula." Only five-decade rotation representative on the list, and probably on the planet. Sustained excellence since the mid 1970's -- she's the Neil Young of breasts.)
7. Pam Grier (Peak: The one where she was in a prison with a bunch of other women. Or in a gang. Or maybe it was a biker gang trying to get out of prison. Why don't we just say 1973 and move on?)
6. Jewel (Peak: The time she yelled at James Carville backstage at "The Tonight Show" for staring at her cleavage. Actually happened.)
5. Susan Sarandon (Peak: "The Hunger")
4. Kate Winslet (Only actress with a must-nude clause, she let it fly in everything from 1998-2005 or so. She actually had a tastefully done nude scene in my cousin's wedding video in 2003. Peak: "Holy Smoke")
3. Catherine Bell (a sleeper, but she belongs. I'm not afraid to make the gutsy calls. Peak: Her appearance on Howard Stern in 2002.)
2. Jennifer Love Hewitt (also No. 2 on my list of favorite musical performers of the last half-century. Her 1999 single "How Do I Deal" is a searing takedown of the Institutional Designs in Chinese politics. Peak: Not to get too Mr. Skin, but it has to be her on the treadmill in "Heartbreakers."
1. Jennifer Connelly (Her peak, "The Hot Spot," is Pedro in 2000, Bird in 1986. Easy choice for No. 1, I will not allow any argument.)
Is your Stu Fiener reference for your quest for a slightly above .500 record picking games? Nice job last week, by the way.
A: I know, a 5-9 week ends a three-week winning streak. Goodbye Camelot. My Dealey Plaza was a late Carson Palmer TD to backdoor Cincy in against the Colts. I'm half-expecting a picture of DJ Bean on board WEEI.com One being sworn in by Rob Bradford as the new picks guy with my wife standing next to them in shock.
Gotta get the Thursday game in -- I'll take Miami (PK) over the Bears.
Enjoy Manning/Brady. You never know if they'll both be this good again. Patriots 31, Colts 24.