Worried about life after Richard Seymour?
Consider one of the signature battles in New England football lore. Consider the Colts-Patriots playoff game at snowy Gillette Stadium on a frigid night in January 2005.
The Patriots were 14-2 that season, and hosting a 12-4 Colts club that had wowed NFL onlookers by scoring 522 points – among the most in the history of the game. The Indy offense was downright spectacular in their wildcard win over the Broncos the week before, treating the Denver offense much the way Shawne Merriman treats quarterbacks or reality TV starlets.
Indy battered Denver, 49-24, and looked unstoppable behind an almost statistically flawless performance from league MVP Peyton Manning (27 of 33, 458 yards, 4 TDs).
The chilly game against New England unfolded a bit differently.
In one of the great defensive stands literally in the entire history of NFL playoffs, the Patriots humiliated Manning and the league’s best offense, grinding out a brutal 20-3 victory over a team that looked nothing short of unstoppable a week before.
There are three factors that cause this game to leap off the pages of pro football history:
- It’s the last time the Colts were held out of the end zone.
- It was the first time since the Browns blanked Johnny Unitas and the seemingly unstoppable Colts, 27-0, in the 1964 NFL championship game that an offense that averaged more than 30 PPG in the regular season was held out of the end zone in the postseason.
- Richard Seymour, New England’s star all-purpose defensive lineman, missed the entire game with a knee injury.
In other words, the Patriots unleashed their best defensive effort of the decade – perhaps the best postseason defensive effort by any team in several decades – without their best player.
Seymour’s absence that day is significant as we try to weigh the importance of his departure. The Patriots, of course, sent Seymour to Oakland this week in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2011 draft.
(The fact that the Raiders shipped off a critical first-round pick in exchange for a guy with just a year left on his contract is another sign that Al Davis is asleep at the wheel … but that’s a story for another day.)
In most organizations, the sudden loss of their signature defender would set off bells, whistles and the occasional pesky hotel fire sprinkler. In the case of the Patriots, the team and the fan base have been down this path before (Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Mike Vrabel, etc.).
And beyond the anecdotal evidence of the 2004-05 playoff game against the Colts, we have plenty of statistical ways with which to measure Seymour’s impact on the Patriots. In fact, his injuries over the years give us two clean but uneven sets of data to compare:
- New England’s performances with Seymour on the sidelines.
- New England’s performances with Seymour on the field.
The results are a mixed bag. There have been times, the 2005 season most notably, in which the Patriots suffered noticeably both on defense and as a team with Seymour on the sidelines. Other times, the New England victory machine just kept chugging along without him – the 2004 playoffs perhaps the most notable example.
Let’s go through each year of his career:
Seymour played the entire season except for the season finale against the Bills.
The Seymour-less Patriots beat Buffalo that day, 13-0. It was New England’s only shutout of the season.
Otherwise, the 2008 Patriots fielded one of the worst defenses of the Belichick Era (309 points allowed). Even the shutout was imperfect: unheralded Bills back Fred Jackson ripped off 136 yards rushing.
Conclusion: Incomplete evidence. Sure, a bad Patriots defense produced its best game against the Bills without Seymour. But it was the season finale against a team with a lousy offense that had packed it in for the year.
Seymour missed the entire first half of the season before finally starting in Week 9 against the Colts.
- The Patriots surrendered 15.9 PPG with Seymour on the sidelines.
- The Patriots surrendered 17.8 PPG (including playoffs) with Seymour on the field.
- The Patriots went 8-0 with Seymour on the sidelines.
- The Patriots went 10-1 (including playoffs) with Seymour on the field.
Conclusion: New England was largely the same team with or without Seymour. If anything, the team and the defense were slightly better when Seymour was on the sidelines.
Seymour played the entire season. The Patriots ranked second in the NFL, surrendering just 14.8 PPG. However, they suffered a colossal defensive collapse in the AFC title game, a 38-34 defeat at Indy.
Conclusion: The Patriots fielded a decent but flawed defense with Seymour in the line-up.
Seymour, a fifth year player in the prime of his career, missed four games in the middle of the season.
- The Patriots surrendered 28.0 PPG with Seymour on the sidelines.
- The Patriots surrendered 18.3 PPG with Seymour on the field.
- The Patriots went 2-2 with Seymour on the sidelines.
- The Patriots went 9-5 (including playoffs) with Seymour in the lineup.
Conclusion: The Patriots were definitively better when No. 93 suited up to play.
Seymour missed the regular-season finale against San Francisco and playoff games against the Colts and Steelers for the last Patriots team to win a Super Bowl.
- The Patriots surrendered 12.3 PPG with Seymour on the sidelines.
- The Patriots surrendered 17.1 PPG with Seymour on the field.
- The Patriots went 3-0 with Seymour on the sidelines.
- The Patriots went 14-2 (including playoffs) with Seymour in the lineup.
Conclusion: The Patriots barely missed a beat with Seymour on the sidelines. In fact, they were a better team when Seymour did not play.
Seymour was probably the best player on a team that fielded the best defense in franchise history. This unit pitched three shutouts, surrendered just 14.9 PPG and held opponents to a dismal 56.2 defensive passer rating.
Seymour was a big reason for the success. He produced what might have been the best season of his career, highlighted by eight sacks and first-team All Pro honors.
But Seymour did miss one game that year, and the team persevered in the face of his absence.
In an epic Week 9 Monday Night Football battle at Denver, the Patriots eked out a 30-26 victory (the Broncos scored 1 TD on special teams). It was a game best remembered for the intentional safety taken by New England’s punt team in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos finished that year, as they often have, with one of the best ground games in football. In fact, the 2003 Broncos cranked out 2,629 yards, 4.8 YPA and 20 TDs on the ground, each mark among the best in football. But the Seymour-less Patriots defense performed quite well that evening, holding the vaunted Denver ground game to 114 yards and 1 TD on 29 attempts (3.9 YPA).
Conclusion: It’s no coincidence that the Patriots fielded the best defense in franchise history with Seymour in the line-up. But the unit still played winning football with Seymour unexpectedly on the sidelines.
Seymour played the entire season. But the Patriots defense struggled throughout the year. They surrendered 346 points, the most of the Belichick Era, and their inability to stop teams on the ground (4.7 YPA, 29th) was largely responsible for the team’s 9-7 record and failure to reach the playoffs.
Conclusion: The Patriots defense defied the laws of physics by both sucking and blowing at the same time, even with Seymour in the line-up.
The rookie was drafted in the first round despite the protestations of Boston Globe reporter Ron Borges, who would have taken the great Koren Robinson instead.
Seymour played in 16 of 19 games for the Super Bowl champions that year, missing only the first game of the year (a loss to Cincinnati) and a pair of October games (win at Indy, loss at Denver). Along the way, he emerged as one of the bright young stars in the game for a defense that seemed to improve each week, right up until a shocking 20-17 upset win over the Greatest Show on Turf Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
- The Patriots surrendered 23.7 PPG with Seymour on the sidelines.
- The Patriots surrendered 15.5 PPG (including playoffs) with Seymour on the field.
- The Patriots went 1-2 with Seymour on the sidelines.
- The Patriots went 13-3 (including playoffs) with Seymour in the lineup.
Conclusion: The 2001 numbers speak pretty loudly: the Patriots were a better team that year with the rookie defensive lineman on the field.
The bottom line on Seymour: It’s no coincidence that the Patriots produced some of the best defenses in franchise history after Seymour joined the club.
Conversely, there were plenty of times through the years when the Patriots defense struggled with Seymour in the line-up, and other times when the defense performed almost flawlessly with Seymour on the sidelines.
What we learn, then, is that one player, even a five-time Pro Bowler like Seymour, does not make or break a team.
Given this knowledge, the Patriots took advantage of an opportunity that was too good to be true: they unloaded a high-priced player right before a contract year in exchange for an invaluable first-round draft pick. That’s not a bad deal in any book.
THE TERRELL OWENS EXPERIENCE
Terrell Owens has been extraordinarily quiet by his standards since signing with the Bills back in March.
I don’t like it. A quiet, humble Owens could be deadly. But whether he plays the role of good teammate, as he typically does the first year in a new town, or resident NFL bad boy, which seems to be a more constant persona, there’s no doubt that Owens is one of the great impact offensive weapons in the history of the game.
Consider this resume:
Owens spent his first eight years in San Francisco. He’s second only to Jerry Rice in every major receiving record in franchise history with 592 catches for 8,572 yards and 81 TDs. (Rice, you might remember, spent 16 years with San Francisco.)
Owens arrived in Philly in 2004. He immediately set a franchise record with 14 TD catches, while the Eagles went 13-3 – setting a franchise record for victories in one season. They might have gone 15-1 had they not rested most of their top players in the final two weeks.
Owens hauled in 13 TD receptions in 2006, his first year with the Cowboys, and then set a team record the following season with 15 TD catches. Those 2007 Cowboys also matched a franchise-best with 13 victories. That’s no small feat for a club that boasts so much success and that’s universally recognized as America’s Team.
In fact, Owens caught an amazing 38 TDs in his three years with Dallas. To put that number into perspective, consider that “playmaker” Michael Irvin peaked at 23 TD catches in his three best seasons, and never caught more than 10 TDs in a single year.
Owens, to put it bluntly, was and is a better receiver than Irvin.
Tony Romo was the greatest beneficiary of Owens’s game-changing talent in Dallas. Right now, Romo boasts a career passer rating of 94.7 – tied with Peyton Manning for the second-best mark in the history of the game. That’s not a misprint.
(Romo, however, falls short of the minimum 1,500 attempts required to qualify for official NFL records. He should reach that mark by midseason.)
Romo has also averaged 8.08 yards per pass attempt in his career – the best mark in the last half-century of pro football. Again, this is not a misprint.
The bottom line is that Owens has made a major impact everywhere he’s gone. In fact, he’s made a series of impacts unmatched by any receiver in the history of the game.
That’s good news for the Bills – who have ranked in the top 10 in NFL scoring just once over the past 10 years – and for young quarterback Trent Edwards (or whoever else might take snaps for the team this year).
It’s bad news for the rest of the AFC East – at least for one year, before Owens shoots his way out of yet another town.
TAILGATE BUFFALO STYLE
Most WEEI.com and Cold, Hard Football Facts.com readers probably know that, in my other life, I’m a staff writer for The Boston Herald covering the food and beer scene here in Boston and wherever my travels take me (Munich in two weeks – Oktoberfest!).
So I love tailgating – a combination of my three passions: beer, food & football. With the Patriots opening against the Bills Monday, I thought I’d share one of my all-time favorite tailgate dishes: beef on weck, a true Buffalo specialty. This is spectacular stuff. The recipe’s below.
Basically, beef on weck is a sandwich of very rare and tender roast beef cut thin and piled high on what they call a kummelweck bun in Buffalo – that’s a Kaiser roll with caraway seeds and chunks of coarse salt baked in the top. You coat the meat with tasty au jus and add plenty of horseradish and you got some good eatin’.
Beef on weck is found all over Buffalo. But I got my version from Chris Schlesinger, one of Boston’s most acclaimed chefs, the author of manly cookbooks such as “How to Cook Meat” and the owner of the landmark East Coast Grill & Raw Bar in Cambridge.
I’ve made his beef on weck a bunch of times, and it’s never failed to win over a crowd of hungry football fans
Chris Schlesinger’s Beef on Weck
5 lb. rump roast
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
2 Tablespoons fresh cracked black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 piece of celery, finely chopped
2 cups beef stock
1 cup extra hot horseradish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rub meat with garlic, salt and black pepper. Place chopped vegetables in a roasting pan. Place meat on rack in pan. Roast until internal temperature reaches 122 degrees, about 1 hour. (Traditionally served very rare, but cook longer if you like.) Set meat aside. Deglaze pan with beef stock, remove grease and fat that floats to the top (or don’t … I don’t bother), and then simmer stock on stove top for 10 minutes. Strain out vegetables and reserve au jus. Slice beef thin, and then dip into it the au jus, and pile high on kummelweck buns. Slather with horseradish. Serves 8 to 12
Charlie the Butcher’s Kummelweck Buns
¼ c. coarse salt
¼ c. whole caraway seeds
¾ t. cornstarch
2 T. warm water
¼ c. boiling water
12 Kaiser rolls
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the salt and caraway seeds in a small bowl. Dissolve cornstarch in warm water. Put cornstarch mixture a small saucepan, then stir in the boiling water. Return the mixture to a boil and cook, stirring over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until it is thick enough to coat a spoon. Remove from the heat and let cool. Place rolls in a baking sheet. Brush the top of each roll with cornstarch mixture, and then sprinkle rolls with salt and caraway seeds. Bake for 4-5 minutes or until the tops of the rolls are dry. Makes 12 buns. (Recipe is at it appears in “Roadfood Sandwiches” by Jane and Michael Stern, Houghton Mifflin, 2007)