Here’s what Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Dolphins means for the Patriots.
It’s OK to take a look at the big picture again. First time since the season started when that feels safe, I know. But take a look.
For starters, you can book a playoff spot. In ink, even. Unlike last year, no 11-5 team is going to be left out (if the playoffs started today, the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs would be the Chargers, and they already have three losses), and I think 11-5 is about the worst record the Pats will end up with. Take a look at the last eight games:
At New Orleans
That Carolina/Buffalo/Jacksonville stretch seems like a pretty safe bet for a sweep, right? That’s nine wins right there. I think they beat both the Jets and Miami, but if you want, I’ll go with a split. That’s 10 wins. So they’d need to find one win in the remaining three games (Indy, NO, Houston) to get to 11. Some tough games left, but 5-3 in the second half looks like a safe bet, particularly with that trio of mediocrity waiting toward the end. The truth is, I think even the right 10-6 would be enough for the Pats. Why?
Well, even if they go to Indy and lose by 500 next Sunday, a win over the Jets in two weeks would lock up the AFC East for the Pats. And I’ve seen NOTHING over the past month that would lead me to believe that anything other than “Patriots 31, Jets 10” is going to happen. That would give the Jets (with a probable home win next week vs. Jacksonville) five losses with games left at Indy and home vs. Atlanta and Cincinnati. At best, they probably finish at 9-7.
And Miami, while clearly better than a 3-5 team, is a 3-5 team … with Chad Henne at quarterback. I’d like to make a case for the Dolphins as a playoff contender, but they are going to lose at least two more games.
(Still, I can’t shake the idea that Miami is one of the six best teams in the AFC. If they play the Bengals 10 times on a neutral field, don’t the Dolphins win six or seven of them? Of course, I still feel that way about the Ravens and they played so dead on Sunday that in the fourth quarter David Caruso put a sheet over their head, looked at the camera and said, “Looks like this bird forgot how to fly.”
CBS did a lousy job promoting this, so I just thought I’d let you know that there will be a CSI Crossover Trilogy this week. Also, Andre Agassi will cry on 60 Minutes and something called NCIS is the No. 1 show on television. Just trying to help, in the event that you might have used the bathroom 612 times during the game and missed every commercial and in-game promo.)
So the Pats, barring injury, are going to the playoffs. After the first two weeks I didn’t think I’d be able to make that declaration with even a shred of confidence before Veterans Day, but here we are.
After that loss to the Jets I sure didn’t think that the Colts game might — might — have No. 1 seed implications for both teams. There’s only maybe a 20-25 percent chance the Pats finish with the top seed even with a win next week (they would need both the Colts and Broncos to lose a few games and the Pats would have to finish 13-3 at worst), but you can at least kick the idea around now.
It’s not impossible. And that’s a long way from needing gifts from Leodis McKelvin and wondering if Rex Ryan was Vince Lombardi with a D-cup. Goodbye to those days.
And welcome back to the big picture.
Four questions to ponder while being impressed with Joey Porter’s ability to match his tackle total to his amount of words said to the media after the game. That had to have been planned ...
Is Randy Moss a legitimate MVP candidate?
Nah. They never give the MVP to a receiver. (I mean literally never. Since the AP started giving out the award in 1957, not one WR has won the MVP. Seems impossible to me that in the last 52 years there hasn’t been a single season when a wideout was the Most Valuable Player in the league. Jerry Rice? I mean, a freaking kicker won MVP in 1982.) But I can’t imagine there have been five players in the league more valuable to their teams than Moss has been to the Pats in 2009.
OK, so he’ll never be the Randy Moss of 2007 again. I’ll buy that, if you mean that he’ll never catch 23 touchdown passes in a season. Because he’s on pace to catch 98 passes this season, or the exact same number of catches he had in 2007. Yards receiving? He had 1,493 in 2007, on pace for 1,424 in 2009. Sure, his pace of 10 TDs is way off when next to 2007, but let me ask you this: On Nov. 9, 2009, is there a single WR in the league you would trade straight up for Randy Moss for the rest of the season?
Oh, and we’re still waiting for a retraction, Mike Freeman.
Does the Wildcat matter?
Yes, because you’ll see it again in about a month when the Pats go down to Miami.
That all-Wildcat TD drive by Miami was Flashback City, without a doubt. Strange that the Wildcat has played almost no factor in the life of the Pats over the last 14 months except for the two home games against Miami. But the defense looked absolutely helpless on that drive.
But, again, let’s take a look at the big picture. Will the Colts run the Wildcat? How about the Steelers? The Broncos? The Chargers or the Bengals? Nope all around. The biggest out-of-conference game left is the Saints, and you won’t see it then, either (though if the Pats continue to have a spotty (at best) pass rush against the Colts and Saints, you’ll be begging for the Wildcat).
So I’d just look at the Wildcat as a “special guest star” for the rest of the season. It shouldn’t play a significant role in the destiny of the 2009 Patriots.
Does anyone really care about Joey Porter?
You bet. Dan Dierdorf does. I’m paraphrasing, but here’s what Dan had to say at the end of the game Sunday.
“You know, Joey likes to talk. He’s not afraid to talk, either. Watch Joey Porter talk here. You know what Joey Porter can do? Talk. You have to admire that. Watch it again.”
I didn’t catch the rest of what Dan had to say, because most of it was being blocked out by the sound of Greg Gumbel banging his head against the teleprompter.
What a day for Dierdorf, though. He set the record for “That’s what she said” setups, highlighted by this beauty after Moss’ catch at the Miami 1-yard line late in the first quarter.
“The two of them are taking turns going to work on each other.”
I’m 99 percent sure he was talking about Moss and Vontae Davis, but the other 1 percent thinks he might’ve had one eye on a “Best of Savannah Samson” DVD. Either way, just a solid B-plus day of work for Dierdorf.
You know who else cares about Porter? Newspaper writers, online columnists, ESPN shows, the NFL Network, chat room lurkers and, yes, sports talk radio show hosts. Guys like Porter get them from Monday to Friday. No small feat, that. But what he actually says? Meaningless, of course.
Porter is proof that you can be a great athlete and an absolute dope at the same time (not that this is the first time we’ve been reminded of that). Here’s hoping that over the next couple of days Sebastian Vollmer (who dominated Porter) gets one-tenth of the coverage Porter got last week. Anyone think that’s going to happen?
He who shall not be named looked pretty good again, huh?
He sure did, but I promised a mailbag reader a few weeks ago not to mention him in any post-game column for the next six weeks. If I was going to call him out I’d probably say that, for the first time in a few years, it looked to me that the Patriots offense featured a legit No. 1 back. I’d probably also say that it could change, of course, but that you had to be impressed with the effort submitted by He Who Shall Not be Named.
It definitely was not a running back by committee on Sunday. Twenty carries for HWSNBN, just three for the rest of the crew. And this was not the Bucs or the Titans, either. The Dolphins are sixth against the run this season, and HWSNBN spent a great majority of the game running over them. This, not Brady, or Moss, or Joey Porter, or the Wildcat, or revenge, was the story of the game for me.
But I’ll keep that to myself.