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End of an Era for Patriots? Maybe Not, But NFL Is Changing

Sep 20, 2009 – 9:20 PM
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Dave Goldberg

Dave Goldberg %BloggerTitle%

Jets winThe New England Patriots slipped back into the pack Sunday.

Yes, the Pats are a good team. No, they are no longer a dominant one. Their 16-9 loss to the Jets is more indicative that their dominance has ended than last season, when they missed the playoffs.

That was a "good'' miss -- they were 11-5 and could attribute their "failure'' to Tom Brady's absence. Now their failures are the result of the inevitable aging of their defense and an offense that, with injuries, had to rely Sunday on 37-year-old Joey Galloway and Julian Edelman, a rookie who played quarterback in college, to supplement Randy Moss at receiver.

It was, in fact, a day of change in the NFL.


Tennessee, which started 10-0 last season, is now 0-2 after allowing 34 points at home to Houston. Only three teams that started 0-2 in the Super Bowl era have won the title, the last being the Giants of two years ago, who allowed 80 points in two early losses.

On the plus side, New Orleans is 2-0 and has scored 95 points in two games -- although the 48-22 win in Philadelphia was over a team with Kevin Kolb making his first start at quarterback, in place of Donovan McNabb, who sat with a rib injury.

San Francisco, a doormat since 2002, is 2-0 with wins over Arizona and Seattle, the two teams it will have to beat to win the NFC West -- although this version of the 49ers, which uses a grind-it-out offense with a pounding defense, has a long way to go to emulate the Joe Montana-Steve Young-Jerry Rice-Ronnie Lott teams that won five titles between 1981-94.

But the clearest indication of a changing of the guard was at the Meadowlands, where the Jets made all their pre-game mouthing-off stand up by holding New England without a touchdown. Chalk one up for Rex Ryan, who said when he was made the Jets' coach last winter that he hadn't come to kiss Bill Belichick's rings.

"We're not really flying on all cylinders now. To not get the ball in the end zone is unacceptable,'' Brady said.

"We didn't do a good enough job,'' deadpanned Belichick, who rarely says more than that.

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CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 20: Danieal Manning #38 and Nick Roach #53 of the Chicago Bears bring down Willie Parker #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 20, 2009 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Steelers 17-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Danieal Manning;Nick Roach;Willie Parker
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But it goes much deeper.

If Ryan had unleashed Mark Sanchez, who threw for just 15 yards in the first half, New York might well have scored more in their first win over the Patriots at the Meadowlands since Sept. 11, 2000. In hindsight, it was inevitable -- you can't take Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour off the defense and out of the locker room, especially when the new linchpin of the defense, Jerod Mayo, is out for a while with a knee injury.

Offense? Wes Welker rested a sore knee and was replaced by Edelman, a seventh-round pick who used to be Kent State's QB. He had a nice game -- six catches for 98 yards. But Moss, blanketed, was taken out of the game, and Galloway, the kind of pickup who has helped in the past, did little.

In fact, if Buffalo's Leodis McKelvin had stayed in the end zone with that late kickoff on Monday night, the Patriots would be 0-2. Instead he fumbled, allowing Brady to put up two touchdowns. The five minutes in which he did it are the only five minutes in two games when he has looked like the old Brady.

He will shake off the rust.

But he may not be surrounded by enough talent for that to make a difference.

CURIOUS COACHING

"Everyone was a little down in here," Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said after Washington barely eked out a 9-7 win over St. Louis, a 2-14 team in 2008 that they should have beaten easily at home. Instead, they could have lost if the Rams had enough offense to take advantage of a strange late decision by coach Jim Zorn.

With 3:47 left, Zorn eschewed a 37- or 38-yard field goal that would have given the Skins a 5-point lead to go for it on fourth-and-1. OK, that's understandable -- and Clinton Portis got the first down.

But doing it again at the St. Louis 2 with 1:40 left? That failed, leaving the Rams a minute-and-a-half to get into range for a game-winning field goal. Given St. Louis' offensive deficiencies, might it have been safer to not leave them within a field goal of winning? Yes, Zorn left them backed up instead of kicking off and giving them reasonable field position. But if they'd somehow gotten out of the hole and kicked a field goal, Zorn might have been looking for a job on Monday.

Better to leave them needing a touchdown.

Then there was San Diego's Norv Turner, whose team lost 33-28 to Baltimore.

Trailing 21-13 in the final seconds of the first half, the Chargers completed a pass to the Ravens' 1. After a roughing-the-passer penalty was enforced, they got the ball at the 1-inch-line and 19 seconds were put on the clock.

Then the game was delayed while replay officials checked to see if Vincent Jackson had gotten into the end zone on the play that got the ball down deep. He hadn't. The Chargers lined up, and 12 seconds later, were whistled for delay -- Philip Rivers or Turner or someone apparently didn't know that when there is a replay, the play clock stops where it had been, in this case at 12 seconds.

After two incomplete passes from the 6, there were 10 seconds left and it was third down. Rather than throw in the end zone, Turner elected to have Nate Kaeding kick a field goal. Ten seconds and a down left? That made it 21-16 and they ended up losing by five, a margin that could have been erased with a TD at the end of the half and a 2-point conversion somewhere down the line.

Curious.
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