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    February 10, 2009
2008 in a Nutshell...Thank You to the Patriots
By:  Stan Jaksina
PatsFans.com Fan Columnist

I had at first wished for the Steelers to lose and to have a new team on the block take away the Lombardi, but with Warner's comments about wondering about 'lie-gate' I really found it hard to cheer for them. If Warner, Faulk and other had not been out to midnight and then some the night before and had taken the Pats a bit more seriously, they might have won. Sour grape filled comments like that only made me not care about the Cards and only wish that the Steelers D shoved a football down his throat. It was a great game and I am glad the season is over.

With time having passed since that last game, I can finally have a clearer look at this past Patriot season. The emotions have subsided and dripped away into the past and with that a chance to take a look at the ups and downs of this team.

With only four teams left, only one had a better record than the Pats had. I do think this season was successful, even though they did not make it to the post season. It was a large disappointment that they did not, even with the winning of eleven games, but that has happened before. Historically, when one division squeaked by with a team that had the same number of wins and losses, the chances of a team with a top notch record not making the playoffs was great. Before, it was the Broncs that missed out and a year after, they went to the Super Bowl. I hope this is what will happen with this football team next year.

What was interesting was that this team's record was one game better than in 05, when the had two post season games and with another win could have had the same record as the 03 and 04 Super Bowl teams. That they came that close with the adversity the team faced made for an incredible story, but one that I believe has been totally lost in the post season.

But before one looks ahead, I think there's a lot to be happy about with what took place this year.

In the Steeler game, I saw the second half Patriot team similar to the Black Knight in Monty Python's 'Search for the Holy Grail' as they kept coming back and not giving up. I think with all the injuries they suffered, the black knight was a fitting symbol for this team for the entire year.

It all started in training camp, when offensive linemen were falling fast and in one session there was not even enough to field two lines and ended with Mike Wright coming off the field dazed in the fourth quarter of the windy game.in Buffalo. It was a season of many injuries. In the first preseason game, it was special teamer Sam Aiken who went down on the Patriot's first punt. It looked bad, but he was out only for about two months. Tank Williams, who looked like the perfect safety/linebacker hybrid, went down on a kickoff and out for the year with a knee injury. Three offensive linemen were added to that list, Anthony Clement, Barry Stokes and Ryan O'Callaghan. Brady, who was recovering from an ankle injury did not play get in any preseason snaps, but was ready for the season. Safety Meriwether had a leg injury in the second preseason game and receiver Welker had bruised ribs in next one, but both were ready for opening day. Rookie linebacker Bo Ruud and vet defensive lineman Kenny Smith both went down and on injured reserve after the last preseason game.

In the first game, seven and a half minutes in, the worst nightmare this team has had came true. Tom Brady stepped up and threw it downfield to Moss, who caught it and then fumbled it away. But while eyes were on the ball.when the camera went back, Brady was on the ground writhing in pain. The replay showed Pollard sticking his helmet down and slamming it into his knee. That first year referee, Carl Cheffers, refused to throw a flag on that was one of the worst non calls all year long. Many had said that the Pats could find players in all positions, interchangeable parts that is, except for quarterback. Now, that nightmare of Brady out for the season was a reality.

The team did have other injuries, but nothing as serious as Brady. Special teamers Akins, Washington and Alexander missed games with knee, ankle and hamstring injuries respectively. Running backs were injured, as well, LaMont Jordan with a foot injury and Lawrence Maroney with a bad shoulder. It seemed like the usual injuries. Sammy Morris had a big run in the waning moments of the second quarter of the Bronco game and was out with an ankle injury. Later in the game, Rodney Harrison went down in a tumble going after Cutler. One saw dejection in his eyes as he was carted off the field. The quadricep injury ended his season and possibly his career.

Rookie cornerback Wheatley knocked down a Manning pass to Harrison and in a few games was added to the injured reserve list, as was Maroney, rookie Crable and Alexander. Linebacker Adalius Thomas who called the defensive signals went out with a broken forearm in the Buffalo game and it looked like for awhile he would be back, but ended up on IR as well. In the Steeler game, linebacker Woods came in with a hard hit on tight end MIller. The only problem was he got himself injured and was wiping blood from his mouth. A few games after he was added to the IR as was cornerback Jason Webster.

There were other injuries that were less serious that kept players out. Cornerback Lewis Sanders had a few different injuries and Hobbs was like an Energizer bunny, knocked down and hurt and a few plays back on the field. Warren had a bad groin injury that kept him out of play, Wilfork a shoulder injury and James Sanders an abdomen pull. At Seattle. Bruschi hurt his knee as Richardson dove near him and hit him, inadvertently. With Brady out that was bad enough, but the leaders on the defense, Harrison and Thomas were gone as well and still this team went on and played solid. That is one large thing that will be remembered about this year. Despite players going down, this team played strong and had a remarkable 11-5 record.

The first part of the season was tentative with Brady down and Cassel starting to get his sea legs. There was some struggle and then some tough games, a stretch of three losses in five tough ones, all conference opponents with Indy and Pittsburgh as book ends. And yet they showed character, winning their last four and just missing a play off berth.

At the end of the year there were more weather games than in many years. Two games were played in complete down pours, the Steeler and Raider games. Another, the Seahawk game, had a heavy shower in the first half. The Cardinal game was played in the snow and the game in Buffalo under hurricane like winds.

The low point of the season, besides the first game with Brady's injury, had to have been Game three against Miami. It was the emergence of the Wildcat Formation and of the Dolphin team. It was also a real beating, so bad that fans left in droves and booed the team as if they had never won a game in years. It was totally embarrassing and a stain on Patriot Nation. The high point was the way the team ended the season, with four straight victories, starting with a come back against the Seahawks. For a game, even though it was a loss in overtime, the last minute miracle to tie the Jets in Game 10 was incredible.

The best offensive drive of the season was without question the one against the Jets. Sixty two yards in sixty four second. Not only did the ones involved in the play directly do great, but the offensive line ran up the field with discipline so that the ball could be spiked. It was a great drive and one that was so rarely duplicated or topped. That they had no time outs only made it that much harder. There were passes to Watson of 9 and 11 and then to Welker for 17 and 14. There were three spikes of the ball thrown in and a False Start penalty on Koppen. It was all up to the last play and Moss somehow caught the ball in the corner stretching out wide to make the 16 yard grab. It was a total miracle. That they lost the game in overtime does not diminish what a great drive that was.

On the other hand, the worst by far was the third quarter drive against the Chargers. This was a drive that could have sparked a come back but instead stopped any momentum they had. It was 1st and goal on the Charger 1 yard line. Cassel threw the ball away on first down and on second, Morris ran into Koppen's back and was lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage. On third down, Cassel's pass was low to Morris, hitting the ground. On fourth down, he hesitated and was hemmed in on the right side, scrambling and losing a yard and the ball on downs. It was the worst by far.

Although he did not have the stellar season like last year, Randy Moss still made some spectacular plays and key ones. Besides the great catch in the corner against the Jets to force overtime, he made a great one handed grab against Miami on the sideline and took a screen pass for a 78 yard touchdown against Arizona to open the 3rd quarter. Later in the first quarter, Cassel threw a bomb of 51 to Moss on a 3rd down play at the Pats own 1 yard line. It was a play of beauty. There was a 66 yard bomb to tie the game in San Francisco, a big touchdown catch in the 2nd quarter against KC to put the Pats on top and a 27 yard screen pass he grabbed by his hip to extend the lead against Denver to 27-0. There was a screen pass of 25 that put the Pats on top of Miami in the 2nd quarter and a big grab against Asomugha in the opening quarter in Oakland. He turned and grabbed the ball as Goodman was tight on him for a 29 yard TD in Miami, but he also made key catches on other drives. He caught one and ran for 30 as the clock ticked down against St Louis. He made a sure handed grab over the middle of 16 in Miami.and 23 against the Rams, helping them move the ball on a go ahead touchdown. It was a 33 yarder that Cassel threw in the early part of the 4th quarter in Seattle that gave the Pats a field goal and made them in striking distance of the Hawks.

It was steady and quick receiver Wes Welker who made a lot of plays this year as well. There was a screen left to him of 25 at Seattle that resulted four plays later in the winning touchdown. A quarter earlier he made a big third down grab of 17, getting hammered by Russell and still holding onto the ball. In the 1st quarter in Miami he made a circus catch as Hill tipped the ball, he tipped the ball to himself for a nifty 21 yard reception. A quarter later, a screen pass on the left to him went for 64 yards as he scampered up the left sideline. In the windy game in Buffalo, hr had a great catch and run on a 4th and 5, as he caught the ball and went 12, setting up the game's only touchdown. He had screens of 26 against the Jets in New York, 27 against the Broncos, 25 against the Raiders and 37 in the first Buffalo game. And who can not recall the hard hit on him in the Steeler game by Clark. The tough Welker was barely phased by the hard hit.

Kevin Faulk was Mr Reliable. Both catching passes and running the ball. Against the Rams, in the last few minutes, he jumped over Tinoasmaoa and caught an arching Cassel pass for the go ahead score. It was also Faulk that caught a screen and ran up through two defenders for an 11 yard gain and a first down at the start of the Patriot's go ahead drive in the 4th quarter. Who could not forget his spectacular one handed diving catch of a ball that was deflected by Pace in Game two against the Jets. It was Faulk who ran up the middle for a 2 yard touchdown in the last seconds of the half in San Francisco and who in the 4th quarter on a 4th and goal, got the direct snap and went in for the TD. There was a screen pass of 19 against the Jets here and of 22 against them in New York. One resulted in a touchdown, the other in a field goal. He ran through a hole for 41 against the Steelers in the last minute of the half, 20 against the Jets and 23 against Oakland.

Sammy Morris also added a lot from the running back position and had a few big fourth down carries. None was larger than the one in Seattle that gave the Patriots a lead with under three minutes left in the game. There were two in the Denver game, one short run for a score that put the team up by 13 and another right before the end of the half for 29 that resulted in an ankle injury. There was a 4th down run against the Steelers, but who could not forget the 16 yard run in Buffalo knocking as he knocked down Whitner in the process, taking him head on. He also had another run of 34 in that Denver game and in Oakland, had a 29 yard touchdown run as well. He added another for 25 yards in that game. In the Arizona snow game, he showed he could also catch the screen with a big catch and run of 42 yards.

Receiver Jabar Gaffney came up with some big grabs, although not as many as other receivers. There was a 3rd down catch on the Pats final drive in Seattle. There were two fourth down catches against Miami at home and a big touchdown grab at the end of the half in the Jets home game. He jumped high to make a 3rd down reception against Indy, had a big 37 yard gainer against the Cardinals and a key 28 yard catch to end the 3rd quarter in Seattle.

Matt Cassel also had a few key plays running the ball. In a 4th down and 5 in Buffalo, he took it outside and with a one on one with Corner spun off him with great effort for the first down. At the home New York game, he had runs of 19, 16 and 12 yards; all key runs. He also rushed for touchdowns against Miami and Buffalo, giving his game an added dimension.

LaMont Jordan had a long run against the Raiders on a 3rd down and 2, getting outside for an easy 49 yard touchdown run. Tight end Dave Thomas had two key catches in the Colts game and Sam Aiken caught a screen and rambled 43 yards against the Jets at home. Watson made a big grab with Poteat all over him in the Jets game and had two other catches on that miracle drive. Evans made a big catch and run of 19 in windy Buffalo and Maroney switched direction on a 3rd down play, gaining 17 and setting up a key 3rd quarter touchdown.

The worst series was by far the failure to score with a first and goal at the Charger one yard line, but that was not the only time the offense failed when it was in a position to score. There were a bunch of times where that happened early in the season, most notably early in the Jets game in New York and in San Francisco, where field goals were taken instead of touchdowns. There were also key series where the ball was lost on downs in deep drives. In the late 3rd quarter against the Rams, the team had a 3rd down and 1 and could not muster that yard as two Green-Ellis plays gained zero yards. With the score tied and with the team threatening it was pretty poor. The same thing happened in the Jets game late in the second quarter. Cassel gained 9 on a scramble and on 3rd down, Evans ran into Koppen, not only losing 2 yards, but sending him out of the game. Cassel was sacked on the 4th down play, stopping a drive at the Jets 30 yard line. That the team rallied and got the ball back and scored before half time was the saving grace of it all.

The worst play of the year happened in that same Jets game at Gillette when Koppen hiked the ball far over Cassel's head and Matt had to run the ball down, losing 24 yards in the process. It was one of many lost opportunities in that game.

There were some key drops by receivers, the most notable, the one in the 3rd quarter in the Indy game. It was a sure touchdown and would have changed the outcome of the game. There were others though. Moss had a big miss in the Steeler game that would have given them a touchdown. Instead, the ball bounced off his helmet and the pass was incomplete. In the second quarter, there were other passes to him in the endzone, that were dropped. If he had caught one or more in that first half, the Pats may have had a lead and the outcome might have been a bit different. There were also balls that were tipped that led to interceptions. Moss had a few of those, one in Miami that led to a Dolphin touchdown and another against the Rams that led to a field goal that knotted the game. Watson also had two balls that he did not catch and were tipped and picked off.

There was also a play by Gaffney in the home game against the Jets that led to a punt. On a 2nd down play, Gaffney caught the ball on the right and instead of going forward a yard more for the first down, went out of bounds, a yard shy. The 3rd down pass was incomplete and the Pats had to punt, In a close game where things were tight, a small mistake like that was crucial mistake.

The Patriots did have their share of turnovers. Probably the worst was in the Jets game at home in the 3rd quarter. Watson had the ball on a 12 yard pass and was at the Jets 22 when Barton knocked the ball out. It was a big turnover and another lost opportunity. In the Miami game at home, driving down in the first quarter on a 3rd down play, Cassel threw an interception. The Starks pick led to Miami's first score. That was quite costly. Morris fumbled the ball in Maimi going for extra yards and that led to a big Dolphin drive that put them ahead. The interception in the Colt game was more a desperation play as it was 4th and 15, but it sealed the game for the Colts as Sanders picked it off. There were two fumbles by Cassel in the latter part of the Pittsburgh game, but at that point, the Steelers had control and the hard rush could easily cause turnovers, which they did on two back to back series. That might have been a low point of pass protection, but when a team was forced to pass, the blitz was a lot harder to stop.

The Pats defense did have some big plays. In the first game, it was Deltha O'Neil who knocked away on a last second fourth down pass to Bowe that stopped a touchdown that could have resulted in a tie game. It was safety Meriwether who knocked the ball away from Wallace, with Seymour recovering it, that insured a Patriot come from behind win. It was also O'Neal who picked off a last minute Bulger pass and ran it back 47 yards. Meriwether's pick on a ball overthrown to Fasano was enough to seal the deal in Miami.

But the big play everyone will remember was in Game two as Adalius Thomas knocked back both blocker Washington and quarterback, Favre, sacking him for a loss of 20 yards, to the 7 yard line. That play really stood out. Also was the interception by Meriwether at San Francisco. He was with receiver Walker and as the bomb was thrown tipped it and as he fell back, it landed in his lap for the interception.

Besides these plays, there were others that stood out, some that stopped a team from a touchdown, resulting instead in a field goal. In the first game, it was James Sanders who knocked a third down pass from Bowe in the endzone, forcing a field goal and a 7-3 lead. The same thing happened early in the Steeler game on a third down play as Russell was stopped for no gain by Wilfork and Smith. The lead was cut to 4, instead of a tie. In the first Buffalo game, Lynch lost 3 yards on a 3rd down sweep as Mayo, Seymour and Vrabel made the play, forcing a field goal. Woods knocked the ball away from Keller in the Jets game at Gillette and instead of a two score game, kept it at one, with the Jets lead of only 10-3.

Thomas made two large sacks of Bulger in the second quarter of the Rams game. One was of 13 yards and basically knocked the Rams out of field goal range, while the other in the last minute of the half, sacked him 13 yards on 3rd down, making a go ahead field goal possible. Warren had a big sack of Bulger and Hobbs broke up a long pass to Avery, both in the last quarter.

In the Jets game in New York, in the first quarter, it was Favre's 3rd down scramble that went only for 4 as James Sanders quickly took him down. It was even more rewarding as Feely missed the chip shot field goal. On a 3rd and goal at the 1, Jones lost 2 as Seymour knocked him back hard, forcing a field goal and keeping the Pats lead at 6-3. Later in the quarter, a flare pass to Washington lost 5 as Green and JSanders played it perfectly. In the 3rd quarter, Bruschi almost had Favre for a sack, but after he shoveled it to Franks, Bruschi was on him fast for a 5 yard loss.

They also had some big stops against the Jets in Gillette. In one series early in the third quarter, Favre was sacked twice of 9 yards apiece as Wilfork and then Seymour took him down. Later in the quarter on a 3rd and 2, it was Mayo who tripped up Favre on a scramble and a gain of only 1 yard and forcing a punt. In the last minutes of the game, Jones was stopped for a gain of only 1, on a 3rd and 2. Bruschi and Mayo were in on him and it forced the punt, setting up for the incredible drive to tie the game.

Big defensive plays early in the game also occurred during the season. Those seemed to set the tone of the game. At Oakland, on the Raider's second series, it was Vrabel that knocked the ball out of Russel's hands. While tight end Miller recovered it, their punt was from deep in their own territory and the Pats scored and went up by two touchdowns on the next series. In the Arizona game, on the Cardinal's first esries on a 3rd and 4, Vrabel knifed in and took him down for a loss of 3. Later in the half, on a 4th and 1 at the Pats 31, Warner was hit by an onrushing Wright, forcing his pass to Patrick to arrive on a few bounces.

There were many 3rd down stops that were key. Included in that was a Vrabel stop of Addai, a Bruschi stop of Gore, a Thomas sack of Croyle, a Seymour sack of Pennington and Wright's pressure on Wallace in Seattle, with Guyton breaking up the pass.

Take aways led to scores as well. One of the largest was against the Steelers as Vrabel picked off a Roethlisberger pass that led to a 7-0 Patriot lead. In the 3rd quarter in windy Buffalo, Jarvis Green knocked the ball away with Vrabel recovering and that led to the games only touchdown and a 10-0 Patriot lead. In the 3rd quarter in the Niner game, Harrison tipped the ball to himself for a big pick and the resulting touchdown gave the Patriot a 10 point lead.

In the Jets game at home, it was Jason Webster that knocked the ball away from Cotchery after a gain of 9. Guyton recovered it and the field goal tied the game at 24. Hobbs picked off Huard's first pass and that led to a field goal and a 7 point lead and in the Buffalo home game, a Hobbs pick led to another field goal and a 10 point lead. There were two take aways early in the Denver game that led to field goals. One was a Pittman fumble as Lewis Sanders knocked the ball out with LeKevin Smith recovering. The other was one of the oddest plays of the year. Warren knocked the ball out of Hall's hands. From there, it was a hot potato as Warren, Cutler and O'Neal went diving for the ball and finally many yards back, it was recovered by rookie Mayo. Another component of their bad defense had to have been the long passes they gave up. In the San Diego game, Rivers started off with the first play being a 48 yard bomb to Jackson. Later in the quarter, it was a 49 yard one to Floyd, this one a touchdown and in the 3rd a 59 yarder to Jackson. Huard hit Darling for a 68 yard pass and if it wasn't for O'Neal, who ran him down at the 5, the game would have been tied. Add in the third play of the second half in Miami, a 46 yard pass to Ginn, a 38 yard O'Sullivan to Bruce pass and the now infamous Favre to Cotchery forearm to the helmet catch of 46. The Rams had three big ones, all to Avery. There was the long bomb of 69 and shorter ones of 44 and 35. Leinart found Fitzgerald for a 78 yard score and in Oakland, Russel to Higgins went for a 56 yard touchdown. There were many big pass plays that were not defended correctly.

There were two pass and runs that showed poor defense. One was in the Jets game away as a short pass to Coles turned into a 54 yard gainer. In Seattle, a short pass to Branch went for 62 yards as he caught it on one side of the field and ran through tacklers angling across the field.

There were also many opportunities in the Jets home game, besides the much talked about third and fifteen pass to Keller that they did not stop. That was more a symptom of other things and by far not the only third down stop that did not happen, even in that game. There was a pass to Keller of 20 on a 3rd and 8 that three plays later ended in a touchdown and a 7-0 Jet lead. Later in the 1st, it was on a 3rd and 6 that Keller caught for 12. Two plays later, it was a Smith wildcat formation run of 17 yards to the Patriot 5. In the 4th, it was a 14 yard pass to Keller that ended up in a go ahead touchdown for the Jets. In overtime, besides the 3rd and 15, there were passes of 12 and 4 to Keller and another to Coles for 16 that ended up on the Pats 24, ripe for the winning field goal kick.

In the 4th quarter in Indy, the key 3rd down play was a pass to Gonzalez of 24, which set up Vinatieri's go ahead kick.There were other third down plays that also were not stopped. In the first Jets game a Favre to Keller pass of 20 set up a touchdown. In Maimi, in the 4th, a 3rd down pass to Bess went for 26. He stayed in bounds as Vrabel hit him and a few plays later a touchdown brought the Fins to within 3. Eralier, a 3rd down pass to Camarillo went for 20 and soon a touchdown and a Miami lead. Clark caught one across the middle for 17 early in the Colts first drive that gave them a 7-0 lead. In an odd play, late in the Rams game, Bulger's third down pass bounced off of Pace's helmet and was grabbed downfield by Hall, for 13.

The Pats were a bit better against the run, although on a surprise 4th down attempt in their own territory, the Ram's Pittman ran for the first.

There were other short passes that the D did not stop. There was a 21 yarder to Steeler tight end Miller in the first quarter, a 25 yard pass to tight end Carlson and in the1st quarter in the game in Miami, Martin for 29 yards.

The Pats did better against the run, although there was a Parker run of 31 and a Seneca Wallace scramble of 23 late in the Seahwak game.

There also was some sloppy tackling by the defense. In the Indy game, Clark should have been stopped for a gain of only 5 on a short pass, but he gained 20, escaping from a few tacklers. In the 3rd quarter in the Miami game, a short pass to Camarillo should have been stopped for a very short advance, but with second and third efforts he pushed the pile for 11 yards. The Steeler's Moore had runs of 10 and 20 that were filled with missing tackles and at Buffalo, Jackson had two big gains that should have been stopped. On a 3rd and 2, he went into a pile, but pushed it for a gain of 7 and a first down. Later in the game, he seemed again like he was stopped and emerged from the pile cutting right with a big 32 yard run.

As for special teams, the largest oddity was the back to back kickoff returns for touchdowns in Oakland. Miller took one back for 91 and Hobbs answered with his of 95. Quite a rarity, even in the downpour of rain.

Besides that Hobbs return for a score, he had four other big ones of note. In the first Miami game in the 3rd quarter he answered a score with an 81 yard return. He had a 51 yard return against KC, one of 55 in Seattle and one of 49 against the Rams. If he had escaped kicker Brown, he may have gone all the way for a touchdown.

The best kickoff defense occurred in the 4th quarter at Miami where Ginn was hemmed in and down by Spann at the 1 yard line. There were two fumbles that were forced, but neither was with a recovery. In the Seattle game, Wilson was hit around the 28 by Richardson, the ball popping loose. Gostkowski had it, was hit by Forsett and teammate Herring dove on it for the recovery. In opening kickoff in the Steeler game, it was big Vince Redd that hit Davis and knocked the ball loose, only to have it covered quickly by Fox.

On the bad side, besides the Miller return, at the Jet Gillette game, it was Washington who broke one open for 92 yards in the second quarter and gave the Jets a big 17-6 lead. One of the many parts of that drama. In the 4th quarter in the home Buffalo game, McKelvin had a big return of 81 yards, making the game a lot closer than it should have been with the quick Bill score.

The worst special team play had to have been the 3rd quarter muff by Slater in the Steeler game. The Pats were trailing by only 3 and a turnover was not what was needed. The ball bounced off of him, he kneed it to the side and chased it, but Fox recovered for the black and gold. In many ways, after that muff, the game was basically over. There was a squibb kick in the Jets home game that he muffed, but he did manage to recover that one.

There was a bad special teams play to start the 2nd half against the Rams. They basically executed a perfect onside kick, just popping the ball up a bit to the right. Tight end David Thomas had moved back and Minor quickly jumped on the ball, giving the Rams momentum.

Vince Wilfork came in and blocked an extra point late in the Oakland fame, banging it back to him on the fly. By far the oddest of the special teams play was the Buffalo onside kick late in the game at home. It was a slow roller and with so many players in the way, I thought it was hard to tell who touched the ball and where. It looked like it hit Bruschi or Izzo and bounced back with a Bill's recovery. The refs somehow got it correct in that it touched a Bill's player before the 10 yards and it was Patriot ball. It had to have been one of the hardest rulings.I have seen made.

Kicker Steven Gostkowski had a very good year hitting a number of key long field goals. In the Ram game, it was a 41 yarder with 8:33 left in the game to tie it and he did the same with the Jets home game of 47 with a bit over ten minutes left. In San Francisco he kicked two forty plus field goals in the last quarter, 40 and 49, keeping the team on top. He added a 47 yarder early in San Diego and got the team on the board with a 50 yarder in Seattle. He kicked two in windy Buffalo in that nightmare. He did have two key misses. One was against the Chargers, a 48 yard attempt that would have tied it, but it sailed left. A 27 yard kick in the rain, just before the half against the Steelers not good as the Pats would have given the team a 3 point lead.

As for opponent's kicks, Feely's overtime kick of 34 gave the game to the Jets and Vinatieri's of 52 was the winning margin in Indy.

Punter Chris Hansen had an okay year, ending on a high note in windy Buffalo. His punts of 48, 46 and 41 gave him special teams player of the week award. His kick of 46 into the wind was key in changing field position in the 3rd quarter. His first kick almost ended up in a Patriot touchdown as McKelvin called for the fair catch as it hit off of him and bounded toward the endzone. Slater had a hand on it and lost it. It was recovered by the Bill's Jackson and ruled a touchback. On a down note, he kicked a 23 yard punt in the rain against the Steelers in the 3rd quarter that gave them a go ahead field goal, a few plays after and shanked a 25 yarder late in the Niner game.

A big surprise special teams play was made by quarterback Matt Cassel late in the game in Buffalo. On 3rd down, he quick kicked the ball and it rolled with the win and died at the Buffalo 2 yard line, 57 yards down field. It was one memorable kick, with the timing, execution and strange roll.

Wilhite made a nice play in an Diego, downing Hansen's punt at the 4 in the 2nd quarter.

On the other side, Moorman's first punt was only of 13 as the wind was blowing strong at him. In rainy Oakland, Lechler's punt of 28 set up the Patriots second touchdown. Late in the game, the Ram's Jones kicked one for 29 that set up New England's tying field goal.

Even though the Pats did not run a punt return back for a score, they did have some key returns. In the snow game against the Cardinals, Welker cut it up the middle for 28 yards to the Zona 33 where the Pats quickly took the lead with a touchdown. Kevin Faulk returned it 24 in the Jets away game in the 3rd quarter, adding a field goal a few plays later and a 13 point lead. The longest return was against Denver, as Welker's 44 yarder set up another score and extended their lead.

The Niner's Clements returned it only 13, as he circled across the field to the other side, but it quickly led to a Niner touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Charger Sproles returned one of 28 as he caught it on the run and was brought down by kicker Hansen who made the sure tackle. The Steeler's Holmes had a good return in the first quarter of 29 as he faked by Spann and headed up the left side. This led to Pittsburgh's first points, a field goal. Penalties helped the Pats in a number of situations. In the Jets home game on a 3rd down play as Cassel rolled out of the pocket and had to throw the ball away. Instead of a 4th down, a flag was thrown because linebacker Pace was called for Illegal Contact. The first down pushed the ball to the Jet 32 and quickly, the Patriots scored and inched to within 3 points at the end of the 3rd quarter. Late in the Jets home game, Pace was called for Roughing the Passer and the ball moved forward, enough so the Pats could get a field goal and a 9 point lead.

Against the Broncs in the second quarter, the Pats were deep in their own territory. Cassel threw the ball to the side on a 3rd down play, having been chased back into the endzone. The problem was that Winborn grabbed his face mask and the penalty kept alive a long drive giving the Pats a 20-0 lead.

The Rams game started with a 75 yard runback by Hall, that was brought back to the Ram 32 on a Holding penalty. Right before the half in the Niner game, Smith sacked Cassel which should have forced a field goal. Instead, he was called for Roughness and the Pats scored a touchdown, up 17-14.

In Seattle, the first two Patriot scores were helped by penalties. Terrill was called for Defensive Holding on a Morris run, which later was converted into a field goal. A Trufant Pass Interference penalty as he hit Moss set up a touchdown. Ike Tayler was called for PI in the early 3rd quarter in the rainy Steeler game as he was keeping Moss from getting near the ball. There were also hard hits on defenseless receivers. Simpson clobbered Moss in the first Buffalo game and Clark creamed Welker later in the Pittsburgh blow out.

By far the worst penalty was the Roughness penalty on David Thomas in the late 4th quarter of the game in Indy. Instead of a 3rd down and 1 at the Colts 31, it was 3rd and 16 and that made it an uphill fight. Even though it was only a very negligible push, it was a bit after the whistle and in a tight game, every call was exaggerated and big.

Sproles returned a punt in the latter 2nd quarter in the Charger game, but a Mayo Face Mask penalty added 15 and was costly, moving it to the Pats 31. Their quick score put them up 17-3, the penalty being a big part of the reason.

In the 4th quarter on a 3rd down, O'Sullivan went long to Battle.Meriwether covered him, but a Pass Interference penalty was called, moving the ball 31 to the 8 yard line. San Fran's score pulled them to within 6, with a bit over 10 minutes left in the game.

In the Jets home game, Woods had a late hit on Coles after a short pass and the 15 yard gain advanced the ball to the Patriot 27. The resulting field goal gave the Jets 10-3 lead.

Wilfork had Personal Foul calls in Denver, Bruschi, a late hit on Ronnie Brown and Hobbs a 32 yard long PI penalty, but none of these really impacted the game as much as other flags.

Two post touchdown penalties also need mention. At Seattle, Watson put the ball under his jersey, because of his pregnant wife while Welker did a snow angel in the Arizona game to honor his new born niece. Both were fined for their actions, of course, but when it turned out a player got the same fine for throwing snow into the stands, it really showed how fair things are in the NFL. But then again, it's impossible to get a real answer from tyrant BadL.

There were some bad non calls by the refs as well as of plain horrible flags. The non call on the Brady hit was really pitiful, especially when in the last weeks of the season, when there was a less severe hit on a quarterback and a flag thrown. To add insult to injury, it was explained as a hit below the knees. Funny how months before that Periera had said there was NO WAY it was a penalty. Suddenly a less severe hit was to be flagged. Funny how rules twist and turn depending on the circumstances. The WWF phoniness is getting closer.

Added to that obvious one, one can add a few that stand out as well as a few calls that never should have been made.

The Wallace to Branch touchdown in the left corner of the endzone was a play of beauty. It followed the long pass and run by Branch, a few plays earlier. The non call was so apparent and stuck out like a sore thumb. Wrotto, the big offensive lineman, had a hand around and holding Pats lineman LeKevin Smith. It was really obvious and stood out. That no call was made on that was truly bogus as it would have pushed the Hawks ten yards away and made that score a bit more difficult.

Another non call, one that actually did not really amount to much, was the one with Favre in the home Jet game. It was late in the 2nd quarter, when Favre threw a pass away from inside the pocket. It was quite obvious what it was from the outset as there were no receivers close. Guyton was rushing in, but had not touched the ball as it was thrown. Where was the Intentional Grounding call? That was the obvious penalty as Favre was still inside the tackle boxes. Instead referee, Gene Steratore, indicates that the ball was tipped on the throw. The problem with that was that the spiral that Favre threw did not waver at all or vary one bit. Guyton's hand did not make contact with the thrown ball. It was a ref seeing something that did not happen and making a ruling on that or of basically refusing to make the right call against a HOF quarterback. All it showed was a lack of integrity with that non call.

One of the worst calls was in the Miami game in the first quarter, Merling almost had Cassel down, but he broke away and ran for a touchdown, only to have it called back as 'in the grasp'. That was such an important call, for a lead there might have changed the flavor of the game. It's one of the few times I have seen this 'in the grasp' call and usually there are more than one sacker who has arms etc on the quarterback with no way to escape. With players like Roethislberger and others who are big and strong, the flag thrown was way way premature. I also remember the Superbowl of a year ago. Was Manning not in the grasp? Just another bogus call.

The other bad call was in the home Jets game, late in the 4th quarter. It was a 3rd down at the 7 yard line and there was about three and a half minutes left in a tied game. Favre went back to pass and overthrew the endzone with his pass. A flag was thrown on the left as Vrabel was called for a Hold. On replay it was negligible at best; a really chinsey call. Instead of a field goal, it gave the Jets an opportunity with a set of new downs and three yards advancement. They easily cashed it in with a touchdown. Also, if it was not made, it would have given the Pats an added thirty seconds or so.

As far as coaching decisions, the one that I think all of Patriot Nation will remember is his run up the field to call a time out in the Indy game in the last quarter. Fourth and one and Cassel going for it and probably making it and the play recalled because of his time out. Instead. , it was a field goal, a tie and ultimately a loss. That stood out among things a bit messed up. On the other hand, not to try a fourth down play with just under two and a half minutes left in the game was the right call. I kept thinking they would not have any time left and Cassel's miracle finish proved all that wrong.

There were two challenges for 12 men on the field. One was in the first quarter of the game in Oakland and the other in the 3rd quarter in Indy. Both were lost and the latter meant that an important time out was taken as well. That one really was odd especially because of where it was in the game. The five yards did not mean all that much. Another odd challenge occurred later in the Oakland game on a 3rd and 3 pass that was close to a first down. Why with the game decided and that play not all that important would a challenge be made? That was one of the oddities that Patriot fans will never understand.

There was one challenge that was important. It was on a spot on a Faulk run in the 4th quarter of the game in Frisco. That led to a field goal and a 9 point lead.

As for opponent's coaching, there were some not so bright things, from Jauron's not challenging a Welker catch in the 1st period of the home Buffalo game to some questionable calls in the windy game that might have had an impact. In fact, when Cassel and company lined up to go for it their own 18, it was so confusing, they needed to call a time out, wasting one early in the second half. Holmgren did not challenge a Branch catch that was ruled incomplete and I think many there questioned why. It would have been key if they had gotten it, but losing a time out also would have hurt.

On the other hand, Mangini challenged a play where there was an incomplete pass to Coles in the first minutes of the Jet home game and it was quickly overturned. With that reversal, the Jets drove continued and scored, going up 7-0 early.

There was also an ejection this year, the first Patriot since Logan Mankins was booted in 05 in the first half in Denver. This time it was late in the game in Miami and the Pats had basically won the game. He and Crowder went at it and both got kicked out and fined.

Charger Clary threw a punch at Warren in the last quarter of the Charger game, but when Warren retaliated, he got a Face Mask call and the real culprit got zilch. Also, at the end of the half at the Bills away game, there was a bit of pushing and such and lineman Prescott almost got into a bit of a fight. That was bad, because the Bills lost an opportunity to put points up on the board by continuing to push and shove.There were also some pushing and shoving in the Miami home game later in the game. As for crowd reaction and being unsportsmanlike, the home game at the Miami was pretty bad, but already mentioned. As for other incidents, there was one in the last quarter of the Charger game. There was a pass to Moss that was grabbed by Jammer and in the process of a Moss tackle lost the ball. San Diego challenged the play, even though they were up twenty seven points and in the last minutes of the game. When the challenge was turned down, there were thunderous boos from the stands, as if the game hinged on this play, instead of it being just a cherry on top of a blow out cake.

There were some oddities with the clock during the season, from CoachB's protestations of quick whistles as Cassel was kneeling down in the last minutes of the Rams game, quick whistles blown before his knee actually touched, to the last seconds of the Colts at the half when Manning hiked the ball and the clock was frozen, not moving. Harrison did catch the ball on the right but did not get out of bounds and the resulting False Start ran the clock out for the half. In Seattle at the half, a receiver out of bounds, did not stop the clock as it should and a time out was called by the Pats. In the Pittsburgh game, a Delay of Game penalty was missed as the clock ran out and then some on one play.

A special note has to be made about Ben Watson who made a spectacular play even though the game was quite over at the time. Cassel was picked off by Timmons, who ran down the left of the field, and was caught and brought down at the one yard line by Watson. It was an incredible play, even though in the box score, it was a mere tackle. Timmons could have had the 90 yard touchdown return, but it was only 89 with Watson preventing a score.

Many things have happened in this year of the Brady injury. Matt Cassel has shone in his absence and was only the fifth player ever to have back to back 400 yard passing games, the only one to do it in meaningful games and teans with winning records. Rookie Jerod Mayo while not exhibiting the flash of the big play, nonetheless showed that he was a solid starter and will only get better. Rookes Terrence Wheatley, Jonathon Wilhite, Gary Guyton and BenJarvus Green-Ellis all showed promise. Other rookies, like linebackers Shawn Crable and Vince Redd and offensive lineman Dan Connolly needed development but may pan out in the next few years. Kicker Steven Gostkowski established himself as a top notch kicker. There were many bright lights in what many saw as a down season.

I want to thank the members of this Patriot team.

Thank you, MattC, MattG, KevinO, KevinF, Heath, SammyM, BenJarvus, LaMont, Randy, Wes, Jabar, KelleyW, Sam, MattS, BenW, DavidT, Tyson, DanK, DanC, Russ, SteveN, BillyY, Nick, MattL, Logan, Wesley, MarkL, RichardS, TyW, JarvisG, VinceW, LeKevin, MikeW, TedyB, Larry, Junior, Jerod, MikeV, Roosevelt, VinceR, GaryG, Ellis, MikeR, LewisS, Jonathon, Deltha, JamesS, Antwain, Brandon, Ray, ChrisH, Lonie and SteveG. This was a team of character that fought hard despite long odds and gave it all and then some.

But thank you's are needed for those on the Practice Squad as well as BB considers them as part of the team. Thank you Maurice, RyanW, Titus, Angelo, Darrell, MarkD and TomM. Thank you's are also needed for those on IR. Thank you TomB, Lawrence, RyanO, KennyS, Eric, Pierre, Adalius, Shawn, Bo, Terrence, Rodney, Tank, JasonW, BarryS and AnthonyC. Appreciation also needs to go out to players that were on the team roster or practice squad during the season. Thank you to Kyle, ChadJ, CJ, StephenS, JasonP, JasonB, Oliver, JohnL and Reggie.

Thanks are also needed to all the players that tried to be on the team and pushed all to be even better players. Thank you to JoshA, RobertO, ChrisD, Marcus, Jonathon, GeneM, JimmyM, StevenS, MikeF, JoshC, Lavdrim, PeteM, JohnW, Casey, Santonio, Carlos, HenryS, ChrisN, SteveF, TJ, Victor, Fernando, JeffS, Ade, ScottP and MikeD.

The coaching staff obviously has to be included in this as well and a large thank you to BillB, the leader of the group who has organized and made it all possible. Thank you Josh, Dean, Dante, Brad, Ivan, Pepper, Dom, Pete, MattP, Harold, MikeW, BillO and the brilliant ErnieA.

And a great owner, like Mr Robert Kraft, has made this all possible. Thank you, Mr. Kraft!! And the many executives of the team. Thank you Jonathon, Scott, Nick, Stacey and the many others that work hard to make the organizarion work to its best.

It has been a hard year I believe for all Patriot fans, from the Brady injury to the disappointment of not making it into the post season. I sensed early on in training camp that many fans were placing the bar way too high, as if anything less than a Superbowl was a complete disappointment. There was something that smelled totally spoiled with many and I pointed that out the day the season started, But the Brady went down, so 'spoiled' wasn't at all an issue as the team was going to have to adjust quickly. And when I saw that the team had character in making a quick transition to Matt Cassel, when I wrote about that the day on the third game, the Miami Wildcat offense emerged and the Patriots got their butt kicked by a so called 'horrible' team. It turned out that 'horrible' team was hardly that, but in the end, the team showed much character in how it finished its last games.

Thank you NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS!!

But it is time to look forward and even in the past few weeks there have been changes.

Firstly, Scott Pioli, has left for greener pastures of Kansas City. It was bound to happen some time and I think all Patriot fans wish him well there, except when playing the Pats. I didn't think Cleveland was the match and the owners their have been attempting for ages to really rebuild that franchise. It was one of the early AFL powerhouses with Stram and has fallen on hard times of total disarray. Good luck Scott!

OC Josh McDaniels has made his way to Denver trying to fill some large Shanahan shoes. Again, I think all knew this day would come soon with the rising star and again good luck is what all will offer him. He does have some good parts to the offense with a young quarterback Cutler to work with. Good luck Josh!!

Also departing are Dom Capers (DCO Packers), Brad Seely (Special teams coach Browns and Peter Mangurian (Offensive line coach Bucaneers.) Good luck to them all!!

Practice Squader Maurice Price has signed with the Niners and quarterback Matt Cassel has been franchised,. I am sure there will be other moved made, but this will be an interesting offseason and there will be plenty of time to discuss this.

This is more a tribute to the last year, than a full scale look ahead.

I must mention the miracle on the Hudson and that incredible crew that ended with all rescued and none lost. In a culture where youth is worshipped and deemed top notch, it's interesting that in this case, experience was the large factor in why it turned out so right. Thank you to the crew of 1549; Captain Chesley Sullenburger, First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, and the three flight attendants, Sheila Dail, Doreen Welsh and Donna Dent. Experience played a large part in all of that, from the landing of the plane to the passengers getting onto the rafts and boats. That they had between the five of them one hundred and forty or so years of experience and were mostly in their 50s, said it all about why it was successful. Thank you to that outstanding crew!

On a sad note and totally not related to sports was the death of Patrick McGoohan in mid January. His classic TV series, 'The Prisoner' still is one of the best ever on television. He was the driving force behind that and that deep creative spirit will be missed.

Be seeing you!

 Stan Jaksina
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