September 28, 2003
Mistakes Hurt Worse Than Injuries
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
LANDOVER, Md. -- Three picks, one lost fumble, and yet it was a lousy play call which ultimately cost the banged up Patriots the ball game.
Today's game revealed even more grit and mettle which exists beneath the blue and silver uniforms of the Patriots. The Patriots, especially Tom Brady, played an incredibly error-prone game Sunday against the Washington Redskins. They suffered four turnovers, seven penalties for 49 yards, and caused a Redskin fumble which resulted in a 30-yard gain for the home team.
Yet there they were, perched at the Washington 46 yard line, 1:37 to play, having rallied from down 20-3 to within three points at 20-17. Brady had one timeout left, but only needed ten or fifteen yards to get Adam Vinatieri in range for a game-tying field goal. This fact is amazing, but rendered completely moot given what followed.
On first down, Brady tried to hit Deion Branch on a sideline pattern but wound up wasting the down by throwing the ball away thanks to double coverage. On second down, Brady hit Larry Centers over the middle for seven yards. From here, Vinatieri had about a 56-yard try. Vinatieri had missed a 46-yarder in the third quarter, and Bill Belichick decided that Adam needed a few more yards from the offense.
No problem with that decision. But on third and three, Charlie Weis ruined the heroic comeback by calling for, of all people, Larry Centers to run a draw. Centers was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Weis continues to have this fascination with running Centers on plays where he has no right to be carrying the ball. Antowain Smith is the best choice on these plays, not a back known for his pass catching.
Rather than try a 56-yarder, Belichick elected to go for a first down. Brady found Daniel Graham deep downfield, but Ifeanyi Ohalete moved in late to disrupt Graham and force the incompletion. Four plays, seven yards, not even a field goal attempt. Redskins hang on, 20-17.
When asked about these last two plays, Belichick didn't offer much beyond "We were just going for a first down…" and "They (Redskins) made more plays than we did". On the final play, Belichick assumed that Brady simply had no one open short for an easy first down. He did not excoriate Weis at all for calling for a draw to Centers.
The Patriots will be gnashing their teeth over this one. They played poorly enough to lose, but found enough to put themselves in a position to at least force overtime. The fact that this game turned out so close is either a testimonial to the Patriots' resolve, or the Redskins' inability to close out an opponent. Fortunately for Steve Spurrier, the Patriots pretty much closed things out themselves all game long, and especially in that hideous final drive.
Brady's three interceptions were all his fault, throwing to receivers who simply weren't open. Ohalete plucked an interception in the end zone midway through the second quarter as Brady tried to hit Branch from 26 yards out. Ohalete was all over Branch, and the only way Branch makes the play is if he was eight inches taller and the ball is thrown higher. On the final play of the half, Brady foolishly tried to hit David Givens on a deep sideline route, even though Givens could not shake All-Pro corner Champ Bailey. Early in the fourth quarter, Givens was again in tight coverage and Brady forced one in there deep and over the middle. Rashad Bauman was in perfect position to make the interception.
The other damaging play for the Patriots was early in the third quarter. On their third offensive play, Dan Koppen snapped the ball to Kevin Faulk, who ran towards the right end. Bailey caught him and stripped the ball, and the ball rolled all the way to the Patriot one before being covered by Matt Bowen. On the next play, Ladell Betts plowed it in for the first touchdown of the game, and it was 13-3 Washington.
On the next drive, another fumble helped the Redskins score, only that it was a fumble that they committed. On first and 20 at the Patriot 42, Trung Canidate took a handoff and scampered around right end. Tyrone Poole caught him and knocked the ball out. But, just like the Faulk fumble, the ball rolled some 30 yards downfield before being covered by Rod Gardner at the Patriot 12. After a Betts run and an offside penalty on Richard Seymour, Rock Cartwright punched it in from three yards out and it was 20-3 Washington.
Things could have been much worse if the Redskins had been able to convert a few scoring drives in the first half. Twice the Redskins drove inside the Patriot 15, and twice they came away with John Hall field goals. This development helped the Patriots as they mounted their second half comeback, a remarkable thing considering that the Patriots were minus-4 on turnovers.
Following Cartwright's touchdown, Brady led the Patriots on a 71-yard scoring drive, capped by a terrific diving catch by Givens in the end zone from 29 yards out. Three drives later, as the defense befuddled Patrick Ramsey and held the Redskins off the board, Brady took six plays and 68 yards to bring the Patriots within three points. Taking advantage of vanilla coverage and a zone softer than most tummies on those Redskin fans wearing pig snouts, Brady hit Troy Brown for 13 yards, Graham for 22, Centers for 14, Branch for 15 and Graham again for 12. Brady then nailed Centers on a quick slant for seven yards and a score.
With 2:10 to go in the game, Vinatieri eschewed the onside kick and booted it deep. Perched at their own 18, the Redskins imploded in a hail of false start penalties and a close call on a Laveranues Coles sideline catch which was ruled incomplete and upheld by a booth replay review. The Patriots got the ball back with plenty of time for one last shot at a tie, but could only muster four plays and no points.
On the ill-fated Centers carry on third down, the Patriots tried a draw and the Redskins simply weren't fooled. Renaldo Wynn and Jessie Armstead blasted Centers almost at the spot of the handoff and stuffed the play for no gain. In retrospect, Weis still insists on giving Centers carries on power downs where Smith is the better choice. Weis still fails to realize that Centers is more equal to former Patriot J.R. Redmond and not Smith. Even Fred McCrary, who was inactive for this game, is a better option on these kind of power runs versus Centers.
Much was made about Brady's sore arm, but such talk was really all nonsense. In all three picks, they were simply bad judgments. For all his mistakes, Brady managed to complete 25 of 38 passes for 289 yards and finished with nearly six more rating points than Patrick Ramsey (who was 10 of 22 for 147 yards and more adulation from the television broadcasters than he perhaps deserved). In what was perhaps the most amazing stat of the game, the Patriots outgained the Redskins in total yards, 387-250.
Teams that have that great a margin in total yards usually win. Teams that have a minus-4 in turnovers usually lose. The turnovers prevailed in this case, but the Patriots actually come out of this game with something to be proud of in that they overcame their mistakes and almost pulled out the win.
In the end, turnovers didn't matter. It looks like the Patriot offensive coordinator needs to Weis up when using Centers.
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