|GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: Pats practice in their playoff weather|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 16 December 2007 13:19|
This was the game in which Bill Belichick and the Patriots were supposed to run up the score as revenge for Spygate - that first game of the season when a New England employee was caught on the sidelines taping New York's defensive signals. Belichick and the Patriots ended up with large fines and the loss of a first-round draft pick.
Instead, the Patriots' 20-10 victory, their 14th straight, couldn't have been in more perfect conditions. After all, they are likely to face here the same circumstances in the playoffs: rain, wind and some treacherous footing after about 6 inches of snow fell overnight.
``Even though we could have played better, it's great to go out there and get it done when the conditions aren't exactly ideal. Wet, wind, cold,'' said Tom Brady, who didn't exactly have his ideal game: 14-of 27 for 140 yards, an interception and a passer rating of 51.5, 72 points lower than his cumulative rating for the first 13 games. No touchdown passes either, leaving him at 45 with two games to go, four short of tying Peyton Manning's NFL record and five short of breaking it.
Brady doesn't care. Or at least he says he doesn't care, part of the Belichick/Patriots philosophy, which consists of platitudes like ``we play them one at a time'' and ``the only big game is the next one.''
This was also a game in which the Patriots could also have broken out another favorite coachspeak word: ``Adversity.''
They came out running, making Laurence Maroney a major part of the game plan for the first time in a couple of months. He finished with 104 yards on 28 carries. Maroney might have had more except that Kyle Brady, the only experienced healthy tight end, went out with an ankle injury, leaving New England with no real blocker at that position.
``When it snowed Thursday, I thought I might get a chance today Maroney said. ``When I saw the weather on the way to the stadium, I thought: 'I'll finally get the ball.' ``
Maroney's extra work is part of the Belichick system.
When the weather is good and Brady and his receivers are clicking, he often sits Maroney and goes either with an empty backfield or with Kevin Faulk, his receiving back.
In those games, the Patriots play like offenses in touch football games - no runs, just passes. Brady has thrown as many as 33 passes in a row, and last week against Pittsburgh, New England didn't run the ball in the second half, except for QB scrambles. Only late in the game when it was simply running out the clock did the approach change.
That has led some critics to suggest the Patriots might be better off in a dome, a finesse team with a finesse quarterback throwing to finesse receivers. ``I'd love it in a dome,'' Brady said. ``But I like it in these conditions. We're used to it and I think we've proven we can play in them. We managed to win today even though we couldn't really go downfield or outside.''
Yes they did. Their two touchdowns Sunday came on a Eugene Wilson interception and at the end of a 3-yard drive after Kelley Washington blocked a punt. And they've done it before: Their first big playoff splash in 2002 was beating Oakland in overtime in a snowstorm.
They also proved Sunday that they can pass in the elements, making a couple of big plays after the Jets cut the margin to 17-10 in the fourth quarter. One was on third-and-6 at their 29 with just under six minutes left - a 16-yard completion from Brady to Wes Welker.
Then Brady went deep for the only time in the game, completing a 46-yarder to Randy Moss that set up Stephen Gostkowski's field goal that made it a two-touchdown game again.
All of this makes the Patriots who they are, the second 14-0 team of the modern era after tying the 1972 Dolphins on Sunday. Like the postal service, they can play in sun, heat, rain, snow and wind. And in a dome, where the postmen don't usually go.
And they're also their own biggest critics.
``We'll probably have these conditions again,'' Brady said. ``Hopefully, we can play better.''