Jacksonville Jaguars running back LaBrandon Toefield (22) runs the ball past New England Patriots linebacker Justin Kurpeikis during the first quarter of their pre-season game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Thursday, Sept. 2, 2004. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
The Patriots insisted throughout the summer that the point-of-emphasis designed
to eliminate defensive contact with a receiver after 5 yards would not affect
their style or, presumably, the results of their work. But after three preseason
games, the Patriots have been called for two defensive holdings and two illegal
contacts, at least three of which would likely have gone unnoticed last year.
Asante Samuel was flagged for two of those penalties and he barely touched the receiver while Terrell Buckley was called for an illegal contact when he turned back to the quarterback and put his hand up to merely feel for the receiver without coming close to impeding him.
Safety Rodney Harrison, who was flagged for a pass interference call with
which he disagreed, had this to say after three preseason contests. "It's
unbelievable. It's going to change the whole complexity of the game. You touch
a receiver, you nudge him a little bit and here comes the flag. It's definitely
sad because as hard as defenses work and as many disadvantages as we already
have, to give the offense calls like that is just not good."
Even though the Patriots are the example most used when noting the need for
this point of emphasis, they are hardly the only victims, as the calls seem
to be up in all preseason action. But one has to wonder how the networks will
feel about 3.5 hour games inundated with flags. New England's three exhibition
games have averaged almost 20 penalties per game (the Patriots had 28 and the
opponents had 31) and those were just the accepted penalties. That's almost
five per game more than were called last season.
Ty Law, who is one of the most physical corners in the league, has been warned
about his style. "If they're calling it tighter, I'll have to alter my
game a little bit, but I'm not going to change my approach. It's going to be
an adjustment for us, but we're not going to alter our game to where we can't
go out and play comfortably. We're an aggressive team and we play within the
It's hard to imagine that point of emphasis is a coincidence considering that the Tony Dungy, Mike Martz, Jeff Fisher and Mike Holmgren are on the Competition Committee - three coaches who have recently been victimized in the postseason by the Patriots physical style and a fourth (Holmgren) who was not but is on the Patriots 2004 schedule. Of course, that would imply some lame conspiracy theory.
POINTS OF INTEREST
- The Patriots will open the season on a 15-game winning streak, four games
shy of the NFL record for consecutive wins. That record is held by five teams
- the 1933-34 Bears, the 1941-42 Bears, the 1972-73 Dolphins, the 1997-98
Broncos and the 1989-90 San Francisco 49ers. If the Patriots win their first
three games of the season - against Indy, at Arizona and at Buffalo - they
will host the Dolphins with a chance to break the record. If that scenario
plays out, one has to wonder if the 1972 Dolphins will have champagne on ice
prepared to celebrate a Dolphins win. The Patriots have also won 12 straight
regular season games, which is 5 shy of the 1933-34 Bears teams that won 17
straight. The Patriots and the '72 Dolphins are the only teams in the Super
Bowl era to win 12 straight in the regular season.
- The Patriots enter 2004 with an 11-game home winning streak as well after
going 10-0 at Gillette Stadium in 2003. Their last loss at The Razor came
on Dec. 22, 2002 in a 30-14 loss to their division rival and eventual division
champion New York Jets.
- QB Tom Brady is 33-12 (.733) in the regular season as the Patriots starting
quarterback and enters the season with a 6-0 postseason record and 7-0 overtime
record. He is 1-1 in season openers following last year's four-interception
performance in a 31-0 loss at Buffalo.
- The Patriots are 20-24 all-time on opening day while Belichick, whose reputation
for meticulous preparation would make one think he is unbeatable in openers
when he's had months to prepare, has a 3-6 record on Kickoff Weekend. ...
New England will play eight games in 2004 against teams that finished above.
500 last year and seven against 2003 playoff teams. They were 8-1 last season
against teams that appear on their schedule again this year. And of the other
seven teams on the schedule, New England defeated five of them in the last meeting
between the clubs. They lost their last meeting with Cincinnati (9/9/2001) and
BY THE NUMBERS:
27 -- the number of consecutive regular season games the Patriots have won
when leading after three quarters, leading the NFL.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"Everyone has total confidence that when we're playing we have a good chance because he's our quarterback." - Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis on Tom Brady
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Jim Miller spent the summer on the non-football injury list while recovering
from February shoulder surgery. He was signed in mid-July despite the team's
knowledge that he would not be able to throw until the end of August.
So it was surprising to see his name among those released on the first mandatory cut down day. But it's also safe to assume his release was some kind of procedural matter and that he will be back in the fold before the team begins preparation in earnest for the season opener.
Since Miller is not yet ready to play, it is likely that the Patriots cut him to get a final look at fringe players in the preseason finale, including quarterbacks Rohan Davey and Kliff Kingsbury, before final cuts become mandatory. Once those cuts are made, expect Miller to be re-signed soon thereafter. That's the only reasonable move considering that both Kingsbury and Davey have struggled this summer. Miller's stock increased while he sat idle watching his main competition for a roster spot falter. The move also may have been financial. If Miller is on the roster on Saturday, his salary is guaranteed for the season whereas if he is signed after that, the team is only responsible for the prorated portion of his salary for as many weeks as he is on the team.
Bill Belichick said on Tuesday, Aug. 31 that Miller had a shot at practicing this week and a few hours later, the player was cut.
- Troy Brown's injured leg doesn't have Bill Belichick overly concerned. "I
feel good about Troy," Belichick said. "It's day-to-day. I certainly
think he'll have a shot to play (against the Colts), but I can't predict what's
going to happen."
- Brown's fellow wideout David Givens also is battling a leg injury that could
leave him questionable for the opener, but there is no update on his status.
Ty Law's leg injury shouldn't keep him out of the opener. He wanted to play
last week in Carolina, but Belichick held him out as a precaution.
- Linebacker Matt Chatham and running back Cedric Cobbs will likely open the
season on PUP since neither has practiced this summer.
- Je'Rod Cherry's undisclosed injury has limited him for several weeks and
one has to wonder if his job could be in jeopardy, although losing Guss Scott
for the season may make that moot.
- Wideout P.K. Sam could be destined for injured reserve since he has been
slow to return from a leg injury.
- Dana Stubblefield was placed on injured reserve with a leg injury despite
only practicing with the team for a few days. He is slated to count $455,000
against the cap, but don't be shocked to see an injury settlement reached.
He joins Rodney Bailey, Zeron Flemister and Scott on IR for a total cap charge
- Besides Miller, the Patriots released punter Cody Scates, long snapper Brian Sawyer and offensive lineman Tim Provost.
- Miller was resigned, along with RB Kory Champman. Additional released players
include Mike Cloud, Kliff Kingsbury, Dwight Howard, Earthwind Moreland, Jamil Soriano, Lawrence Flugence, Grant Steen, Joel Jacobs and local DB Scott Farley.
PLAYER TO WATCH:
S Dexter Reid - a 2004 fourth round pick who was expected to vie for a job
strictly as a special teamer this year. With Guss Scott on IR, Reid has now
been thrust into the No. 1 backup job behind Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson
at free and strong safety. Belichick likes his ability to quarterback the secondary,
but he was behind Scott before the injury. He has shown up this summer and could
earn some defensive snaps before long.
DRAFT PICKS TO STICK:
Rd. 1/21, DT Vince Wilfork, Miami -- Has had a solid but unspectacular first NFL summer. His learning curve in a two-gap, 3-4 system has been obvious, but his progress has been steady. He saw time as a 3-4 end against the Panthers after two ends - Dana Stubblefield and Rodney Bailey - landed on injured reserve. He had three tackles and no sacks through three preseason games. He will play significantly in the line rotation at both nose tackle and end.
Rd. 1/32, TE Benjamin Watson, Georgia -- You'd never know he missed the first 18 days of camp in a contract dispute. While Belichick makes certain to cut him down to size with comments about not making his bust for the Hall of Fame yet, the rookie tight end has impressed early with eight receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown in two games. He will be a featured part of the offense.
Rd. 2/63, DE Marquise Hill, LSU -- Hill doesn't seem to be ready to be an immediate
contributor and has not shown great quickness off the ball. Don't be surprised
if he is inactive early in the season before making his way onto the game day
roster later in the year, although injuries on the defensive line may have already
elevated his importance to the club. He had 4 tackles in the first three preseason
Rd. 3/95, S Guss Scott, Florida -- a strong camp went to waste when he suffered
a season-ending knee injury in Cincinnati during the preseason. He was placed
on injured reserve.
Rd. 4/113, S Dexter Reid, North Carolina -- Reid has had a solid camp and has
shown up on special teams throughout the summer. He will back up at safety while
he covers kicks and could get some work in dime coverages.
Rd. 4/128, RB Cedric Cobbs, Arkansas -- He will almost certainly start the
season on PUP after missing all of training camp with a leg injury.
Rd. 5/164, WR P.K. Sam, Florida State -- Injured his leg early in camp and has been on the sideline since. The Patriots would like to keep him in the program and could move him to injured reserve at final cuts. Otherwise, if the Patriots keep six receivers, he is the sixth.
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