Insider News, Notes and Week 2 Report Card

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INSIDER SLANT

The long-awaited book that has undergone a couple of name changes is now out and Bill Belichick has no interest in hyping it.

Former Boston Globe columnist Michael Holley was granted unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the Patriots' coaches, players and scouts starting back around Super Bowl XXXVI and then throughout the entire 2002 season and continuing into 2003. His book, titled "Patriots Reign: Bill Belichick, the Coaches and the Players Who Built a Champion" is published by William Morrow and has been available for pre-order on bookstore web sites for some time. Sports Illustrated's Peter King, on Monday, published some early accounts of what the book contains.

In the book, Belichick admits that the 1996 Patriots were distracted by Bill Parcells' job situation as they prepared to play the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI, a game they lost 35-21. Holley writes in the book that the Patriots had phone records from Parcells' Super Bowl week hotel room in New Orleans that showed several calls to Hempstead, N.Y., where Jets headquarters is located.

The book also details the Patriots' strategy heading into Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams and quotes Belichick addressing his team on several topics, including the uncensored language with which he sometimes speaks to his players.

Belichick actually objected to the book's previous title, "Patriots Reign: The Genius of Bill Belichick," which also appeared on bookstore websites for pre-order, because it contradicts the message that he sends daily to his team about checking individuality at the door and working as one. Belichick didn't want to be singled out in such a manner and quietly expressed his displeasure about that title when it appeared on the web, influencing its change, although it seems obvious the publisher felt like Belichick's name would be the sales hook.

As far as the comments made in the book, they are old news as far as Belichick is concerned. "The publisher sent out some stuff to hype the book with the title, cover and selected quotes," Belichick said. "I'm not part of that. I'm not on that hype program. That's not what I'm doing. I'm here to talk about our team.

"It's old news. All that stuff (in the book) has been talked about. It's old stories and whatever was said, you got it. I had no editorial say and I haven't read it completely yet. But I won't get into the book. There was a demand to find out what we were doing and how we were doing it. Now we're taking two or three comments and trying to blow it up into a big story. Whatever it was, it was."

NOTES, QUOTES

Despite their second win in as many weeks, the Patriots remain unhappy with the way they've performed, which is a product of high expectations created by confidence and diligent preparation. After the week of work they put in and with the talent they have, the players and coaches expect to play a sharper, cleaner game and despite beating the Colts and Cardinals, they've yet to play like the championship team that walked off the field last February.

"I thought the game was one where we missed a lot of opportunities," head coach Bill Belichick said after looking at the film. "Offensively, we left a lot of plays out there. We had a touchdown called back, missed a crossing route (for a touchdown) and we had 12 accepted penalties in the game. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. We're a long way from being a good football team."

The Patriots never seem satisfied and the players echoed the coach's sentiments even moments after the final gun sounded in their 23-12 win over the Cardinals. In some sense, it seems like the Patriots nit-pick after a win to send the message that they remain unsatisfied. While acknowledging that as a possibility for some teams, Belichick doesn't feel that's the case with his club.

"The players have high expectations too," he said. "They go through a lot to get ready and they expect to play well. When it doesn't happen, there's a level of frustration. As a competitor, you expect things to be better. You want to see good results when you put a lot into it.

"I don't know how you can improve if you can't accept some constructive criticism and do something about it. If your team doesn't have confidence, you'd have to be careful (about sucking the joy out of wins by nit-picking)."

The Patriots played much better run defense against Emmitt Smith and the Cardinals than they did against Edgerrin James and the Colts. Arizona's actually runs an offensive scheme similar to that of the Colts, but with less talented personnel. After allowing 202 yards in Week 1, the Pats defense allowed just 50 Sunday. "Our tackling was better and we handled our responsibilities better," Belichick said. "We spent time on it last week. We put a lot of emphasis on that. We had a lot fewer missed tackles this week."

The Patriots have now won 17 straight games dating back to last October. The team's last loss in a meaningful (not preseason) game came Sept. 28, 2003 in a 20-17 loss to the Redskins. They are now one of eight teams in history to win 17 straight games and they remain one win shy of tying the record for consecutive wins with 18, which is held by six teams, including the 1997-1998 Broncos, who were the last to do it. The Patriots travel to Buffalo after their bye week. They lost 31-0 in Buffalo last year to open the season. They also have won seven straight road games.

  • WR Deion Branch left Sunday's game after injuring his leg on the last play of the first half. Following James Darling's interception of a Tom Brady Hail Mary, Branch was hurt trying to make the tackle when offensive lineman Dan Koppen was clipped into the side of Branch's leg. The receiver lobbied to come back in the game, but Belichick held him out and had no further information Monday on the injury's extent.

  • WR David Patten also left game during the second half and had his leg worked on by trainers on the bench. There is no update on his status.

  • OLs Joe Andruzzi and Dan Koppen also left the game different times, but both returned to action. Andruzzi has no been hobbled in consecutive games.

  • TE Benjamin Watson was inactive after not even starting the week on the injury report. He was added to the injury report Thursday as probable with a knee injury, was downgraded to questionable on Friday, and was inactive for the game.

  • RB Corey Dillon rushed for the most yards by a Patriot since Robert Edwards rushed for 196 yards on 24 carries in St. Louis on Dec. 13, 1998. He has now exceeded 100 rushing yards 29 times in his career and has eclipsed the 150-yard mark eight times. It was Dillon's highest production since he ran for 164 yards for the Bengals at Indianapolis on Oct. 6, 2002. The 158 yards were the eighth most for Dillon in his career.

  • WR David Givens eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark for the first time in his career with six catches for 118 yards. His previous high came last Nov. 3 at Denver when he had three catches for 87 yards.

  • TE Daniel Graham entered the 2004 with five touchdowns in two seasons, but already has three in two games this year after the first two-touchdown game of his career Sunday in Arizona. He has now caught a touchdown pass in his last three regular season games dating back to last year. Graham now has nine catches for 78 yards and three TDs through two games.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus
Quarterback Tom Brady was not his typical sharp self, but Arizona's pressure was a big reason for that. The Cardinals plan was to blitz Brady up the middle and force him to cut short his progressions and get the ball out early. The Patriots did a decent job handling the pressure, but the Cardinals blitzed a linebacker so often that the pressure was a factor even though both Arizona sacks came on a four-man rush. Brady threw one bad interception when he tried to hit David Givens on a hitch-and-go, but threw the ball up with a hand in his face right to cornerback David Macklin. His other interception came on a Hail Mary just before the half. Brady finished 15-for-36 for 217 yards with two touchdowns, both to tight end Daniel Graham. Wide receivers David Patten and Deion Branch both were banged up in the game and Givens stepped up to catch six passes for 118 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A
Corey Dillon was a consistent factor in the game, piling up 158 yards on 32 attempts without the benefit of a long run to boost his numbers. His longest run was a 17-yarder on his first carry. The Patriots offensive line did a solid job moving the Cardinals front off the ball, but it seemed like at times, Arizona was playing pass and got caught shooting gaps after the quarterback. Dillon was able to make the blitzer miss and get to the second level for a productive, consistent day. The only thing he didn't do was score and he actually did that, but the touchdown was overturned when Christian Fauria was called for a highly questionable illegal motion for allegedly moving forward at the snap. Replay showed no such infraction, although the Cardinals Freddie Jones was called for the same mysterious penalty later in the game so the officials obviously saw something minor on what is a "point of emphasis" this year.

PASS DEFENSE: A-plus
The Patriots could not have fared much better against an offense playing without its top target, injured wideout Anquan Boldin. New England's defense came after Josh McCown early and often with outside blitzes that Arizona's protection never adjusted to. New England sacked McCown five times in the first half and had him running for his life all day. McCown completed only 13-of-29 passes for 160 yards -- 42 of which came on a screen play - while being intercepted twice by safety Eugene Wilson and having 10 of his passes deflected by New England defenders. Rookie wideout Larry Fitzgerald was a virtual non-factor with a team-high five catches for only 36 yards. Even a third down illegal contact penalty, a third down pass interference call in the end zone and a misplayed screen that set up a touchdown couldn't lower this grade. The Cardinals had no chance offensively.

RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus
Consider that Emmitt Smith ran 13 times for 31 yards. Now consider that he gained 16 yards on his first two carries of the day. After that, he ran 11 times for 15 yards as the Patriots clogged up holes, strung him out and tackled much better than they did a week earlier against the Colts. It's difficult to tell if the Patriots were that dominant or if Arizona was that inept, but the truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in the middle. McCown scrambled three times for 19 yards and Arizona only finished with 50 total rushing yards. The Patriots should be lauded for that effort a week after getting pushed around while allowing 202 rushing yards against the Colts. The defensive front seven played a much better overall football game this week, maintaining discipline in its run fits.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus
The Patriots were solid in the kicking game. Adam Vinatieri connected on all three field goal tries, all from inside 30 yards, and Josh Miller punted well, averaging 45.7 yards and landing two kicks inside the Cardinals 20 with one touchback that was nearly downed at the 1. Troy Brown was back returning punts and took four back for 27 yards, 22 of which came on a nifty, shifty return in which he made several Cardinals miss him after catching the punt at his own 10.

COACHING: A
The Patriots established Dillon early in the game and then rode him for four quarters as Arizona tried to disrupt the passing attack. It is defensive game plans like the one Arizona used Sunday that make it obvious why the Patriots acquired Dillon. He was a workhorse a week after getting just 15 carries against the Colts. The Pats defensive game plan ended up being a thing of beauty mostly because the Cardinals were unable to adjust to all the pressure on McCown. Once the Patriots established that they had the run effectively snuffed out, they came after McCown regularly and disrupted the Arizona offense, which seemed lucky when it actually made a play. The Patriots, while certainly not sharp, did not allow the Arizona game to be a so-called trap game. They were mostly ready to play in their first road game and one that carried some extra emotion because of the halftime ceremony honoring former Cardinal and U.S. special forces ranger Pat Tillman, who died in combat. It was almost like a home game for the Pats, though, with nearly half of the filled seats being filled by Patriots fans.

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