MMQB - The House of Blue Leaves, Vol. 1"

For the twentieth straight time, the New England Patriots established their dominance over the rest of the NFL. .NET's Doug Farrar takes a closer look at the architecture of the most impressive winning streak in NFL history.

New England Patriots 30, Seattle Seahawks 20
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Massachusetts

Beatrix Kiddo: “And what, pray tell, is the Five-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique?”
Bill: “Quite simple. The deadliest blow in all of martial arts. He hits you with his fingertips at five different pressure points on your body…and then lets you walk away. But once you’ve taken five steps, your heart explodes inside your body. And you fall to the floor, dead.”
Beatrix Kiddo: “Did he teach you that?”
Bill: “No. He teaches no one the Five-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.”
--Uma Thurman and David Carradine, “Kill Bill, Vol. 2”, 2004

“Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder amongst the enemy:--this is the art of retaining self-possession.” -- Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

“It’s pretty much the same thing every Sunday” – Bill Belichick

Oh, GREAT.

A week after the Seahawks gift-wrap a game they had dead to rights and ship it Fourth Quarter Air to the front door of Mike Freakin’ Martz (of all people!!!), they have to face THIS.

20 wins in a row. 17 in a row in the regular season. Two Super Bowl victories in three years. Domination we thought we’d never see in the new era of parity. The New England Patriots, for those of you who have seen Quentin Tarantino's masterful “Kill Bill” movies, are the “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” of the NFL. And the NFL, unlike the movie, doesn’t seem to have a Beatrix Kiddo who can knock them off one by one. Paid killers with the patience of Zen Masters, the Patriots are led by Sensei Bill Belichick…Snake Charmer, Professional Enigma, The Best Damn Coach In The NFL.

They have no “stars” per se, although Tom Brady has attained heartthrob status off the field. What they have is a group of men who play to every cliché – one game at a time, like there’s no tomorrow, until the final gun. The Patriots have no need for the likes of Terrell Owens – but when they do venture into the “great unknown”, they tend to get what they want. Before the 2004 season, they acquired supposed “malingerer” Corey Dillon from the Bengals for a second-round draft pick. Result? Dillon has rushed for 522 yards in five games and has become a key part of the offense. And he’s had nothing but good to say about his new home. Near-perfection will do that to the reputedly “incorrigible”.

Opposing teams have to ask two questions – first, how do you build an organization like this? Second, how do you stop this Instrument Of Death now that someone else has built it?

The Seahawks, like the nineteen who fell before them, had no answers. However, your intrepid “MMQB” is still searching. So, instead of my normal game recap, I’d like to attempt, in two parts, to look at how the most impressive streak in the history of professional football has come to pass. Because as a football fan – a student and aficionado of the game – I stand in awe of what this team has done.

Game One - 10/5/03 – PATRIOTS 38, Titans 30
Belichick’s Trump: New England RB Mike Cloud (currently playing with the G-Men) returned from a 4-game substance abuse suspension and ran for 73 yards and two TDs. Belichick had acquired Cloud before the 2003 season knowing he’d probably serve a suspension after testing positive for an illegal substance, but Cloud was the key to the start of the streak. Broken Myth #1 – Belichick doesn’t just sign Boy Scouts.
Key Opponent Mistake: Steve McNair went 23 of 45 for 391 yards and ran for two scores, but it was the interception he threw to Ty Law with 1:40 left in the game that decided things - the clincher in a 31-point second half for New England. Law broke in front of Titan WR Tyrone Calico and returned McNair’s pass 65 yards for a touchdown.

Game Two - 10/12/03 – PATRIOTS 17, Giants 6
Belichick’s Trump:
Outgained 199-29 in total yards in the first half, the Pats still led 7-3 at the break thanks to Tyrone Poole 's strip of Tiki Barber a little more than two minutes into the game. The fumble was returned 38 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Matt Chatham, one of many backups forced to play because of injuries. The Patriots came out in the second half, scored 10 quick points and the Giants never got back into the game. Tom Brady, 1 of 10 for 7 yards before intermission, was 7 of 11 for 105 yards in the second half.
Key Opponent Mistake: In a dismal, rainy day that made handling the ball difficult, New York had five turnovers, including two on its first three plays. New England had none. Kerry Collins threw for over 200 more yards than Brady – and still lost. Maybe the four INTs he threw had something to do with it?

Game Three - 10/19/03 – Patriots 19, DOLPHINS 13
Belichick’s Trump:
Tied 13-13 at the end of regulation, the Dolphins won a controversial coin toss to begin overtime. The Patriots called tails and said the coin landed on tails. They said veteran referee Gerald Austin mistakenly turned it over as he picked it up off the ground. Austin said the players were confused about which side was which. It worked out fine for the Patriots, though. Having lost the toss, Belichick instructed his team captains to make Miami drive to the end of the field with the dirt (with the Florida Marlins playing the New York Yankees in the World Series, infield dirt covered a large amount of the field at Pro Player Stadium). Jay Fiedler hit Derrius Thompson for a 31-yard completion down the sideline. Ricky Williams then ran 13 yards around the right end to put Miami in field-goal range. And Dolphin kicker Olindo Mare missed a shot to win the game when his second 35-yard attempt went wide right with 12:01 on the clock. Lose the toss and gain the advantage…THAT’S coaching. Brady ended the game six minutes later with an 82-yard TD pass to Troy Brown.
Key Opponent Mistake: Mare’s two missed FGs (one blocked by Richard Seymour, and the wide right OT kick) – both on the dirt. Hmmm…might have to give Bud Selig an assist on that one…

Game Four - 10/26/03 – PATRIOTS 9, Browns 3
Belichick’s Trump:
As the score would indicate, this was probably the ugliest game of the streak. This one was more about two players than it was about Coach B – linebacker Mike Vrabel had three sacks and Adam Vinatieri booted three field goals. The Pats had four trips inside the Browns’ red zone and could not score a touchdown. Cleveland was playing without RB William Green and 3 of their 5 starters on the offensive line. Winning ugly is inevitable in a streak this long…no way around it.
Key Opponent Mistake: Cleveland QB Kelly Holcomb (replacing Tim Couch, who Vrabel had put out of the game) threw an INT to Ty Law at the New England 25-yard line with 51 seconds left in the game.

Game Five - 11/03/03 – Patriots 30, BRONCOS 26
Belichick’s Trump:
Belichick’s mastermind rep moved up quite a few floors in this game. Tom Brady threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to David Givens with 30 seconds left Monday night to give the Patriots the win, but it was Belichick's call for a deliberate safety that turned the tide. The Pats were trailing 24-23 and were backed up on their own 1 on fourth down with 2:49 left. The safety made Denver's lead 26-23, but it gave New England punting room and Ken Walter's free kick put the Broncos back to their own 15. The Broncos went three-and-out and New England had to drive just 58 yards after getting the ball back with 2:15 left after using two timeouts. "I think that was the best call of the game," Givens said. "Our coaches knew that we have a great field-goal kicker. The offense was moving the ball all game and either we were going to get three and go to overtime or score a touchdown." Belichick said he took the safety because he figured he'd lose any chance at good field position if he punted from the end zone. "We were hoping to get the ball back in decent field position and still have some time to at least try for a field goal to tie it," he said.
Key Opponent Mistake: No graphic errors by the Broncos – they were just outfoxed…and outcoached.

Game Six - 11/16/03 – PATRIOTS 12, Cowboys 0
Belichick’s Trump:
Overcoming undeniable bad blood in his first match-up with Bill Parcells since the Tuna took over the Cowboys, Belichick and the Pats bested Dallas and their #1 ranked defense with two long completions from an otherwise ineffective Brady and some crushing defense of their own. Ugly win #2, but it was the way his players responded to the “student-teacher” hype that spoke volumes for Belichick here. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi thought this confrontation had special meaning for Belichick, who spent 12 years as an assistant to Parcells with the Patriots and the New York Giants and Jets. "I think it was a big win for him," Bruschi said. "If I worked for a coach at one time or was on that staff I'd want to beat him, too. It's just common sense."
Key Opponent Mistake: The Cowboys committed ten penalties, and Dallas QB Quincy Carter threw three interceptions in the second half to seal New England’s first shutout in 130 games.

Game Seven - 11/23/03 – Patriots 23, TEXANS 20
Belichick’s Trump:
The second game in New England’s Texas Two-Step (and the second overtime game of the streak) featured more boo-boos by the Pats than by the young team opposing them. Tom Brady was 29 of 47 for 368 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions and a lost fumble -- plus a 38-yard miss off the right upright by Adam Vinatieri just before halftime -- kept the Texans in the game. Kevin Faulk had eight catches for 108 yards and 80 yards rushing for New England. Vinatieri had another attempt blocked in New England’s first possession of the “fifth quarter”. But with 41 seconds left in overtime, Vinatieri nailed the 28-yard field goal that won the game.
Key Opponent Mistake: Good game played by the Texans, but it was their inability to capitalize on key Patriot errors that cost them their chance to break the streak.

Game Eight - 11/30/03 – Patriots 38, COLTS 34
Belichick’s Trump
: New England sports fans can take heart – there appears to be one team that has a mojo which might be the equal of the Curse Of The Bambino - and it's a near-Boston team with the upper hand this time. This was Game One of a hellish trifecta in which the Colts provided the Patriots with three of the steak’s twenty wins. New England pulled to a 31-10 lead behind Brady, who finished 26 of 35 for 236 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, the strong running of Mike Cloud, who scored twice, and Bethel Johnson's kickoff returns. But Manning valiantly rallied the Colts from a 21-point deficit. He converted Brady's first interception into a 13-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne. Three plays later, Brady was picked off again. On the next play, Manning threw a 26-yard strike to Marvin Harrison to make it 31-24 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter. On the Colts' next series, Manning tied the score with a 6-yard TD pass to Troy Walters. It was the Colts' third touchdown in less than six minutes. Manning was 29 of 48 for 278 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.

"We knew that wasn't enough," New England LB Willie McGinest said of the 21-point lead. "We knew we had a long way to go."

Actually, it wasn’t a long way at all – the game was decided by the one yard Indianapolis couldn’t gain. With 14 seconds left in the game and the Colts on the Patriots’ one-yard line, McGinest ignored his hurt knee, got around the right side of the offensive line, and caught Edgerrin James in the backfield to preserve New England 's 38-34 win. It was the final play of a now-famous goal line stand that firmly established the Pats as the bullies of the AFC. For the Colts, it was an ominous precursor of things to come.
Key Opponent Mistake: The Colts’ inability to run a goal-line offense on their final drive was the killer in this game. With two fullbacks (Detron Smith and James Mungro) out of the game with injuries, Peyton Manning had nothing but finesse to answer the Patriots at the gun.

Game Nine - 12/07/03 – PATRIOTS 12, Dolphins 0
Belichick’s Trump:
The Patriots’ second shutout of the streak and the first “snow game”, as a Nor’easter dumped 28 inches of snow on the Foxboro area from late Friday night. Ricky Williams struggled to find a footing all day, rushing for only 68 yards on 25 carries. Miami’s Matt Turk punted on 10 of the Dolphins' first 11 possessions, and the Dolphins lost a fumble on the other. The Patriots won without an offensive touchdown.
Key Opponent Mistake: The closest the Dolphins came to scoring was late in the third quarter when they moved from their 37-yard line to a third-and-3 at the Patriots 10. Then a blitzing Rodney Harrison jarred the ball loose from Miami QB Jay Fiedler and Mike Vrabel recovered for New England at the 30. Game over.

Game Ten - 12/14/03 – PATRIOTS 27, Jaguars 13
Belichick’s Trump:
Snow game number two. The Pats gave up a TD at home for the first time in two months, but for the second straight week, a team from Florida was vexed by The Guy Who Controls The Weather (with
whom Belichick has probably arranged some sort of contract). It took the Patriots less than six minutes to go ahead, on a 27-yard reception by Daniel Graham, one of Brady's two scoring passes. Brady completed all six passes on that first 66-yard series, and 12 of his first 13. Jacksonville got inside the New England 10-yard line on its first two possessions, but managed just two field goals by Seth Marler, covering 24 and 23 yards. Once again, the New England red zone defense proved to be a black-belt opponent deterrent. "When you play a team as good as they are, you're not going to get many opportunities," Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich said, "so you better take advantage of the ones you've got." Indeed.
Key Opponent Mistake: Leftwich threw two interceptions to Tyrone Poole, leading to two fourth-quarter touchdowns for the Patriots: a 10-yard pass from Brady to Troy Brown and a 1-yard run by Antowain Smith.

Stay tuned for “The House of Blue Leaves, Vol. 2”, coming later this week…

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at doug@seahawks.net.


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