The football world is in such a post-hype coma after the Pats-Jets affair that it’s almost too easy to overlook this week’s meeting between the Patriots (10-2) and Bears (9-3), who lead the NFC North by a game over the Packers.
Here are 21 storylines in this week’s Two-Minute Drill to get you ready on a short week. Twenty-one, you ask? Well, I’ve thrown in an extra one as an apology for shorting you last week. ‘Tis the season for giving, you know.
1. Quarterback Tom Brady took the lead in the MVP race with Monday’s performance against the Jets, but based on some comments from three weeks ago, Brady sounds like he’d prefer to avoid the award the way some athletes shun the Madden cover. The MVP doesn’t translate into team success, as just 10 of the 44 MVP recipients have also won the Super Bowl. So, Patriots fans might want to swallow their pride and root for Peyton Manning‘s resurgence or Michael Vick’s run to continue.
2. Speaking of Vick, who is probably second in the MVP race, there is one astronomically ridiculous theory behind his campaign for the award. The Eagles are 6-1 in games that Vick has played wire to wire — and he’s been tremendous this season, no doubt — but they’re 2-3 in their other five games. Does this show Vick’s value? Absolutely, but don’t back Vick simply because there’s tangible evidence of how unimpressive the Eagles have been with Vick out of the lineup. And even further, how truly valuable is a guy who missed one-third of the season anyway?
3. The Patriots can clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday in Chicago. This season is flying by, isn’t it?
4. Cornerback Devin McCourty looked equal parts stunned, humbled and overjoyed Monday night when I told him that Vince Wilfork called him the best cornerback in the league. But if there’s anyone who won’t let that type of praise go to his head, it’s the hard-working, even-keeled McCourty.
5. Former Pats linebacker Tedy Bruschi took a couple of minutes to meet with the media during the opening drive of Monday’s game, but Bruschi clearly had his focus tuned into the action on the field. He’s clearly still got that passion for game days, even though he’s not playing anymore.
6. It was interesting to hear Bill Belichick defend Josh McDaniels on Tuesday because McDaniels made some scathing comments about the Patriots’ spying practices that were leaked about two weeks ago. Obviously, it appears nothing vitriolic has occurred between Belichick and McDaniels since then.
7. Almost a year ago to the day, Notre Dame fired head coach Charlie Weis, and many believed the Patriots should have gone after Weis to replace Bill O’Brien as the offensive coordinator (or the quarterbacks coach, or the offensive play-caller, if you want to be more technical). With McDaniels now on the market, those whispers have remained in check, and that’s because O’Brien has been much improved during his second season on the job. And remember, McDaniels took a full year to get it together in New England with the same role.
8. The Patriots almost universally said Monday they played their most complete game of the season, and Belichick used a pretty cut-and-dry formula to make the same claim Tuesday. “The final score is the only thing that matters,” Belichick said. “I think the final score reflected that it was our most complete game of the year, closest to playing 60 minutes, so that was good.”
9. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis lined up heavily on wide receiver Wes Welker on Monday, but it wasn’t on every single play. After the game, Revis said he wasn’t thrown on all night, but O’Brien said that wasn’t a conscious decision by any means. “No, that wasn’t part of the plan,” O’Brien said. “We don’t go into a game saying that we’re not going to throw at this guy or this guy. We just execute the play based on what the coverage is, and that’s how we do it.”
10. So, wide receiver Deion Branch had an interesting week. His game was mercilessly attacked in an unprovoked fashion by known Patriots hater and former Vikings receiver Cris Carter. Then, Branch had three receptions for 64 yards and one touchdown while working almost exclusively on cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who blanked Randy Moss in Week 2.
11. Branch took the high road after the game when he was asked about Carter’s remarks. “I’ve been doubted all my life, ever since I was a little kid,” Branch said. “I’ve been doubted, saying I’d never make it. I was too short, this and that, so hearing it from Cris, I didn’t hear it [firsthand], but that’s his opinion. But he’s just like the next man. Somebody else will probably say something tomorrow. That’s their opinion. I can’t worry about the next man. I’ve got to do what I can do to help provide and take care of my family, and I’ve got to keep doing that.”
12. And when asked if comments like that give him a little juice, Branch got really reflective. He mentioned one of his sons, Deiondre, who hasn’t been able to speak since contracting viral meningitis as an infant. “I look at my kids,” Branch said. “That’s what gives me the juice. I have a son who can’t play with his siblings. That’s what gives me the juice. Not hearing something from the naysayers, Cris Carter, hey, whatever. Whatever. I’m OK. I’m OK. I never looked to him for advice. That’s his opinion. I respect him as a player. … His words don’t hurt. They can’t do anything for me.” For more on Deiondre Branch’s story, check out this link from 2007 from the Seattle Times.
13. Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who was celebrating first downs Monday while trailing by 21 points, said last week that a rookie — more specifically, McCourty — wouldn’t be able to cover him. McCourty didn’t strictly draw Holmes in coverage, but the rookie was all over Holmes’ public comments. “He said something about me in the paper earlier,” McCourty said. “I’m not worried about that. You’ve got to come out and play. I’m more worried about this team and how I can help the team win each time we come out and play.”
14. No islands, though. “That’s not me,” McCourty laughed. “I’m not into McCourty Island or any of that.”
15. How valuable is Danny Woodhead? Look at it this way. Running back Laurence Maroney has 36 carries for 74 yards, four catches for 50 yards and no touchdowns since joining the Broncos. Wide receiver Randy Moss has 18 receptions for 236 yards and two touchdowns this season with the Vikings and Titans. Woodhead, meanwhile, has 355 rushing yards, which is more than Maroney, and 334 receiving yards, which is more than Moss and Maroney combined. Woodhead’s four touchdowns are twice as many as Moss and Maroney since the pair departed from New England.
16. Something tells me Woodhead has got to be thrilled to get the Jets game behind him. He was swamped all week with questions about the Jets, and he offered up a similar response Monday night about his former team. “I am a New England Patriot,” said Woodhead, who exchanged a ton of pregame hugs with his former Jets teammates. “Was I over there at one time? Yeah, but that isn’t something that I dwell on or ever want to dwell on because that’s not who I am now. I am a New England Patriot, and that’s the most important thing. I’m going to do my best for this team.”
17. One more on McCourty, who praised cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer for harping on the little things every day in practice. McCourty said Boyer has had the cornerbacks work on a certain drill on a technique that has shown up in a game every week, whether it’s going after the ball at its highest point, or locking your eyes on a receiver through the play, which keeps players trained to target tipped passes.
18. The Patriots are the first team in NFL history to score 30 points in four consecutive games without committing a turnover. The key word after the Moss trade was efficiency, and that’s what the Patriots have found.
19. McCourty and the Patriots love themselves some interceptions, and they’re lining up against the right man to appease them Sunday in Chicago. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is an interception machine, and no matter how you sort the stats, Cutler has the most interceptions in the NFL since 2007 (68), 2008 (54) and 2009 (36). Interestingly, since the start of 2009, the three guys who are tied for second on that list are Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez, who have each thrown 31 interceptions in that span.
20. Midway through the season, it seemed like it would have been nearly impossible for Welker to reach 100 receptions for the fourth year in a row, but Welker actually has a shot now. He had 44 receptions through eight games, putting him on pace for 88 this season. But Welker has 28 catches in the last four games, which is an average of seven per game. If Welker, who has 72 receptions this season, continues to average seven catches per game, he’ll wind up with 100 receptions on the nose.
21. The Pats-Bears matchup might have a little more meaning than you might think. If the Patriots and Jets finish the regular season with the same record, here are the first four tiebreakers:
A. Head to head: The Pats and Jets split their series, so that’s a wash.
B. Division record: They’re each 3-1 with winnable games remaining against the Dolphins and Bills.
C. Record against common opponents: More below.
D. Record against AFC opponents: The Patriots are 8-2, while the Jets are 7-2 with an upcoming game against the Steelers.
The Patriots and Jets have eight common opponents outside of the division — Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit. The Patriots are 5-1 in those games, while the Jets are 4-2. So, if the Patriots lose to the Bears or Packers, and the Jets win their last four games, the tiebreaker would then shift to strength of victory, which is far too complicated at this point in the season.
The point is that the tiebreaking scenarios between the Patriots and Jets could be determined by calculators, and that’s why it’s important for the Patriots to win their last four games and avoid such a scenario.