Is this the "fall from mountaintop" - ?


Dec 15, 2004
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Lambeau Midwest
Patriot predicament
Champs are a mess, but other teams still fear them
Posted: Monday August 1, 2005 9:36AM; Updated: Monday August 1, 2005 11:45AM

WESTMINSTER, Md. -- The Ravens opened training camp here last night in the middle of Maryland and the Super Bowl wasn't far from their minds. The offensive minds, at least.

Late Sunday night, after his first meeting with his offense and after going over today's play-installation with his quarterbacks, new offensive coordinator Jim Fassel talked about why everyone else was still chasing the Patriots, despite their turbulent offseason.

He told his team during its first meeting that when you watch the Patriots, what jumps out is how the opposition loses the game as much as New England wins it. "They wait for you to make a mistake and eventually that's what happens,'' Fassel said. "I don't see that changing, even with everything that's happened to them.''

So far I've had glimpses of Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit and the Giants, and I'll see the Ravens on the practice field here today. And whether I'm sitting around with writers, talking with players or chatting up coaches and team officials, the conversation most often comes around to one thing:

Have the Patriots been too wounded by this brutal offseason to win their fourth Super Bowl in five years?

God knows they've been battered. Both inside linebackers are gone, after Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson each surprised the team by saying they won't play this year. The best cover guy, Ty Law, is gone. The two coordinators, Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis are gone, with the prospect of the head coach taking over the offensive play-calling. The best current defensive player, Richard Seymour, is holding out in a contract dispute. You look at this team and find yourself asking: When's the last time any NFL team had this many preseason crises and won a Super Bowl? The Bucs fired a beloved coach, Tony Dungy, and won with Jon Gruden. The Cowboys survived some contract fusses. The Raiders had some mayhem going on when they won. San Francisco survived the Montana-Young jousting and won. Long ago, the Chiefs won despite player gambling accusations. But I can't think of a team so embattled before the season begins.

I got the perspective of two players who've battled the Patriots, mostly on losing terms, over the past few years. One, new Detroit tight end Marcus Pollard, still thought New England was the team to beat. The other, new Giants wideout Plaxico Burress, didn't want to coronate anyone, but he likes the team I'm visiting right now -- the Ravens.

"Bruschi's a huge loss,'' said Pollard, the longtime Colt. "I think the Patriots losing Tedy is the equivalent of the Colts losing Peyton [Manning]. That's how much he meant to that defense. I wish I could talk to him. If you see him, tell him I wish him well. I admire him so much and how he plays. Their defense is really remarkable. I always thought if you compared the Colts' offense to their offense, we were better. But if you compare our defense to theirs, I'd pick them. And that's what wins championships. They beat us up, cold. They literally were so physical that we never got our offense going when we played them. They're a lesser team without Tedy and Ted Johnson. But I can't count out Bill Belichick. They still got Tom Brady, who's a great player, and you know it's so important to have that quarterback who can win games. I think it's going to be really tough to beat them, even with everything that's happened.''

"Indy can't be great till they win in Foxboro,'' I said.

"I know,'' Pollard said. "But you get there late in the year, and it's so cold, and it's home for them. And they're so physical. Pretty tough place to play.''

Said Burress: "I really like Baltimore. Look what they've done in the offseason. Adding Derrick Mason and Samari Rolle gives them two great players, and they were already really tough. Samari, if he's healthy, can be a shutdown corner, and they're already really good on defense. I don't know who I'd pick, but I like New England, too. Belichick will find guys who fit what he wants to do.

That's what it comes down with New England. The rest of this league figures Belichick find some way to hold LaMont Jordan to 21 carries for 59 yards and hold Randy Moss to four catches for 53 in the Sept. 8 opener against the Raiders.

'I have so much respect for Bill Belichick and his ability to make up for what he's lost,'' Giants GM Ernie Accorsi.

Join the club. Now we'll see if his current guys are good enough. Or if he has to go out and pull a Roman Phifer out of retirement. Or if he figures he has to play clockball on offense more than ever, to keep his defense off the field. The Patriots are the most interesting NFL story of this summer.

"We're not defending anything. We're not repeating anything. We're just trying to put together some good practices and get a competitive football team out there to compete in a 16-game regular season schedule and to be ready for the opener against Oakland.''
-- New England coach Bill Belichick, asked about the Patriots' chances to repeat.

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At the Packers' camp on Friday afternoon, when practice ended, I counted 97 bikes lined up with kids on them, ready to hand over to the players to drive the 300 yards across the street to the locker rooms at Lambeau Field. Such a cute tradition. I'd estimate that about 40 players grabbed a bike, with kids mostly running alongside and some riding on the back of bikes.

Man, Only in Green Bay can this be ..... let's see them try this in Philly - Would everyone survive? Heck, I think the Players could turn this into an instant cardio event - drive (ride) the kids all the way back to their houses and meet Mom! Woohoo! (IPBprez)

I'm in the lobby of the Ravens' team hotel here in Westminster on Sunday night and two 40ish men are sitting at a table a short spiral away with fabric samples and big binders. One of the guys was David Corbitt, who tells me he makes men's suits. He's Deion Sanders' tailor.

We get to talking, and this might be the stat of my summer. Deion, playing beyond the twilight with the Ravens, has 1,900 suits. His closet at home is 2,500 square feet.

Which compares to my sartorial stats: I have two suits, and my closet is, I'm guessing, 25 square feet.

I keep hearing these stories about what a nightmare summer it's going to be in the air. I haven't seen it, even though I've been on heavy flights in the first week of my training-camp trip. On Saturday, I ran to make a Northwest flight from Detroit to Albany; I had no right to make it, but I got to the airport early and saw a flight to Albany leaving in 10 minutes. By the time I got to the gate, I said, "I know it's hopeless, but any chance I can make this plane?'' the door was closed, and the agent was getting ready to leave her podium, but she looked at her watch -- 'it was exactly 1:51, which was flight time -- and she said, "Sometimes it's good to be in the right place at the right time.'' She got me on.

Southwest Airlines is so human. Flying in from Albany on Sunday on a totally full flight, I didn't get the cattle-car feel, mostly because the crew kept explaining it was a full flight. Take any seat, say hi to your neighbor and blah-blah-blah. And if I didn't know better, I'd think the inflight magazine actually was a freebie, because it had some neat features. I'm waiting to get abused and it will happen. But so far, so good.

1. I think Donovan McNabb ought to work for the U.N. "Everything is going to be fine," he said the other day, when asked about the potential in training camp for a Terrell Owens dustup. "I know you guys are looking for a story, for us to start fighting or stuff like that. Sorry if I don't give that to you, but I'm just going to be me.'' More interesting was his take on the shelf life of the NFC champs. "I think the window could be closing,'' he said. "I feel like I have the key to it and I have control of how far the window closes.''

2. I think the weirdest sight I've seen on the trip so far is Brian Billick's gray beard. Unless, of course, you include the bright red and white American Flag-motif tattoo Jeremy Shockey just got on his bicep.

3. I think this is the reason you can't judge a player definitively by watching two or four hours of practice in a team's training camp, even though you'd like to think you can: The other day, at Lions' camp, I watched Joey Harrington complete four tough throws in a row, two in heavy traffic. Either he's the next Johnny Unitas, or a quarterback who knows he's not going to be hit has an easier time of it. Or somewhere in between. Harrington did look terrific. You know the sense I got being there? The entire camp is holding its breath, dying to know if the guy can be the 63-65-percent passer Steve Mariucci's offense needs him to be.

4. I think the Giants will be in some very big trouble if Eli Manning's not as durable as his brother. Tim Hasselbeck behind him? Maybe it's a sign of bad backups leaguewide, but to me he's a three, not a two. I was impressed with Manning, but if you read this column you know I think he's going to be really good. He's got the right attitude to be a quarterback in New York. He doesn't care about all the peripheral things that don't matter. Nice job, Archie.

5. I think it was interesting to hear the other day from Atlanta owner Arthur Blank that he thinks there's going to be a thaw in the negotiations for a new collective-bargaining agreement this month. All I can say is they better figure out how not to screw this game up.

6. I think, like my highly respected peer from Dallas, Rick Gosselin, that Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson will be defensive rookie of the year.

7. I think Chad Pennington's arm will be just fine and it won't affect the Jets' pursuit of the Patriots in the AFC East.

8. I think I don't blame Nick Saban for dressing down Manuel Wright the way he did. For crying out loud, THE GUY FORGOT HIS SHOULDER PADS! HOW DO YOU FORGET YOUR SHOULDER PADS WHEN YOU'RE PLAYING FOOTBALL??? --- AMEN TO THAT... Amen, brother! (IPBprez)

9. I think Manny Ramirez ought to be ashamed of himself. He's a disgrace to any uniform, not just to the one I happen to be partial to. The guy's making $20 million a year, and he thinks it buys him the right to act like the biggest diva in sports. For those outside the Hub, Ramirez leaked to SI's Tom Verducci that he wanted to be traded last week, which evidently is an annual request, a request well-nigh impossible to grant because only three or four teams would ever dream of taking on his salary. Ramirez asked manager Terry Francona for last Wednesday off, so he'd be able to have to take two days off in a row. The Red sox were off Thursday. I have no idea why a baseball player who is not hurt needs two days off in a row, but Francona said yes. That night, right fielder Trot Nixon suffered a pulled oblique, sending him to the disabled list. The backup outfield position is thin for Boston, so Francona asked Manny if he'd play Thursday. Ramirez said no. Francona cobbled together a lineup that beat the Devil Rays. Then Manny got booed Friday night at home, both for the trade request and asking out of the lineup when the team needed him so much. Good for the fans. And then Ramirez, with trade talks swirling, agreed with Francona that he should not be in the lineup Saturday and Sunday. Too much heat from the fans, seemingly. Now, I wasn't for booing Keith Foulke when he struggled, because he was out there trying his rear end off even though he was failing. I am all for booing Ramirez, because he is letting his team down in the middle of a pennant race, sitting like a petulant child because he can't take the consequences of the actions he caused.

You want to blame Francona for not standing up to Manny? Fine. But he's damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. If Ramirez blows up and says he's not playing for Francona, the manager would be ripped for not handling his diva with kid gloves. If he mild-manners it, he's ripped for not slapping Manny around. There is no simplistic answer here, other than to say my prayers that Theo Epstein can find some lame brain organization to take this sniveling baby off Boston's hands come December. And it doesn't change anything that Ramirez got the game-winning hit on Sunday, coming off the bench against Minnesota. He's still a prima donna. He never should have been coming off the bench in the first place. He ought to have been booed for taking the previous seven at-bats off.

10. I think these are my other non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Congrats on the Hall of Fame, Peter Gammons. You're an inspiration to a generation of writers you don't even know, and some, like me, who know you only in passing.

b. I know I miss a lot of life out here on the road, but it's got to be pretty scary to be a London commuter right now.

c. God, Stephen A. Smith is famous.

d. Coffeenerdness: I see what Howard Schultz is doing. He's Starbucksing America. The stores are everywhere. Used to be, even two or three years ago, I had to makes plans to find a good latte on the road during the summer. This morning, I wrote this column in the Starbucks inside the Safeway supermarket here in Maryland.

e. ESPN has to take that eating contest off TV. With starvation in Africa on the news every week, it's a disgrace to show a bunch of idiots gorging themselves to nearly puking proportions.

f. I thought it was supposed to be the hottest summer in memory. The other day, in Green Bay, I was wishing for a windbreaker during the morning practice. It was, I'd say, 60 in the shade. -- Wussy, bigtime... for cry iy iy, ya hey! - IPBprez

g. Do the Devil Rays actually understand that trading is allowed in baseball?


Okay - Now, I need a beer - He sure is awful focused on that Baltimore Team, ya think?

MY QUESTION ?? - Are the Pats headed for the big fall? Or will they make the Playoffs?

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