The Conversation Is Over

6-7 on Sunday. 6-1 in the 1pm games, 0-6 from then on. 1-0 where it counts.

Gillette Stadium

The ground level concourse on the bottom left blends seamlessly with the surroundings. It feels like you're merely passing through instead of entering a bowl.
The place tickled my fancy for flat sight lines. The lower bowl is almost flawless.

Nice place? Nice place. The lower bowl is almost flawless. The second deck hangs over it seamlessly and is still close to the action. The luxury boxes and lounges, like MetLife stadium, push the third deck skyward a little too much. It’s clean, the chowderheads were well behaved, and the in-game experience was a great time. Three touchdowns in the last three minutes of a game you spend over $250 a ticket for helps.

I got this idea for a restaurant... ok, you know how ESPN Zone didn't work?
Oh boy....

As you probably know, Gillette Stadium has a mall annexed to it called Patriot Place. I thought it would be cool to check out given how early we were going to get up to Foxboro.

What an absolute disaster.

Firstly, there’s FAKE stores. We make fun of fake Apple stores in Beijing, and they’re literally right in our own backyard!  Secondly, the restaurants (all 914 of them, which smartly comprise 2/3 of the stores in this place anyway. Who’s gonna come up here aside from a game day?) all have staff with this disgusting “yeah you’re here because there’s nowhere else to eat, so deal with us” sense of entitlement that almost had me walking out on two occasions. There’s a place called Bar Louie where you literally go in, see the hostess, the hostess sticks her arm out and says “seat yourselves” with a smile on her face, knowing there’s positively no room in the place.

If you don’t seat people, and nobody seats anyone, what are you doing here?

We wound up settling at a Red Robin, which worked out alright, but the eateries in general were just really poorly run. Hundreds of people were waiting for the better part of an hour, the service left alot to be desired, and it’s made more inexcusible by the fact that you’re annexed to a stadium with a KNOWN seating capacity. You know how many people are in and around the stadium on gameday reliably. How do you NOT have the ability to serve everyone?

The other thing that doesn’t make sense, and from my brief conversations with the chowderheads around me is a mainstay of all the Boston arenas, is the in-game coverage being almost completely devoid of replays. This game had three touchdowns in the final three minutes and FOUR fourth quarter lead changes and showcased some of the best crunch time quarterback play the league has to offer. How are you not replaying EVERYTHING on the screen? Are the REMAX and Visa ads more important? (Don’t answer that.) This was a beautiful game of inches and mistakes, and they needed to be seen. Compound this with the utter lack of displayed scores from other games. Just periodical updates that you had to be paying attention to the screen at the right time to obtain. Instead I was treated to celebratory musket firings after extra points and a metaphorical lighthouse in the corner that randomly spewed off noise (Dennis and I were joking that it was signaling the arrival of Vince Wilfork’s mother to the local beaches.) The in-game experience should have been augmented and it wasn’t.

On to the game.

A Graduate Course in Late Game Quarterbacking

Firstly, there was at least 20% Giants fans at that game. I know they travel well, but DAMN I wasn’t expecting that many of my own kind at this thing. It’s further away from Philly and Washington and there were more of us here than there. It made for multiple just-loud-enough for Pats fans to get antsy Cruuuuuuuuz chants. Secondly, and I couldn’t believe this given the tradition of winning and the immortal quarterback and head coach they have:

They were SCARED of us. I couldn’t believe it!

I don’t know if there was residual pessimism from the Red Sox collapse, or if this is simply how Boston fans are. I’ve been reading about “the bad old days” being back, and that there’s an internal rift between the wine-n-cheese crowd that crashed the party once things started picking up around 2001 (Literally, there was a nice woman two rows in front of me sipping wine with her husband as they spent half the time in their seats waving at their friends in nearby seats… weird…) and the bitter die-hards that have endured the pain of losing for so long and are now basking in what appears to be the dusk of the only sunlight they’ve ever known. It’s a fascinating place to watch someone in mentally, because it’s equal parts end-of-the-world carefree, anger at their team losing, and a smidge of even satisfaction that the hoity-toity demographic will soon be gone.

The Patriots played equally scared, and just like the Super Bowl, I was shocked that a team with this level of talent and coaching played on its heels. How could Tavaris Jackson and Pete Carroll use quick out and screens to beat this fearsome front four and Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, and Chad Ochocinco could not? I thought they were going to come out in a 3 TE set. I didn’t think they would be so consumed with pass protection that they would start the game with SEVEN offensive linemen and continually keep an extra eligible tackle in for more than half of the offensive plays. Even if it makes sense, it takes away from Brady spreading the ball around and signals to the opposing defense that… well… you’re scared of them.

That’s what made this game amazing. Both quarterbacks were good. Both coaches knew each other inside and out (thus the scoreless halftime), and thus it wasn’t about who was playing well as much as it was about the decision-making, and THAT is what makes just about every play in the 4th quarter long for analysis and breakdown. You could literally talk about this one for weeks.

The Giants made two mistakes in this game. The Patriots capitalized on one.

1) The 1st and goal on the 2 series. I was preparing a 2000-word Fire Gilbride column during this series, where the Giants effortlessly moved the ball down the field, had clear evidence that a goal line run would work from their previous touchdown, and felt that with a potentially season-altering series of downs the ball needed to go to Michael Clayton. Absolute horseshit. You have 6 players on that offense that should get the ball ahead of him. Work Clayton into the goal line package next week at San Francisco when you’re up 14 in the 3rd. Absolute nonsense. Taking Jacobs out of a goal-line situation SCREAMS pass, and the Pats D was never fooled, and welcomed the one Ware run they dialed up. The game could have been blown open, and instead it was playcalled into a 14-point swing the other way. Brady was masterful on the drive and finally got his tight ends involved. Capitalized

2) The game winner. 19 seconds left, no timeouts, down 3. You absolutely can’t run here right? So why isn’t Eli in shotgun? THIS is how bad the New England defense is. They had a linebacker bite on play action in a situation where the Giants positively would be STUPID to run the ball, and it created the space Jake Ballard needed to win the game. I feel like if you know you have to pass, and two downs ago you had your line blown to bits on A-gap pressure, why would you risk going back to being under center?

This is why they’re in the league and you and I are not. In a world where we overanalyze every number (and with good reason, it’s paying off in how we understand the game), I think we all neglected desire, and largely because we can’t quantify it until we see it. It has no predictive value, and it is thus lost in the conversation. Eli said in 2008 that he’d rather have the ball down 4 than down 3. He was down 3 yesterday. Did it look like he cared? It was this aggressive playmaker that Coughlin tried to corral (and correctly so, the difference between last year and this one is stark), but when the game had to be had, he was let loose. Every completion was magnificent. The Cruz 19-yarder, the gorgeous seam throw to Ballard, the fastball to Barden, the bait he threw to get the subpar nervous defensive backs to make mistakes, and the threaded needle to Ballard in the endzone were all just right.

I’ve watched almost every snap he’s taken since he took over, was almost blinded with optimism at times early on, but ever since he led that comeback in Denver in 2005 I knew he was going to get us a ring. Even I didn’t think he was this good. I never thought he would be single-handedly winning games like this. Eli didn’t just back up his controversial comment yesterday. He, for me, ended any debate about being worse than Philip Rivers. Rivers, with an equal chance to make a statement for his team, at HOME, in a more dire situation coming off two straight losses, against arguably a worse secondary based on the tape, with his favorite receiver and with a hall-of-fame tight end, outscored the Packer offense and gagged the game up anyway. Eli, without his best RB, without his best WR, on the road, in the same situation got the job done… twice…

That conversation is over.

A Slate of Statements

Unfortunately for other quarterbacks, Eli Manning’s showcase overshadowed statement wins by several other QBs yesterday. Joe Flacco, who hears as much of my hyperbole-in-a-cyber-vacuum as anyone, did a marvelous job of throwing the ball over the top of the Steeler defense, which is not an easy task given that the Steelers are more than willing to give you underneath throws  and not get beat deep (thank you for 88 yards, Mr. Boldin). Flacco, like Eli, stared what the defense was willing to give him with the game on the line and looked beyond, trusting a rookie receiver that let him down multiple times in the game, because, well, nobody else was making that catch. Torrey Smith is as important to the Ravens’ success this year as anyone. If they can stretch the field even a little, their two best offensive players can get more space to work. If not, it’s not going to pan out.

The Bengals have to start being in the playoff conversation after today as well, since their rookie defied the odds and won two straight road games with excellent performances. I know the Seahawks are a feisty and flawed bunch, and the Titans came unglued after the Kenny Britt injury, but rookies on teams that are usually as mismanaged as the Bengals don’t do this stuff very often. I think it’s time we took notice.

Another statement tonight will be made in tonight’s Bears-Eagles game. Either the Bears will make their case for a wild card in the NFC, or the Eagles will explode as an inevitability in the Giants’ rear view mirror. I saw this exact game last year, didn’t I? Weren’t we all super-high on the Eagles team that was clicking much better than this one is against a Bears team that isn’t as good as it is now? Granted, the Eagles didn’t have the cover corners to defend Cutler’s 4 TD passes from that day, and Cutler’s performance could be argued as a blip in an inconsistent radar that resulted in the embarrassing end to their season, but the Bears DO have the linebackers to contain LeSean McCoy, DO have a dual-threat running back of their own to answer him on top of the equalizer they have behind center, and DO have one superstar pass rusher to get after Vick, no? I really REALLY want to pick the Bears here, and they can totally pull this out without it being called an upset, but I think the NFC East just isn’t going to get wrapped up this neatly. I think DeSean Jackson is due for a big night if the O-line can neutralize Julius Peppers. Eagles 30, Bears 24.


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