Old School: Patriots turn back the clock

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 16, 2010



The Patriots wasted no time turning back the clock in the wake of the Randy Moss trade in our Game of the Week against the Ravens.
 
Namely, they instantly re-introduced the world to the famous "death by 1,000 paper cuts" offense that they rode to three Super Bowl titles from 2001 to 2004.
 
The result was a gritty, hard-fought, come-from-behind  overtime victory against the Ravens, a team the Cold, Hard Football Facts, and many others, picked to win the AFC this year.
 
CHFF nailed the game almost perfectly. We picked New England, a 3.5-point favorite, to win 21-20. New England won, 23-20. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski booted the 35-yard game winner with two minutes left in the overtime session.
 
The game was as close on the stat sheet as it was on the scoreboard:
  • Baltimore QB Joe Flacco passed for 285 yards; New England QB Tom Brady passed for 292 yards
  • Baltimore old-timer Derrick Mason led all Ravens receivers with 8 catches for 100 yards; New England old friend Deion Branch led all Patriots pass catchers with 9 receptions for 98 yards
  • Baltimore produced 377 yards of offense; New England produced 394 yards of offense
  • Baltimore's offense ran 72 plays; New England's offense ran 73 plays
  • Baltimore produced 21 first downs; New England produced 23 first downs
  • Baltimore committed 8 penalties for 67 yards; New England committed 9 penalties for 78 yards.
  • Both quarterbacks completed 27 passes
  • Both quarterbacks were sacked three times
  • Both teams scored two touchdowns
At the end of the day, though, the Patriots won their first game in the post-Moss Era, against an elite foe, much like they beat so many elite teams back in the day: by playing tough defense when it counted most, by dominating late  (New England scored the final 13 points after trailing 20-10 in the fourth), and by nicking away at an  opposing  defense with the infuriatingly effective "death by a 1,000 paper cuts offense" that served them so well in the past.
 
We don't know who coined that phrase about New England's paper-cut offense. It wasn't us. We read it somewhere years ago. If you know who came up with it, let us know. In any case, it was written years ago about the Patriots during their Super Bowl glory days by some writer frustrated by the team's lack of flash. But the phrase came to mind last week, when the Patriots dumped tremendous big-play talent Moss.
 
(Reader Richard Randall chimed in Sunday night with the answer: the phrase as it relates to the Patriots appeared in a piece on Slate.com by Robert Weintraub following New England's win over Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX. It's fascinating to read in retrospect. The disdain the author had for the Patriots style of football, contrasted with the universal praise at the time for the Beautiful Game as practiced by the then championship-less Colts, goes a long way toward explaining why New England was tempted to give up its successful style and try something different:  Maybe the organization just wanted to be loved.)
 
It was Moss's arrival before the 2007 season that heralded an incredible new period of explosive offense in New England, but also marked the end of the "death by 1,000 paper cuts" offense.
 
The Old School game was back Sunday: New England's Week 6 2010 offense looked a whole lot like its Week 6 2003 offense (a 17-6 win over the Giants) or its Week 6 2004 offense (a 13-7 win over the Jets). Both the 2003 and 2004 Patriots won Super Bowls.
 
The Patriots rushed the ball effectively, but not explosively, behind no-name backs Danny Woodhead (11 for 63) and Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis (10 of 20). The longest carry by a running back went for just 14 yards and six different players carried the ball.
 
At the end of the day, New England ran 26 times for 127 yards, a very good 4.9 YPA average against a Baltimore defense that, as we noted last week, is no longer an elite run defense.
 
The passing game was also effective even as it failed to produce big plays: Brady passed for 292 yards, but it took him 44 attempts to do it (a ho-hum 6.6 YPA). He connected with Aaron Hernandez for a 30-yard gain in the first half – the longest pass play by either team.
 
But with the game on the line and New England trailing 20-10 in the fourth quarter, it was Old School "death by 1,000 paper cuts offense" at its finest: short hitches to Branch, quick throws to Wes Welker in the flat, dump offs to Woodhead. Brady went deep once all day - a long pass to Brandon Tate that was nearly picked off.
 
Branch was largely responsible for giving the game its Old School vibe, thanks to his nine receptions. The last time Branch caught nine or more passes in a regular-season game? That was way back in his rookie campaign of 2002 with the Patriots, when he caught 13 passes against San Diego.
 
Branch, you might remember, surpassed those nine receptions twice in the postseason with the Pariots: he caught 10 passes in Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Panthers, and 11 balls in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles, for which he earned Super Bowl MVP honors.
 
He highlighted his New England return Sunday with a 5-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter to bring the Patriots to within three (20-17).
 
The ending had an Old School vibe, too: a clutch kicker (Gostkowski) booting a tying field goal at the end of regulation and a game winner in OT to secure a victory against an elite opponent.
 
As CHFF's own Frank the Tank, bon vivant Frankie C., said after the game: "It all feels so familiar. The Patriots don't seem like an elite team, but they keep on winning."
 
The Patriots won a record 21 straight games with their "death by 1,000 paper cuts" offense back in the day. They also won a record 10 straight playoff games with that same style of football. Sunday's victory over Baltimore, meanwhile, was Brady's 23rd straight regular season win at home, dating back to 2006. (BrettFavre holds the record, with 25 consecutive home wins for the Packers in the mid-1990s.)
 
You could forgive a drunken Patriots fan if, in the wake of Sunday's Old School effort, he runs down the street tonight kind of like our old college roommate, predicting a future win streak ahead:
 
show video here
 
 

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