Chapter Seven – The (AFC) Champs Are Here…

After starting impressively at 4-2, and having a huge win over the Steelers to rally around, our team kept up the good work, rattling off a three game win streak. Granted they were against lack luster teams (Bills (2-8), Dolphins (0-10), and Bengals (5-6)). We lost to a surprising Tampa Bay (5-6) team to sit us at 7-3 at week eleven’s end. The rest of our schedule would be tough (at least compared to the start) with the Ravens and Steelers both tied at (7-3) and the Patriots at an immaculate 10-0. Tom Brady was looking to have another MVP season running this newer Patriots Spread offense. Randy Moss and Wes Welker were proving that the system was made for them, and the rookie Riley Cooper was showing off his flashy speed. The Pats offense was made that much quicker when they signed Darren Sproles as well. All facets of their game seemed immaculate, and only a defense of pure speed would be able to slow them down.

I sat there and studied their films over and over, talking with my offensive and defensive coordinators about how we could stop what seemed like one of the fastest offenses in the league.

My defensive coordinator went quiet for a second and had a small, knowing smile on his face

“I’ve got it…”

We rolled out into Gilette to a flurry of boos and a few overrated calls and slurs thrown our way. Proceeding to do our warmups, we felt better about this game than most people thought we should. We won the toss, and elected to defer. Smiling, I knew we could really hold our own if our little wrinkle held up.

They came out in an uncommon two wide while we sent out our 3-4. They didn’t look explosive, but they got the first down in two plays. After another first down I sent out the Bingo formation. My two DE’s ran off the field and two linebackers ran in. When the Patriots came out again, they were a little confused to see Rogers to be the only downed lineman in the game. The other five men near the line were bouncing around, chattering to the defense, fake blitzing the gaps, the works. When the snap came, one man dropped and the other five blitzed the line. Brady went down almost immediately to a chorus of boos from the fans.

Our sideline, however, was ecstatic. We confused the Patriots with their own concoction, the 1-5-5, which was used to counter “The Greatest Show on Turf” back in the Rams – Pats Super Bowl. I had hoped that this strategy would hold up for the rest of the game, as they didn’t have much power game to speak of, so our normal 3-4 would be less effective against the Pats Spread, in theory. We countered their fizzle with a firework. Driving down the field at a pleasing rate, only to get picked off. Three more punts back and forth, and we had the ball back.

One play, Brady Quinn rolled back and was blindsided after Joe Thomas let a DE turn the corner. Brady was cracked and went down hard under the weight of the lineman. He let out a cry of pain and got up very slowly. He was able to walk off, but the trainers took him back to the locker room for further evaluation. I sent in Derek Anderson. After a well executed play fake, he bombed one to Robiskie. 7-0. The Patriots would get it to Welker on a screen during a jail break blitz and they would tie the game. At the half, I was very pleased with the team that was playing. But the smile was wiped off my face after the trainers informed me Brady couldn’t play for the rest of the game, and he might be out for nearly the season.

With the fourth quarter starting, we were up 17-14, the Pats were driving but got stopped. They kicked a field goal to tie up the game. Knowing I needed just to work the clock, I started out small with a few runs. But getting slowed down, I resorted to a pass on 3rd and 12 to pick up the first down. After two more runs, I was met with 3rd and 8. Another passing play was needed. So Anderson lines up and receives the snap. After some hesitation, he rolls left and tries to get it to James Harrison downfield, but it comes up terribly short into Terence Wheatley’s hands. He returns it for six, to my horror. I thought I just witnessed the end of this game that we so desperately planned for. While trying to think of what to do on the next drive, the Pats lined up for the PAT. Cribbs sprinted towards the line, busted through, and blocked the PAT and dove on it, holding the Patriots’ lead to six.

We were rolling, and after a wide variety of plays, we got into the red zone. Derek looked flawless, until he got pressured and instead of taking a sack, he threw it into double coverage. Wheatley picked it off again, I thought I should take solace in knowing it wasn’t a touchdown, I was still furious.

We had all our time outs, plus the two minute warning. The Pats got into a power formation and were pushing it up the middle. The two minute warning came, and the Pats ran it again. Sproles, pushing for the tough yardage, tried to spin out of a tackle by Thurmond. Walt had a good hold of the ball, and stripped it, forcing a fumble. Jackson dove on it, and later it was revealed he recovered it. Glorious…

We had the ball back at their 26, ready to go again. I had to make a decision, did I want to risk Anderson throwing his fourth interception, or let Troy Smith try it out. After making a gut decision, probably bad for the long run, I sent in Troy. He took the ball on the first play and handed it to Jamal Lewis for a five yard gain. The next play he dropped back and scrambled for the first. A short pass to Jerome Harrison put us on the 1 yard line, and it was given to Vickers for the TD. Prater made the XP and we were up by one.

I was happy, but noticed 36 seconds on the clock. Which was an eternity for the efficient Patriots with three timeouts left…

 

Riley Cooper received the ball in the end zone and took it out. He looked up a seam but missed it in his rookie experience. We got him down at at 28 yard line with 32 seconds left on the clock. When the Pats took the field, they came out in the five wide against our dime formation. They started attacking the sidelines and driving up the field. We eventually got them to stop at the thirty yard line with eight seconds left. They made the field goal.

I started drawing up a play to be run after the kickoff, which was squibbed.

The next play would probably be replicated in the next year’s madden moments. Troy Smith drops back, and evades the first blitzer. He rushes out of the pocket and frantically searches downfield. I saw a defender rushing up behind him and he backsteps it and runs all the way to the left. He stops again and looks at the broken play and the broken coverage. He spies Massaquoi sprinting crossfield trying to keep up with Smith’s antics. Without hesitation, Smith gets the ball to him.

Massaquoi isn’t a burner, and he never will be, but there were some miracles. He was able to avoid three tackles and break one on his way into the endzone. Final score 30-24.

Stats
QB D. Anderson: 12/23 258 yds 2 TD 3 INT
QB T. Smith: 2/2 65 yds. 1 TD
QB B. Quinn: 5/8 49 yds. 1 INT
FB L. Vickers: 4 att 4 yds. 1 TD
WR M. Massaquoi: 8 rec 190 yds. 2 TD
WR B. Robiskie: 3 rec 98 yds. 1 TD
S B. Pool: 8 tckl 1 INT
CB F. Washington: 1 INT
Defense: 3 FF 3 FR 1 FG BLK

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