I don’t know why, but football players more than any other athlete legitimately rally around negative press. So when the media almost universally gave Sunday’s New England Patriots-Pittsburgh Steelers game to the visiting Patriots, a Steelers victory became a near-guarantee. And the Steelers won in truly convincing fashion, doubling up the Patriots in both total yardage (427 vs. 213) and possession time (39:22 to 20:38). The Patriots never led and, coupled with a Bills’s shutout of the lowly Redskins, fell back into a tie atop the AFC East.
In a game this poor, did anyone play well? Here’s my report card.
Tom Brady had to withstand a constant barrage of Pittsburgh pass-rushers while his receivers hurried to get open. That he completed over 68 percent of his passes and threw no interceptions is quite remarkable. Even more remarkable: his second-to-last drive of the game, in which Brady went 8-for-10 in a pass-exclusive offense. Brady’s high completion percentage and two touchdown passes helped him finish with his highest QB rating (101.8) since beating the Chargers in Week 2, but Patriots fans have seen far superior performances from Brady, especially at Heinz Field.
Running Backs: C
Nice to see Kevin Faulk (32 yards on the ground, 20 in the air) back, but Sunday’s game was a no-show for the Patriot running game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for just 9 yards; neither back made it into the end zone, and Faulk could not convert any third down in which he carried the ball. Granted, these were usually third-and-long situations, but Sunday was a huge step back for a ground game the Patriots need to keep opponents from eating Brady and his receivers alive.
The 2011 New England Patriots season kicks off with a trip to Sun Life Stadium to play the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. The Patriots have played 10 games in Miami during the Tom Brady era (including the 2008 season in which Brady played just one game), so how could we not do a Top 10 as part of our pre-game festivities?
Here’s how the last 10 Patriots-Dolphins road games stack up against each other:
10. Dolphins 21, Patriots 0 – Dec. 10, 2006
The Patriots’ 2006 game in Miami was one of just two Patriots shutouts that Brady has ever played, and Brady went 12-for-25 for just 78 yards in this one. He threw no interceptions, but he fumbled the ball twice, one of which the Dolphins recovered. The Patriots fumbled away three possessions total. The offensive line also couldn’t stop the Dolphins’ elite pass-rush, allowing five sacks and keeping the Patriots offense from ever developing any rhythm. Future-Patriot Sammy Morris rushed for 123 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that gave the Dolphins a three-possession lead with less than a quarter to play.
Evans played 10 full seasons in the NFL with four separate teams. The Patriots signed him on Nov. 1, 2005, after the Miami Dolphins released him a week earlier. Evans stayed with the Patriots through 2008, never missing a game.
Evans played his last two seasons with the New Orleans Saints but was rarely used. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the Saints after the 2009 season, though a knee injury ended that season for him in an October 25 game against the Dolphins.
Evans finished his rushing career with 579 yards, a 3.5 yards-per-carry average and four touchdowns. He recorded 439 receiving yards, posting a 7.7 yards-per-catch average and four receiving touchdowns. He also returned for 247 yards, bring his all-purpose total to 1,265.
Before the Dolphins, Evans spent four years with the Seattle Seahawks.
Evans in Foxboro
Evans’ best years unquestionably were with the Patriots. Over three quarters (453) of his career rushing yards were gained with the Patriots, as were over half (229) his receiving yards. Evans finished his career with eight career touchdowns, and half came with the Patriots (three rushing, one receiving).
As a fullback, Evans struggled to carve out a niche in a league that is quickly moving away from the position. Quicker and stronger running backs no longer need fullbacks to clear out blocks. Shooting the gap and turning the corner are requisite skills for RBs now, so players with the bulk to clear space aren’t as crucial.
The emergence of Kevin Faulk as Bill Belichick’s go-to third-down back in the last few seasons further diminished Evans’ usefulness to the Patriots, and the Saints never found a way to work him into their system.
Knowing When to Call it Quits
Faulk caught just seven passes and rushed only twice in 2010, and with the new kickoff rules for 2011 killing the need for quality special teams players, Evans likely saw his chances of ever getting serious playing time again (even by his standards) fading.
Evans had the chance to retire healthy and handsome. He had already established himself as a good quote-man in the locker room, and now he could go on t.v. and make some decent money without leaving football entirely. Totally sensible move.
A Measure of Revenge
Evans played 54 regular-season games with the Patriots. His best came on Nov. 13, 2005. Though it came against the Dolphins, the team who had cut him less than three weeks earlier, it was also Evans’ first with the Patriots, and the only 100-yard game of his career, rushing for 84 yards on 17 carries while adding 18 receiving yards on three catches. Evans may have set the bar too high too early.
The Patriots beat the Dolphins 23-16 that game, with Evans running in the two-point conversion with just over two minutes to play to put the Patriots up a touchdown.
After the game, Tom Brady said, “I remember the first day at practice when we thought, `Why did somebody release [Evans]?’ We thank the Dolphins very much for letting him go.”
The Memory of Evans Will Likely Fade Away
Evans missed by a year the Patriots’ three-title dynasty. From 2005-2008, the Patriots lost in each successive round of the playoffs (divisional round after ’05 season, AFC Championship after ’06, Super Bowl after ’07) until missing them entirely in 2008.
Other than a minor contributing role on the 18-1 2007 Patriots (in which he rushed for all three of his Patriots rushing touchdowns), Evans leaves virtually no mark in the annals of Patriots history. There won’t be a statue, a parade or even a discussion of his greatness. Evans simply didn’t do enough to merit any of that.
Evans legacy will be only that he played three and half of his 10 seasons in New England. He could very easily leave a far more indelible mark as a broadcaster, if only because his time as a player was so nondescript as to make a less memorable broadcasting career virtually impossible.