Monday, January 28, 2002

Don't count out Patriots

        NEW ORLEANS — Who better to be in the first Super Bowl since the unifying tragedy of 9-11 than players calling themselves the Patriots? At a Super Bowl in New Orleans, home of the permanent hangover, could you keep out a linebacker named Tedy ... Bruschi? Pronounced — burrp — Brew-ski.

        Can anyone say why Marshall Faulk should not be here? Faulk, proud son of the city's mean 9th Ward, raised in a project called, ironically, Desire, returns home to show us anything's possible.

        “I couldn't ask for anything more,” Faulk said Sunday night.

        Actually, we'd have preferred Pittsburgh's defense slam-dancing with St. Louis' offense. But the Steelers' special teams would have made Al Roberts proud Sunday. At least Faulk saved us from Pats-Eagles, a glorified wild-card game. What's the sound of one hand clapping? The entire country, outside Philly and the amorphous-sounding New England, watching an Eagles-Pats Super Bowl.

        As it is, we get Faulk, the best player in the game, coming off one of his best efforts, a 31-carry, 159-yard, two-TD plow through a stout Eagles defense. And we get a real-live quarterback controversy, for the first time in Big Bowl memory.

QB decision due

        On Sunday, we noted how great it was that New England could replace injured starter Tom Brady with erstwhile star Drew Bledsoe. By today, we'll pound the Brady-versus-Bledsoe drum loud enough to give every Patriot a mild concussion. It's just the way it works.

        But to be able, in a conference championship game, to call on a guy like Bledsoe ... Earl Weaver had a phrase for it. The former Baltimore Orioles manager called it “deep depth.”

        Talk about a quality bullpen. It's like giving Mariano Rivera the ball in the third inning and falling asleep until the ninth.

        “I'm feeling good, and that's all coach wants us to say about it,” said Brady, who left the game with 2:42 to go in the first half, hobbling on a high ankle sprain. Bledsoe came in, threw a TD pass and led the Patriots to a late field goal. It's what you'd expect from a player in the first year of a 10-year, $103 million deal.

        It's also the buzz on Bourbon Street. That said, New England can play with the Rams, who looked vincible against Philly, especially in the first half, when St. Louis coach Mike Martz tried to outthink the Eagles instead of letting his players win the game.

        In the second half, he gave Faulk the keys to the carriage; Marshall got the coach home free.

        Now, Martz will try to outthink Pats coach and noted defensive genius Bill Belichick. People will call it a “chess game.” As if anyone dials up the NFL to watch chess.

        New England's cornerbacks, Ty Law and Otis Smith, can give the Rams problems. Troy Brown is the hottest receiver in the game. Brady is working some sort of strange, Cinderella magic. Here, they'd call it voodoo.

        Are Patriots, voodoo and brewskis enough to keep the Rams from winning their second Bowl in three seasons? Or will Marshall Faulk show Desire something about desire?

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