Yes, the Patriots can beat the Rams!

The problem is, they won't.

Topics: Super Bowl, Peyton Manning,

Yes, the Patriots can beat the Rams!

Can anybody beat the St. Louis Rams? That was the big question for most of this NFL season, and now that Super Bowl XXXVI is upon us, that question has been whittled down to: Can the New England Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams?

The answer, of course, is yes. The answer to the initial question was yes also. In fact, every team knows exactly how to beat the Rams, and they tend to make no secret of it. Almost every week, the Rams’ next opponent more or less says, “Can we beat the Rams? Sure. You just have to hit ‘em hard, put pressure on the quarterback, get ‘em out of their rhythm. Once you do that, you’ve got ‘em beat.”

And the Rams, to their credit, more or less say, “Yup. That’s about the size of it. That’s how you beat us.” And then they go out and win 42-10. Except when they go out and win 15-14. That was the score of their game in Week 6 against the New York Giants, who at the time were considered a good team and who came in saying they were going to pound on the Rams until the Rams bled from the ears. The Giants did pound on the Rams until the Rams bled from the ears. Running back extraordinaire Marshall Faulk got hurt. Quarterback Kurt Warner, the eventual MVP, threw an interception and no touchdowns. And the Rams, pounding right back, won the game.

Leading up to the game, the Giants had used the F word, which in St. Louis is “finesse.” See, teams use that word to describe the Rams because the Rams are built for speed, not power. Which is to say that the Rams are a bunch of flaming homosexuals. Well, not really. But, you know, sort of. And the Rams say, We are not a finesse team. We are in fact a rough, gritty, hard-hitting group of butch boys, and even though our receivers run very fast, they are all real men in every way if you know what I mean.

Well, not really. But, you know, sort of.

Anyway, the Rams actually were beaten this year, twice. Both times were home games against middle-of-the-pack teams. And both times the team responsible was the Rams. After they won their first six games, they lost to New Orleans 34-31, turning the ball over eight times (eight!), including four times in a 25-0 train wreck of a third quarter that may have been the worst 15 minutes of football ever played by a halfway decent professional team. After two more wins, they turned the ball over five times and had a punt blocked in losing to Tampa Bay 24-17.



Neither team that beat the Rams did much on offense. The Saints managed only 15 first downs and were outgained 474 yards to 320. The Buccaneers had 18 first downs and only 264 yards of offense.

Which makes all of this week’s blather about the Patriots’ quarterback controversy all the more pointless. (And isn’t it nice to only have one week, not two, for such pointlessness? Can we keep that? Huh? Can we?) Would coach Bill Belichick choose Tom Brady or Drew Bledsoe? Bledsoe was the veteran star who’d been injured early in the year. Brady was the callow second-year man who’d taken over for him, turned the team around and led it all the way to the AFC Championship Game, where he got hurt … and Bledsoe came to the rescue, throwing for a touchdown and helping the Patriots hold off the favored Pittsburgh Steelers. The plot thickens!

And the answer was: Who cares!

OK, the answer was Brady, but it really doesn’t matter. With either man at the wheel, the Patriots have a decent, ball-control-style offense (sixth in the league in scoring, which is impressive considering they average only about 300 yards a game on offense) centered around the running of solid but unspectacular Antowain Smith and the pass catching of their best player, Troy Brown, who also runs back kicks. He ran a punt back for a touchdown against Pittsburgh. That’ll be good enough to score some points, though not a tremendous number, against the Rams’ defense, which is good, and by the way can we stop saying it’s underrated please?

How long can you talk about something being underrated before it ceases to be underrated? We know, the Rams defense was terrible last year. We know, it’s much better this year, third best in the league in yards allowed, seventh in the league in scoring defense, which seems a little more important to me. But either way: good defense. Hey, here’s a shot of defensive coordinator Lovie Smith on the sidelines. Heck of a job, Lovie. We’ve been hearing since September that this isn’t the 2000 Rams defense anymore. They’re underrated, folks. Watch out, they’re actually really good. You know what? I think they might actually be overrated at this point.

So the question for the Patriots, given that they’re going to score maybe a couple of touchdowns and a field goal or so on special teams and/or against the Rams’ underrated but good defense, is: Can their own defense stop the Rams’ annoyingly monikered “Greatest Show on Turf” offense?

And the answer is? Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it. Let’s face it, the answer’s probably no. But if anybody’s going to beat the Rams in that way that everybody knows you can beat them, the Patriots aren’t a bad bet, because the Patriots have a pretty good defense (sixth in the league in scoring defense at 17 points a game, a tick ahead of the Rams, although they give up a lot more yards) and they’re coached by the league’s reigning defensive genius, Belichick, who despite his genius status tried to beat the Rams earlier this year by dropping seven guys into coverage, which pretty much never works against the Rams, who won that game 24-17 in Foxboro. Both teams are undefeated since then, for what that’s worth.

But we’ll figure that Belichick, being a genius and all, will have learned his lesson, and will throw all kinds of different looks and schemes at Warner and company, and it just might work to a certain extent. The Pats, after all, got past the Steelers mostly by beating on them until they bled from the ears, a phrase I promise I’m almost ready to stop using, and by scoring two touchdowns on special teams, where St. Louis is shaky.

It might work, but it probably won’t, because the Rams are coached by the league’s reigning offensive genius, Mike Martz — who despite his genius status not only had the unfathomably valuable Warner in the game during the waning moments of the Rams’ long-since-sealed victory in the season finale, but had him blocking on a trick play — and because Warner has Isaac Bruce to throw to, and Faulk, and Torry Holt, and Az-Zahir Hakim, and Ricky Proehl, and Ernie Conwell, and if none of that is working, or if the Rams have a little lead, he can turn around and hand off to Faulk, who in addition to being one of the league’s most dangerous receivers is probably its best runner.

The prediction here is that the Rams’ speed — not that there’s anything wrong with that — will be too much for the Patriots, not least because of the Patriots’ uniforms.

You heard me. The uniforms. Both of this year’s Super Bowl teams play in outfits that are not nearly as cool as their previous ones. In the Rams’ case, the design is pretty much the same as it’s been for decades, but two years ago they toned down their vibrant yellow to a more subdued dull gold. The Patriots did far greater damage, trading in their patriotic red, white and blue togs for a decidedly less stirring red, silver and blue color scheme. Does anybody give three cheers for the red, silver and blue? They also ditched their old minuteman hiking the ball logo for something that makes them look like the official team of the U.S. Postal Service.

And if you’ve ever stood in line at a post office you know one thing about the U.S. Postal Service: Speed is not a strong suit.

Rams 27, Patriots 17. Spring training in two weeks.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>