Patriots will be just fine, thanks

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Well, the Patriots looked a little rocky against those since-winless Bills on opening night, then appeared shell-shocked after meeting Rex Ryan's Jets for the first time in Week 2. But based on Sunday, the Patriots are back. Sure, these aren't the same 2007 Pats who almost shocked and shut out the NFL world until heading to Arizona. No, they are older on offense and missing a few critical player parts from that season, the guys who made this franchise the champions of this decade. But they still have Tom Brady and that's a lot. Brady is finding his groove and receiving sidekick Randy Moss still has enough left in his tank to make a few plays here and there. Brady passed for 258 yards and a touchdown to beat Baltimore on Sunday, a Ravens team that has a nice gunslinger in Joe Flacco and one very good defense (although aging in areas, too).
Since the trade of Richard Seymour and the loss of injured talented middle linebacker Jerod Mayo, this was the first game in which Bill Belichick's defense lined up in some rather unique configurations and brought every blitz imaginable at Flacco. Some worked and some didn't, but the main thing was that the Patriots were flying around and producing, often dictating the style of the game. I'm sure this is what Belichick envisioned once he decided to trade Seymour at the end of the summer, while already dealing with the losses of Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Mike Vrabel — they were big-time playmakers on those Super Bowl teams. Everything evolves in football, but the Patriots again resemble a serious threat come January. Players like Gary Guyton and Brandon Meriweather were making plays against the Ravens and they figure to improve. One final thought. Yes, Moss has been caught lollygagging around when he's not the primary receiver, but I think Belichick is fine with that as long as he keeps producing when the pass is coming his way. Thus far, Moss has done that. Hey, Moss isn't 25 anymore (he's 32) and there's a lot of miles on those legs of his. He needs to pace himself for the long haul and that's what he's doing.

Let men be men

"Put a skirt on him! Buy him a dress!"

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We heard those familiar cries on Sunday because referee Ron Winter became overly protective of Tom Brady against the fierce Baltimore pass rush. Ever since the NFL decided it was going to protect its star quarterbacks — all QBs for that matter — there have been a slew of borderline calls whenever a defender sniffs near a quarterback. This is exactly what happened when Terrell Suggs dove at Brady, who ably side-stepped him to prevent a sack, only to have Winter flag the play for a 15-yard roughing penalty and an automatic first down. The penalty gave New England a first down at the Baltimore 27 and two plays later the Patriots had a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter. I agree with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis when he complained after the game, "It is embarrassing to the game. Tom Brady is good enough to make his own plays, let him make the play." Granted, the NFL doesn't want to lose Brady or any other quarterback to serious knee injury like occurred last season. But this is football and, yes, it is a very physical game. Hey, and Winter's job is a difficult one. He made a snap judgment call, erring on the side of protection. Maybe the rules have to be changed in which it isn't such a big penalty — 15 yards and a first down — when the roughing isn't anywhere close to being flagrant. Yes, that would be a judgment call, too, but that's what is happening here. Review it, pick up the flag and replay the down. That only seems fair to both teams. There are so many rules inhibiting defenders that the NFL should cut some of them a break.

Mistakes of youth

Well, Mark Sanchez fell back to earth Sunday against the Saints. He fell with a thud. But there was something besides egg on his face for tossing a 99-yard interception for a touchdown, then failing to count to five while wandering around in his own end zone, eventually getting sacked and fumbling and giving the Saints another gift touchdown. It was how Sanchez went low at the knees in chop block fashion at Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma during Saints safety Darren Sharper's career 10th touchdown return of an interception. The officials caught the act and flagged him 15 yards for unnecessary roughness, but you have to wonder why he engaged in such a reckless act? Maybe Sanchez was upset with his errant throw; he did fire into double coverage. But that's no excuse to take it out on Vilma, who didn't appear to be heading toward Sanchez to block him. What's worse for Sanchez is that other defensive players saw the dirty block and you can bet some will look to return the favor. Young quarterbacks don't need to get on anyone's bounty list. Sanchez has come across as a solid young man to many who have met him. Let's hope this was an uncharacteristic and totally unwise decision by him. Yes, quarterbacks need to protect themselves in turnover moments like these, but there's no reason to initiate the action. The Jets obviously believe in him; it was interesting to see New York's Kris Jenkins, their great defensive tackle, counseling him on the sideline. Now Sanchez has to get his head out of his butt, get back to work and forget about taking anymore cheap shots.

Grow up, kid

The general consensus around the NFL is that Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell loves playing the part, but he simply doesn't know how to really be a NFL quarterback. He loves wearing the bling, having the hefty checking account and all the perks that go with being the man in the Oakland huddle. But he surely doesn't deserve that starting role right now. The Raiders had to be wondering prior to his rookie year when Russell went over 300 pounds and then felt good about getting down to 270 pounds. Yes, he's a very big man and he does have a very good arm. But since when are those the only necessary ingredients needed to be an NFL quarterback? Russell can pout about being stuck with two rookie receivers, but that's life, baby. Like your boss used to say, "Just win, baby." There is no way the Raiders can continue to allow Russell to take the field every Sunday while he passes for 126 yards. After Sunday's loss in Houston, Russell is a 40 percent passer after four games. His QB rating is about the same. There's no way that such woeful production is ever going to win enough games to be a serious threat to Denver in the AFC West. So, what's the solution? Well, the Raiders discovered too late that Jeff Garcia really wasn't going to be a great tutor. But he really wasn't qualified to have the job, either. Yes, Russell needs some veteran guidance, but the bottom line is that HE must want to get better. He's got to start working harder than he is. He needs to get a bed and move into the Raiders' building. He needs to study all the time, work all the time and leave the partying to the offseason. No nights out on the town until he starts throwing for 250 yards and maybe a few touchdown passes every week. There should be no more excuses for this young man. The expectations were great when Al Davis selected him No. 1 overall and he owes it to Davis and Raider fans everywhere to deliver on that promise. I believe it shocks fans that some young players today are willing to holdout for the big money and then don't bust their butts to be the player worthy of $32 million guaranteed. It may trouble me, but it should trouble JaMarcus a whole lot more!

Politics in Washington

For political intrigue, there is nothing like the Washington Redskins. The word in the capital is that coach Jim Zorn won't return in 2010. It makes some sense, knowing the impatience of owner Daniel Snyder and the fact that Zorn really wasn't the organization's first choice to replace a retiring Joe Gibbs. But it can't be a healthy environment for Zorn and his main project, quarterback Jason Campbell. Neither man can feel secure given those rumors while also knowing how strongly Snyder pursued current Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in the offseason.
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So, what a scary scene it was in the first half on Sunday against Tampa Bay and the Bucs' unknown starting quarterback Josh Johnson. The Bucs were dominating and Campbell was being run over. He was sacked three times, lost a fumble that led to Tampa Bay points, and was intercepted twice while completing only 5 of 12 attempts. His luck was so bad that once he fired a pass that knocked umpire Chad Brown right on the noggin. Ugly, depressing and benching all came to mind. Zorn said he never considered benching Campbell because he loved the look in his eyes. Zorn said Campbell wasn't overwhelmed by the circumstances. Good thinking on his part because Campbell came back to throw for two second-half touchdowns, including the game-winner to Santana Moss. However, this comeback won't hold off the circling buzzards. Zorn and Campbell are going to have to do a lot of winning, maybe make the playoffs, to have a future with the Redskins. That is a tall task at the moment. Right now, Washington is no match for the Giants. The bigger question is how much longer will Clinton Portis be able to perform like a bulldozer on those bad ankles? Zorn is leaning a lot on Portis, who seems to have lost his fourth gear.
Tagged: Bills, Bears, Chiefs, Raiders, Patriots, Saints, Jets, Buccaneers, Redskins, Ravens, Darren Sharper, Randy Moss, Richard Seymour, Tom Brady, Mike Vrabel, Santana Moss, Jeff Garcia, Kris Jenkins, Ray Lewis, Clinton Portis, Terrell Suggs, Jonathan Vilma, Jason Campbell, Jay Cutler, JaMarcus Russell, Brandon Meriweather, Joe Flacco, Jerod Mayo, Josh Johnson, Gary Guyton, Mark Sanchez

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