WARMING THE BENCH: Big Easy Means Big Win For Pats

Be afraid, Bill Belichick; be very afraid. The Gatorade bath is coming your way. This Sunday, in the balmy atmosphere of the Big Easy, your New England Patriots will shock the world in one of the most improbable Super Bowl victories ever. Just call me Miss Cleo, because I can see into the future, and for the first time in a long while, the New England sports scene is looking pretty bright.

Imagine telling someone this past August that the Pats would finish above .500, much less finish second overall in the AFC. Oh yeah, and they wouldn’t have Drew Bledsoe or Terry Glenn to help them out. Some generic backup named Tom Brady would instead lead the Pats to victory.

Your reasonable friend would have strapped you in restraints and forced you to cheer on your team from the confines of a padded room.

But here we are with the Pats, soaking up the sun in New Orleans preparing to pick apart the almighty Rams. The last time they made that journey down south, it was the Brett Favre and Desmond Howard show. For a week, we watched SportsCenter take us into Favre’s boyhood home of Kiln, Miss., and interview everyone who had ever even seen the darling son of the South. There was no doubt that this was his show, and the Patriots would be doing little more than filling the role of the New England Generals to Favre’s Green Bay Globetrotters.

On that Sunday six years ago, Patriots fans watched Desmond Howard run the Patriots right out of the big game. An entire season of excitement and anticipation spoiled by a clinic put on by the Green Bay Packers’ special teams.

That was then, however, and this is now. Jambalaya is back and this time it’s better. This time it will be the Patriots special teams who put on the Super Bowl spectacular show. Troy Brown will leave the coverage in his dust as he shoots down the field on punt returns. Adam Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal in the winter wonderland of Foxboro Stadium with the entire Pats season on the line. He’s not exactly trembling at the prospect of kicking inside a dome.

St. Louis is worried about Kurt Warner and his ribs. The Patriots starting quarterback is also nursing an injury; however, the Patriots can boast about having the best backup QB ever. Whether it’s current pro-bowler Tom Brady or former pro-bowler Drew Bledsoe tossing the football, the coaches know that the offense is in good hands.

Coaching is another area that can inspire any Pats’ fan with confidence. It seems highly unlikely that Belichick will pull a Bill Parcells and toy with his resignation on the eve of the big game. This is a coach who sticks with his players and makes the right decision, although I couldn’t blame Drew for rolling his eyes at that last statement.

Offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss has more tricks up his sleeve than David Copperfield. He keeps the defenses guessing on every play; Brady could pass to Patten, Patten could pass to Bledsoe, or they could just give the ball to Antowain Smith and let him charge through any defense for a breakaway score.

Once the offense has done its part, Romeo Crennel’s defense is more than capable of putting up a big stop. Just try and get around Lawyer Milloy, I dare you. Kordell Stewart wilted under the pressure from the tenacious defense, and as for the myth that the Patriots D can’t stop the run, the Bus didn’t exactly roll through the line.

The Patriots enter Super Bowl XXXVI as 14-point underdogs. Go ahead and underestimate them; that strategy worked wonders for the Steelers. The Patriots have been written off as a lucky team that doesn’t stand a chance of challenging Faulk, Warner, Williams and the rest of the Rams juggernaut. Luck will win you a game, but it doesn’t take you to the Super Bowl. Talent and hard work got the Pats to New Orleans, and talent and hard work is what will bring them back champions.

Last season the Pats finished the season with a record of 5-11. Just making the playoffs this season was an unbelievable accomplishment. After all the adversity they overcame this season, however, the Pats will not be satisfied just being in the big game. There will be no moral victories. This overlooked underdog is in town for one reason, and they will succeed.

On Sunday, Patriots fans will have reason to celebrate a Super Bowl victory for the first time in franchise history. I can’t definitively tell you who will be the MVP, because a different Patriots’ player comes through every week. I can, however, guarantee both you and Bill Belichick that the Gatorade bath is coming.

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