Running game key to Patriots win

What is this all about?

In a recent Internet poll, Jennifer Garner — the star of the ABC series “Alias” — was ranked fifth (out of five) sexy female stars who kick butt on screen. Worse, “Dark Angel” star Jessica Alba was second, behind Angelina Jolie.

What’s up with that?

Oh yeah, this is a column that’s supposed to be about how the New England Patriots can beat St. Louis in the Super Bowl. That makes it easy to understand how I got distracted.

But if the planets are aligned just right, the end of rainbow douses the Pats’ heads just enough and New England’s backup kicker is a leprechaun, they can win.

That’s a lot of ifs.

To shock the world and win the Super Bowl, the Patriots must run the ball. They’ve had success all year with running back Antowain Smith, and he needs to touch the ball — a LOT — for New England to have a chance.

Smith and his offensive line must run the ball effectively. Doing so pays off enormously, primarily by eating the clock and keeping the unstoppable St. Louis offense off the field.

It also plays against the strength of the Rams’ defense. St. Louis doesn’t have stud defensive tackles (like Chicago’s Ted Washington and Keith Traylor) who clog up the middle. Instead, they have speed-rushing defensive ends — Leonard Little and Grant Wistrom — who penetrate up the field. That should create gaps in between the guard and tackle.

Running also dictates the game’s tempo and forces the defense to react. If Smith can run for six or eight yards a shot, the Ram defense would likely counter by moving eight men into the box.

That opens up the play-action pass. Troy Brown scorched the Pittsburgh defense for 121 yards receiving in the AFC championship game — and the Steelers supposedly have one of the NFL’s best defenses. If New England can make the Rams think that they’ve forgotten about Brown, he’ll get a better shot at single coverage. And Brown is far too dangerous to be left alone on cornerback island.

Angelina Jolie? Are you serious? That’s unreal.

OK, concentrate, keep mind on football.

Defensively, New England’s situation is even more dicey. The Pats’ defense is anything but star-studded. That’s unless you count safety Lawyer Milloy and linebacker Willie McGinnest, both of whom lost their star status a few years ago during the Pats’ doldrums.

The edge comes in coaching: Head coach Bill Belichick is one of the game’s best defensive minds. Somehow, he’ll need to come up with a way to slow down the Rams’ offense that’s accustomed to playing on turf and in domes.

St. Louis coach Mike Martz is thought to be an offensive genius. Heck, I’d be a guru too if I ran an offense that had Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Belichick is the more valuable coach, because the Patriot defense doesn’t have the boatloads of talent like the Ram offense.

Still, coaching can only go so far.

Belichick needs an extraordinary effort from his players, especially defensively, for his team to have even a remote shot.

New England does have a few of the intangibles in its corner.

Think about this: A team’s starting quarterback — its only recognizable quarterback — gets hurt early in the season. Backup comes in, leads team to promised land and shocks NFL pundits.

Sound familiar?

We all know the story of Trent Green’s knee blowout, which opened the door for Warner. Offensive football hasn’t been the same since. But the same thing happened in New England. Drew Bledsoe’s chest injury early in the season ushered in the Tom Brady era. Brady and New England have been rolling ever since.

Chalk one up for Pats as team of destiny.

The NFL’s most memorable moment off the field came just after Sept. 11, when New England guard Joe Andruzzi tearfully recounted how his brothers almost didn’t make it out of the collapsing World Trade Center.

A few weeks later, the Andruzzi brothers were honorary captains before a Patriot game. Their story of togetherness is well-chronicled, and their story of bravery is likewise well-documented.

Then there’s that whole issue of Boston’s miserable performance in championships (read: Red Sox). Boston has forever been a bridesmaid, and the town still hates Babe Ruth and Bucky Dent. No Boston-area team has even sniffed a championship since Larry Bird bolted.

Chalk one of up for the Pats as sentimental favorites.

Usually though, when you talk about sentimental favorites, that team — on paper — is in a heap of trouble. But remember what happened to St. Louis in its last game at the Superdome: The Saints handed the Rams their first loss of the season.

So there is hope. But not much.

Hey, even if the Super Bowl gets ugly and uninteresting (a much more likely if), there are other matters that need attention. Like figuring out how Jennifer Garner and Jessica Alba could lose to Angelina Jolie in anything.

Brian Hunsicker is a staff writer for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him at (703) 878-8053 or at [email protected]

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