Bill Parcells obviously thinks he has a good team in his second season as coach of the New England Patriots. How can you tell? Parcells is ripping his players after they win, that's how. It's something he used to do when he was with the New York Giants—and don't forget, he took them to two Super Bowls. Whenever the Giants got high and mighty, Parcells would deflate them. Whenever the players were low, he would pump them up. And so after New England won its second game of the preseason, 28-10 over the Los Angeles Rams, Parcells lashed out at his club. "I'm not satisfied with anything," he said. "We were lucky to be in the game at halftime. If this were a regular-season game, we're in a lot of trouble."
How dreadful were his Patriots? Second-year quarterback Drew Bledsoe led his team on three touchdown drives in just over two quarters, throwing a pair of touchdown passes. Just awful. "Part of the reason we started off so poorly," Parcells fumed, "was the play of Bledsoe." Up is down. Wins are losses.
If we are reading Parcells correctly, New England might be the NFL's sleeper of the year, especially if the Pats' first-round draft pick, linebacker Willie McGinest, can bolster the pass rush and if some no-name receivers come through. New England chose to draft McGinest instead of signing free agent Tony Bennett after Parcells analyzed films of Bennett (36 sacks in 56 games with the Green Bay Packers) and decided Bennett was not his kind of pass rusher. While McGinest was regarded as inconsistent at USC, Parcells believed McGinest's play suffered as a result of his being shifted from position to position in the Trojan defense.
Elsewhere in the lineup, Parcells has most of what he wants in place: Bledsoe, a big-armed quarterback; Marion Butts, a tank of a running back; an offensive line that averages 287 pounds; good cover corners in Maurice Hurst and Ricky Reynolds; and a solid but unspectacular defensive front seven. If it all comes together, the Patriots will reach double figures in the win column.
Strange team, the New York Jets. Ten years ago Art Monk was 27 and was setting a then NFL record of 106 catches for the Washington Redskins; Ronnie Lott was 25 and the best secondary player in football; and Nick Lowery, then 28, was in his fifth season as a premier kicker. Now each of these guys—along with 34-year-old defensive tackle Bill Pickel—is the oldest NFL player at his position, but they are keys to a team that is fighting to make the playoffs.
The Jets are loaded with ifs: if the old geezers can still contribute, if Marvin Jones can rebound from a hip fracture to become an impact linebacker, if Boomer Esiason can remain a top-drawer quarterback, if Johnny Johnson can be the bruising running back that he was a year ago, if tight end Johnny Mitchell can mature into an offensive force, if wideout Rob Moore's broken wrist heals quickly, if someone like linebacker Jeff Lageman emerges as a quality pass rusher—if all this happens, then the Jets will be a playoff team.
Count on this, though: Rookie coach Pete Carroll will be a good NFL coach. He'll get his players to leave everything they've got out on the field.
How can you feel anything but a little sorry for the Indianapolis Colts? Maybe they did make the wrong decision when they bypassed Trent Differ on draft day, settling on free agent Jim Harbaugh as their starting quarterback. But then, the Colts' list of top draftees in the '90s is littered with mistakes and tragedies. The No. 1 pick in 1990, quarterback Jeff George, flat gave up on them. Their '91 pick, defensive lineman Shane Curry from Miami, was murdered in the parking lot of a Cincinnati bar. Their '92 top pick, Washington defensive tackle Steve Emtman, blew out his left knee in Game 9 of his rookie season and hurt his right knee so badly in the fifth game of last season that he won't be back any earlier than November. And one of Indy's two first-round picks last April, linebacker Trev Alberts from Nebraska, is already out for the year with a partially dislocated elbow.
The lone survivor amid these ruins, wideout Scan Dawkins, a '93 first-round selection, sounds like he's walking on eggshells. "I know there have been first-round busts: that's always a possibility," he says. "And I have to admit there is a little bit of nervousness on my part heading into the season."
Running back Marshall Faulk, the second player chosen overall this year, from San Diego State, should resuscitate a running game that was dead last in the NFL the past three years. Still, it's amazing that the Colts have had five top-10 picks in the last five drafts and only one—Faulk—is likely to be an impact player in '94.