Saturday, April 25, 2020

Rob Gronkowski: no ill will toward him for leaving, no good will either

Rob Gronkowski is one of the greatest football players any of us will ever see: a game-changing pass catcher and an even better run blocker. His presence helped the Patriots revive the physically imposing style of offense they won with in the early 2000s.

Unfortunately, he didn't want to play here anymore. And that's fine. I get it. It can't be much fun to play under Belichick. You don't get the big money, you have to watch what you say and do in public, it's probably a more demanding job than many of us have ever had to deal with in our professions, and NFL players can't just decide to change jobs after giving 2 weeks notice like we can.

So go have fun, Gronk. No bad feelings.

But no good feelings either. At least not any good feelings concerning the present or future, just some nostalgia and gratitude for what you did in the past.

I'm not going to root for him. Nor am I going to blame the brain trust in Foxborough for not changing their culture and philosophy for a single player, as great as he may be, in order to keep him here. It is what it is. I'll live with the potentially alienating culture that won 6 Super Bowls, 18 division titles, and 30 playoff games. It seems to be working.

I rooted for Gronk when he was a Patriot, when there was a two-way street of what he committed to the team and what we committed to him. Gronk and his family lived like kings up here, and while he was in Patriots' blue, red, and silver that was fine. But the two way street of athlete/fan support isn't a 1,100 mile interstate highway. The street has moved down to Florida and to the NFC. So the social contract between king and subject is no longer in effect when the king moves his castle to a different land, and starts fighting under a different banner.

Especially when up here he preferred not fighting at all over fighting for the Patriots. Don't forget that. He chose to leave football over playing here. I have no qualms with that, but I'm not going to fawn over an ex-Patriot who preferred being a retired ex-Patriot over being a Patriot.

Now as for Brady, I will root for him somewhat as a Buccaneer. Because unlike Gronk Brady seemed to help push the Patriot Way among his fellow players. Gronk only seemed to tolerate it. Brady and Belichick built this kingdom on and off the field.  That's special.

Furthermore, and this is just my opinion, Gronk's "charms" are wasted on me. I find his act a little lame, and more than a little boring. We get it, you're a big goofball that smiles and dances a lot, you stick your tongue out, and the number 69 is hilarious. It's not a bad act, but not nearly unique or funny enough to merit a long-distance fan relationship.

So ultimately, no ill will for leaving. But no good will for anything on the football field since you retired. It's kind of like the first 9 years of The Simpsons compared to everything after: I enjoy the memories, but am apathetic toward your present and future.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Belichick is right and you're wrong: Episode 442 - The Clock and Timeouts

I'll state two things before getting into the meat of this post:

1) Bill Belichick is not always right. He is fallible. He has made, and will make incorrect decisions.

2) You are not smart enough to judge when those incorrect decisions have occurred. In other words, I will defer to Belichick over you, always. That means any "you" who might be reading this (including me). From the geniuses on sports radio, to the sofa stains who yell at the TV with their rational coaching insights. Belichick understands football at a level beyond most professional football coaches, let alone the Madden All-Pros out there or the former high school standouts who caught two TDs in the Thanksgiving Day game to make the Division 6 all-star team.

Bill Belichick was conservative at the end of the first half. He didn't use a timeout on defense to save the clock. The first offensive play was a draw which lost 2 yards. That pretty much ended the drive. Why so conservative?

Because the Patriots' offense struggles to get first downs, and Miami had 3 timeouts.

What do you think was more likely, a Patriots scoring drive, or a quick three-and-out?

So your options are to get the ball with 1:40 on the clock, 2 timeouts, and a very real chance of giving the ball back to Miami with 1:00 remaining. Or you get the ball with 1:00 of clock, 3 timeouts, and see if you can string together a few plays without giving Miami a chance to touch the ball again.

You are either in control of the clock and therefore the game, or you have to hope to move the ball in order to be in control. And you're not good at moving the ball.

It's like a basketball team dribbling out the clock at the end of a quarter, waiting until the clock is near 0 to shoot so as to prevent the other team from having an extra possession.

Don't forget, Buffalo scored after getting the ball with 0:33 before halftime last week. The defense is not immune to allowing big plays and quick drives.

And if you think scoring with 1:40 and 2 timeouts is likely or possible, yet somehow with 1:00 and 3 timeouts scoring is impossible, I really don't know what to tell you. Good luck with that.

And if you don't like the draw play call, go back to all the other 2-minute drives the Patriots have started with draws, screens, and other conservative plays. Go all the way back to Super Bowl 36 and tell Belichick that a 5 yard pass to Redmond is too conservative a play to call with 1:21 on the clock.

They frequently start those types of drives with low-risk plays. If they get some yards, you crank up the speed of the drive. If not, you keep the ball and go to the locker room.

The Patriots also seem to, in many situations, give timeouts a higher value than 40 seconds of time. Timeouts keep your play-calling flexible and your playbook wide open. There are 3,600 seconds in a football game, and there aren't many 40 second blocks that are more valuable than being able to call a run play or use the middle of the field.

This offense has struggled almost all year, but the struggles get even worse when their range of plays is limited. Having more timeouts makes you less predictable.

So the Patriots wanted control of the clock, didn't want to give Miami a chance to score like Buffalo did, and they value a timeout more than actual time.

The end. You're wrong, Belichick is right, we're on to Tennessee.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Patriots dynasty is over, yet again

Texans 28, Patriots 24. And with that, the Patriots' run of success has come to an end. It's over. The dynasty is done. All good things come to an end. The defense isn't as strong as we thought. The offense is shriveled and flaccid. They can't even figure out the field goal kicker. Cue the hearses for the funeral procession.

We know with certainty this is the end because we've seen the end so many times. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Patriots' dominance of the 21st century is how many times their reign has ended and the team has fallen apart.

It came to an end a month ago in Baltimore. And of course, last winter it was all over in Kansas City when Damien Williams scored with 2:03 left to beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Before that, the dynasty fell apart when the Pats were forced to go on the road to win the AFC, something they hadn't succeeded at in years. There was no way they'd win.

The Miami Miracle also ended the Patriots' 2018 season, and thus also their string of triumphs. Before that, losses in Tennessee, Detroit, and Jacksonville each ended the 2018 season as well. The 2018 Patriots were knocked out of contention about 6 or 7 times in 2018.

Of course, the Patriots never recovered from losing to the Eagles in the Super Bowl. And since parting ways with Malcolm Butler, the defense just hasn't been the same.

The Falcons embarrassed the Patriots the year before that. And that 2016 regular season was the end of the Pats' dynasty because they'd have to play without Brady for 4 games, and also there was that irreconcilable turmoil between Kraft/Belichick/Brady over the fate of Jimmy Garoppolo. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put the Patriots dynasty back together again.

Ever since losing to the Chiefs in September 2014, the Patriots just haven't been "Good anymore." They've collapsed about a dozen times since then. Maybe more. Just like when 2002's 9-7 record showed that the year before was a fluke. Or in week 1 in 2003 when Tom Jackson revealed to us that the Patriots "hate their coach."

Now the AFC baton is being passed to the Ravens and Chiefs. Just like Mark Sanchez and the Jets took it in 2010 and went on to glory. Or the Colts took it and had a streak of banner years with Manning and Luck. Or the year-in year-out success of the Broncos. Or the way the Steelers have been able to get past the Patriots both on the field and in their own minds.

People have been digging graves for the Patriots dynasty ever since they picked them to lose to the Steelers and Rams in 2001, or thought the Patriots were done winning in that stretch from 2005 to 2014.

At some point the Patriots dynasty will die. And maybe it's now. But the people predicting this death have spent years, even decades digging empty graves for the Pats. So if this is indeed the end, I'll enjoy an Irish wake and revel in the good times, and the unparalleled competitiveness of this team. I'll pay my respects and congratulate myself for only mourning the dearly departed just once, not 20+ times.

And if this isn't the end, I'll smile like the insufferable prick I am as I watch the exhausted haters and befuddled fools start digging the next set of graves for this team.

Monday, November 18, 2019

My favorite defensive performance of the season so far

The first few weeks of the season, the Patriots defense looked like an all-time great unit: Picks, fumbles, sacks, shutouts, scores. But it was mostly against bad QBs and bad teams. I'm not taking anything away from the Pats' D, but is it really a huge achievement to get 4 picks against the Dolphins?

What I've been wanting to see from this defense is if they had the ability to consistently make tough stands against decent offensive players. And that's what they did Sunday in Philadelphia.

The Eagles only had two drives that lasted more than 5 plays. The Patriots forced four 3-and-outs. They held the Eagles to drives of under 20 yards seven times. Cameron Johnston has a season-high 8 punts.

Last night I thought this win was ugly, but as I look back on the defensive performance, it's very attractive on that side of the ball: five sacks, a forced fumble, holding the Eagles under 100 rushing yards, under 200 passing yards. And it's not like the offense was putting the defense in great situations either.

So more than any other defensive performance this season, the 60 minutes in Philly yesterday impressed me the most.

But you're only as good as your next 60 minutes, which will be against the even better offense of the Dallas Cowboys.

Photo credit: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Antonio Brown acquisition: Let's not queue up the quacking duck boats yet

The Patriots have signed star receiver Antonio Brown. Understandably, we're all excited about this acquisition. Look at the Pats' receiving options: Gordon, Edelman, Thomas, and then add a guy who has caught 100+ passes for 1,200+ yards each of the past 6 seasons. It's absurd.

But let's pace ourselves here and wait until Brown is actually catching touchdowns before we start celebrating them. Let's also wait to see if Gordon can stay clean between now and February, if Edelman's concussed brain can last another year of relentless hits across the middle, if Demariyus Thomas can recover and carve out a role here.

I'm not being negative. I'm happy with this move. And if Brown is a problem the Patriots will jettison him without hesitation. I'm pleased, but not ecstatic. I'll enjoy Antonio Brown's performance one catch at a time, not all at once before it even happens.

Patriots fans have a problem of anticipation and expectations. And it ruins their enjoyment of this team's success. They expect a 14-2 (or better) season with multiple touchdown margins of victory most weeks. So when that happens they don't even enjoy it. And when the Pats don't meet those lofty expectations, the fans act like the team hasn't won 6 rings, or been to 8 straight AFC title games. They don't fully enjoy watching the high quality of football being played in Foxborough. It's like sitting down to a perfectly cooked steak dinner, but instead of taking our time to savor each juicy bite, Pats fans put it in a blender, liquefy it, and chug it down in one gulp.

I don't know how much Antonio Brown will contribute to the 2019 Patriots. He certainly has a huge ceiling. He could be a huge bust. But I'll wait until he's making big plays to celebrate his big plays. One game at a time, one play at a time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The NFL is now a safe space for snowflakes

NFL owners are not trying to preserve honor and respect for the American flag. They are trying to make the NFL a safe space with limited speech, and protect a legion of easily upset fans so they don't throw a tantrum and change the channel because something made them mad.

The League has every right to do this. In this great country, you have the absolute right to prioritize profit over morality. You can suppress protests, then sell patriotism to stuff your pockets with cash as much as you want. It's a free country.

And if you can do so while accepting public funds for stadiums, so much the better. Hooray for private enterprise!

But now the NFL is akin to ultra-thin-skinned universities where safe spaces protect people from thoughts and opinions they are offended by. The snowflakes on the right are just as delicate and sensitive as those on the left. They need rules and regulations to protect them from the realities of the world.

Anyone embracing this rule is as dainty and weak as a college student offended by the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Tuukka Rask Problem: Rask gets worse as series get longer

As series grow longer, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask's performances get worse. His splits in playoff series speak for themselves.

Games 1-4 Games 5-7
Record: 27-13 6-12
GAA: 1.93 2.77
SV%: 0.936 0.904

In his Game 6 starts, Rask is 1-5, with a .901 save percentage and 2.82 GAA. It gets worse in Game 7, where Rask is 1-2, with an .849 SV% and 3.63 GAA.

Why is this? I wouldn't go so far as to say Rask is a choker. He's allowed some soft goals in the playoffs but he doesn't typically have meltdowns in big games.

However, opponents do seem to figure him out as they play against him. After getting 100 or so shots on net, teams seem to know where the gaps will be.

Rask, at 176 pounds, is more prone to having leaks than bigger goalies who have more surface area to protect the net. It makes sense that after 4 or 5 games of trying to find those holes, other teams figure out where they are. For example, in Saturday night's Bruins loss, the Leafs successfully went high on Rask and chased him from the game. And unfortunately, Rask doesn't seem to be as good at figuring his opponents out, as they are at figuring him out.

With Rask in net, if series get past 5 games, the Bruins are 2-4. Rask hasn't won a Game 6 since 2010 against Buffalo.

If he doesn't win tonight's Game 6, and then the following Game 7, it's time for the Bruins to look for a new goalie.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs Game 3 quick reactions

It's a series again. This is why the Stanley Cup playoffs are by far the best playoffs in North American sports. Quick thoughts about the Bruins' 4-2 loss in Toronto Monday night:

1. Toronto didn't suck for 60 minutes
As amazing as the B's looked in Games 1 and 2, especially on offense, Toronto played like garbage in those games. Full credit to the Bruins for taking that trash out to the curb, but now the Leafs have showed up and played like an NHL team. And the Bruins had trouble overcoming that.

2. The refs sucked, but Bruins lost on their own
The weird non-icing calls, the bad delay of game call, the refs were awful. So what? It's not like the Bruins dominated this game otherwise. It was a back and forth tilt, Bruins didn't do enough to win with or without shaky officiating.

3. Rask wasn't great
It is not unfair for me to ask a supposedly great goalie to give us a great performance. Rask wasn't a big reason why the Bruins lost, but he didn't do enough to be a reason for them to win. That's his M.O. in the playoffs, and I'm sick of it.

4. Bruins need offense from more than one line
Toronto used the last shift to set the match ups they wanted and cool off the red hot Bergeron line. The B's 4th line did their job, but there wasn't much offense from the other forwards. It'll be tough to go deep with only one line scoring goals.

5. Bruins need to find a way to win grinding games
The Bruins have the offensive skills to cycle and score. They're one of the best teams in the NHL at that. But are they one of the best at grinding too? They'll need to be. This was a physical game with every play contested, every body on a body. The Bruins weren't physically dominated BUT they didn't physically dominate either.

Can they do better than play to a stalemate in such a rough game?

We'll see.