Saturday, December 29, 2007


Yes, I know I am one of ten billion bloggers, sports writers, commentators, and pundits who will use the phrase "Sweet Sixteen" in reference to the Patriots going 16-0. And I don't care.

This may have been the most hyped game in regular season history. The Patriots going into the Meadowlands to face the playoff bound Giants, with innumerable individual records at stake, and a perfect season on the line. The game was on the NFL Network, CBS, and NBC. Fans in parts of eastern Massachusetts were able to choose from five different stations to watch the game: The NFL Network, WCVB 5 Boston, WHDH 7 Boston, WJAR 10 Providence, and WBZ 4 Boston.

For the record, I chose WJAR 10 because WCVB's lottery updates pushed the scoreboard off the screen, and 10 had the best picture/sound quality on my crappy low def TV.

And now, here comes my most in depth game summary in my short history as an amateur sports writer. But don't worry, there'll be plenty of pictures.

The Giants started the game with a touchdown drive, punctuated by two big plays. The Patriots clearly came into the game with stopping the run in the forefront of their minds. So when Eli Manning play action passed in the second play from scrimmage, the Patriots pass rushers bit. Manning then hit a leaping Plaxico Burress, who had a quarter step and eight inches of height on Ellis Hobbs. The play was good for a 52 yard gain.

But the Patriots defense appeared to bear down. A pass was bobbled by Steve Smith as he hit the ground, and after a silly challenge by Tom Coughlin, it was 2nd and 10. Then Ty Warren introduced himself to Brandon Jacobs at the line of scrimmage, making it 3rd and 10. Despite the 52 yard pass, the Patriots seemed on the verge of a red zone stop.

On 3rd and 10, the Pats blitzed, but were unable to get close to Manning. Eli found Burress 10 yards and 1 foot downfield, and the G-Men moved the chains. Jacobs ran on 1st and goal, gaining one. Then Manning dumped it to him in between the has marks, and the big halfback rumbled into the end zone. 7-0 Giants. Lead change #1.

Then the TV timeouts started. I absolutely HATE when there’s a touchdown, a commercial break, the kickoff, then another commercial break. And trust me, AT the game, those sandwiched breaks are even more frustrating.

Coming into this game, the Patriots had scored in 12 of 15 opening drives for the season. They scored 8 TDs (a record for the opening drive), and 4 field goals. The theme would continue.

Within two plays, the Patriots had penetrated Giants’ territory, as Moss and Welker each got 14 yard receptions. The catch by Welker was his 102nd of the season, a new Patriots record.

The Giants defense also seemed keyed on the run. Maroney was brutally stuffed at the line. On 2nd and 10, Watson dropped a flanker dump pass in the flat. On 3rd down, Brady hit Faulk on a screen. It was brilliant play calling. In that part of the field, a field goal is too long and a punt is too short. The Pats were trying to set up a 4th and short, and they did, Faulk got 8 yards on the play. Moss caught a 5 yard pass to give New England a new set of downs.

On 2nd and 8 at the New York 19, Brady’s pass grazed the fingertips of Watson, but once again, the tight end was unable to haul it in. On 3rd and 8, Moss was overthrown. Gostkowski came in and kicked the field goal. 7-3 Giants.

The Giants tried running the ball on their second possession, with no success. Ty Warren devoured Jacobs at the line once more, and Seau led a swarm of tacklers on 2nd down. Amani Toomer dropped what would have been a 1st down, and the Giants punted.

The Patriots had good field position at the 50, thanks in part to Welker’s 8 yard punt return (most players would have gotten 2 or 3 on that play). But the offense went backwards. Maroney was enveloped 4 yards behind the line (why they called for a HB Toss at that point, I have no idea), then Brady was sacked for an 8 yard loss. BUT, there was a flag in the defensive secondary. Corey Webster got called for illegal contact, giving the Pats an automatic first down. It would prove costly to the Giants.

A 13 yard pass to Stallworth, a 19 yarder to Welker, and an 11 yard catch by Faulk had the Patriots at the 4 yard line. On the play to Faulk, Moss was stuck in the helmet by a DB’s helmet. The hit rang Randy’s bell, but he returned for the next play, which was also the first play of the second quarter.

Brady threw to Moss, who was once again wide open in double coverage. Randy leaped into the air, ripped the ball down, and had himself a touchdown. The score was a record breaker. The Patriots broke the record for most points scored by a team. Randy Moss tied the record for TD receptions. Tom Brady tied the record for TD passes. Most importantly, it gave the Pats a 10-7 lead. Lead change #2.

Then came one of the worst flags I’ve seen all year. You know, Randy Moss hasn’t done the kind of celebrating we’ve seen from him in the past. There’ve been no incidents this season. His pants have stayed up. He hasn’t even really danced all that much. So when he tied the record for TD receptions, the play AFTER he got his clock cleaned, I think he’s entitled to a little dance and a spike of the ball.

But that’s not why the unsportsmanlike penalty was called. Laurence Maroney moved his hips a little bit, along with Moss. The ref threw the flag for this “group celebration” which is forbidden by the NFL ever since the Rams did that bob and weave stuff.

It was one of the most ticky tacky penalties you’ll see. Shawne Merriman can do his spastic embolism dance after getting a sack, and he doesn’t get penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. And if a “beloved” player had gotten some sort of record, like Brett Favre or Peyton Manning, the refs would allow any and all forms of celebration. Hell, Favre INVOLVED the ref in a celebration during a game Sunday and didn't get flagged.

But the Patriots had the lead, and what harm could a 15 yard penalty assessed on a kickoff do?

I’m not blaming the officials for the 74 yard kickoff return, but they certainly helped. With the touchdown, the Giants retook the lead, 14-10, lead change #3.

The Patriots maintained their composure, and put together a nice little drive, although it could have been much nicer. Maroney finally found some holes, and had a 13 yard run to start things off, then another carry for 5 more. Faulk caught a pass on the flat for an 8 yard gain, and Welker - whose new name is Big Slick because he always eludes the first man - had a 13 yarder.

The drive stalled in Giants’ territory when Maroney was brought down for a loss of 3. The Patriots tried the WR Screen one times too many as Welker had a reception for a 1 yard loss. On 3rd and 14, Brady had plenty of time, but he quickly delivered a low pass to Faulk a mere 2 yards downfield. When Faulk was tackled, the Patriots were forced to try yet another field goal. Giants 14, Patriots 13.

The Giants were once again stopped by the defense. Bruschi made a great diving tackle of Jacobs to string him up near the line and hold him to a 3 yard gain. Rodney Harrisson broke up a 3rd and 7 pass, forcing a punt.

On the punt, Wes Welker demonstrated why he is becoming the quintessential Patriot. The ball was headed for the end zone. Welker had already given up on catching it. Nevertheless, he got in the way of the gunner in order to prevent him from keeping the ball out of the end zone. It would have been a touchback but the effort and the awareness to do that was still impressive.

The Patriots adjusted the Giants’ aggressive defensive line by allowing them to go up field, past the runner, thus allowing Maroney some maneuvreing room. On 1st and 10, Maroney got 10. He had three more carries in the drive, each for 4 yards.

The Pats penetrated deeply once more. On 2nd and 6 at the New York 21, Brady hit Stallworth in the slot on a quick pass. Aaron Ross made a great ankle tackle to keep Donte from getting more than 2 yards.

On 3rd and 4, Brady threw to Moss in double coverage. However, that double coverage included linebacker Gerriss Wilkinson, who didn’t even turn his head to play the pass. The ball bounced of Wilkinson’s helmet, and fell out of bounds. The Pats once again settled for a field goal, making it 16-13 in their favor. Lead change #4.

What you have to love about Tom Brady is that even though this was their fourth trip into the Giants’ side of the field and they only had one TD to show for it, he went to the sidelines and laughed with Moss about the double covering linebacker whose skull broke up a touchdown pass.

The Giants got the ball back with 1:54 on the clock. They started from their own 15, and to their credit, they were after another score. On 2nd and 10, the drive nearly ended. Jarvis Green and Ty Warren each fell at Eli Manning’s feet. Manning scrambled and found Kevin Boss 23 yards downfield at the sidelines. The Patriots fell a mere foot or two short of sacking Manning and effectively ending the drive. Instead, the Giants would score a touchdown. 21-16 Giants, lead change #5.

Going into half-time, the Giants had a 4 point lead over the unbeaten Patriots. But it was a slim 4 point lead. The Giants had made some big plays - the 52 yard pass to Burress, the 74 yard kickoff return, the 23 yard pass to Boss - and the Patriots had failed to take full advantage of the opportunities given them - four trips into Giant territory, only 16 points.

But the Patriots had succeeded in stopping the run. Brandon Jacobs had 7 first half carries for 7 yards. You don’t need to bust out a calculator to figure out how many yards he averaged per carry.

The Patriots were also moving the ball effectively, they just hadn’t been able to get to the promised land as often as they should have.

But the 3rd quarter did not start off well for the Patriots. After going 3 and out, Brandon Jacobs ran all over the New England defense, carrying for 4 yards, 16 yards, and 15 yards. On 3rd and 9 from the 19, the Giants baited Samuel to jump a short route, leaving Burress with an open lane to the end zone. Manning found him and it was 28-16 Giants.

The 12 point deficit was the largest faced by the Patriots this season. But with guys like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Kevin Faulk, and of course Tom Brady; 12 points is nothing.

The Patriots started their next drive with a run by Faulk. Actually, it was more of a fall down and get tackled by Faulk as the backside linebacker screamed across the play and ripped Kevin down. But the play calling told the Giants, and everyone watching, that this team was not worried, nor were they impatient. It was such a confident play call, down two scores on the road. It let everyone know that there was no rush.

On 2nd and 12, Brady dumped to Faulk in the flat for 4. On 3rd and 8, Watson was wide open on the sidelines (thanks in large part to Moss and Welker). The reception was good for 15 yards, and only 15 yards. Had Watson been able to stay in bounds, it might have been a 20 or 25 yard gain. Then again, at least he caught it.

On 1st and 10 at their 44, Brady hit Welker down the right for a 28 yard gain. Welker caught a short one on the left for 4 more, then a short one on the right for 8.

From the New York 16, Brady threw a ball to Moss in the end zone. Once again, Wilkinson was there as part of the double coverage. Once again, his back was turned to the ball. But this time, his arms were draped over Moss’s facemask and shoulder pads. That’s pass interference.

After an illegal formation penalty, it was 1st and goal from the 6. Welker set a nifty block from the slot, going inside to catch a linebacker, springing Maroney in the process. Laurence bowled into the end zone for the score. 28-23, Giants.

Domenik Hixon had a good return, giving the Giants great field position at their 40 yard line. On 1st and 10, Jacobs dropped a screen pass, which came on a safety blitz. In other words: the perfect time to try a screen. Toomer caught a few passes and the Giants entered New England territory.

On 2nd and 8 from the Patriot 41 yard line, Adalius Thomas had his biggest sack of the season. He got free of the O-line and kept forcing Manning back. Unlike more clever QBs like Peyton and Brady - who are slow but evade sackers by stepping up - Eli Manning’s only response to pressure is to run backward. And guess what, Adalius is faster than him. The sack resulted in a loss of 14 yards, and it shut down New York’s drive. On the ensuing 3rd and 22, Rodney Harrison got in Eli’s face before Manning dumped it off. It was the first time that the Patriots had gotten consistent pressure on the deer-eyed Manning boy. And it may have been the death knell for the Giants.

The 4th quarter was all Patriots. Kevin Faulk made a terrific effort on 3rd and 9, shaking free of two tackles to get 10 yards and the 1st down. Watson caught a screen pass, but tried turning the corner instead of running upfield. As a tight end, he should be squaring his shoulders and forcing defenders to try to tackle him, not running toward the sideline and allowing defenders to shove him out of bounds. The play resulted in a loss of a yard. After an incomplete, the Pats were forced to punt.

The Giants unraveled on their ensuing drive. They had an opportunity to score and put the game all but out of reach, or a the very least get a few first downs and run off the clock. Manning fumbled the snap, and although he recovered, it was apparent that the Giants had fallen apart.

On 2nd and 11, Adalius got his mitts on a ball and tipped it. On 3rd and 11, the G-Men tried a quick pass to the wideout, but he was surrounded and taken down. The Giants drive lost a yard and consumed a meager 1:04 of clock.

The Patriots got the ball back on their 35. On 2nd and 10, Brady threw a bomb that was short of Moss. Randy nearly made a shoestring grab, but he slipped just enough to prevent him from coming up with it.

The Pats tried the same play, this time Brady hit Moss in stride, and the big receiver sprinted into the end zone with his 23rd TD catch of the year. It was also Brady’s 50th of the season. More importantly, it gave the Patriots a 31-28 lead. It was the sixth and final lead change of the game.

Only the Patriots could try the same play twice and make it work. Moss had been running underneath routes all night, so when he went deep the first time, he was wide open. The second time, the Giants seemed to anticipate that it was a ploy, and the DBs were burnt by their assumptions.

The Patriots went for 2, and Maroney got in on a draw. It was a beautiful 2 point play, with Moss, Welker, and Stallworth garnering the attention of the defense, and a Giants front 7 which had been worn out in the 4th.

On 1st and 10 from their 23, Jacobs gained 6 yards. Then he gained 9, but the play was called back thanks to a blatant hold by Toomer on Hobbs. On 2nd and 6, Eli Manning remembered who he was, and threw a pick to Hobbs.

The interception was thanks to double coverage by Hobbs and Harrison. Rodney was underneath Burress, and Hobbs was on top, sandwiching Eli’s primary target. It was a poor decision to throw into this situation, especially on 2nd down, but that’s what Eli is known for.

The Patriots now had a chance to all but ice it. In a matter of 3:00 of game clock, the entire contest had turned on its head. The Giants had once been in position to end the game, now it was the Patriots who were on the verge of finishing things. The way each team handled these crucial moments is why the Patriots are the Patriots, and the Giants are the Giants.

On 1st and 10 from the 48, Brady stepped up in the pocket and whipped a semi-sidearm bullet to Stallworth for 17 yards. How he knew Donte was there (and open) nobody knows. Reggie Torbor sacked Brady on the next play, pushing the Pats back 10 yards. But they responded in vintage Patriot style. On 2nd and 20, Welker caught a short pass and got his token bonus yards, gaining 9 instead of 3 or 4. On 3rd and 11, Faulk mustered a superhuman effort and got 13 yards and a massive first down.

The Patriots faced another 3rd and 9, but Welker was able to move the chains thanks to his inhuman abilities. Welker’s moves are like ones you’d see in a poorly designed and unrealistic video game. He gets so low to the ground and turns himself into a torpedo, but can quickly bust out of that posture, make a move, and get back into it. Another possible nickname for Welker: Twitch.

On 2nd and goal from the 5, Maroney hauled it into the end zone. He was assisted by Moss, who was covered by a CB, as well as the safety on the left side of the ball. That’s exactly where Maroney took it, and there was no-one there to stop him. Patriots 38, Giants 28.

New York attempted a half-assed hurry up, complete with running plays, receivers not trying to get out of bounds, and kicking the ball after the referees had set it. The Giants were able to score, but it took 3:22 for them to do it.

One helpful play was a personal foul on Rodney Harrison. I loved Belichick’s response to that. He didn’t chew Rodney out on the sidelines, he just took him out of the game and sat him on the bench for a few plays. Belichick knows Rodney is smart enough to realize what he did wrong, so he let him do it on his own.

The onside kick was poorly placed by Tynes, but well played by the Patriots. The hands team on the left side didn’t stand on their backfoots, waiting for the Giants to try to mow them down and get to the ball. Instead, they aggressively went after the coverage team. Vrabel pulled it in and the game was over. 38-35, 16-0.

Brady and Moss had phenomenal days. Brady wound up going 32 for 42 (76.2%), for 356 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Moss had 6 catches for100 yards and two scores. Wes Welker put on a brilliant show, with 11 catches for 122 yards.

The Pats only managed 44 yards on the ground (48 if you take out Brady’s 4 kneel downs) on 26 carries (22 really). That’s a very humble 1.7 average (2.2 if you remove the kneel downs). But what they did by running was keep the defense honest, punish guys like Strahan and Umenyiora for flying upfield, and set-up play action pass. And remember, the Patriots scored two rushing touchdowns, and a 2 point conversion on the ground.

The defense allowed 35 points, but 7 were from a kickoff return, 7 came off of two big plays, and 7 came in a prevent. It was hardly their best performance as a unit, but they did some things well. They held Jacobs to 67 yards on the ground. They eventually got to Eli Manning and appeared to rattle him. And they forced the game’s only turnover, which set-up what turned out to be the game winning touchdown.

So the Patriots are 16-0. They’ve won 19 straight regular season games, breaking the previous record of 18 (which was theirs). They’re the first team to win 16 regular season games. They’re only the fourth undefeated regular season team, and the first in 35 years.

I’ll talk more about going 16-0. It’s a long two weeks before the Patriots play again. I, for one, cannot wait!


Boston College became only the second team to ever win 8 straight bowl games in 8 seasons. The other was Florida State, who won 11 consecutive Bowls from 1985 to 1996.

But in Florida State's streak, the Seminoles won the Orange Bowl three times, the Sugar Bowl twice, the Fiesta Bowl twice, the Gator Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, and only two minor bowl games.

Here is the list of BC's last 8 Bowl triumphs:

2000 Aloha Bowl - BC 31, Arizona State 17
2001 Music City Bowl - BC 20, Georgia 16
2002 Motor City Bowl - BC 51, Toledo 25
2003 San Francisco Bowl - BC 35, Colorado State 21
2004 Continental Tire Bowl - BC 37, North Carolina 24
2005 MPC Computers Bowl - BC 27, Boise State 21
2006 Meineke Car Care Bowl - BC 25, Navy 24
2007 Champs Sports Bowl - BC 24, Michigan State 21

Something is wrong here. For a team to win 8 straight bowl games, but never be selected for a Bowl of any significance is indicative of some sort of problem.

This season, BC really should have been in the Gator Bowl, as the 2nd best team in the ACC. But the Gator Bowl selected Virginia. The Eagles could have also flown down to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl, but Clemson was selected instead.

The knock on BC is that they don't travel well. Bowl games want to pack in as many fans as they can, and Boston College fans don't show up in the droves that fans of Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech, or Florida State do.

But fans of these teams don't have to travel as far. Boston College is at a geographical disadvantage when it comes to bowl season. The closest bowl games are the International Bowl in Toronto, and the Motor City Bowl in Detroit. Every other game involves a long plane fight.

Bowls like the Peach Bowl will take nearby southern teams like Clemson over better teams such as Boston College. The big bowls will select already established schools like Michigan, and Florida, even when undeserving of a lofty bowl game.

Once again, the good ole boy system of college football rears it's ugly head. College football is designed to keep the southern powerhouses in power, and the periphery schools on the outside. There are some exceptions to the Dixie domination, such as Notre Dame, and the Big Ten. But these schools are still located in the breadbasket of the country, and these schools still have the "we were good first" mentality going for them.

There's a guarantee that five of the teams ahead of BC in the BCS rankings will fall. Arizona State has already gone down in the Holiday Bowl. Boston College has a good shot of finishing the season in the top 10, which is a major accomplishment for a team that started the season unranked and with a new coach.

Nevertheless, I'm still miffed that BC wasn't given a chance to be in more of the spotlight.

Monday, December 24, 2007


The Patriots tied the NFL record for regular season wins by beating Miami 28-7. The Patriots also have an perfect record within the AFC East for the first time in their history. The Patriots are one win away from a perfect regular season, and four wins away from a completely perfect season. Tom Brady is one touchdown shy of Peyton Manning's record. Randy Moss is one touchdown shy of Jerry Rice's record. The Patriots are two touchdowns shy of breaking Miami's record for TDs. The Patriots are 6 points away from breaking the NFL record for points scored in a season.

There was a sign I saw at Gillette Stadium yesterday. It read: "Watch out, Timbaland, the Patriots are producing records."

The man of the game was Laurence Maroney, who rushed for 156 yards (career high) in 14 carries. He broke two 50+ yarders, and averaged 11.1 yards per carry. This is the first time in his career that he's had back-to-back 100+ yard games. His 59 yard touchdown run was the longest of his career.

Randy Moss had two touchdown catches, and five receptions overall for 50 yards. Moss, who began the year with 505 yards in the first 4 games, has been held under 100 in the last 2 games, and in 4 of the last 5. There were some plays in which Moss appeared to be the victim of pass interference, but flags were not thrown. There was only one that I thought should have been called, but the others could have gone either way as non-calls or penalties. There was also one bogus offensive pass interference call.

Brady had a mediocre day, throwing 3 TDs and a pair of picks. He very nearly threw 3 INTs, but one slipped right through the DB's fingers and into Jabbar Gaffney's hands. Only one non-WR caught a pass, every other catch was by Moss, Stallworth, Welker, and Gaffney.

Tom's first half play was the direct opposite of his second half. In the first, Brady was 14 for 18, with 163 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, and a rating of 143.98. In the second, he was 4 for 15, with 52 yards, 0 TDs, and 2 INTs. That's a rating of 1.94. That's not a typo.

Troy Brown dressed for the first time this year for what may have been his final game at Gillette Stadium. He seemed rusty, uncharacteristically misjudging a punt. The ball humorously bounced off his facemask, and into the clutches of a Dolphin. By playing in the game, Brown is now 4th in Pats history for games played with 192. It also officially makes this season his 15th with the team. Apart from the muff, he did a solid job returning punts.

Speaking of Troy Brown, Wes Welker's 5 receptions gave him 101 catches for the season. This ties Welker and Brown for the Patriots' reception record.

Mike Vrabel demonstrated why he's a Pro Bowler, taking down Cleo Lemon on two occasions. Vrabel now has 12 sacks, a new career high. He is the first Patriot with 10 or more sacks in a season since Willie McGinist in 1995.

Tedy Bruschi had one of his best games of the season. He racked up 9 tackles, and broke up a 4th down pass that would have been a touchdown. Despite how deep we are into the NFL season, older guys like Bruschi, Seau, and Vrabel are still performing very well.

Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour each had sacks. Ty Warren had 1.5. Combined the Patriots defense sacked Lemon 7 times.

The Patriots could have done much better in this game. On their second drive of the game, they were unable to convert a 3rd and 1, forcing them to punt. Who knows what would have happened had the drive continued.

Brady's first interception came in the end zone. I think it's safe to say that it was a score altering interception. Brady's second pick came on the next drive, this time a deep ball intended for Moss was the culprit.

The Patriots still won convincingly, but the game could have been over much earlier than it was. That's what this running up the score business is all about: finishing the game early by getting so far ahead of your opponent, they lose the will to fight.

Oh, well, a win is a win is a win.

The Pats have a short week, with a holiday mixed in, then they face the Giants in New York. The season began in Giants Stadium, with SpyGate, and a 38-14 drubbing of the Jets. The Giants are a very good team. Even though they'll be the 5th seed in the NFC playoffs, their 10-5 record is good enough for 3rd best in the conference. They're one of eight teams in the NFL with 10 or more wins.

But the Giants have everything wrapped up. They're locked in as the 5th seed, which means they'll be playing on the road in two weeks. The Giants even know who they'll be playing. So will they focus solely on beating the Patriots? Or will they mix in some preparation for Tampa Bay? Will they play their starters for the same amount of time? Or will they give some of them breaks?

Regardless of what the Giants do, the Patriots should win this game. The Giants are good, but they're only NFC good. Moreover, they're 3-4 at home this year, and Giants Stadium is hardly an unfamiliar place for the Pats to play.

Happy Holidays, and Go Pats!

Friday, December 21, 2007


The Bruins may have just salvaged their homestand last night, coming from down 4-0, earning an OT loss, and a very valuable point. The Bruins are still the only team in the NHL that has yet to lose two consecutive games in regulation this season.

I won’t lie, when the B’s fell behind 3-0 in the first period, I just assumed it was over. The Penguins completely outclassed Boston in the first 30 minutes of play. Sidney Crosby had a Gordie Howe hat trick five minutes into the 2nd when he dropped the gloves and took on Andrew Ference. It was an historical moment: the first major penalty in Crosby’s career.

The Next One had a superlative first period, assisting in two of Pittsburgh’s goals, and scoring the other. Due to the unbalanced schedule, we don’t get to see much of the Penguins and Crosby, but after seeing the level of talent this kid has, I’ll make it a point to watch the next nationally televised Penguins game. He’s just one of those players that changes the entire game when he’s on the ice. Everybody on both teams has to play differently because of him. But he still needs to learn how to fight better.

It was a rude return for Tim Thomas, who made his first start since injuring his groin two weeks ago. He let in 4 goals off 29 shots. Thomas made some fine saves in the 1st, but he also seemed a bit off. His fundamentals weren’t as crisp as usual, and his reaction time was just a hair slower than we’re used to seeing. The rust was apparent.

Down 4-0 halfway through the game, the Bruins seemed destined to fall to 1-3-0 in their homestand. They lost to the Devils the night they came back from Atlanta. Despite a poor effort, they beat Columbus 2-0. Then Ottawa came to town and prevailed 3-2. You never want to let a 5 game homestand go to waste, and the B’s were on the brink of doing just that.

When Marco Sturm deflected an Andrew Ference drive on the power play to make it 4-1, it seemed as though it was merely a face saving goal, preventing a shutout and allowing the B’s to hold on to some dignity.

But when Jeremy Reich won a shorthanded faceoff in Pittsburgh’s zone, and P.J. Axelsson slapped his pass home, it was suddenly a game again.

Petteri Nokelainen (think he’s Finnish?) wristed in a rebound off of Ference’s blue line drive to make the game 4-3.

The Bruins outshot Pittsburgh 17-4 in the 3rd, putting immense pressure on UNH product Ty Conklin. At the other end of the ice, former Vermont Catamoount Tim Thomas had much less work, but made two of the best saves of the game. He stopped an Evgeni Malkin drive from the high slot off a turnover. Later, he stopped a point blank shot to keep the game at 4-3.

The Bruins equalized on their power play. In typical man advantage hockey, they rotated the puck around. Zdeno Chara passed from the blue line to Marc Savard on the right wing. Savard dished it to Sturm just behind and to the side of the net. Sturm looked to center it to Glen Metropolit crashing the net, but a pair of Penguins covered him, leaving Dennis Wideman wide open in the high slot. Sturm threaded a quick pass, and Wideman one-timed it past Conklin to tie the game.

Overtime and the ensuing shootout were not as balanced as the game. Pittsburgh seemed to get their legs back, and Conklin seemed to get his confidence back. The Bruins didn’t manage a single shot in the extra period, spending most of their time trying to break up breakaways, of which there was no shortage. If not for the 4 minutes of solid defensive play from Captain Chara, the countless Pittsburgh 3 on 2s may have turned into more shots and a goal.

Erik Christensen began the shootout for Pittsburgh with a nifty move that had Thomas bite just a little bit with his left leg. The move was enough for Christensen to knock it over Thomas’s blocker. Phil Kessel tried to make a move, but Conklin stayed at home, forcing a poor short range shot. Kris Letang - a rookie defenseman who already had two game winning shootout scores - netted home Pittsburgh’s second. Sturm was Boston’s last hope. He skated wide, but Conklin once again didn’t take the bait, stopping Sturm’s effort with ease, and securing a victory.

A win would have been very nice, but I’ll take the point after falling behind Pittsburgh 4-0. The Bruins finish their homestand on Saturday with an afternoon game against the St. Louis Blues. Then it’s to Pittsburgh, and a rematch with these Penguins.

With the OT loss, the Bruins become the second Eastern Conference team to reach 40 points, maintaining a tenuous hold on the 4 th seed, a mere point ahead of Montreal. The B’s are on pace for 96 points. They only had 76 last season.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Seven Patriots will be starting, and eight will be going to the Pro Bowl this year. Maybe that's premature. Anywhere from 20 to 40% of the players selected don't show due to injury or apathy. Hopefully the Patriots will be coming off a massive celebration when its Pro Bowl time.

There is one Patriot who you'd expect to see, but who is not on the roster.

Here is the full roster for the AFC:

QB1: Tom Brady - New England
QB2: Peyton Manning - Indianapolis
QB3: Ben Roethlisberger - Pittsburgh

RB1: Ladanian "Classy" Tomlinson - San Diego
RB2: Willie Parker - Pittsburgh
RB3: Joseph Addai - Indianapolis

FB1: Lorenzo Neal - San Diego

WR1 Randy Moss - New England
WR2: Reggie Wayne - Indianapolis
WR3: Braylon Edwards - Cleveland
WR4: T.J. Houshmandzadeh - Cincinnati

TE1: Antonio Gates - San Diego
TE2: Tony Gonzalez - Kansas City

OT1: Matt Light - New England
OT2: Jason Peters - Buffalo
OT3: Jonathan Ogden - Baltimore

OG1: Logan Mankins - New England
OG2: Alen Faneca - Pittsburgh
OG3: Kris Dielman - San Diego

C1: Jeff Saturday - Indianapolis
C2: Dan Koppen - New England

P: Shane Lechler - Oakland

K: Rob Bironas - Tennessee

KR: Josh Cribbs - Cleveland

ST: Kassim Osgood - San Diego

DE1: Jared Allen - Kansas City
DE2: Kyle Vanden Bosch - Tennessee
DE3: Jason Taylor - Miami

DT1: Albert Haynseworth - Tennessee
DT2: Vince Wilfork - New England
DT3: Jamal Williams - San Diego

OLB1: Mike Vrabel - New England
OLB2: James Harrisson - Pittsburgh
OLB3: Shawn "Spazz" Merriman - San Diego

ILB1: Demeco Ryans - Houston
ILB2: Ray Lewis - Baltimore

CB1: Asante Samuel - New England
CB2: Champ Bailey - Denver
CB3: Antonio Cromartie - San Diego

FS: Ed Reed - Baltimore

SS1: Bob Sanders - Indianapolis
SS2: Troy Polamalu - Pittsburgh

Notice the lack of Wes Welker, and his 96 receptions, and 1,004 receiving yards. Oh well, he'll probably be the first alternate at WR once somebody backs out.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


This picture of Brady rushing makes me laugh. It seems so out of place, unreal even.

The Patriots were favored by more than three touchdowns, but that's how many TDs both teams combined for in a sloppy and dull 20-10 New England victory. And only one of those touchdowns was scored on offense.

The Pats got on the board first. Eugene Wilson got an early Christmas present from Kellen Clemens in the form of an interception. Wilson returned it into the end zone to put New England up 7-0.

It seemed as though the route was on, but the Pats wouldn't get into the end zone for another 23 minutes of game clock.

The Pats added a field goal after coming up a yard shy of a first down inside the Jets' 10 yard line. It was 10-0, New England. New York was still very much in the game.

The Jets got on the board thanks to a Chris Hanson mishandled snap. He tried to get the punt off after bumbling the slick pigskin, but it was blocked, scooped up by David Bowens, and ran into the end zone. 10-7 New England.

The Pats drove into Jets territory, but the drive stalled just past midfield. The Patriots had a lot of stalled drives. Third downs were a major problem for Brady and the boys, they only converted 6 of 16, even though most of them were 3rd and around 4 to 6.

Kelley Washington came up with a big special teams play in the form of a blocked punt to give the Pats possession of the football on the New York 3 yard line. Washington has been a monster on special teams this season. He has 15 tackles, as well as a forced fumble. Now he can add a blocked punt to his solid season of work.

Maroney dove into the end zone, scoring what would turn out to be the only offensive touchdown of the game, giving the Pats a 17-7 lead going into the half.

In the third quarter, a Brady interception threatened to turn into a Jets score, but Adalius Thomas and Richard Seymour were able to force a fumble on their own 10 yard line. Eugene Wilson recovered and the Pats were safe once more.

An absolutely stupid false start penalty on 3rd and 1 contributed to a Patriots punt, but the Jets were eventually forced to punt after crossing midfield.

In the 4th quarter, the Jets mounted a lengthy, drawn out drive that only resulted in 3 points. It was 17 plays long and took 7:40 off the clock. Even though they scored, it was more of a benefit to New England than to themselves. The Pats got the ball back with a 17-10 lead and 6:08 on the clock.

On 3rd and 10, Brady hit Welker for a gain of 16. The yardage put Wes past the 1,000 mark, the first time he has ever reached the milestone of 1,000 receiving yards. This is only the 2nd time in team history that the Patriots have had a pair of 1,000 yard receivers.

Randy Moss had the play of the game, hauling in a 46 yard bomb from Brady, despite Kerry Rhodes' interference. You'd think that we'd be used to such amazing grabs at this point in the season, but they continue to astound.

The drive would end in a field goal and a 20-10 lead.

The Jets responded immediately with a kickoff return that landed them at New England's 31. They drove into the red zone, and appeared to score a touchdown with 2:38 on the clock. But the play was overturned. Eventually, New York was forced to attempt a field goal which went wide left, effectively ending the game.

New York's last gasp drive saw Pennington sacked three times.

I wouldn't go so far as to say the Patriots played poorly, but I would say that they lacked an edge and a crispness that we're used to seeing them have.

The defense played very well, yielding yardage but not points. They only allowed 3 by the Jets offense. Adalius had one of his best games with 9 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Seau added a pair of sacks to the effort. The Jets got into the red zone 4 times and came away with a scant 3 points from those opportunities.

Brady did not look his best. Perhaps it was the weather, but his passes seemed to float a bit, missing open receivers, and rarely hitting them in stride. Only five Patriots had receptions, we're used to seeing 8 or more different guys getting thrown to.

Special teams was hit or miss. The kickoff coverage didn't perform nearly as well as we've seen them do in previous games, and the bungled punt was a huge play that kept the Jets in it.

Laurence Maroney had a very solid day, rushing for 104 yards on 26 carries (precisely 4.0 yards per attempt). This was one of the few games that saw more rushes (35) than pass attempts (27).

The Patriots had numerous opportunities to extend drives, and maybe put the ball in the end zone, but they failed to do so. Again, the weather was not conducive to offensive football. Freezing rain is much worse for passing offenses than snow, and the 30 MPH crosswinds whirling around Gillette weren't helping Brady throw the deep ball with any accuracy.

But the Patriots still won because they're very good, and the Jets suck. I'm sorry, but there's no other way to put it.

This is only the 2nd time in NFL history that a team has reached the 14-0 mark. The last time was in 1972, when the Dolphins finished THEIR regular season at 14-0. The Pats have two more games to go. The best record in Patriots franchise history is 14-2, accomplished in 2003, and 2004. Now that feat has at least been matched. New England also clinched home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

The Pats host the 1-13 Dolphins next Sunday at 4:15. The Dolphins beat Baltimore in overtime on Sunday. The early point spread has the Pats as 21.5 point favorites.

I wonder what excuse Mangini will come up with on Monday to try to discredit the Patriots this time. Maybe the heat wasn't working in their locker room. Or perhaps all the snowball throwing caused radio interference, disrupting the Jets' radio communications.

Bill Belichick 4, Eric Mangini 1.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The long awaited Mitchell Report came out today, the culmination of a lengthy and thorough investigation into the use of banned substances in Major Leage Baseball. The most anticipated portion of the Report was the List of players connected with anabolic steroids, HGH, amphetamines, and other performance enhancing drugs. Here are some of the notable names mentioned:

Manny Alexander - Red Sox utility infielder in 2000. This name shouldn't come as a surprise, since he was caught with steroids in his car back in '00. A clubhouse employee took responsibility for it, but we all knew that was bogus.

Barry Bonds - duuuuuuuuuuh

Kevin Brown - Former Yankee starting pitcher, and once the highest paid pitcher in baseball.

Jose Canseco - He wrote the book on steroids in baseball. Literally.

Brendan Donnelly - Red Sox reliever this year. The Sox just passed on tendering him a contract, making him a free agent. Donnelly missed most of the '07 season on the DL.

Jason Gambi - Can we put an asterisk next to the 2003 ALCS? After all, it was his solo homeruns that chipped away at the lead before all hell broke loose in the 8th inning.

Jeremy Giambi - He must have gotten his from a different guy from his brother's supplier.

Eric Gange - He exploded and became one of the best relievers ever for 2 years, then he came back to Earth, as we all witnessed. Nevertheless, he wore a "Yankees Suck" shirt at the parade, so I forgive him.

Andy Pettite - Just resigned with the Yankees.

Gary Sheffield - What a surprise, another former Yankee on the juice.

Mo Vaughn - Say it ain't so, Mo. Say it ain't so.

I have yet to peruse the Mitchell Report, but some reports on the Report also say that Nomar Garciaparra, and Jason Varitek were on the List. But they've also been absent on several other lists I've seen, so I don't know what to think. My reason for not discussing these two guys is not my pro-Sox bias. I hate Nomar and would love nothing more than to revel in his downfall.

And here's the biggest name on the List...

Roger Clemens - Maybe Dan Duquette was right, perhaps the Rocket was in the twilight of his career before seeking the shelter of the athlete's little helper. I've heard two varying stories about Roger's steroid/HGH usage. One has him starting when he became a Blue Jay. Another has him beginning in 2000 with the Yankees.

Roger starting a cycle in 2000 might make the most sense. In 1999 and 2000, Clemens was mediocre, going a combined 27-18 with an ERA of 4.13. Then in 2001 he goes 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA and pitches 220.1 innings.

Clemens was a great pitcher before 2000, a first-ballot Hall of Famer for sure. But his performance since then has caused many "experts" to argue for him to be considered the greatest of all-time. Perhaps now they will realize that they were wrong.

The artificial extension of Roger's career garnered him over 100 more wins. He's also added 1,356 more strikeouts. Roger now sits 8th all-time in wins, and 2nd in strikeouts. But how much of these impressive figures were aided unnaturally and illegally? How much does that matter when considering a player's legacy?

It is impossible to determine what would happen if a player were to take PEDs. They could improve, stay the same, or even get worse. By the same token, it is impossible to determine what would have happened if a player DIDN'T take PEDs. Roger may have still gotten those 100 wins, and 1,356 strikeouts. He may still have gotten the 2001 AL Cy Young, and the 2004 NL Cy Young. We simply don't know.

However, that lack of knowing is a result of Clemens' own cheating. It is his own behavior that will lead to his legacy being tarnished, his numbers being questioned, his career looked at suspiciously. The public may condemn Roger, but it is he himself who hath damned him. I, for one, shall not weep for Roger Clemens.

In fact, I take great joy in the fact that his name will be dragged through the slime and the mud. Call it Schadenfreude, call it bitterness, call it what you will. I call it hatred. I hate Roger Clemens. He's a liar. He's a greedy bastard. He's a coward. And now, he's a cheat.

People once argued that his name be in the same sentence as Walter Johnson, Christy Matthewson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and the other great pitchers. Now his name sits aside Jose Conseco's, Jeremy Giambi's, Manny Alexander's, Sammy Sosa's, and John Rocker's.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


With the Patriots at 13-0, and the Celtics at 17-2, very little attention is being paid to the Boston Bruins In fact, the Sports section of yesterday’s Boston Globe focused mainly on a retirement home for former racehorses. This was despite the fact that the Bruins crushed Buffalo 4-1 on Monday night, and are now second place in the Northeast Division.

The Bruins are 6-5-2 within the Northeast Division, including a 3-0-1 mark against Buffalo, and a 3-0-0 record against the Maple Leafs. The only major obstacle within the division has been Montreal, who have outscored the Bruins 19-8 in their four victories.

What impresses me the most about the Bruins so far is their ability to perform despite losing key players. After losing Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins are 10-6-3, and have risen from eighth in the conference to fourth (actually, the Bruins are tied with the second most points). Manny Fernandez went down earlier in the year, which made Tim Thomas the #1 goalie, until he got a groin injury against the Devils a week ago. Twenty year old Finn Tuukka Rask filled in for a few starts, but his lack of experience (and his poor performance against the Canadiens), resulted in the acquisition of Alex Auld.

Auld started against Toronto on Saturday night. The Leafs got on the board first thanks to some European style passing by Pavel Kubina diagonally across the neutral zone, springing Jason Blake on the near side wing. Blake wristed one past Auld to put Toronto up 1-0. The assists went to Kubina and former Bruin Hal Gill. Gill had gotten the puck near his own goal line before finding Kubina in the neutral zone. Toronto’s possession consisted of two passes, a little skating by Blake, and a shot. That was enough to give them the lead.

The Bruins’ goal would look eerily similar, only this score was on the power play. Aaron Ward took the puck from behind his own net, found rookie Matt Hunwick in the neutral zone with a long pass. Hunwick hit Chuck Kobasew in the high slot, and the Bruins’ leading goal scorer beat Vesa Toskala with a wrist shot to tie the game. Hunwick’s assist was his first NHL point.

In the second period, Boston netted the game winner. After being denied on a wraparound opportunity, Brandon Bochenski was able to tip his own rebound back to Dennis Wideman at the blue line. Wideman drove a slap shot threw a thin lane, and past Toskala to give the Bruins their first lead of the game.

The rest of the night would feature Alex Auld in the butterfly making save after save, and moving from post to post beautifully. He made 25 saves on 26 shots, winning his debut with Boston. Auld has played for four different teams (Florida, Vancouver, Phoenix, and Boston), and has won his debut with each one.

Monday night, the Bruins beat Buffalo 4-1, but that score is deceptive. Buffalo outshot the Bruins 45 to 21. Buffalo won 64% of the faceoffs. The offensive opportunities that the Sabres mounted were more sustained and more numerous. However, when the Bruins had chances, they capitalized on them. And when Buffalo had chances, they were stopped by Mister Auld.

The Bruins got on the board early, about 6:30 into the first period. Buffalo had been having difficulty moving the puck out of their own zone, and it proved fatal. Some nice forechecking by Glen Murray forced a cross-ice pass that was intercepted by Marc Savard in the high slot. From there, it was easy for the NHL’s leader in assists to slap it into the net for his sixth goal of the year.

Forty-four seconds later, the Bruins went ahead 2-0. This time it was Savard with an assist, as he centered the puck to P.J. Axelsson in front of the net, and the veteran Swede finished the job.
Buffalo was able to get a power play goal which came at the end of about 100 exhausting seconds of possession inside the Bruins zone. But any momentum they might have built was crushed as Milan Lucic passed to a net crashing Peter Schaefer, who built the lead back to two goals.

A scoreless second period saw Auld stop all 20 shots he faced. The Bruins iced it in the third with a Glen Metroplit backhander. Some third period penalties on Buffalo allowed Boston to run the clock out and leave western New York with two points.

Tim Thomas should be back after another week or so. And it appears as though Alex Auld will be his backup when he does return. Manny Fernandez may be going under the knife as his left knee continues to cause him problems. Fernandez played a few games for the AHL’s Providence Bruins, but still had some problems with the butterfly position. Bruins’ GM Peter Chiarelli had this to say about Fernandez:

“He can’t push off 100 percent in the butterfly with the left leg. He can push off 95 percent, but not 100. So he was trying to keep the leg straight or avoid that push. He changed his style. You know sometimes when you go to the post, you’d go down in a pure butterfly? Well, he wouldn’t. He’d keep one leg up. So he was overcompensating, and he had some groin problems and the back problem because of that.”

With Thomas and Auld, there may be no need for Fernandez to come back.

The Bruins end their three game road trip in Atlanta tonight, facing the Thrashers for the first time this season.

Monday, December 10, 2007


When wannabe safety Anthony Smith opened his trap and publicly guaranteed a win over the Patriots, was there any doubt that New England would crush the Steelers? Before making (and failing to deliver on) his promise, Smith was most widely known as the answer to the following question: "Who the hell is that guy in the Pittsburgh secondary?" Now he will forever go down in history as the answer to THIS question "Who was the Steeler toolbox who ran his mouth and then got smoked like a Cuban cigar while his team was steamrolled?"

And another group of people who will be enjoying leftover crow all weekend will be the "architects" in the national (and even local) sports media, who repeated the words "blueprints" and "exposed" ad nauseum. These clowns will probably come up with something new to fill their crappy columns and blogs this week. I wouldn't be shocked if we see a rise in the amount of SpyGate B.S. with the Jets coming to town next weekend. And we'll probably also have in depth analysis and breakdowns of Bill Belichick's post-game handshakes over the years.

Now that I've gotten my ranting out of the way (for now), let's get to the important stuff: the Patriots' 34-13 drubbing of the so-called Steel Curtain, a.k.a. Blitzburgh, a.k.a. Anthony Smith's Black and Gold Warriors of Stupidity, a.k.a. "the best defense in the NFL," a.k.a. the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In my opinion, Sunday's 34-13 victory over Pittsburgh was the best played game the Patriots have had all year. The defense bent, but didn't break; the offensive line picked up blitzes; Brady put up Colt Brennan numbers (399 yards, 4 TDs); and the receivers were once again astounding (Moss: 7 rec, 135 yds, 2 TDs; Gaffney: 7 rec, 122 yds career high, TD; Welker: 9 rec, 78 yds, TD). We didn't do very well on the ground with 22 yards from 9 rushes. Then again, we didn't need to. And remember that pile moving run by Maroney early on? That was pretty impressive.

The Steelers' first drive went all the way to the New England 5 yard line. But it ended with a vintage Patriot defensive stand, something we haven't seen too much of. In terms of TD percentage, the Pats have the worst red zone defense in the NFL. However, they stopped Pittsburgh at the 5, and forced a field goal attempt. 3-0 Pittsburgh.

The Patriots response was set up by a 39 yard kickoff return by Chad Jackson. This would be the first and only drive that would feature a heavy dose Laurence Maroney, which set up play action later in the game. The key play of the drive was a 3rd and 2 converted by Brady and Moss. About to get hit, Brady threw to Moss near the sideline. Moss was perfectly covered by Ike Taylor. But Randy elevated and ripped the ball from the air, gaining 16 yards and a pivotal 1st down.

The drive culminated with a 4 yard TD pass from Brady, to Moss. It was Tom's 42nd of the year, which is good for 4th most in NFL history. It was Moss's 18th TD reception, which is a new career high for him. Remember, it's only week 14. 7-3 New England.

After the PAT and kickoff, Jarvis Green sacked Roethlesberger for a loss of 9. Two plays later the Steelers were forced to punt.

What followed was a 1 play, 0:10 drive, Brady to Moss down the middle, and a touchdown. 14-3 New England. The play action was sold beautifully by Brady and Maroney. Moss was wide open in the center of the field, and Brady hit him in stride for the 63 yard TD.

Give credit to the Steelers, however. They responded with a touchdown drive of their own. Willie Parker rushed for 34 yards on two carries, and had a 4 yard reception to lead Pittsburgh to the end zone. 14-10 New England.

After going three and out, New England regained possession thanks to a muffed punt recovery. However, they were unable to do much with the ball, despite getting it on Pittsburgh's 34 yard line. Gostkowski missed a 48 yard field goal. This missed opportunity may have been the only poorly played sequence the Patriots would have all evening.

The Steelers mustered a near 6 minute drive that didn't do much except run the 1st half clock down. They did their power run thing, throwing in a few dink and dunk passes and some Roethlesberger scrambles. They got to the New England 26, but couldn't convert a 3rd and 2, and were forced to kick another field goal.. 14-13 New England.

The Pats ran their 2 minute drill, but were unable to recover from a holding penalty committed by Faulk. Gostkowski kicked a 42 yarder to once again make it a four point game at 17-13. The Steelers kneeled the ball, bringing the game to half-time.

Pittsburgh punted to end their first drive of the second half, thanks in large part to Vince Wilfork's sack for an 8 yard loss. The Patriots then scored a touchdown on what was undoubtedly the play of the game.

On 1st and 10 at his 44, Brady dropped back short, throwing to his right. The ball was thrown slightly backwards, so it was a lateral. The play appeared to be a normal WR screen to Moss. But the backward pass was low, hitting the ground before Moss could pick it up. Randy then threw it back to Brady, who was all by himself. At this moment, 70,000 fans at Gillette Stadium collectively inhaled, as they could see that Brady had plenty of time to throw, and there was an open Patriot receiver downfield. Jabbar Gaffney had already smoked the aforementioned Anthony Smith, and it was only a matter of execution. Brady's bomb made a perfect landing in Gaffney's arms for a 56 yard touchdown. 24-13 New England.'s play-by-play describes this complicated play like this:

(10:17) T. Brady FUMBLES (Aborted) at NE 35, recovered by NE-R. Moss at NE 35. R. Moss to NE 33 for -2 yards. T. Brady pass deep left to J. Gaffney for 56 yards, TOUCHDOWN. flea flicker. Backwards pass to Moss on right sideline, then backwards pass back to Brady.

I would have described the play as a WR Flea-Flicker with a muffed (or aborted) QB/WR exchange. What's funny is that the last time I've seen this play was when the Steelers did it against Cincinnati in the playoffs a few years ago.

Earlier in the drive, Moss had a 22 yard reception, which pushed him over the 100 yard mark. This was Randy's 54th career 100+ yard receiving game. That is the 3rd most 100 yard games in NFL history.

After Pittsburgh went 3 and out, the Patriots embarked on a 10 play, 4:35 drive that was almost exclusively passing. The only run was a 4 yard scramble by Brady. It was mostly underneath passes for 5 to 8 yards a piece. On the drive, Brady went past the 4,000 yard milestone for the 2nd time in his career. He also surpassed the 300 yard mark for the game, his 6th 300 yard game of the season. The drive ended with a 2 yard touchdown pass to Welker. New England 31, Pittsburgh 13.

All season, we've seen the death knell of Patriot opponents be a lengthy scoring drive, or a big TD pass. Last night, it was a good old fashioned goal line stand that sealed the victory.

The Steelers diligently moved the ball downfield, driving all the way to the New England 1 yard line. On 3rd and goal from the 1, Roethlesberger threw incomplete, thank to some good coverage poured on by Rodney Harrison. On 4th and 1, the big bad power running Steelers tried a WR motion end around off the right tackle. There was no attempt made to misdirect the defense, and the ball was given to Hines Ward, hardly the most elusive man to catch. Ward was stopped by Harrison and Richard Seymour just shy of the goal line. The first few nails had been driven into the coffin.

The Pats drove for 6:28, kicking a field goal to make the score 34-13. Then Pittsburgh seemed to quit. Despite being down by three TDs, there was still 7:00 left in the game. But they took 4:06 off the clock with a 13 play drive. They were still running the ball with Parker, still throwing short passes in the middle of the field and not getting out of bounds, still taking their time to get the next play in. Apparently, Mike Tomlin read "The Tortoise and the Hare" in preparation for this game. Sorry, but slow and steady don't win anything when you're down by 21 with 7 minutes left.

It was almost as if the Steelers were worried about being absolutely destroyed by the Patriots instead of merely crushed. It was almost as if they were afraid of the Patriots putting up another touchdown (or two). 34-13 doesn't sound nearly as bad as 41-13, or 48-13. Whatever the reason, with 7:00 on the clock, down by three TDs, the Steelers threw in the Terrible Towel. And if I were a Steelers fan, I'd want an explanation from Mike Tomlin.

For the past few weeks, the word "blueprint" has been tossed around by ESPN, Fox, CBS, NBC, and so on. But it seems like the only part of the blueprint that the Steelers took from the Ravens was to lose control over themselves at the end of a game. James Harrison was called for a late, cheap-shot hit on Kyle Eckel after a Patriot punt. If I were Harrison, I wouldn't be messing with Eckel, he went to school with Marines.

There was some more pushing and shoving, the type of classless, immature, silly behavior you'd expect from a team like Pittsburgh. Of course, the national media will never call them anything but "tough, hard-nosed, smash-mouth, take no prisoners, lunch-pail, working class, blue collar" and so on. The B.S. perpetrated by teams like Baltimore and now Pittsburgh at the end of games will continue to go unnoticed by most. Meanwhile, people will get on Bill Belichick's case for not playing grab ass with the opposing head coach.

My favorite moment of the game wasn't the "flea-flicker" or the goal line stand, or even Randy Moss's celebration of a long overdue defensive holding call. I don't know if it was clearly heard on TV, but late in the 4th, when the game was well in hand; a chant of "GUARANTEE" arose from the Gillette Stadium crowd. As the entire building echoed this word, the jumbotron displayed a closeup of Anthony Smith on the field in between plays. It was PISSAH! He's really made a name for himself, especially here in New England.

Here's a quick excerpt from Bill Belichick's post-game press conference:

Q: What did you say to the team, if anything, about Anthony Smith's guarantee?

BB: You know, I think Rodney put it the best, so I'll just leave it at that. But we've played against a lot better safeties than him, I'll tell you.

Q: Did running that play have anything to do with Pittsburgh, or was it something you'd been looking to get in? Was it because of their aggressiveness?

BB: Well, again, the safety play at that position was pretty inviting.

That's about as much emotion as one will get from Coach Bill. By the way, this was his 100th victory as Patriots head coach.

The road ahead for the Patriots appears relatively easy. This victory clinched a first round bye in the post-season. Another win (or an Indianapolis loss) would clinch homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. New England hosts the Rats next Sunday, then the Dolphins on the 23rd. Then it's a trip to Giants Stadium, to face the easily shaken Eli Manning and the slightly above average New York Giants. The path to an undefeated season seems smooth, so long as the Patriots continue to play at the level they're currently playing.

But let's take a moment and look at how difficult the road up to this point has been. The Patriots have beaten the three other AFC division leaders. The Steelers and Chargers were both crushed. The Colts were beaten at Indianapolis. The 8-5 Browns were mauled. The 7-6 Bills (who would be 7-4 if they didn't play the Pats twice) were also brutally beaten twice. Oh yeah, the Patriots are the ONLY team to beat the Cowboys; in Texas Stadium, no less. To go 13-0 by beating the best of the rest in the NFL is nothing short of amazing.

The early spread for the Pats/Rats game is -24.5. If I were a gambling man, I'd jump on it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Major League Baseball has apparently solved all of its major problems, and has moved on to nitpicking what managers and coaches wear in the dugout.

Performance enhancing drugs, the sanctity of the home run record, the disparity between big market and small market teams, the lack of spending by cheaply run franchises (ahem, Minnesota, Florida), the impending collective bargaining agreement, the question of instant replay. It seems as though these issues have all been properly addressed.

Terry Francona never wears a uniform top. He'll say he does, but it's a lie. There's no way he's got a polyester uniform on underneath his pullovers. But MLB is putting a stop to such outlandish and borderline barbarous behavior.

MLB VP Bob Watson announced the "Francona Rule" a few days ago at the winter meetings in Nashville. All managers and coaches will now be required to wear their uniform tops. They can wear full jackets over their uniforms, but no pullovers will be allowed. Before and after a game, managers can wear what they want. But during the game, that uniform top must be visible, unless it is underneath a jacket.

A first offense will result in a $1,000 fine. The second offense will induce a $5,000 fine. The third offense will result in the manager's suspension for 1 game.

Baseball is the only sport in which the head coach is required to wear a uniform. Basketball coaches often wear suit and tie, as do hockey coaches. Football coaches wear pretty much whatever they want, as we've seen here in New England.

But baseball coaches have to wear uniforms (complete with numbers) just like the players. These uniforms are not conducive to aging, overweight, paunchy men; which describes most baseball coaches.

Baseball needs to wake up. We all like the tradition, and the history, and all that crap; but sometimes tradition is stupid. And it isn't even that much of a tradition. Ever hear of a guy named Connie Mack, one of the best managers in the history of the game?

There he is, in the dugout with his Philadelphia Athletics, wearing a suit!

I'm not suggesting managers wear suits, but the notion that coaches in uniform somehow brings us back to the days of yore is not only silly, but it's wrong.

Baseball coaches should be allowed to at least don a pullover instead of their uniform. It's not as if they're going to go into the game and play. And trainers get to wear whatever team apparel they want to while they sit in the dugout, so why not the manager?

I wonder how long it took Major League Baseball to come up with this rule, write it, review it, and approve it. I wonder how much time was wasted arguing about jackets vs. pullovers.

But most of all, I wonder what Terry Francona's number is going to be. We'll all find out soon enough.