Monday, September 30, 2013

Vince Wilfork Tears Achilles, Likely Out for Season

The golf cart he rode is still listed in critical condition.

Just when you thought you could be joyful about the Patriots, you learn that their most important defensive lineman will probably miss the rest of the season. Reports circulating the internet claim that he tore his Achilles Sunday night. And an injury of that severity typically takes 6-9 months to recover from (source).

The Pats defense has been relied on to win games this year. If this report is true, it drastically alters the shape of that defense. Completely filling the gap left by Wilfork is impossible. Vince Wilforks don't grow on trees (if they did, the branches would have to be quite strong, and when ripe Wilforks fell to the ground they'd make a big dent. You wouldn't want to sit under a Wilfork tree for shade). Wilfork absorbs blocks, helps stop the run, and is the cornerstone of the front seven. Now all his responsibilities must be spread among the other players up front. Sunday night we saw two rookie linemen record sacks. They're going to have to continue to perform in Wilfork's absence.

But injuries are part of the game. Considering how involved he is on defense it's amazing that he's never been seriously injured up to this point in his career.

That's football.

Photo Credit:
David Goldman - Associated Press

The Broncos Don't Impress Me Much

What's with the Eagles fan hugging Thomas in this picture? Weird.

I'm not saying that the Broncos aren't good. I'm not saying that the Broncos aren't great. All I'm saying is that I'm not nearly as impressed by 52 points and 4-0 records as most everyone else seems to be.

I've seen this show before. In 2007 with the Patriots. That team had an offense so good that most NFL teams couldn't handle it. The margins of victory inflated as opponents tried in vain to keep up. And the Pats kept piling on the points.

Speaking of which, why the hell did Denver kick a field goal up 49-13 in the 4th quarter Sunday? With 6:53 on the clock and on 4th and 11, the Broncos attempted a 53-yard field goal to increase their lead from 36 to 39. This difference would have made the Eagles try for 2-point conversions 4 times instead of just once. That is if the Eagles managed to score 5 touchdowns in the remaining 6:53.

Why kick that to go to 52? Why not go for it on 4th down, probably fail, and let the clock eventually tick to 0?

Anyway, the Broncos remind me of the Oregon Ducks. Which is funny because they beat Chip Kelly on Sunday. For all of Oregon's offensive prowess, they haven't won a National Championship. Ever. They've been to one BCS title game and lost to Auburn, 22-19. Legions of pundits seem to think that NFL teams want to be like Oregon, but they don't. The Ducks' system doesn't even work in college. There are some interesting things to learn about it, but overall its success has been drastically overshadowed by the traditional fundamentals of Alabama and other SEC teams.

What happens is Oregon beats the tar out of weaker competition, like Portland State, like Washington, like Washington State. But when they get into a tight, tough game, especially one that requires the defense to step up and make plays, they fail. In the early season against weak competition they routinely score 40, 50, 60 points per game. And everyone sucks their kneecaps for scoring 7 TDs against inferior opponents. Then they get tested and either the offense can't score at will or the defense can't contain their opponent when it matters most.

And the Broncos seem so much like the Ducks. I don't care about margin of victory. Win a tough, close game and then I'll be impressed. Or dominate a team that can play on the same level talent-wise.

I know 4-0 is 4-0 is 4-0. But the Chiefs are 4-0. The Patriots and Seahawks are 4-0. The Saints and Dolphins are 3-0. So what makes Denver so superior to those teams? Because they score more points? Who cares?

The Broncos are in Indy on October 20th and that's a test. In November they play the Chiefs, then the Pats, then the Chiefs again. That Sunday Night game in Foxborough will be like the Oregon Ducks travelling to Stanford.

Until then, I'm as impressed with the Broncos putting 52 up on the 1-3 Eagles as I am with Oregon scoring 55 against 1-3 Cal or 66 against Nicholls State.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo, Joe Mahoney

Patriots Win as a Team in Atlanta

You remember the Super Bowl against the Rams, when the Patriots were introduced as a team. That was how they won back in 2001, 2003, and 2004, as a team. That's also how they won Sunday night and that's also how they've managed to go 4-0 despite injury after injury.

This is no longer just Tom Brady carrying the roster on his back. Win or lose, this will be a group effort in 2013. From Brady to Thompkins to Talib to Blount to rookie defensive linemen nobody has ever heard of to Pro Bowl offensive linemen protecting Brady and opening holes for the running backs. Team, team, team.

Aqib Talib's Sunday Night performance was a masterpiece. Ryan threw at him 8 times, and only completed one of those passes. Talib hauled in his 4th interception of the season, and he defended 4 passes, including the game-clinching 4th down pass in the end zone. His presence on the field is a necessary condition of the Patriots winning against good teams. Without him, the Pats are screwed.

The offensive line also stepped up. They protected Brady on 3rd and 19 so he could hook up with Kenbrell Thompkins. On the next play Dan Connolly pulled and opened up a large gap for LeGarrette Blount to barrel through and then sprint to a 47-yard TD.

Speaking of Thompkins, he and Brady seem to have finally reached a level of trust and comfort. The TD pass Brady threw to Thompkins was all about trust. Brady threw to a spot he figured Thompkins would reach, and Thompkins got there.

It wasn't a completely clean victory for the Pats. Zach Sudfeld bobbled an onside kick and gave Atlanta some life. Brady had his second fumbled snap of the season, which is 2 more than I can ever remember him having. That was on a huge 4th and 1 play. And Dont'a Hightower still struggles in coverage.

The Falcons contributed by committing several unforced errors which made the Patriots' path to victory much clearer: Going for it on 4th and 2 so early in the game, an obviously excited Matt Ryan overthrowing on that same 4th and 2 play, a few key penalties, some drops. The Falcons are just too tightly wound to win in big games. There's no composure, only a hurried over-eagerness to make a big play.

The Patriots passed a test and are 4-0. And that means what? The combined record of their opponents is 5-11. So we shouldn't be crowing the Patriots just yet. It's barely autumn.

However, the goal for the first half of the season was to tread water until Gronkowski returned. The Patriots are 4-0 without him. And have won 3 without Amendola. And just won without Wilfork for most of the game. I'll take 4-0 with all these injuries, regardless of the caliber of opponent. The Pats have achieved their quarterly goals.

They remain on the road against a decent Bengals team that's 2-2, but also 2-0 at home.

Photo Credit:
Daniel Shirey - USA Today

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Patriots-Falcons Drinking Game: Sunday Night Football Edition

Before we go over the rules of the drinking game, I have a thought on tonight's football game: Don't get overly enthusiastic about a win, or overly depressed by a loss. Think of the football season as a semester in college. It's still early. This game is a good test for the Patriots, but it's just one test. In school you don't get an A just by acing one test. Nor do you flunk by getting just one F. This is a midterm exam, not a final.

To the lubing up...

Anytime a commentator says...
"Dome" = 1 drink from a beer
"Dome team" = 2 drinks
"Loud" or "Noisy" = 1 drink
"Wes Welker" = 1 drink
"Vick" = drink for 7 seconds
"High octane" = 5 drinks
"No huddle" = 1 drink
"Length" (when referring to armspan) = 1 drink
"This guy" or "Here's a guy" = 1 drink
"Test" = 1 drink
"Early" = 1 drink
"Matty Ice" = drink a scotch on the rocks
An abbreviation for Michael Hoomanawanui's last name = 1 drink

Anytime this is on screen...
Matt Ryan's regular season stats = drink for 2 seconds
Matt Ryan's playoff stats/record = drink for 20 seconds
Matt Ryan playing for Boston College = drink for 2 minutes
An angry Tom Brady = drink for 12 seconds
Healthy Rob Gronkowski = 1 drink
Sidelined Rob Gronkowski = finish beer, spike empty can Gronk style
Bob Kraft = 1 drink
Kraft talking to someone = drink the entire time he's talking
Bill Belichick's sock(s) = drink an entire beer and a shot

Anytime this happens...
You yawn = mix Red Bull with liquor, 1 drink for the first yawn, 2 for the second, and so on
John Gruden makes himself laugh = 1 drink
Gruden makes a homoerotic remark about a football player's body, or a part of his body = 1 drink
Gruden compares a player's body or part(s) to an inanimate object (e.g. a fire hydrant) = 1 drink
Tom Brady yells "Aplha Milk" = 1 White Russian
Brady points out the "Mike" = 1 drink (or 3 drinks from Mike's Hard Lemonade for bonus points)
Patriots WR runs wrong route = 1 drink
Patriots WR drops pass = 1 drink
Brady throws to a tight-end (excluding Gronk) = 1 shot of liquor
Patriots force a turnover = 1 shot
Vince Wilfork forces or recovers a turnover = 1 whole beer, 1 shot
Wilfork returns a turnover for a TD = 1 whole beer, 1 shot, 1 pound of wings... Falcon wings
Kickoff touchback = 1 drink
Actual kickoff return = drink during entire return
Rob Gronkowski gets seriously injured = drink until you can't feel feelings, then call sports radio

Enjoy the game, and please get lubed up responsibly.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Patriots Continue to Survive

In retrospect, the Patriots had every edge coming into this game. They had extra time off. They're familiar with the Buccaneers after practicing with them and playing them in preseason. Josh Freeman is a negative player at quarterback and probably won't be QB for much longer. Even the weather cooperated by kickoff and gave the Pats a nice day, with no rain-assisted random turnovers or slips.

The offense still looks like a pickup game that's been thrown together at the last minute. The lack of healthy ball-catching talent (BCT) on this team has tested Josh McDaniels, and so far he's barely passing. He was an apparent genius in 2007 when he had Brady throwing to Moss, Welker, Stallworth, and Kevin Faulk. Anyone could have coordinated that Madden offense to break records. 2013 has been much more challenging.

If this were a college course, I'd recommend McDaniels take it pass/fail, because his grade will just hurt his GPA. It's not, and the offense will need to do more than barely pass for this team to succeed. It is still only September. Super Bowls aren't won in September, just regular season games. And all this team wanted to do was survive the early season until injured players like Gronkowski returned.

The defense continues to look sharp. You can tell how much faith Belichick had in the defense (at least when they're playing against the Buccaneers offense) when the Patriots offense went for it on 4th and 2 in the 2nd quarter. Even if the Pats didn't get it, Belichick trusted his defense to hold the Buccs.

Fourth down decided this game. Tampa Bay went for it on 4th down 4 times and failed each time. The Pats converted a 4th and 2 then scored to go up 7-3, then the defense stopped Tampa on 4th down, then the Pats scored on their next possession, then an Aqib Talib interception set up a field goal and it was 17-3 Pats. If the Pats don't convert their 4th down and the Buccs convert theirs, then the halftime score might have been 10-0 or 10-3 Buccaneers. The Patriots offense couldn't put any drives together in the second half, so that 2nd quarter stretch of scoring won the game for them.

The rushing offense wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. It was certainly better than it was against the Jets. And that made a difference in the 4th. On one drive LaGarrette Blount rushed 8 times (6 in a row) for 56 yards. The drive drained 4:41 of clock and sealed the game. Somewhere Corey Dillon was smiling.

Brandon Bolden also had a big game with 100 total yards, most of which came in a 46 yard reception.

Brady spread the ball around like he used to (was forced to) back before 2007. Six different Pats caught receptions, 8 were targeted. Michael Hoomanawanui caught 2 passes, bringing the catch total for Patriots tight-ends up to 3 for 35 yards. To put that in perspective, Patriots RBs have caught 14 passes for 119 yards this season. Brady doesn't even look at tight-ends anymore. Only 7 targets between Hooman and Zach Sudfeld in 3 games.

Before the season started we just wanted the Pats to survive the first few weeks without Gronkowski. They've done that so far. Four of their next 6 games are against tougher opponents, but they also play the Jets and Steelers. The team is doing what they need to do at this time of year, in this situation. And they could quite conceivably go into the bye week with a 7-2 or 6-3 record. I'll take that given the circumstances.

Next week it's Sunday Night Football in Atlanta.

Photo Credit:
Brad Penner - USA Today

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tim Thomas Invited to Try Out for Panthers

It might be a perfect match for Thomas and for the Panthers. Thomas wants back in the NHL, the Panthers could use a veteran goalie to bolster 23-year-old starter Jacob Markstrom. Timmy will practice with the Panthers today after being offered a PTO contract (professional try out). He'll have competition, though. The Panthers also invited Tom Gilbert. Gilbert is 30-years-old, and he actually played in the NHL last year.

I'd like to see Thomas succeed. He's still one of my favorite Boston athletes of all time, up there with Pedro and Brady. He's a weirdo. And speaking as a Conservative, even I find his political views to be strange. And I don't care. I didn't like Thomas because of his politics, or even his personality. I liked him for his hockey playing, for the difficulty of his path to success, and for what he did for my favorite team.

And if Thomas makes the Panthers, he'll be in the same division as the Bruins. The B's will play Florida 5 times this season, with the first home game against them on November 7th.

Would Thomas get booed or cheered? I hope he'd get cheered. I understand why people don't like how he left Boston, but I can't understand people disliking him overall just because of that. The Bruins were trying to trade him, yet fans demand that he show loyalty to a team that's seeking to send him elsewhere? Do these unreasonable fans still hang on to their grudge?

People never really loved Thomas in this town. They liked him when he won the Vezina in 2009. When Rask put a few good games together in 2010, however, it became Tuukka Time. Fans liked Thomas again during the 2011 playoffs. Then a year later accused him and his political beliefs of being a distraction and disrupting team chemistry in a locker room full of Canadians. And as soon as he wasn't winning Vezinas and Conn Smythes, the team was ready to get rid of him. And so were the fans. Until Thomas wanted to get rid of himself. That, for some reason, was unacceptable, and that's when people who didn't love Thomas wanted him to stay, and were enraged when he didn't.

I'll always remember Joe Haggerty calling Colorado "more politically conservative" than Massachusetts in his article about Thomas and his family moving there. Obama won Colorado twice and the state recently legalized marijuana. Haggerty and others couldn't resist repeating the political storyline, even when it wasn't there (Although I'd agree that CO is more conservative than MA, then again EVERY state except for Vermont is more conservative than MA).

Back to hockey, I wouldn't be shocked if Thomas loses to Gilbert. Gilbert played 43 games last year. He's younger. Then again Thomas might have lower contract demands. Maybe the Panthers want a backup goalie who will also act like a coach to Markstrom, and not competition for his job. And if there's one thing I've learned from Thomas' career path, is that when he's doubted the most, he performs the best.

Johnny Manziel Not an NFL Quarterback

Johnny Manziel dazzles on the field with brilliant performances, like his 5 touchdown, 562 total yard game against Alabama. He's probably the most exciting player in college football, and he deserved the Heisman he won last year as the best player. However, I have yet to see anything that makes me think he'll have any measure of success in the NFL.

He has a strong arm. Great. There have been countless strong armed QBs who have failed miserably in the NFL. Manziel possesses the physical talents of an NFL QB. And he can even run, which is a bonus. Although he's also short (listed at 6' 1" but I'm not so sure about that). So that scram-bility is countered by the inability to see the field when surrounded by the behemoths of the NFL.

The height issue is minor, so forget about that. After all, Michael Vick is 6' and he's done okay in the NFL.

When I see Manziel make plays against college players, like he did against 'Bama this past weekend, I see a scrambler who takes advantage of defenses that don't contain the edge. Those reverse-field lanes won't be open for Manziel in the NFL. Bigger, faster, smarter defensive players will keep him much more contained than college defenses.

I see Manziel throwing a jump ball to 6' 5" Mike Evans, who is in single coverage against a small CB who doesn't have the awareness to turn around and play the ball. Corners who are that vulnerable are rarities in the NFL. Even the small ones know when to turn and jump to disrupt the play.

Then there's his decision-making. He seems more interested in making the big flashy play and not the smart play. Here's a highlight-reel throw that only he could make:

That's a great play, but a horrible decision. In a 14-14 game you blindly heave a ball downfield? You risk a turnover (and a return) just for a first down?

It worked, but I wasn't impressed. It reminded me of Brett Favre at his most moronic. And then seeing how impressed Manziel was with himself at making a lucky play, that revealed a great deal about Manziel's personality. What showed even more of that personality was his end zone interception 4 plays later, when he tried to make the difficult-but-amazing play instead of the easy play that was open.

Not only is Manziel willing to take stupid risks, he actively seeks them. Because that's how he gratifies himself. He builds his ego by taking risks and making big, flashy plays. He's cocky, not confident. Confidence withstands adversity, cockiness constantly seeks justification.

His off-field decision making is also questionable. I don't care about the partying or the sex or the drinking. If I were the QB at A&M, I'd be enjoying my share of T&A as well. But Manziel publicizes it. He revels in it. He broadcasts what he does. And that's not a desirable trait.

What motivates him to be so public about his private life?

Then there's his exit to the Manning Passing Academy. I don't care about his going out in New Orleans and drinking. Again, it's his life, live it up. But if you commit to something, then do it. He committed to an off-season academy and didn't follow through. And if you want to go out and party, then get away with it. Don't put yourself in a position to get caught. He was an idiot for thinking he'd get away with it.

As much as other athletes like Gronkowski party, they don't let it impact their commitments. Manziel is more like a Tyler Seguin type. He can't put the partying on hold, even for a few days. It's part of the massive ego he's built. And when criticized or questioned, he becomes spiky and defensive of his lifestyle.

For now, his on-field performances make his off-field activities a moot point. But at some point he will want to join the NFL. He will have to take that leap that all college players take. He'll go from being the big fish in the small pond to the minnow in the ocean.

How will he adjust? What will challenge him to make himself better? Guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers all found a challenge that they used as motivation. Peyton was challenged by his family, Brady by his 6th round selection, Rodgers by being stuck behind Favre.

The QBs that fail in the NFL are the ones that don't face challenges. They cruise on talent and standard levels of effort. Then they get to the League, and they get baffled by the challenge. They have no idea how to approach it. Ryan Leaf, Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, Joey Harrington, etc.

Johnny Manziel lives in a world in which he is the center, he is the best, and everything he does is right. That works for him at A&M. And it works for the Aggies. However, that kind of attitude doesn't work for a rookie QB in the NFL.

I'd prefer AJ McCarron, who is more confident than cocky. Who looks for the smart play not the big play. Who has been challenged by Nick Saban to be the best he can be for the best team in the country. I'd give Manziel another Heisman over McCarron, I'd draft McCarron over Manziel.

But if the NFL doesn't pan out for Manziel, maybe he and Tim Tebow could star in an Odd Couple reality show. Maybe one week Tebow could bring Manziel to church on Sunday morning and the next week Manziel could bring Tebow to a club until 4 AM and have a drunken orgy with a group of Swedish exchange students. We can call the show Holy and Horny: The Heisman Homies.

Jarome Iginla Scores Twice in Preseason Win

What a short off-season. After so many Lockouts, I've forgotten that hockey generally starts in the early autumn. Even earlier when there's an 18 day break in February for the Olympics.

I don't think you can learn much more from a preseason hockey game as you can a preseason football or spring training baseball game. The Canadiens started Carey Price, and most of their top defensemen. But obviously the matchups and intensity you'd experience in a regular season game were absent.

Jarome Iginla looked sharp. He scored two goals, once on the power play. For the PP goal he drifted into a soft pocket of the Montreal zone. Lucic passed wing-to-wing and Iginla had time and space to beat Price. That ability to find scoring areas BEFORE they become scoring areas is a trademark of a great scorer. And he finished both goals with expert precision and power. It's nice to finally have him in Boston.

Nick Johnson scored two goals. One was more Carey Price letting a puck slip through him. Or maybe the reduced pad-sizes mandated by the NHL was the culprit. Johnson's second goal was more impressive. He blocked a shot, broke away, tried Price's 5 hole, was denied, then showed some nice hands to beat Price at the post.

I wasn't impressed with goalie Chad Johnson, who all expect to be Tuukka Rask's backup this season. Johnson didn't glove a puck he should have had, which resulted in a goal shortly thereafter. P.K. Subban's high slot shot was too fast for Johnson to react to, even though he had a clear view and should anticipate that shot from Subban all the time. And he couldn't squeeze his pads together quick enough on the third goal he allowed.

Backup goalies aren't the most important thing in the world, but if Rask is forced to play 75 games because of a crap backup, or if Rask gets hurt and has to miss a week or two, that's when you need a backup goalie who won't give up soft goals like Johnson did last night.

Malcolm Subban looked okay, but inexperienced. He got a penalty for handling the puck outside of the trapezoid. Which demonstrates just how raw he is. Another year in Juniors will do him well.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes

Monday, September 16, 2013

Red Sox Eliminate Yankees from Division Race

I completely forgot that when Clay Buchholz got hurt he was 9-0 with a phenomenal ERA. He's now 11-0. If he can pitch up to his capability in October, then the Red Sox have a formidable and deep rotation.

He got better as the game progressed. He struggled with his control at the start, but recovered. He only allowed 2 hits and an "unearned" run (he made the error that led to the run) in his 6 innings. The fact that he maintained strength deep into the game is very promising.

And the offense took advantage of Ivan Nova, who looks like a completely different person from August. The Sox, particularly Daniel Nava, brutalized him in 4 innings. Nava was 4 for 5 with a pair of doubles.

Mike Napoli hit a long homerun to straight away center. His 22nd of the season and 7th against the Yankees this year. His 89 RBI are second best on the team, only 5 behind Ortiz, who also knocked in 2 last night.

The 9-2 victory eliminated the Yankees from the AL East race. The Sox are 1 win away from eliminating the Orioles. The Magic Number to win the division is 4. And the Magic Number to clinch a playoff spot is 3. I did not think I would be discussing Magic Numbers this year.

Speaking of the O's, they'll be in town starting Tuesday night. Ryan Dempster faces 12-10 Scott Feldman. Mike Napoli crushes this guy (11 for 26 with 2 homers), and the Sox generally do well against him. Dempster has been better than decent against the O's this season.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Steven Senne

Friday, September 13, 2013

Patriots Worry Everyone by Going 2-0

The Patriots have won two ugly games in a row. Thursday night the offense hiccuped and sputtered like an old car engine. Multiple drops by Dobson, the running game failed, only 9 first downs, 8 for 14 on 3rd downs, 0 for 3 in the Red Zone. What was once the best unit on the team is now the worst.

I'm going to be positive. Mainly because these two games have been entertaining. They haven't been like comedy movies (like last year's hit Butt Fumble starring Mark Sanchez), they've been more like horror thrillers. They've been scary to watch at times, but you can't look away until you see the ending. Thankfully the main characters live in the end. Except Danny Amendola, he had to sacrifice himself in Week 1 so that Brady could make the sequel.

And on the bright side, the defense played phenomenally Thursday night. It was the type of defensive performance fans have been clamoring for.

When did Pats fans stop enjoying wins and demand only flawless victories? Since when has anything short of a 38-3 win become unacceptable? To quote Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, when did you become so joyless?

Have fun with these nail-biters. It's football season, it's Week 2, and a win is a win is a win.

And you people have been pining for the defense to win games, just like 2003 and 2004. Now that they've done so you want to complain about it? I know the Jets aren't an impressive team to shut down. They're a joke. They purposely went without a punt returner. Twice. But seriously, folks, the defense did a great job Thursday night. Be thankful for it.

The defense made 3 picks, recovered a fumble, and sacked Geno Smith 4 times. And all 4 of those sacks were big situations. There were also 7 tackles for a loss. The Patriots offense sucked, the defense needed to be great, and they answered the call. That's a good sign. That's a really good sign.

We got spoiled with the "high octane" offense of 2007 to 2012, and so did Tom Brady. I know Aaron Dobson's drops would drive any man insane. However, Brady's screaming and histrionics verged on Peyton Manning levels of emotional over-expression. I don't want to see him develop a bad case of Manning Face.

I know the offense sucks and that's something to be concerned about as the schedule grows more difficult. When Gronkowski comes back the Red Zone offense should dramatically improve. Aaron Dobson will either improve or be cut (3 catches Thursday night, from 10 targets, that says it all). Julian Edelman looked great. Losing Vereen hurts the running game as well as the passing game.

The Patriots played without their best receiver, tight-end, and running back last night. And they won. The defense stepped up and made big plays. We've been waiting FOR YEARS to see that. And now when it's finally happened, everyone seems to be panicking. Get over it, enjoy the ride.

Buccaneers come to town a week from Sunday.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Monday, September 09, 2013

Ugly, Ugly, Ugly

Photo Credit:
AP Photo - Bill Wippert
I honestly have no idea how to start writing about this game. It would take the talent and skill of William Shakespeare to truly express, in words, how grotesquely ugly this game was for the Patriots. And yet they won. They've had ugly wins before, particularly against Buffalo, and particularly in September. And we tend to forget them so long as the next game is on the attractive side. Hopefully we'll forget this one soon, like a regrettable drunken night during which many mistakes were made.

So I'll accentuate the positive first, then address the negatives that ABSOLUTELY MUST be corrected, then finish with a conclusion like "Week 1's goodness, badness, and ugliness only matter if they extend into Week 2."

Danny Amendola earned the respect of New England in this game. He might have a fragile, injury-prone body, but he's not frail. He's not J.D. Drew. He pushed himself through pain as Brady's go-to guy, and had a huge game. Julian Edelman got the TDs, but Amendola seemed to have every big catch in every crucial situation. When Brady needed a play, he went to Amendola.

Shane Vereen started the day as a backup and finished as a starter. He ran the ball 14 times for 101 yards. And he didn't fumble. He also caught 7 passes for 58 yards. And didn't fumble. He also held onto the ball. And he didn't let the ball go. Zero was the number of fumbles he had.

The Patriots lost a lot of pass reception production when Woodhead left (which we forget about with the departure of Welker, the incarceration of Hernandez, and the injury to Gronkowski). If Vereen can provide a chunk of that production, it would take pressure off replacement receivers and tight-ends.

Kyle Arrington was the defensive star, forcing some fumbles. Without the big plays made by Amendola, Vereen, or Arrington, the Patriots lose and lose badly. Really, really badly.

By the same token, without all the mistakes Buffalo made, the Patriots lose and lose badly. All the penalties and turnovers killed Buffalo's momentum whenever it was starting to build. Buffalo did their best to make this an easy Patriots win. The Pats did all they could to make it difficult.

Ball control issues plague Stevan Ridley and have for years. It's one thing when Brady fumbles a QB/Center exchange. That's a one in a million miscue that could happen to anyone at anytime. Ridley has a trend of fumbling, and history seems to be repeating itself.

The rookie pass catchers looked like rookies. Kenbrell Thompkins made a sideline catch but couldn't get two feet down. It was a catch in college, not the NFL. He also didn't realize how much space he had in the back of the end zone and went out of bounds. It was a touchdown in the CFL not in the NFL. Zach Sudfeld stumbled on a route then couldn't haul in a Brady pass, which turned into an INT. Gronkowski's giant bear claw hands (which are just as sticky as bear claws) would have enveloped the ball, Sudfeld instead batted it to a defender.

Maybe these things get better as the season progresses, maybe not. They'd better.

It's a short turnaround against the Jets. Not much time to dwell on mistakes, which maybe is a good thing. Maybe the team can get back out there on Thursday and play a cleaner game. Sort of like giving the ball to a runningback the first offensive play after he fumbles. Get back on the horse and what have you.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Red Sox Do to Tigers What Economy Has Done to Detroit

Until the 6th inning, this game was close. 3-3 after 3, 4-4 after 4, 5-4 Sox after 5. Then 13-4 after 6 and 18-4 after 7. The Red Sox simply annihilated every Detroit pitcher that entered the game. The Sox hit 8 homeruns.

David Ortiz hit a double and two homeruns, and collected his 2,000th hit. Napoli hit a double and a homerun. Drew hit a double and a homerun. Ellsbury, Middlebrooks, Nava, and Lavarnway each hit a homer. Have you ever heard of Quintin Berry? I hadn't (although his birthday is only two days before mine), and he went 2 for 2 with 2 RBI and scored twice. AND HE ONLY SAW TWO PITCHES! He hit an RBI single in the 7th then an RBI single in the 8th.

This was the first time the Red Sox scored 20+ runs in a game since 2003, when they beat the Marlins 25-8. I'm proud to say I was at that game, and got as close as three or four rows behind home plate. Unfortunately last night there were about 4,000 empty seats in the park. Come on people, this is a team worth watching.

The Sox face the Yankees tonight and Jake Peavy faces Ivan Nova, who is coming off a complete game, 3-hit shutout. A team that just scored 20 runs against a pitcher who just went 9 without giving up any. Sounds intriguing.

Photo Credit:
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Why Week 1 Against the Bills Worries Me

Normally I look at Patriots/Bills games as an almost automatic 'W' for the Pats. The Pats are 18-1 in their last 19 meetings, and 23-2 in their last 25. But for some reason this Week 1 meeting has me worried.

I can't help but feel like the Bills are overdue for a win. I know past results don't have any impact on the likelihood of future results and the whole idea of being "overdue" is typically only psychological. Then again, the Bills will be extra motivated. This is their Super Bowl. They'll be even more pumped than Detroit was in the preseason. The Pats, on the other hand, need to avoid feeling too confident against an opponent they've owned for over a decade.

Another thing that worries me is the timing of the game. The Bills like to torture their fans, giving them hope with early season successes, then crushing their spirits by deteriorating as the season wears on. Every Bills season is a Shakespearean tragedy. It may seem cruel, as I think it effectively shortens the life-span of Bills fans. However that's a kind, humane thing to do to people who have to live in Western New York.

The early season is when Buffalo has had their limited success against the Pats. In 2003 Buffalo beat New England 31-0 in Week 1, the infamous Lawyer Milloy game. In 2011 the Bills beat the Pats 34-31 in Week 3. Both of Buffalo's wins since 2001 have been in September and in Buffalo. Two wins isn't much. Mathematically speaking, however, since 2001 the Bills have had infinitely more success against the Patriots in September than in any other month. Two wins is infinitely more than zero.

And even when Buffalo has lost, Week 1 games have been close between these two teams. In 2006 the Pats won 19-17. In 2009 they won 25-24 on Monday Night Football. That was the game that Leodis McKelvin fumbled a kickoff return with 2 minutes left in what should have been a Buffalo win.

Week 1 against Buffalo after major personnel changes has me worried most of all. That 2003 loss to Buffalo came after the Patriots dropped Lawyer Milloy. The defense was in disarray. Tom Brady was out of sorts. It was preseason Week 5 for the Pats, not regular season Week 1. And this year the Pats have had to make dramatic adjustments: losing Welker to Denver, losing Gronkowski to injury (for now), and losing Hernandez to the Bristol County House of Correction.

On the bright side, the Pats started that 2003 season 2-2, then won 21 straight games, 38 of 40, and 2 Super Bowls. So maybe Week 1 losses to Buffalo aren't the end of the world.

Jon Lester Acelike in Playofflike Victory

I haven't been this impressed with Jon Lester for a long, long time. He got the call to face the probable AL Cy Young winner, he had to pitch great to give his team a chance to win, and he answered the challenge. He was Acelike.

Seven innings, only 1 run allowed. He scattered 8 hits, he didn't walk anyone, he struck out 9. He worked his way out of trouble, including a bases loaded, 2 out situation in the 5th.

Will Middlebrooks made an error that helped create that jam, but he atoned for that miscue with a 2-run single in the bottom of the inning. That was the winning hit.

Lester had three 1-2-3 innings, including striking out the side in the 3rd and grounding out the side in the 4th. Miguel Cabrera, who had previously done very well against Lester, was held to an 0 for 4 night with a strikeout.

Then the bullpen did their thing, 4 pitchers combining for 2 scoreless innings. Koji Uehara only needed 9 pitches in the 9th, striking out 2.

To sum up, Lester outpitched the best pitcher in the AL. The Red Sox outscored the best offense in the AL. That's a pretty nice win right there.

Rubber game tonight as Ryan Dempster faces Rick Porcello. This game should be more high scoring as Porcello is very hittable (4.44 ERA this season and a 1.46 WHIP in August) and Dempster has been struggling (6.75 ERA in August).

Photo Credit:
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Patriots Don't Take Leap of Faith With Tebow

The Tim Tebow era was over in New England before it began. There just wasn't any room on the Patriots' roster for a third pass-thrower who couldn't throw passes.

Speaking of leaps of faith, how about all those people who bought Tebow gear? All those t-shirts and jerseys will soon be half-price at the Pro Shop. People would have been wiser to have waited to see if he would make the team before they committed their cash. If cut, you can get the shirt at a bargain. If not, you can still deck yourself out in the jersey of a 3rd string QB.

I suppose being a Tebow fan does require tremendous faith. More faith than religion. Religious faith is the belief in something despite the absence of proof. Tebow faith is belief in something despite overwhelming evidence that it is incorrect. It's like having faith that the earth is flat. Or believing that the Theory of Evolution is wrong.

I don't mean to bash Tebow. He seems like a nice guy in a League populated with jerks, scumbags, and the occasional murderous sociopath. He just doesn't fit in the NFL, not as a person, not as a player.

When the Pats signed him I thought he could be a decent #2/#3 quarterback. After all, he's won games, even won a playoff game. You can do worse with your #3 QB. And I don't trust Ryan Mallett. Mallett is reckless. He just chucks the ball. He's Brett Favre, Jr. Mallett has a great arm, but Tebow seems to know how to win games.

I know now that Tebow is less likely to find work as a backup quarterback than he is to find it as a starter. Because as a backup putting him on the field requires the entire offense to change. He can't come into a game for an offensive series while trainers look at Brady. He can't play a quarter or a game if Brady gets a minor injury. Not without the offense changing everything about how it plays.

A backup QB is like a spare tire in the trunk of your car. A typical spare requires that you drive a little slower than usual. As a spare, Tebow is more like an oversized monster truck tire. The car won't function unless you change the 3 other tires on your car.

There are enough QB openings around the League for Tebow to find a job. And I wish him well. However, he seems to be falling victim to what happens to some Heisman winners. Sometimes what makes them great in college just doesn't fit in in the NFL game. See: Eric Crouch, Troy Smith, Matt Leinart, Doug Flutie, et cetera.

Red Sox Lose Potential Postseason Preview

Monday afternoon's game felt like a playoff game. It was close, the pitching was good, there were some impressive defensive plays. And timely hitting (or a lack thereof) determined the outcome.

Against teams that would currently be in the playoffs, the Red Sox have an 18-17 record. That includes their 2-1 series victory over the Dodgers, and a 16-16 record against AL playoff teams. However, that record is weighted heavily by their season series with Tampa Bay, which the Sox lead 10-6. The Red Sox are now 1-3 against Detroit, 2-4 against the Rangers, and 3-3 against the A's. Taking the Rays out of the equation, the Sox are 8-11 against playoff teams.

I'm not trying to poop in the punch bowl and ruin the party. What I am saying is that in one month's time when the Sox are in the playoffs, they can't let opportunities slip by like they did Monday afternoon. The Sox were 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position yesterday. They grounded into 3 double plays.

One play sums up this game for the Sox. Jarrod Saltalamacchia's failed sacrifice bunt in the 7th. With 2 on and 0 outs in a 2 run game, I don't like the idea of bunting in that situation to begin with. That being said, if you do bunt, it has to be executed. Saltalamacchia bunted straight into the ground, it hopped high and in front of Tigers catcher Alex Avila, who made a bare-handed grab and an excellent throw to third to eliminate Daniel Nava. It was a useless out.

That miscue was one of several missed chances for the Sox. It was also one of several very good defensive plays made by the Tigers, some made by old friend Jose Iglesias (why are former Red Sox players always called "old friend?").

This was a close game and Detroit made all the big and small plays that gave them the victory. That's what happens in playoff baseball.

The Red Sox can do better. And they're going to have to in order to win tonight. They face 19-1 Max Scherzer. Some of the Sox have good numbers against him in the past (Ellsbury is 5 for 9 with 5 RBI, Ortiz is 7 for 13 with 3 homers, Saltalamacchia is 5 for 12). But Scherzer is pitching like a completely different person this year. So it's up to Jon Lester to try to match him. Or at least keep the Sox in the game until they can get to Detroit's bullpen. Lester's riding a streak of 5 straight Quality Starts, and he finished August with a 2.97 ERA.

However, the Tigers have frighteningly good numbers against Lester. Combined they're hitting .397 off him, with a 1.061 OPS. Miguel Cabrera's status will be key as he's 10 for 16 (.625) against Lester. So Lester has to step up and beat hitters who have beaten him in the past.

If the Sox win tonight's game, they'll have proven quite a bit about themselves, and convinced me that they're ready for playoff baseball.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Winslow Townson