Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Best Six Christmas Movies of All Time, Period.

Before I get into the list, let me explain a few things. First, none of the clay-mation Christmas movies are listed here because so many were made that their Holiday magic became diluted. I love The Nightmare Before Christmas but I consider it more of a Halloween movie. Charlie Brown does not make an appearance. And there's only one Muppet movie on this list. If this were a top ten, they'd be there. But this is only for the best of the best. For the movies that evoke the most emotion, the most cheer, that capture the unique Holiday spirit that provides warmth in the coldest season of the year.

These are the Best Six Christmas Movies of All Time. Period.

#6: Bad Santa
This was going to be a top five list, but you can't not include this new classic. It follows the rules for Christmas movies: a sour character that learns the true meaning of Christmas, a hopeful Character that will never give up on Christmas (or the sour character), redemption, rebirth, renewal, dark moments, glorious moments, a greedy villain with no respect for the season, and in the end friendship, family, and love triumph over all.

But this movie also adds alcohol, sex, profanity, Bernie Mac, and John Ritter. It's also hilarious. The recipe for this movie is like your grandmother's recipe for strawberry shortcake, and you've mixed vodka with it.

#5: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Although not technically a feature film, the Grinch is able to pack so many ups and downs in a 25 minute span. It's iconic, which all great Christmas movies need to be. It has a sad and dark moment, which all great Christmas movies need to have. There are cheerful characters (the Grinch's dog) conflicting with grumpy ones (the Grinch). And in the end it's all about heart, redemption, forgiveness, and a new start in the light after living the dark. Birth and rebirth are significant Christmas themes.

#4: The Muppet Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens' classic has been adapted and remade and remade and remade within an inch of its life. However the Muppets give it a unique twist while staying true to the story. Kermit as Bob Cratchit, the old guys from the balcony as Marley and Marley, the songs, and of course my cocaine as Scrooge. I mean Michael Caine.

The Muppets don't interfere with the classic story as it unfolds, they add to it. They don't try to tweak it or rearrange it or sanitize it. They just play along.

#3: Scrooged
Another adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Whereas the Muppets left Dickens' story alone, this movie brought it to the twentieth century. Bill Murray plays TV executive Francis Cross, who has lost the meaning of Christmas, gets the ghost visits, et cetera. Murray is the key to this movie's greatness. Scrooge's 19th century greediness is modernized to a believable 20th century workaholic's greed. A story created by Dickens, acted out by Bill Murray, you can't do better than that. And the end the movie makes you get all emotional. You can't not get emotional when the little kid finally... Well, I won't ruin it if you haven't seen it.

#2: Home Alone
Both one and two. These movies came out as part of an onslaught of family movies. And they have exceptionally strong staying power. I loved these as a kid. And now as an adult I enjoy both the Holiday when-I-was-a-kid nostalgia they trigger along with the things I didn't quite get as a kid. Example: "He said if I walked in there and saw him naked, I'd grow up never feeling like a real man. Whatever that means." Didn't understand that joke as a kid, it cracks me up now.

These movies also feature outcasts that are warmly welcomed into the Christmas community, which is something all great X-Mas flicks have, from Bad Santa to Scrooge. There's also some seriously dark moments mixed perfectly with hilarious ones. The plots of these films are well constructed, the actors are great, there's a perfect blend of humor and drama, and in the end love and family and friends triumph over greed.

#1: It's a Wonderful Life
The recipe for a Christmas movie can't work without sappiness as an ingredient. And nothing is sappier than It's a Wonderful Life. It really doesn't get cornier than this. And that's why it is so powerful.

Jimmy Stewart has the uncanny ability to act like a jerk at times and make you think he's the nicest guy in the world, like when he verbally abuses his kids and then berates their teacher over the phone. But you still love him. And just like Culkin carried Home Alone, Murray carried Scrooged, and Thornton carried Bad Santa, Stewart quarterbacks IAWL and makes it fun to watch. We like him. Even though the movie has racist moments. Even though the bad guy is disabled, which is an old device to make audiences dislike and distrust bad guys. Even though the female characters are token and stock and act only relative to male characters. Even though George Bailey invented subprime lending. You can't help but love this movie.

That's why I picked it as #1. Because on paper it's shallow and has so many flaws. Nevertheless it draws you in and gets you on George Bailey's side anyway. And you love watching it. I can't not watch it if it's on. It's like the best friend you don't have much in common with but love hanging out with. It's like family.

So that's it. No question about it. The best six Christmas movies, beyond a reasonable doubt. All I have left to say to you readers out there is...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Patriots Get Hats and T-Shirts for Christmas

Throughout the week, the doom and gloom, sky is falling, Chicken Little, bah humbug Patriots fans and pundits out there were terrified of the Ravens. But everyone (myself included) overlooked two facts:

1. The Ravens offense failed to score a touchdown against Detroit, and only a miraculous field goal gave them a win.

2. Joe Flacco would be playing hurt.

The Ravens, particularly Flacco, played a horrendous game Sunday. Along with his bad knee, he seemed to play with a strained decision making muscle in his brain. He had a few token deep chucks. Other times he didn't notice open receivers. It was ugly.

His teammates joined in the ugliness. Penalties at the worst times, dropped passes. A variety of stocking stuffers given as gifts to the Patriots.

The Patriots offense didn't do well either. There's plenty of coal to be given to that side of the ball. They were successful on the ground, but for some reason went away from the run in the second half. Almost as if they were trying to preemptively adjust to Baltimore's adjustments to their success. Josh McDaniels' over-cleverness strikes again.

On the good list, LeGarrette Blount ran strong and piled up 76 yards on 17 carries. Stevan Ridley protected the ball and ran for 54 physical yards. As a team the Patriots rushed for 142, averaging 4.8 per carry.

Here's an alarming stat. The Pats averaged 4.8 yards per rush, and only 6.6 yards per pass. And that doesn't include sacks. Including sacks they averaged 5.6 yards per pass play. Brady was 14 for 26. He scattered a few great throws. He made a few very bad throws. Edelman caught 7 passes, or half of Brady's completions. Nobody else caught more than 2.

Julian Edelman now has 96 catches this season, for 991 yards. He's Santa Brady's chief elf.

Losing Shane Vereen to a groin injury early hurt the offense. Like the reindeer team losing Dasher.

Thankfully the defense stepped up for the Pats. Misfit elf Dont'a (similar to dentist) Hightower actually made a good play in coverage. And that resulted in an interception.

The defensive star was Logan Ryan. Two interceptions and 3 passes defended for the rookie from Rutgers. "Rudolph" Ryan led the way for the defense.

The Ravens turned the ball over 4 times. It was like the football was a Yankee Swap present that nobody wanted. The Patriots did their part to protect the football and take advantage of those turnovers.

Both teams also benefited from soft pass interference penalties in the end zone. That issue deserves its own post to discuss. If not for those calls, the Patriots offense might have looked even worse, and the Ravens might still be mired in an 8 quarter scoreless drought.

The Patriots clinched the AFC East before the game kicked off, thanks to Buffalo beating Miami. That's 11 division titles for Brady and Belichick. The Patriots are currently the #2 seed, which they can clinch (along with the bye) if they beat Buffalo next week. That game has been flexed to 4:25pm. They can gain the #1 seed with a win and a Denver loss to Oakland. Stranger things have happened this season.

Merry Christmas, Happy Festivus, Merry Bradymas, and Happy Hanubelichickkah!

Photo Credit:
USA Today Sports Images

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Patriots-Ravens Drinking Game: Christmas Cheer Edition

Only a few days until Christmas. Many people have already started their holiday drinking. Here's a drinking game to play during this afternoon's Patriots/Ravens game.

Anytime a commentator says...
"Rivalry" = take 1 drink from a beer
"Foes" = 1 drink
"AFC Championship" = 1 drink
"Revenge" or "vengeance" = 1 drink
"Rematch" = 2 drinks
"Hoomanawanui" = finish your beer
"Injury" = 1 drink
"Ray Lewis" = take a shot of liquor
"Holidays" = 1 drink
"Season" = 1 drink
"'Tis" = 1 drink
"Merry" = 1 drink
"Christmas" = drink for 10 seconds
"Happy" = 1 drink
"New Year" = 1 drink
"Balmy" = drink an entire beer
"Winter" = 1 drink
"Rain" = 1 drink
"Thunder" = 1 drink
"Lightning" = 1 drink
"Suggs" = 1 drink
"Bulletin board material" = 1 drink
"Ho" = 1 drink per ho

Anytime this is on screen...
Highlights from previous Patriots/Ravens games = drink until the highlights are over
Rob Gronkowski getting injured = 1 drink
An injured Patriot on the sidelines or in a suite = 1 drink
A video, list, or graphic of Patriot injuries = 1 drink per injured player
Anything related to the weather = 1 drink
Chandler Jones and his brother Arthur Jones = 1 drink
Something stupid Terrell Suggs said = 1 drink
Cheerleaders dressed in Christmas attire = 1 drink
Anyone dressed as Santa or an elf = 1 drink per costume
Bill Belichick and The Grinch = finish your beer
A fireplace = drink as long as it's on the screen
A player or coach wishing happy holidays/merry Christmas = 1 drink
Bill Belichick giving season's greetings = drink a whole beer
A member of the broadcast crew wishing HH/Merry Xmas = 1 drink
A stocking = 1 drink per stocking
Christmas ornaments = 1 drink per ornament
Reindeer = 1 drink per antler point
Fake snow = 1 drink per flake
Robert Kraft = 1 drink
Bob Kraft talking to someone = drink the until he's done talking

Anytime this happens...
Tom Brady gets frustrated at himself = 1 drink
Brady gets frustrated at a receiver = 2 drinks
The Patriots fail to score a TD in the Red Zone = shot of liquor and half a beer (just a shot for a field goal)
A Patriots tight-end is thrown to = drink for 10 seconds
A Patriots tight-end catches a pass = drink for 30 seconds
Stevan Ridley carries the ball and doesn't fumble = 1 drink
Ridley fumbles = 1 shot
Matthew Slater makes a special teams tackle = 1 drink
Slater catches a pass = half a beer
Dont'a Hightower looks lost or gets beat in coverage = 1 drink
Hightower makes a tackle on a rushing play = 1 drink
Announcers mention that Chandler Jones and Ravens' defensive lineman Arthur Jones are brothers = 1 drink
Brady says "Aplha Milk" = 1 drink from spiked eggnog
Kickoff touchback = 1 drink
Kickoff return = drink until return is over

Merry Christmas, Happy Festivus, Happy Saturnalia, Happy New Year, and get lubed up responsibly.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Milan Lucic Doesn't Get into Fight Outside Vancouver Bar

Could you imagine if there were video phones and social media back in the day? Babe Ruth's exploits would make Johnny Manziel look like Tim Tebow. Here's a clip of Milan Lucic outside of a Vancouver bar (the Bruins were in Vancouver and Lucic is from there), in an "altercation," with another patron.

When Lucic says to the guy "Do you know who you're fucking with?" Half of that smacks of celebrity arrogance. 'Do you know who I am?' The other half sounds like a genuine warning. Do you know what you're getting yourself into?

You really don't want to get into a fistfight with Milan Lucic. This is a 6' 4" 230 pound guy that boxed as a kid and now makes a living playing and fighting in the toughest sport in North America. His job is to be tough in a sport of tough people. There are many hockey players who do not want to fight him. And some dude in a bar decides he's going to mess with that? And responds to Lucic with "Do you know who you're fucking with?" Good luck, pal.

Lucic comes close to crossing the line but doesn't. Thankfully it seems like the bar's security (or perhaps just other patrons) intervened until police arrived. It would have been hilarious if someone dressed as a linesman showed up and separated everyone.

If this "altercation" occurred on the ice, Lucic wouldn't even get 2 minutes for roughing.

Patriots Can't Finish Against Fins

It would be easy to say that the Patriots are banged up, beaten up, and even their "healthy" players aren't near 100%. It would be easy to blame a loss on all the injuries. The thing is, even with all injuries considered, the Patriots could have, and should have won this game.

They didn't win because they failed to finish drives. Offensively and defensively. They didn't do well enough in the Red Zone on offense, and on defense they failed to get off the field in pivotal 3rd and 4th down situations. This game turned on 3 or 4 plays.

The Patriots' first drive went for 83 yards and ended in a Red Zone field goal. By the end of the 2nd quarter they were finally able to put together a touchdown drive. However the defense failed to stop Miami on a 3rd and 10 with 1:23 left before halftime. a stop there and maybe Brady and the offense have a chance to score. However the defense failed to get the ball back. Then failed to stop Miami.

The Patriots defense failed to finish the drive on 3rd and long. Miami scored and kept themselves in it. Instead of going into halftime up 14-0 or 10-0, it was 10-7, and the Dolphins had hope.

In the 4th quarter the Patriots had three drives totaling 220 yards. And only one drive ended with a touchdown. Without Rob Gronkowski the Pats will struggle to score in the air in the Red Zone. And they didn't even try to score on the ground.

Gronk was 79 inches tall, 8 inches taller than Amendola, 9 inches taller than Edelman. Size matters in the Red Zone.

If you look at the raw numbers, the Patriots theoretically should have won. They accumulated more yardage, won the time of possession battle, committed fewer penalties, were better on 3rd down, rushed more per carry, allowed fewer sacks, turnovers were even. The difference was a handful of plays at key moments: Not stopping Miami on 3rd and 10 before halftime, or on 4th and 5 in the 4th quarter. Kicking Red Zone field goals instead of scoring touchdowns.

One strategic issue I had with the Patriots in the 4th quarter was just after they'd achieved a 1st down at the Miami 19 with 0:27 on the clock. The Pats took a timeout. I would have spiked the ball at that moment and saved the timeout. That would have kept the playbook open and forced Miami to defend the middle of the field, not just the edges. Once the Patriots took that timeout, all Miami had to defend was the space outside the numbers and in the end zone. And that put the Patriots receivers in position to have one-on-one physical battles, which the Patriots are not equipped to do without Gronk or big receivers. Edelman and Amendola, as brilliant as they are, are not going to outmuscle safeties and linebackers in the Red Zone.

Also the ball was still 19 yards away from the goal line. Keep the timeout and you can try to close the distance to 10 yards in the middle of the field. Guys like Edelman and Amendola are best when they have the option to dart inside and outside. They're at a disadvantage if they're forced to play on the edges and not use their shiftiness.

I'm not going to panic and go to DefCon 2 over this loss. The Patriots failed to win. The world somehow continues to spin. No other AFC team is significantly better than the Pats. The Broncos can't beat the Chargers at home. The Bengals were thrashed by the Steelers, who were dominated by the Patriots, who lost to the Bengals (the common denominator in all three of those games is that the home team won). I see little to no separation among the best AFC teams, and see that a handful of plays is the difference between winning and losing.

The Pats are beat up and injured, but they've won 10 games. They were 1 play from winning this game. I'm not too concerned. They have issues and weaknesses. Just like all the other teams out there.

Patriots play the Ravens in Baltimore Sunday evening. As well as Baltimore has been playing, they have weaknesses too. But I'm sure all week people will focus on the weaknesses the Patriots have.

Photo Credit:
Robert Mayer-USA Today Sports

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bruins Overcome Flames, Flu

The excuses/explanations were pre-loaded for Tuesday night's Bruins game in Calgary. The B's were missing players due to injury and suspension. The flu was making its rounds through the locker room. It would be an emotional return to Calgary for Jarome Iginla. And so on.

After two periods of play it seemed as though those excuses would need to be deployed. The Flames had outshot the Bruins 22-9 and were up 1-0. Tuukka Rask had let in a soft goal. The B's were on track to lose to the second worst team in the West.

Everything flipped in the 3rd. Boston outshot Calgary 15-5. The Bruins capitalized on a delay of game penalty with a power play goal. David Krejci scored it but the goal was shaped by Torey Krug. Krug took advantage of space created when a Flames defenseman broke his stick and Mike Cammalleri surrendered his as a replacement. Krug's slapshot was tipped in by Krejci to tie the game 1-1.

The assist was Krug's 10th power play point of the season (4 goals, 6 assists). That leads the team (Krejci now has 8, Chara had the other assist giving him 7 on the season). Last year Krejci led the Bruins with 7 power play points.

The game-winning goal started in the Bruins' defensive zone as Carl Soderberg won a puck battle along the boards. Ryan Spooner found the puck then found Reilly Smith driving through the neutral zone. A patient and strong finish beat goalie Reto Berra glove side and the Bruins went on to win 2-1.

Give a bench assist to Claude Julien for mixing up the lines for the 3rd period.

Rask redeemed himself in the 3rd with a tough save on a mid-range backhanded shot launched by a spinning Sven Baertschi. The save came only 2 minutes after Smith gave the B's a lead, and with 2:30 left in regulation. That's what people mean when they say "timely saves."

The B's remain in Alberta and play the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night. The Oilers are the only Western Conference team doing worse than the Flames. If you're going to catch the flu, this isn't a bad time in the schedule to get it.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh

Celtics Start Reunion Week with a Loss

Before I talk about this game, I have to unleash a torrent of rage at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. They play way, way, WAY too much arena music. Every possession was either a cut from Jock Jams, or a rap song, or "Everybody clap your hands," or organ music meant to induce cheers and chants. There were maybe half a dozen possessions that you could actually hear the players, the dribbling ball, the squeaking sneakers, and the crowd. You know, basketball sounds. The rest of the game was a relentless cacophony of stadium soundtrack torture.

Before the game the storyline was that these two teams were in reverse positions from what we expected before the season. The star-studded Nets were in turmoil, the hodgepodge Celtics were thriving.

However, at least for one game, the preseason expectations became a reality. The Nets dictated play. The Celtics had extended stretches of poor shooting and mediocre defense. The C's kept themselves close thanks to their 3-point shooting. But they repeatedly allowed the Nets to build leads.

The Nets looked like the team that had everything in order, while the Celtics, at times, looked like a team in disarray. At other times the Celtics looked solid. Apart from a few big runs that the Nets went on (a 16-2 run in the 1st quarter, a 10-0 run in the 3rd after the Celtics tied the game 60-60, then an 11-2 run later in the 3rd), the Celtics held their own. They just didn't have the defensive force to stop Brooklyn on those runs, or the offensive ability to at least keep up with them.

Give the C's credit for keeping themselves in the game without Rajon Rondo. If Rondo plays, maybe things are different. At the same time, a healthy Paul Pierce probably contributes more than 4 points (all from free throws).

All glass-half-full sentiments aside, the Celtics were physically outmatched. The Nets outscored them 48-30 in the paint. Brooklyn also outrebounded the C's, and got to the line more often. That determined the game.

All five Celtics starters scored double digits, only Avery Bradley had more than 20. The Celtics bench only added 12 points (compared to 22 from Brooklyn's). Kevin Garnett scored 11 points and collected 9 rebounds against his former team. Paul Pierce scored 4 points off the bench. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez led the Nets with 25 and 24 points, respectively.

More reunions tonight as Doc Rivers and the LA Clippers come to the Garden.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Don't Mind Seeing Pittsburgh Penguins Players Injured, Maybe it Should Happen More Often

I don’t like what Shawn Thornton did Saturday night. But I don’t mind who he did it to, and what team he did it against.

What Thornton did was inexcusable and indefensible. He should and will get suspended a long time for it. The reason it was inexcusable was because Brooks Orpik was defenseless.

However, hitting defenseless players is a consistent pattern of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey. Great offense, shaky goaltending, dirty hits. That’s the Penguins' way. And that’s why I feel no sympathy when I see a Penguins player lying on the ice. Why should I? That’s the sword they live by, and it should be the sword they (metaphorically) die by.

Maybe if enough Penguins get concussed, they’ll reevaluate how they play the game. Maybe if Sidney Crosby gets laid out the same way Marc Savard was by Matt Cooke, and has his career shortened, then the Penguins might look in the mirror and realize that hockey shouldn’t be played the way they play it.

Thornton’s attack on Orpik came after a double dose of Pittsburgh dirtiness. Sidney Crosby kept the blade of his stick on the ice to ensure he tripped up Brad Marchand. The ref, of course, didn’t call it. No big deal. That is until James Neal saw a prone player. Neal’s eyes must have lit up when he saw an opportunity to hit someone when they couldn’t defend themselves.

You can see Neal change directions toward Marchand, and keep his left knee exactly at the same height as Marchand’s skull.

To paraphrase Chris Rock: I’m not saying Shawn Thornton should have retaliated the way he did. But I understand.

Earlier in the game Orpik leveled Loui Eriksson. I think that hit was relatively clean. If anything, a 2 minute minor for interference as Eriksson didn’t have the puck.

What pisses me off about Orpik and the hit on Eriksson is that Orpik has made a career of dispensing hits like that, and then never EVER standing up for himself and for his actions when someone wants to fight him over it. He doesn’t answer the bell. Just drop the gloves, protect yourself, fall to the ice and wait for the linesmen to break it up. That’s all he has to do. But he doesn't. He hasn't fought in 5 seasons.

Orpik, like most of the Penguins, is only brave when his opponent can’t see him. Or when his opponent is horizontal on the ice, like Marchand. Or when he can use his stick as a weapon.

Chris Kelly is now out 4-6 weeks with a fractured fibula. Pascal Dupuis was not penalized for the blatant and completely unnecessary slash. The League has decided not to discipline Dupuis.

If players felt compelled to answer the bell after hits like Orpik’s hit on Eriksson, perhaps guys hesitant to fight, such as Orpik, wouldn’t be giving out so many concussions with legal seek-and-destroy hits. If Orpik knew he would have to defend himself in a fight later, Loui Erksson might not have gotten a concussion.

By the way, where's the sympathy for Eriksson? Second concussion in five weeks.

The NHL suspended James Neal 5 games for kneeing Marchand in the head. I doubt if that will alter Neal's behavior. He’s been warned, fined, and suspended before. And he still plays the way he plays. And he still fails to express any remorse or regret for it. Just as he failed to show remorse for kneeing Marchand:

"I haven't, like, seen the replay or anything, so I mean I hit him in the head with my leg or my foot or my knee or shin area. I don't know. But I mean, he's already going down, and I guess I need to try to avoid him, but I have to look at it again...

"I mean, what do you want me to say? That I was trying to hit him? No, I'm going by him. I don't get out of the way, like I said. I need to be more careful and I guess get my knee out of the way, but I'm not trying to hit him in the head or injure him or anything like that."

Contrast that with Shawn Thornton.

Which player do you think is more likely to repeat what they did?

At least the NHL has given out some sort of punishment to a Penguins player. When Matt Cooke wasn’t suspended for the Savard hit, the NHL failed to curb a dirty player and a dirty team. Instead they gave him and the Penguins license to do as they pleased.

The Penguins will continue to play the Penguins Way that the NHL sanctioned when they didn’t suspend Cooke. At least until something changes. Until they lose more players to suspensions. Or until they lose more players to concussions.

Thornton seemed sorry that Orpik got hurt. I’m not sorry. I don't care. I guess Thornton has more character and class than I do. But I’m just sick of players like Orpik, like Crosby, like Neal, like Dupuis. And until that team changes the way it plays, I won’t shed a tear for their troubles or injuries.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Don't Leave Patriots Games Early, and Don't Abandon the Season Early Because Gronk Is Gone

As droves of people evacuated Gillette Stadium by the thousands in the 4th quarter of Sunday night's game, I turned to a friend and jokingly remarked "Now that everyone's leaving, the Pats will win." In reality, I didn't think they had a chance. Two touchdowns in the last 61 seconds. Unbelievable.

It shouldn't have to come to that against the Cleveland Browns. But it did. And a win is a win is a win.

It's funny how if the Red Sox play 8 bad innings then come back in the 9th, it's a thrill. Or if the Bruins score goals with the goalie pulled in Game 7 against Toronto, it's fantastic. Or if the Celtics have an amazing second half comeback against the Lakers, it's magical. We see these as great sports moments. However when the Patriots need late drama, or "win ugly," fans seem more pained than entertained. Patriots fans have no joy in them, only bitterness and resentment if things aren't perfect.

It's sports. It's a game. It's entertainment. Enjoy it.

And frankly, regular season wins don't mean much so who cares if they're ugly or beautiful. They're all part of the total you collect in 16 tries. Ugly wins, pretty wins, tough wins, lucky wins, they all count the same. And that total means nothing compared to playoff wins and losses. A dozen ugly regular season wins mean the same as a dozen pretty ones. And if you lose in the playoffs, every regular season win means nothing.

On the other hand, losing Rob Gronkowski does have tremendous meaning. He destroyed his ACL and MCL. He's done for the season. And the Patriots offense now becomes completely different. Gronk was not only Brady's favorite weapon, especially in the Red Zone. He also opened up acres of space for his teammates, by drawing attention and causing matchup difficulties. With Gronk, this offense was like Brady in the driver's seat of a Corvette. Now Brady's driving a Toyota Camry.

Shane Vereen is the only remaining difficult matchup for opponents. Give him the 12th Man Award for most contribution from an unexpected source this season. He caught 12 passes Sunday for 153 yards. He also ran for a touchdown. I wish I had picked him up off fantasy football waivers, and I'm not the only one kicking myself for not doing so.

Stevan Ridley had 0 fumbles. That's the only stat of his I care about.

With Gronkowski this team was a Super Bowl favorite. Without him they fall back to the pack of potential contenders. He's so ridiculously good. And so ridiculously injury prone. In 2014 they should bench him until Week 14, let him warm up a few games, then only really use him in the playoffs. That's not a serious suggestion, but it's not completely insane is it?

Some are saying that the Patriots' season is over without Gronk. As Barstool so eloquently put it: "Like the second you saw this you knew the season was over." What part of speech is "like" there? Quality, interesting writing, Barstool. Anyway, I understand the sentiment and I would agree with it. Except the Saints game seemed over and the Patriots won. The Broncos game seemed over and the Patriots won. This game Sunday seemed over and the Patriots won.

I'm not going to lose hope and turn my back on this team like all the so-called fans who left the Saints game early, then the Broncos game early, then the Browns game early. I'm sticking around for the 4th quarter and overtime. As stressful as these games have been, they've been a thrill to watch.

Patriots travel to Miami next week where they can clinch the AFC East.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Robinson Cano Leaving AL East (written after Cano signed with Seattle)

I was literally a second away from publishing a post bashing Jay-Z and Robinson Cano for trying to make the Mariners bid against themselves for Cano's services. Cano had been offered $225 million over 9 years, then Jay-Z reportedly demanded $252 for 10 years, and outraged Mariner ownership stormed away from the proverbial table. The Yankees had offered Cano $170 million for 7 years.

And just as I was on the verge of clicking "publish," I heard that the Mariners and Cano had agreed to a 10-year deal worth $240 million. And that makes sense based on the other numbers. Cano gets less per year, but gets an additional year.

It's an insane deal. Cano is a great player, a potential Hall of Famer, but this pays him until he's 40. Many baseball contracts are becoming insane. It's only a matter of time before we see $300 million deals for top players. One day we will see a $400 million deal.

Making the deal more insane is that Cano has only hit 30+ HRs once in his career. He's never slugged .600 or had an OBP over .400. He's only slugged .550 or higher once (.550 on the dot in 2012), and only had an OBP of .380+ twice. He turned 31 in late October so he's at his peak right now. And he's a damn good player. But if he didn't play second base I don't think people would drool over him as much as they do. Because his numbers are not shattering.

But the Mariners are much, MUCH better with him. And the Yankees are much worse without him. And the Yanks also look quite dumb for giving Ellsbury $21.9 million a year but not giving Cano $24 million a year. Cano was the entire Yankee offense last year. And now Ellsbury is their best hitter. Taking Cano out of the 2013 lineup and putting Ellsbury's numbers in, Ellsbury would have led the Yankees in average, OBP, SLG, and OPS. Cano has hit almost as many homeruns in the last 2 seasons as Ellsbury has his entire career.

Anyway, I'm just happy Cano is out of the AL East. That's really all that matters.

In 156 career games against the Sox, Cano hit .308 with 21 homeruns and 104 RBI. I don't mind him moving to another division. Not one bit.

BORAS > HOVA: Jay-Z Costs Cano Millions (written before Cano signed with Seattle)

If you're a baseball player and you want to make the most money possible, why do you hire anybody but Scott Boras? The guy gets his clients paid. He may not be as cool as Jay-Z, but he shows his clients the money.

I don't know why Jay-Z decided to go into the world of sports agency. I think he watched a few episodes of Entourage and wanted to be the sports world's Ari Gold. And if the rumors out of Seattle Friday morning are true, it seems like he doesn't know what he's doing.

According to sources, Robinson Cano's representation had been able to convince Seattle to offer him a 9-year deal worth $225 million ($25M/year). Then Jay-Z wanted more, and demanded 10-years at $252 million. By the way, that's the same deal A-Rod took, which left a bad taste in Seattle's mouth. Mariner ownership reportedly flipped out, ending negotiations.

What Jay-Z did was ask Seattle to bid against themselves. The Yankees have stayed firm with their offer of $170 million over 7 years ($24.3M/year). Nobody was close to Seattle's offer. And I have to say that it's more than generous. Yet Jay-Z demanded more.

Imagine being at an auction, and you bid $225 for a Robinson Cano autographed baseball, and the next highest bidder was $170. Then the auctioneer demands that you increase your bid to $250. Even though you've already bid the most and nobody is close to your bid. That's BS.

I just can't imagine Boras making a team feel so blatantly disrespected. Boras is conniving, scheming, sneaky. And I'm sure owners don't enjoy dealing with him. But he is a born negotiator. He's too clever to do something as brash and dumb as this. Cano's representation essentially told Seattle to get on their knees, open their mouth, and swallow whatever they put in it.

Don't forget, Cano's camp initially wanted $300 million for 10 years. I think Jay-Z literally pulled that number out of his ass. That number was not based on market value, or relative contracts, or anything real. It was a big, loud, flashy number. There was no substance behind it, just lots of noise and self-promotion. Exactly like Jay-Z's music.

Photo Credit:
Getty Images, Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE

Bruins Drop First Game Against Montreal

The Bruins seemed to approach this game waiting to see what Montreal would do and then react to it. The Canadiens came into Thursday night riding an 8-game point streak. And, surprisingly, they've also been fighting a lot. This was a different Montreal Canadiens team than the Bruins were used to. And the B's didn't seem to know what to expect. So instead of being assertive, they reacted.

Montreal was physical, selectively so. PK Subban frequently jousted with Brad Marchand, for example, not with Milan Lucic. There were some penalties, and a few post-whistle scrums, as well as a fight, but it wasn't the bloodbath some had anticipated/dreaded/hoped for. I wouldn't say that the Habs won the physical matchup, however they were not scared by the Bruins. They didn't let the Bruins affect how they played. Historically, when they've been able to play unaffected like that, they've been a difficult opponent for the B's to beat.

It helps that Carey Price had an amazing game. None of the Bruins were able to truly beat him. Gregory Campbell scored on a breakaway and Price had no chance of moving side-to-side fast enough to stop the shot. He stopped the 32 other shots he faced, carrying the Habs to 2 points, and to first place in the Atlantic Division.

Some good news from the game is that Johnny Boychuk was released from the hospital and cleared to travel. In the first period Max Pacioretty hit him at an awkward angle from behind near the boards, and Boychuk went into the dasher collar-bone first. He was taken off the ice by stretcher and transported to the hospital. Pacioretty received a 2 minute minor for the hit. I would have given him 4 (2 for boarding, 2 for roughing). I don't think he should be disciplined further. It was a weird hit, somewhat reckless, but not worth throwing the book at Pacioretty.

There's no word how long Boychuk will be sidelines for. At least he's out of the hospital.

It was a cleaner game than I thought it would be. I don't think the Bruins took the initiative. They let Montreal dictate things. Hopefully they will be more assertive when these teams meet again. Which isn't until January 30th. Isn't that lame?

Bruins host the Penguins Saturday night. That's quite unlame.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

New England Once Again Turn Themselves Into Super Bowl Contenders

If a person watched just the first half of the New England-Denver matchup in Week 12, they probably left wondering why Tom Brady is not calling it quits. The Patriots were getting embarrassed on their own field, and the future Hall of Famer looked old. Something changed at halftime though, and Brady posted his typical fantasy football numbers on his way to a win. Now that they have knocked off Peyton Manning and Denver, can this team be considered an AFC Championship contender?

Right now, the Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs are the only two teams with better records in the AFC. One of those two teams will slide down in the playoff rankings, so New England could comfortably cruise into the playoffs as the #2 seed. Not bad for a franchise that has been lost at times this season. Many fantasy football owners had no idea who Brady would be throwing to at the start of the year, but everything seems to be falling into place now. It helps that the running game has picked up as well to keep the pressure off of him.

While any team can pull off an upset in the playoffs, three teams in particular could stand in New England’s way. The Cincinnati Bengals already beat the Patriots this season, and they made the offense look terrible. However, that was back at the start of October, when the team wasn’t full strength. The Colts pose a threat simply because Andrew Luck could get hot and outgun the aging Brady. If it becomes a fantasy football showdown, some might actually favor the youngster at this point.

Let's Criticize the Refs Who Didn't Penalize Mike Tomlin for his Sideline Shuffle

Had Bill Belichick done anything like what Mike Tomlin did on Thanksgiving, potentially impeding a Jacoby Jones during a kickoff return, the public outcry across the nation would be deafening. The New York Post would print an entire sports page in asterisks. Marshal Faulk would claim that the Rams dynasty was somehow ended by where Belichick stood on the sideline in Super Bowl XXXVI. It would be a field day for Patriots haters.

Mike Tomlin has been fined $100,000 for his sideline shuffle. The Steelers might also lose a draft pick. And I actually think that's kind of harsh. I understand that you want to deter coaches from doing stuff like this. However the best way to deter this is to penalize the team 15 yards. Nothing hurts a coach more than costing his team 15 yards and potentially allowing his opponent to get into the end zone.

Referee Clete Blakeman's crew (remember them from the Patriots/Panthers game?) failed to penalize Tomlin, and consequently they have been "downgraded" according to League sources. Crews are "downgraded" whenever they make an incorrect call. This same crew was staunchly defended by the NFL after the Patriots/Panthers non-pass-interference call.

Not penalizing Tomlin was obviously incorrect. How did the refs not call him for this? There's an official right there! And that official has to avoid Tomlin too!

Inadvertent or intentional, it's the responsibility of everyone on the sideline to remain well clear of the play. Had a photographer or security guard or cheerleader gotten that close to the action, they'd be removed from the field, possibly fired. Had a player on the sideline done this, they'd be penalized. Why didn't the refs call Tomlin?

Had they done so, that would have ended it. Tomlin would never have done it again. No coach would copy it. There'd be no controversy. Maybe no fine or loss of draft pick.

Once again, NFL refs made a bizarre, inexplicable decision. At least this time the NFL seems to acknowledge that they were wrong. Maybe "acknowledge" is too strong of a word. The NFL hasn't rushed to defend this crew for blatantly screwing up.

Yankees Overpay for Jacoby Ellsbury, Pink Hats Devastated

It's a sad day for the Pink Hats. Well, it will be a sad day in a few months when they turn to their friends and ask "Where's J-Cobes?" Once they realize that their favorite Fenway hottie is gone, they'll cry more than they did the day Tyler Seguin was traded.

The Yankees bought Jacoby Ellsbury early in the Holiday Shopping season. Although they didn't get much of a bargain. A total of $153 million for 7 years. Ellsbury turned 30 in September.

I can't say I blame Jacoby. I think it's lame and dishonest for any of us to call him greedy. He's been paid $20.8 million in his career to date. By the end of this deal he'll have collected a career total more than 8 times that much. Would any of us refuse a raise like the one Jacoby has accepted? A 242.9% raise. He made $9 million in 2013. He'll earn that by June 11 of 2014.

I would have preferred he stay with the Sox. He's a good player. He was a key component in two World Series winning campaigns. Players like him don't grow on trees. Et cetera.

He's not worth this price, though. Not for that many years. Five years and $100 million, maybe. Maybe.

My two biggest issues with Ellsbury are that he performs much better in contract years than non-contract years. And that he lacks power. His best asset is his speed.

He's been able to utilize that speed to compensate for his lack of power. However how much speed will he have toward the end of this contract? Will he be stealing 50 bases a year in 2018? Will he steal 20?

His other production isn't enough to justify such a heavy and lengthy commitment. His OBP (.355 last year) is good, not great. He's hit 65 career homeruns, 32 of which were in that freakish Brady Anderson style contract year of 2011. He's never reached 10 HRs in any other season.

There's an old saying in baseball: "Speed never goes into a slump." That's true. At the same time, speed does disappear with age. When speed disappears for power hitters, they can still drive the ball out of the park or off the wall. When speed dependent players like Ellsbury slow down, their careers slow down.

As Ellsbury's speed deteriorates, so will his numbers. He collected 24 infield hits in 2013, boosting his OBP by .038 points and his average and SLG by .042. As he ages his infield hits will go down. He hit 8 triples in 2013. Some of those will become doubles. He hit 31 doubles. Some of those will become singles.

Ellsbury helps the Yankees. And for the next 3 or 4 years this deal might look wise. Unless Ellsbury gets hurt. Which also has a tendency to happen. I don't question his fortitude as much as others have, but he's hardly an ox. Anyway, in a few years the Yankees will have an old, slow, poor hitting, poor fielding, poor throwing outfielder collecting $21.8 million a year. The Red Sox will have $153 million to spend on a more complete player or players.

Yankees first play the Sox on April 10th in the Bronx. The first Fenway series starts on April 22nd. Tickets for these games have just skyrocketed to the top of many Christmas Wish Lists.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Clubhouse Chemistry Concerns Overblown with AJ Pierzynski Signing

The Red Sox and veteran catcher AJ Pierzynski have agreed to a 1-year deal worth $8 million. And Red Sox fans are already worried that this might disrupt the clubhouse chemistry that was so crucial to the success of the 2013 team.

I think such worries are overblown. Here's why...

Looking back on last off-season, clubhouse chemistry was an important factor in player acquisition, but it was not the only factor. Fans and media seem to ignore/forget that the Sox signed good players, who were also good clubhouse guys. These were not lovable, talentless losers. These were skilled, experienced, capable players.

The chemistry the Sox enjoy doesn't seem like it's delicately balanced, on the verge of collapse like a house of cards if one piece is removed or added. It seems much stronger than that. Resilient is the word I'd use. As much of a prick as Pierzynski is, I don't think a part-time catcher will be able to cause much division or strife.

Predicting clubhouse chemistry is not a science. Actually, it is. It's called psychology. And psychologists have labored for decades trying to figure out how people's interpersonal relationships work and why. However, sports media and fans think they can predict these things. It's so simple.

You can't predict clubhouse chemistry. John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester got along great. And that was bad for clubhouse chemistry. Remove Beckett and suddenly Lester and Lackey become character guys. Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling did not get along yet the chemistry was fine on the 2004 Sox. Dustin Pedroia was seen as a manager's pet in the 2011 clubhouse, then as anti-manager/rebel in 2012, now as a leader in 2013.

Baseball analysts have a hard time predicting on-field performances. Off-field relationships (and their impact on on-field performance) are considerably less predictable.

The fact is, Pierzynski is signed for just a year. He can play. He can hit, he can call a game, he can throw runners out. I liked Jarrod Saltalamacchia (my spell-check didn't), but he was what he was. Salty struck out a lot, was an inconsistent hitter, and wasn't trustworthy defensively in a big game. Salty was not a mid-term or long-term solution. I don't think Pierzynski is a superior player, but the Sox signed him to a placeholder deal, and that's the difference.

The Sox have catching prospects in the pipeline. Pierzynski fills in the gap until they arrive, or until another solution is found. I doubt in one year he'll be capable of doing much damage to the clubhouse. And if he does, he'll be designated for assignment. I wouldn't want a multiple Pierzynskis in my clubhouse, but I think one is manageable, containable.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, at the Bills Game, Eating a Buffalo Wing Like it's Covered in Crack Sauce

I go back and forth on my feelings about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. At some times he seems lovable for his over indulgence. He's like Falstaff. Or Chris Farley. However, at other times he seems just a few steps away from being a villian in a poorly written TV movie. The evil Mayor who can't help himself, borrows money to feet his habits, and has to sell the city's Christmas lights to China to pay off his debt. The Mayor Who Pawned Christmas.

But I can appreciate the blank-faced joy he's feeling as he devours a Buffalo wing at the Bills game. I've recently gone on a Buffalo sauce spree. Not just putting it on chicken. I've been experimenting. I've put it on steak tips and rice (the best one). On shepherd's pie. I've made Buffalo chicken mac and cheese and pasta with Buffalo chicken instead of tomato sauce. I even made a Thanksgiving leftover burrito with turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, covered in Buffalo sauce. Soooooo good.

I feel like sending these pictures to Toronto and bribing Ford with this addictive cuisine. Maybe force him to arrest Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk in exchange, and detain them until June.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Gary Wiepert

Andre Williams' Heisman Hopes Fall Apart Against Syracuse

What happened to Andre Williams on Saturday makes you appreciate just how difficult it is to rush for 2,000 yards in college football. So many carries. So many tackles. So many times being dragged to the ground by multiple defenders. So many times shoulders, ankles, knees, and elbows would be pulled and strained and bent and pried and twisted. Especially for a north-south runner like Williams. So much wear and tear.

BC's first Heisman Hopeful since Matt Ryan was sidelined for most of the Eagles' 34-31 loss to Syracuse. Williams only managed to accumulate 29 yards on 9 carries. His lowest yardage total of the year. He did however manage to score a touchdown.

Williams' Heisman candidacy was always a longshot. Williams hasn't caught a pass all season, and the Heisman frequently goes to multidimensional players, such as running QBs (Manziel, RG3, Cam Newton, Tebow, Troy Smith, Eric Crouch), pass-catching RBs (Reggie Bush), and cornerbacks who return punts (Charles Woodson). Heisman winners also typically play for teams competing for conference and national titles, not teams that go 7-5 and lose to Syracuse.

I do think Williams deserves considerable hardware for his spectacular season. He's the best RB in the country. He is the second best offensive player in the ACC behind Jameis Winston. He's one of the best RBs in ACC and BC history. And he's the biggest reason that BC went from a 2 win team in 2012 to a 7-5 team in 2013. Give him trophies. Just not the trophy.

There are close to 10,000 scholarship athletes in Division I-A football each season. Only 1 of them wins the Heisman. Sometimes it's Barry Sanders. Sometimes it's Eric Crouch. This time it will not be Andre Williams. And that's not a thing to be ashamed of. It's a hard trophy to win.

NFL Refs Conspiring to Ruin Football Games? Revenge for Lockout?

Nothing will ever match the ineptitude of last year's replacement refs. They couldn't keep up with the pace of the game. They made obvious blunders. They ruined the on-field product so badly that the NFL caved and we all celebrated the return of the real refs, who performed so much better than their scab counterparts.

Then there's this year. For the most part NFL refs have been fine. They're not perfect. They make mistakes. And there's the same old inconsistencies with holding and P.I. and all that stuff that's always been annoying.

Then there are a handful of weird plays, all at the ends of big games, that involve obscure rules, or questionable rule interpretations, or forgetting what down it is.

The Patriots and Jets played an overtime game that turned when the Pats were flagged for pushing each other while attempting to block a hopelessly long field goal. Two Sundays ago the Patriots were in Charlotte and the game ended with a pass interference flag being picked up. And this past Sunday the Redskins were apparently given a 1st down, which was actually 3rd down, then the refs caught the "mistake" and reset the dial-a-down to indicate a 4th down. They also failed to measure the very close 1st down that wasn't actually a 1st down.

Mike Shanahan probably didn't ask for a measurement since he seemed to think his team already had a 1st down.

It's just weird that these things are happening. That was replacement level incompetence in the Redskins game. I haven't seen that pushing penalty called since the Pats/Jets game. And few people who don't work for the NFL think it was correct for the officials to pick up the P.I. flag in the Pats/Panthers game.

There was also the Steelers game on Thanksgiving, in which the refs took a touchdown off the board because the ball carrier's helmet was knocked off half a second before he scored a touchdown.

Is there a conspiracy? I doubt it.

Or do I?

Are a group of rogue referees trying to get revenge on the NFL for last year's lockout? Have they decided to spoil the endings of close marquee NFL games with confusion? They waited until the end of the game to penalize the Patriots for their pushing. They tried to go back in take a touchdown from the Steelers. They royally screwed up the end of the Redskins game, and never paused to explain the confusion to anyone on either sideline.

Lack of explanation is another trend in these calls. Belichick didn't get one in Carolina. Shanahan didn't get one Sunday night.

How many times have we heard football pundits and talking heads say "I've never seen anything like this," in regards to officials this year?

It's almost too odd. And keep in mind, the crew that officiated that Steelers game also did the Pats/Panthers game with that waved off pass interference in the end zone.

And three of these four games were nationally televised. The Steelers and Redskins games were on NBC, the Pats/Panthers game was on a Monday Night. Three were divisional matchups. Three were rivalry games. And 6 of the 7 different teams involved are among the NFL's most popular. The teams involved have also won 9 of the last 13 Super Bowls.

It's just too weird for the best football refs to make such bizarre decisions at the endings of big games. A little too weird.

BCS System Pisses Me Off One Last Time

Those are Ohio State players celebrating Auburn's last-second 109 yard field goal return touchdown against Alabama. The video was recorded and posted on Instagram by OSU receiver Frank Epitropoulos. As OSU's players rode on a bus somewhere in lower Michigan, 800 miles to the south in Auburn, Alabama, insane events unfolded that knocked Bama out of the BCS title game, and might have put Ohio State in.

And that's what pisses me off. Ohio State didn't knock out Alabama, Auburn did. Ohio State essentially advanced to the title game at the expense of Alabama, without ever playing Alabama. I'm doubly pissed off because Ohio State would have never had a chance to knock off Bama themselves.

I'm not suggesting that Ohio State doesn't deserve a title shot. I'm not suggesting that Alabama does deserve one. OSU took care of business, Bama didn't. And in this system, Ohio State deserves a title shot more than Alabama.

But how Ohio State passed Alabama is what pisses me off. Auburn did the dirty work for Ohio State. To be fair, Ohio State would have never been given a chance to knock off Alabama. Which is also a flaw of this horrid BCS system. OSU could have gone undefeated and not been given a title shot. Just like NIU and Fresno State. How ludicrous is that? An undefeated Big Ten champion on the outside looking in? It might have happened if not for a missed FG return.

I'm not bitching about the BCS's unfairness or inequalities. I'm complaining about the entertainment the BCS robs from the college football fan. We don't get to see OSU and Bama decide who is best on the field. Or OSU and Auburn for that matter. Instead of letting the gladiators fight it out in the arena head-to-head, they fight against their own local neighbors. Then someone somewhere somehow decides which 2 are the best and they fight to be crowned champion.

The BCS deprives us of big games between contenders to decide who is worthy of a shot at the Championship. The BCS deprives us of the thrill of elimination football. We get to enjoy it in the pros, and in all other college sports. But not big time football. And I hate the BCS for that. Good riddance.

And to the Ohio State players celebrating, you were a 2-point conversion away from being knocked out by Michigan. And you still must play Michigan State. I hope you lose and make things even more confusing.

And there's a chance Auburn could get in, but it won't be because they beat Ohio State or Florida State. Michigan State and Duke have more control over Auburn's national title hopes than Auburn does.

And how must Stanford and Oregon feel? Had they beaten USC and Arizona, respectively, then they'd be near the front of the line if OSU or Florida State lose their conference title games.

And for the record, I don't feel an ounce of pity for Alabama's A.J. McCarron. Mostly because of this...

Going home to that must be, in a word, comforting.

Antonio Smith Accuses Patriots of Cheating

After the Houston Texans their 10th straight game, defensive end Antonio Smith indirectly accused the Patriots of somehow knowing something that they shouldn't have been able to know:

"You can tell they changed their scheme in the second half. It's miraculous they changed some things on offense that keyed on what we put on this week to stop what they were doing. They did things they never did all year before. It was a specific thing that was important to what we were going to do today, as to how we were going to call the defense. We'd not ever did it before, and they never changed like that before. It just let me know that something wasn't right.

"Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are among the best at their craft because they work so hard at their craft. But you have to be a descendant of Tones-tradamus (sic) to know what we put in this week to be able to change that fast. I got the only crystal ball in existence. I don't know what it is. Either teams are spying on us or something's going on."

That's supposed to be Nostradamus. Before saying all that, Smith was asked for an example of what the Patriots did:

"I can't tell you an example because it's G-15 classified. It's a defensive thing that we might continue to use... I'm trying to say it without giving it away. When you watch film of the team do something a certain way all the time no matter what team they play - it's been 12 games played and they always did it - and then all of a sudden it's changed? It was pretty clever and pretty suspicious."

I believe "G-15 classified" refers to a scene in Rush Hour.

Smith was asked if the Patriots offense knew what the Texans defense was going to do before they did it:

"I'm saying it seemed like it. You can't never be for sure on anything because I ain't over there in their huddle, in their locker room, but it just felt like it."

It's hard to discuss the validity of Smith's accusations without knowing exactly what he is accusing the Patriots of doing. Nevertheless, this lack of information won't stop people from speculating, and some from concluding, so let's join in the uber-hypothetical fun.

Smith seems to accuse the Pats of knowing something before they could have known it. So that would mean the Pats spied on Houston's practices, or somehow got a tip, or hacked into Wade Philips' GMail account, or planted a bug in Houston's locker room.

It's a weird accusation because the Patriots offense played like crap for half of this game. The adjustments seemed to occur in the third quarter. So did the Patriots get their illicit foreknowledge during halftime? If they knew about Houston's tactics before the game, why wait until halftime to adjust? And if they adjusted to Houston at halftime, what's so alarmingly suspicious about that?

The Texans have been a poor second half team all season. They've had a lead at halftime 5 times this year, and lost EVERY time. They blew three halftime leads in November alone, including a 21-3 lead to the Colts.

At the same time, the Patriots have made some big second half comebacks.

Smith's evidence seems flimsy at best. The Patriots adjusted to something Houston was doing, and hadn't done all season. The Patriots seemed to adjust too quickly than they should have been able to. At least too quickly by Antonio Smith's reckoning. What Houston was doing and how New England adjusted remain a mystery to us.

This won't stop rabid Patriot haters from using this to convince themselves that Belichick cheats and that the continued success of the Patriots is a moral affront to football and to America, and must be stopped at all costs. No matter how many asterisks or worn out SpyGate jokes it takes.

This also probably won't stop the Houston Texans from losing games. Smith comes across as paranoid, emotional, and just tired of losing. I can't say I blame him. Losing 10 in a row, 5 of which you led at halftime, it must wear you down. Then you try something new against a good team, it works for 30 minutes, yet you still lose. You're bound to entertain crazy theories and wild ideas.

Still, there's no crying in football.

Patriots Again Wait Until Halftime to Start Playing

The Patriots continue to dig holes for themselves, then climb out of them and finish on top. Just barely. If not for 106 yards of Stephen Gostkowski field goals, the Patriots would have fallen to 8-4.

Tom Brady's performance was the biggest difference between halves. In the first two quarters he was inaccurate. He wasn't driving the ball, he was tossing it. He lobbed a pass intended for Gronkowski that was a real turkey. It was intercepted by Johnathan Joseph. That led to a Houston field goal.

In the second half Brady found a rhythm. He spread the ball to 8 different receivers, but most of the time he targeted Gronk and Edelman (12 targets each). Amendola and Vereen were his secondary targets (5 and 6 targets, respectively).

Gronkowski's return to the lineup has turned Tom Brady into a different thrower. Gronk can catch anything near him. So many balls that would be uncatchable for other players are catchable for Gronk. NFL officials, are you paying attention?

The impact of Shane Vereen's return has been less obvious, but still important. Almost all of his catches are key plays in the drive. He finally caught his first TD of the season in this game. In 4 games he's caught 23 passes for 183 yards. All other Patriot RBs have combined for 27 catches and 178 yards. Vereen adds another dimension to this offense.

As the offense has taken steps forward, the defense has taken steps back. They're struggling to stop the run, they're struggling on third down, and now they're allowing big plays.

I'll praise the defense for stopping Houston twice in the 4th quarter. Then again, Andre Johnson helped them out with a drop. And these aren't the Broncos or the Saints. These are the Texans. And the Patriots allowed 31 points.

With no Wilfork and no Mayo, the running defense probably won't improve. And I don't know how many times I can endure seeing Dont'a Hightower wandering aimlessly around the field until I snap. Hightower just seems sluggish and casual, like he's playing a post Thanksgiving dinner game of two hand touch with his family.

The offense must continue to produce for this team to win. Sound familiar? One difference between this situation and years past is that this is a much less finesse kind of offense. Gronkowski has always been a beast. Now you add big runners like Blount and Develin. I think Edelman is tough for his size too. This is a physical offense.

The Patriots host the 4-8 Browns next week. They can clinch an AFC East title with a win and a Miami loss/tie.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/David J. Phillip