Thursday, January 30, 2014

What the Patriots Need Besides Wide Receivers

For going on 2 weeks I've heard it and read it everywhere: The Patriots need wide receiver help. I couldn't agree more.

That being said, most of you sound like whiny little kids in the checkout line at the grocery store, pleading with their parents to buy them candy bars from the impulse item rack or else they'll throw a temper tantrum. "I want Larry Fitzgerald now!" "We want Anquan Boldin!" "Give us James Jones!" "We need Emmanuel Sanders!" and so on.

I want better receivers too and hopefully the Patriots get some. There are, however, other areas of the team that if improved, will dramatically increase the likelihood of another Patriots Super Bowl win...

#1 The Pass Rush
I'm surprised that after the Pats lost to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game nobody complained much about the complete and utter lack of a pass rush on Peyton Manning. I'm not talking about sacks. I'm talking about reducing a great quarterback's time to find open receivers. Manning had all day on almost every snap.

The one play Manning was truly pressured, he lobbed a ball to a double-covered Wes Welker. Had Kyle Arrington turned around to play the ball, he would have at least batted it down, and could have intercepted it. Pressure created a playmaking opportunity.

A pass rush forces bad passes, throws out of bounds, shorter routes. It makes coverage more manageable for DBs and lets them be more aggressive. It can reduce the effectiveness of a good/great QB (the type you meet in the playoffs), and can force a mediocre/poor QB to make game-losing mistakes. When the Patriots defense owned Manning back in 2003-2004, it was because the pass rush pressured him. When the Patriots went 18-1, it was a pass rush that defeated them.

How to improve the pass rush? Getting Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo helps, as these are guys who occupy attention and allow others to make plays in the backfield. Chandler Jones recorded 11.5 sacks, tied for 7th in the NFL. He's doing his job. Add another guy on the edge and not necessarily a guy who's going to get 10+ sacks. Just someone strong and fast enough who will put a clock in the QB's head and force him to get rid of the ball sooner than he'd like.

I'd also like to see the Patriots change their mindset on defense and be much more aggressive. They've tried the bend-don't-break approach for years. It does reduce opposing points, but it also lets the opponent stay on the field for far too long. It puts all the pressure on the offense to score points in fewer drives that start from poor field position.

I think the defense, with Mayo, Wilfork, Jones, and an improving secondary, is good enough to be given a longer leash. Let them loose, let them go after the quarterback.

#2 Another Experienced CB
Aqib Talib is the most irreplaceable defensive player on the team. And even if you retain his services, you still have to hope/pray he remains healthy down the stretch.

When Talib is out the Patriots miss his skills, but they also lose a guy who knows what he's doing. The Pats have a crop of talented young DBs, but you can't draft wisdom or coach experience. I'd like to see the Pats add another experienced corner. He doesn't have to be amazing. Just someone who's been around a few years and knows what they're doing. Someone who knows his own capabilities, knows how to play the position, won't get tricked, won't make stupid decisions that lead to big plays.

And if Talib gets hurt, the veteran can assume Talib's coverage responsibilities. He'll probably get burnt, but at least everyone else can stay with their planned assignments and losing one DB won't result in 3 mismatches (as it did against Denver this year and Baltimore last year). It's better to be burnt by one guy than toasted by an entire team. And if you have a smart player, at least he'll know what he's doing, and (in theory) won't be burnt as badly.

And obviously if you don't retain Talib, you either need to replace him or dramatically improve somewhere else, like the pass rush.

I know adding an average, veteran cornerback and reducing the time opposing QBs have to throw by half a second isn't as exhilarating or as emotionally satisfying as acquiring a 1,000+ yard wide receiver. It's sort of like getting socks for Christmas compared to an X-Box. But the Patriots need both. They need playmakers on offense, and on defense they need guys who can limit opposing playmakers.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tim Thomas Throws a Nutty

I'm a big Tim Thomas fan. What he did for the Bruins was amazing. I like him because his career path was so untraditional, and required hard work and determination. The guy played all over the US and Europe before getting a chance as an NHL goalie. And in his two Vezina winning seasons, he began each campaign as the backup then earned the #1 spot.

I don't like what he did Tuesday night, slashing Bruins forward Carl Soderberg on the neck. It was a dangerous play.

I did enjoy Jack Edwards' indignation. After years of orgasming every time Thomas aggressively "protected" himself in the crease, Edwards now wants Thomas suspended. I used to think Edwards was just another homer announcer, only more exuberant than most. Now I think he's more of a hypocrite with double standards for the B's and the 29 other teams.

And you Bruins fans should measure your anger at this play. Listen to the TD Garden crowd chant Thomas' name after this slashing incident in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals...

You loved when Thomas did this stuff for you. You don't get to act like you have moral high ground when he does this wearing a different uniform.

After the game Thomas joked about the State of the Union being less painful for him to watch then allowing 6 goals, and claimed that his slash of Soderberg was a response to something Soderberg did to him on a previous play.

Thomas has always actively defended himself. A slash to the neck is significantly worse than a slash to the leg, and I think a suspension or hefty fine would be appropriate disciplinary action for the League to take.

But I still like Thomas. I like him because of that fire he brings to the game.

And unlike Wes Welker, Thomas didn't injure one of his former team's most important players.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tom Brady Needs Better Tools, and the Patriots Need a Better Tom Brady

Tom Brady needs more and better tools. By the same token, Brady needs to do his job with those tools. Brady didn't do his job this season. The Patriots should give Brady better pass catchers for next season, but Brady must throw better than he did this season.

The Patriots need more and better targets for Brady. That's obvious. Last year they planned/hoped to have Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and long shot rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. Those plans fell apart due to arrests and injuries. The Patriots' season ended with Austin Collie as the second most effective receiver on the field, Michael Hoomanawanui being targeted multiple times, and Matthew Slater being thrown to for the first time all year. That's just not good enough.

The season also ended with Brady missing Edelman and Collie. Also not good enough.

There's a wealth of talent on the wide receiver market. And size. The Patriots need to look for size. Size matters.

The Patriots need receivers that are matchup problems for opponents. As effective as Edelman is and as a healthy Amendola can be, they don't give defenses headaches. They are who they are and covering them is pretty straightforward. When someone like Gronkowski is on the field, however, the defense is forced to focus on playing against him. That leads to opportunities for everyone else. And Brady is a master at exploiting those mismatches. Guys like Gronkowski bring their own production and also boost the production of others. The Pats need another guy like that.

Which is why the Pats need a big, strong receiver. It will make everyone more productive because defenses will be forced to adjust to the threat. And then you're also no longer overly dependent on a tight-end who is playing physical on every snap, especially on running plays. Gronk was targeted 67 times in his 7 games. He caught 39 passes. Most of those in tight coverage, most of those plays ending with gang tackles or hard shots to his legs. The less wear and tear on him, the better.

I think Aaron Dobson works as a simple, vertical player. Obviously Edelman excels at the underneath stuff. Amendola is serviceable so long as he gets favorable matchups. And he'll get those matchups if the Patriots get that power receiver. And then Edelman will find gaps in coverage. And Dobson will sometimes find himself in a favorable one-on-one matchup on the outside and get open for deep bombs. Defenses will be forced to worry about underneath, over the top, up the seams, on the sides, guys like Shane Vereen coming out of the backfield, and of course the run. Matchup difficulties, baby. Give the defensive coordinator a migraine.

Getting a big receiver helps Brady and the offense so much. The thing is, Brady must help them back. "Do Your Job," became a Patriot mantra this season and at times Brady didn't do his job. His job is to find open receivers and send them the ball. His job was sometimes more difficult because of what he had to work with. But how many times did we see him completely miss open receivers?

The poor throws to Edelman and Collie against the Broncos were the latest examples. I've heard the argument/complaint/excuse that "Brady had to be perfect this season," but he didn't. He just had to make one more good throw to Edelman. Then the game changes. An abstract part of Brady's job is to change the game. He's paid to be a game-changer. He didn't do any game changing against Denver.

Just think about how much flak Edelman would have gotten if he dropped a well-thrown pass there. Edelman's job is to catch, Brady's is to throw catchable balls. Who did their job with more consistency this season?

Such missed throws were not a rarity for Brady in 2013.

Remember the non-pass interference call against Carolina? That ball was deemed uncatchable because it wasn't near Gronkowski. It was underthrown. Brady threw low and short to a 6' 7" tight-end. The officiating became the story, but if Brady throws a better ball then maybe Gronk makes a catch or the refs call the penalty. Who had more impact on Gronk's inability to make a play on that ball: Luke Kuechly or Tom Brady?

I'm not trying to saddle everything on Brady. He's one of the best ever and still one of the best in the NFL. Even as he ages, his mind remains sharp, and when he makes the throws it's truly a thing of beauty. I'm blaming his play. It wasn't good enough. He didn't do his job enough. Personally I think he played a significant part of the season with an injury, and not to his hand. Regardless of the cause of his play, he must play better to take advantage of any new weapons the Patriots give him.

You can give a man the best guns and ammo on the planet. But if he misses the target, what's the point?

If the Patriots give him tools, Brady has to do his job.

Photo Credit:
Barry Chin/Boston Globe Staff

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bruins Bully Flyers

On Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, the Bruins looked like a rested team that had been playing reasonably well. The Flyers looked like they just wanted to lose and go home. As spiritless as the Flyers played, I think an AHL team could have beaten them.

The Bruins took advantage of that, and never let themselves turn on the cruise control and coast to the end of the game. They continued to push and continued to score.

Zdeno Chara and Jarome Iginla each scored two goals. Chara's 10th and 11th goals of the season both came on the power play. If Chara continues to excel offensively, he might win the trophy for best defensive player in the NHL. Which speaks volumes about how the Norris Trophy is determined.

Iginla scores goals in bursts. Lots of the Bruins do. The B's now have 8 players with 10+ goals. This type of spread-out productivity can be an advantage, it can also be a weakness. If enough players are in a cold stretch, the team falls into a funk and leans heavily on Rask and the defensemen. This happened a few weeks ago. It also happened in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Bruins also spread out their fights. Eleven Bruins have dropped the gloves this season.

One negative to take from this game is that the penalty kill allowed another goal. Since Dennis Seidenberg's loss the Bruins have killed 30 of 43 power plays, an abysmal 69.8%. Before Seidenberg's injury the B's had killed 86.9% of their penalties. The Bruins' PK has dropped to 14th in the NHL.

I'd like the Bruins to get a penalty killing defenseman. I'm not worried about "puck-moving" or "minute-eating," I want a guy who can play the penalty kill. That's the only requirement. The Bruins CANNOT win a Stanley Cup without a strong penalty kill.

The Bruins are on Long Island tonight to face the Islanders. The Islanders are third to last in the Eastern Conference but have beaten the B's twice this season.

Photo Credit:
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bill Belichick vs. Wes Welker Continues After Game, a.k.a. PickGate

Did Wes Welker set a pick on Aqib Talib? Clearly. Was it intent to injure? Only Welker knows that. Was it a targeted hit on Talib? Probably.

Bill Belichick seems to think so. And I'm inclined to agree. I know by agreeing with Belichick, that somehow invalidates my opinions. The cool thing to do is to disagree with him, and to side with Wes Welker. That's what people do when someone stands up to Belichick the bully. The media, the fans, they all side with the poor David of a player standing up to the Goliath of Patriot Management. Welker is like Bob Cratchit standing up to Scrooge, or the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi fighting against the Empire and Darth Belichick.

Welker's play was dirty. Maybe not an explicit intent to injure, but certainly an intent to hurt. I do think Belichick used some hyperbole in his remarks, making his comments sound like sour grapes. I've seen dirtier hits from defensive backs and receivers. Some of them wearing a Patriots uniform.

What makes me think Welker's actions were intentionally dirty is the timing, the players involved, and the potential benefits of hindering/hurting/injuring Talib. Not necessarily knocking him out of the game, but hitting him around enough so that he was less effective. The game-ending injury was a bonus for the Broncos.

The Broncos were held to 3 points in the 1st quarter (only the 19th time in 69 quarters of play that the Broncos failed to score a TD). Part of that was because Talib was covering Demariyus Thomas. Thomas had 1 catch for 29 yards in the 1st quarter. Once Talib was removed, Thomas exploded for 6 catches, 105 yards, and a TD. Without Talib, the Pats' coverage on other receivers also struggled, as everyone was forced to shift assignments.

It's something Welker witnessed first hand in last year's AFC Championship game against Baltimore. Talib left that game with a thigh injury. Anquan Boldin, whom Talib had been covering, took advantage of Talib's absence and scored 2 touchdowns. Meanwhile the rest of the Patriots' secondary struggled with their adjusted responsibilities. Talib's presence allows Dennard and Arrington to cover easier assignments. It also allows the safeties to give them more help.

Taking Talib off the chess board (or making him less mobile on it) would make things easier for all of Denver's offensive pieces to get open. Welker knew that.

I'm not saying Welker meant to injure Talib. But how often did we see him run into defensive backs like that while he was here? It didn't seem accidental. Maybe it was a mistimed block, which seems odd after the refs flagged New England for setting a pick.

Which is more likely, that Welker was setting an early block or that he saw Talib and saw an opportunity to make a hit on the Patriots' most important defensive player?

In hockey if a player hits someone away from the play like that, we assume there is an intention. If someone took a similar run at Zdeno Chara in a playoff game, for instance, everyone would know that it was deliberate and targeted. Especially if the team that took him out was struggling to score. So what was Welker's intention? To block? To send a message? To make an impact on a key part of the opposing defense which had done well to contain your high-powered offense?

Which is most likely?

Welker had motive: his team had been struggling to put up points and their best receiver wasn't much of a factor.

He had the opportunity as crossing plays are a big part of Denver's offense.

And he knew what losing Talib would do to the Pats' defense after seeing it firsthand against the Ravens last season and seeing how well Talib did against Thomas in the regular season (4 catches, 41 yards).

The most important defensive player was injured by an ex-teammate running into him away from the play. That's suspicious at the very least. It's probably intentional, and likely dirty. I think Belichick was a bit over the top in his analysis of the play. Then again, I'd be pissed too.

I don't think Welker should be suspended or fined or hated by Patriots fans for this. It was a physical play. He went after a key player on the opposing team. We've praised that type of play from the Patriots for years and criticized the lack of it when it's not there. Marginal dirtiness is something the Patriots are known for.

However, it is time to dismiss the childish fairy tale notion that Wes Welker represents the forces of Good fighting against Evil. It's time for media and fans to stop "feeling good" for Welker's success with the Broncos. He's a person, he's a football player, and he did something that was marginally dirty on Sunday. He injured the most important defensive player on the hometown team. Sorry, but that doesn't jive with the narrative that he's the good David fighting against the evil Goliath. He didn't use a slingshot to take down the Patriots, he used a dirty play.

Leave Richard Sherman Alone

Immediately after this frightening interview, Richard Sherman became the center of the football world. But I don't think what he said was out of line. How he said it was shocking. I bet Erin Andrews wishes she could go back to interviewing Koji Uehara's son. Sherman was hyped up, in the moment. That whole team rails adderall anyway so we shouldn't be surprised when one of their most energetic players has a bit too much energy.

Sherman talked trash about his opponent. So what. Wasn't that what we were primed for in this game? "These teams hate each other." We heard that all week. Sherman expressed the hate we'd been told to expect, then he gets criticized for it?

He didn't do or say anything violent, anything inappropriate, anything obscene. And when he had calmed down later his interviews were heavy helpings of the same flavorless porridge we get from everyone else.

I suppose what he said was technically "classless," since it wasn't classy. But if we go out and look for classless things in pro sports, we'll be very busy. Sherman isn't any more classless than most athletes. What he did was bring his true personality to a segment of sports coverage we've been conditioned to expect polished and polite responses. Thank teammates, thank coaches, option to thank family and/or God, praise opponent, then for some reason say "thank you" to the interviewer. Sherman was himself for an interview. Who cares?

The outcry in response to Sherman's "classlessness" ironically verged on being more classless and inappropriate. Justin Verlander, who plays baseball, which is not football, Tweeted this...

Is that tweet considered classy or classless? I'm not a member of the Classless Police, so please tell me.

So this baseball player is suggesting that if an NFL defensive back were to play baseball, he'd be taught a lesson. Okay, Justin. I respect Verlander as a pitcher, as an athlete, and for hooking up with Kate Upton. But baseball players shouldn't be touting the physicality of their sport to football players.

Maybe I find all this Sherman backlash to be amusing and trivial because I'm a Patriots fan. I've heard my favorite athletes and coach called "classless" countless times. The word carries little weight with me. And if you are a Patriots fan and you have a problem with Sherman being "classless," remember that in 2006 the Patriots celebrated a playoff win over San Diego by dancing on the Chargers' logo, and we all ripped LaDainian Tomlinson for whining about classiness and classlessness. And in the Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl Mike Vrabel flapped his arms like the Eagles after scoring a touchdown. It's an emotional game.

So don't be a hypocrite. Don't hate Sherman because he was emotional and in the moment. I thought he acted like a bit of a clown. And a good clown is an entertaining one. But also kind of scary. And Sherman pulled that off Sunday night.

Patriots' Season Ends in Denver

Pressure. The game of football is about pressure. You pressure an opponent, they pressure you, and the clock pressures everyone. To win you must put pressure on an opponent and play well under pressure.

On Sunday the Patriots failed to put any significant pressure on Peyton Manning. For all the talk about Manning struggling in pressure situations, he never found himself in one. The defense rarely pressured him in the pocket, his receivers weren't pressured (especially once Aqib Talib left the game), and the Patriots offense didn't pressure him to put up points.

The Pats gave up 2 touchdowns and 4 field goals. That's not bad against the Broncos. That was the third fewest points they've scored this season. The Pats defense didn't allow a huge number of points but they allowed yardage and possession time. They allowed almost 0.3 miles of offense. And they couldn't make a big third down stop.

The offensive side of the ball was an even bigger letdown. Before Denver went to softer coverage in the 4th quarter, Brady threw only a handful of good passes. He overthrew Julian Edelman on what could have been a touchdown. He missed Austin Collie just before halftime on what would have been a huge gain. What happens in this game if these two plays are made?

The plays were there. The Patriots didn't make them. In the 2nd quarter on 3rd and 9, Manning threw a duck into double coverage. And if Kyle Arrington had turned around to play the ball he probably would have intercepted it. At the very least he would have broken the play up and ended the drive. Instead it was caught by Welker for a first down. The Broncos went on to score a touchdown on that drive.

While the Patriots failed to make big plays, the Broncos succeeded. On the same drive that Arrington could have had an interception, Knowshon Moreno gained 28 yards on a 3rd and 10 draw. The Broncos sacked Brady on a pivotal 3rd and 8 play the next drive, and later in the game on a 4th and 2 attempt. Last week I wrote about the timing of big plays the Patriots made against the Colts. This week the Broncos had excellent timing against the Pats.

Tom Brady had an awful game. Maybe he has an injured hand. Maybe he has the flu. Maybe he just had a bad day. Whatever the cause, the effect was a hole dug too deeply to get out of. The defense could have done better, maybe gotten off the field on a few 3rd downs, but I think the blame for this loss lies mostly with the offense. Three points in three quarters? The Pats only scored when Denver's defense eased up.

To be fair to Brady he didn't have much to work with. With a struggling running game the offense looked shabby, like the Patriots had picked people from the stands to play. Shane Vereen was the second most targeted receiver. Danny Amendola did nothing, and had a big fat drop. You're targeting Matthew Slater and Matthew Mulligan. And when receivers did beat coverage, Brady either missed them or he was sacked.

It was an anticlimactic end to what was an exciting season. I'm not as miserable as most fans are. I enjoyed the ride, not knowing where or when it would end. I didn't set my expectations high for this team. I didn't set any expectations. I had hopes and I had doubts. The Patriots did better than my most pessimistic doubts and didn't do as well as my highest hopes.

The one thing I'm disappointed in is that the Patriots didn't go out with their best fight. They went out with a fizzle, not a bang. I think there were some missed opportunities early in this game. I think the defense could have been a bit more disguised. I would have liked to see some sellout blitzes. You couldn't take out all 4 of Manning's weapons, so focus on attacking Manning. Take a risk. What's the worse that can happen? You get burnt for a touchdown, but at least the drive is short.

The off-season should be interesting. So will next season, Pats fans, so cheer up.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Joe Mahoney

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Patriots-Broncos Drinking Game: AFC Championship Edition

It's almost here. Patriots vs. Broncos. Manning vs. Brady. Belichick vs. Welker. The time for talk has ended. Now it's time for two teams to play football. And for millions of people to heavily drink responsibly. Here's a drinking game to play while enjoying the AFC Championship Game.

Anytime a commentator says...
"Brady" = take 1 drink from a beer
"Manning" = 1 drink
"Legacy" = 1 drink
"History" = 1 drink
"The game" = 1 drink
"Meeting" = 1 drink
"Playoffs" = 1 drink
"Super Bowl" = 1 drink
"Eli" = drink for 10 seconds
"Mile High" = either take a shot of liquor or inhale a certain substance recently legalized in Colorado
"Home field" = 1 drink
"Blount" = either 1 drink or do the same as "Mile High"
"Mild" or "balmy" or any token weather remark = 1 drink
"Hoomanawanui" or any abbreviation = 1 drink the first time, 2 the second, and so on
"Logan" = 1 drink
Anything about the air being thin = hold your breath for 15 seconds then drink for 5 seconds

Anytime this is on screen...
Highlights from previous Brady/Manning games = drink for the entire highlight
Highlights of Brady/Patriots struggling in Denver = drink for the entire highlight
Clip or photo of Wes Welker in a Patriots jersey = 1 shot
Rodney Harrison = drink for 37 seconds
Ty Law = drink for 24 seconds
John Elway = drink for 7 seconds
Tim Tebow = finish your beer, take a shot
A rocky mountain = drink a can of Coors Light (it's water anyway)
Injured Patriot(s) on the sidelines, in a suite, on film = 1 drink per player
A graphic detailing injured Patriots = 1 drink per player
Vince Wilfork = 1 drink and eat 10 chicken wings
Rob Gronkowski (in person or on film) = finish your beer and Gronk-spike it
A Patriots fan in the stands = 1 drink per fan
A horse = half a beer
Peyton Manning in a suit and tie = 1 drink
Manning wearing something other than football jersey or suit and tie = 1 whole beer and 3 shots
Robert Kraft = 1 drink
Kraft talking to someone = drink the entire time he's talking
Jonathan Kraft watching the game with intensity, as if he were a coach = 1 drink

Anytime this happens...
Peyton Manning featured in a commercial = 1 drink
Manning says the name of a city (e.g. "Omaha") = 1 drink
Manning says the name of a state = 2 drinks
Manning says the name of a region or country = 5 drinks
Manning seems to change the play = 1 drink
Commentators praise Manning for play-calling = 1 drink
Manning makes a Manningface = 1 drink, and a free pass if you vomit
Tom Brady says "Alpha Milk" = 1 drink (bonus points for drinking a White Russian)
Brady points out the "Mike" = 1 drink (for bonus points, 6 drinks of Mike's Hard Lemonade)
You can actually hear Brady say anything before the snap = 1 drink
Somebody besides Manning or Brady makes a play, and the commentators continue to discuss Manning and/or Brady = 1 drink
Brady and/or Manning are compared with all-time greats = 1 drink
Brady throws to a tight-end = half a beer
That tight-end actually catches the pass = the other half of the beer
A commentator jokes or laughs about the complexity of Michael Hoomanawanui's name = 1 drink and 1 shot
Patriots run the ball = 1 drink
Patriots go play-action = 1 drink
Stevan Ridley runs the ball and doesn't fumble = 1 drink
Ridley fumbles = 1 shot
Patriots get into the Red Zone = 1 drink
Patriots score in the Red Zone = 1 drink for a field goal, a drink and a shot for a TD
50+ yard field goal attempt = 1 drink
Kickoff touchback = 1 drink
Kickoff return = drink for the entire return

So enjoy the game, enjoy the MLK Day hangover, and remember to get lubed up responsibly.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bruins Beat Whalers... I Mean Stars

Did anyone else look at the TV during Thursday night's Bruins game, see the color of the Dallas Star jerseys, and just for a moment think that the B's were playing the Hartford Whalers?

The Stars would become my second favorite hockey team if they adopted Brass Bonanza as their anthem.

The Bruins really needed to get points from this game. Dallas has been mired in a tremendous slump. The Stars were 1-6 in January entering this game. The Bruins have also been slumping, though not as badly. They've only managed 6 points in their last 8 games. They have the Blackhawks and Kings after this, so leaving Texas with 2 points was a necessity.

It was good to see Chad Johnson (hockey) play solidly. The minimum standard of play from a backup is someone who doesn't put his team in position to lose. You want a backup who is decent enough to make winning possible. Johnson did his job Thursday night. I wouldn't mind seeing him a few more times until Tuukka Rask is as sharp as usual.

It was also good to see the Bruins' top forwards carry the load and score some goals. Krejci, Marchand, Lucic, and Bergeron all scored. Krejci, Lucic, and Bergeron all had assists. The B's even scored on the power play. And it was a forward (Lucic) who did it! Not Chara or Krug! Krug did have an assist on that goal, his team leading 13th power play point.

I have faith the Bruins will play their way out of this funk. But the penalty kill allowed yet another goal. And beating Dallas doesn't demonstrate that they're out of it, or even that they've started to play out of it. It's a 2-point grab when you're playing poorly. If they play well in their next games, then maybe they'll be playing their way back into a groove.

The Bruins play Sunday afternoon in Chicago on NBC. Which is a nice appetizer before the main course of the AFC Championship.

Photo Credit:
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I'm Sick of Hearing About Legacies

What does this game mean for Tom Brady's legacy? Peyton Manning's? Bill Belichick's? Who needs to win a Super Bowl more this year?


I am so completely and utterly tired of hearing legacies discussed on sports radio and at work, and being bombarded with stories about the topic. It's trivial crap. People are speculating and conjecturating (I know that's not a word, it's a Johnnie Cochranism) about what a game to be played in the future will mean in the more distant future when people look back on the past, which is our present. That does not make sense.

Can't we just look ahead at this future game and suppose what might happen WITHIN the game itself? Can't we say the Patriots need to hit Wes Welker and put him off his game, then find a way to pressure Manning without blitzing? Can't we say that if the Broncos hold on to the ball and slow down the Pats' running game, they have a good chance of winning?

Nope! We have to philosophize about the larger meaning of the game. What does it all mean?

Which is funny because whoever wins, this game will add nothing to their "legacy" if they lose the Super Bowl.

We don't know what will happen in this game. Which is why I can't wait for it to be played. I'm anxious, nervous, excited, optimistic. I'm ready to be entertained, hopeful to be elated, prepared to be disappointed. I'm on the edge of my seat thinking about how I won't be able to sit down on Sunday.

The other reason I can't wait for this game to be played is so people will shut up about legacies. Although they won't. Because one of these QBs will go to the Super Bowl, which means 2 more weeks of legacy talk. Along with the whole "changing of the guard" theme as Brady or Manning faces Kaepernick or Wilson.

What happens on Sunday is still unknown to us, to everyone. So I'm tired of people who don't know what will happen on Sunday, arguing with each other about how those unknown events will be seen by future generations of fans. Who cares and how can you know? How can you even guess? It's like speculating about how a child who isn't even born yet will be seen by his/her future kids.

Just live in the now, people. Enjoy the exciting build up, have fun watching the game, and stop thinking about legacies.

Why I'm Still Happy the Bruins Traded Seguin

The Bruins are in Dallas, facing off against a former Bruin who left the town quietly, but has since made considerable noise in his new city. Tyler Seguin has scored 21 goals with an equal number of assists for the Stars. He's well on his way to breaking personal bests for goals in a season (29) and points (67), both set in 2011-12.

There's two arguments one can construct from Seguin's rebirth in Dallas:

1. The Bruins were wrong to trade him, because look how well he's doing. The Bruins let a talented player go.

2. The Bruins were right to trade him, because look how well he's doing. The Bruins got rid of a player who wasn't living up to his potential.

I agree more with Argument #2. The fact that Seguin is doing so well in Dallas proves that he wasn't playing up to his potential in Boston. You can argue that the B's perhaps gave up on him too early. Then again he had three seasons to get with the program here. His on-ice performance showed no improvement. Actually the opposite. Especially in the playoffs. And his off-ice priorities were, in a word, selfish.

That's why he's a Dallas Star and not a Boston Bruin.

He still has talent. No doubt about that. That's why he's doing so well in Dallas. That's why he scored 29 goals and 38 assists in 2011-12. Talent isn't an issue for him. He has the potential to score 30-40 goals and add 50+ assists with the right linemates.

The issue with Seguin was how he deployed that talent, and how he failed to take full advantage of it. Strike that. He CHOSE not to take full advantage of it. He didn't put in the effort to be a Boston Bruin, he lacked confidence playing outside his comfort zone (which the playoffs require you to do), and didn't show a willingness to acknowledge and address the aspects of his game that needed attention.

Regular season performance wasn't an issue for Seguin. Although in 2012-13 he took a slight step back in production. He went from 29 goals and 67 points to 16 goals and 32 assists in a lockout shortened season. That's a pace for 28 goals and 54 points.

Then there's the playoffs...

A friend of mine pointed out that he scored some crucial goals in 2011 against Tampa Bay. And that's true. He scored in Game 1 and twice in Game 2. He also had 2 assists in Game 2. A great start to his postseason career.

His playoff production since then and overall, well, there isn't really any playoff production to speak of. In 42 career postseason games, about half a season, he's scored 6 goals with 12 assists. His playoff goal production was half of what his regular season production was for the Bruins (a goal every 3.6 games in his regular season Bruins career, a goal every 7 games in his playoff career).

He's played in 7 series and only scored a goal in 3 of them. In 4 series, including 2 Stanley Cup Finals, he's failed to score.

And in his last 40 playoff games he's managed to score a mere 3 goals with 9 assists. Twelve points. In 40 games.

Then you look at his off-ice priorities. I don't mind athletes having a good time. But Seguin was compulsive about it. And he seemed to get worse year after year. Maybe only what we heard got worse. Either way it showed no sign of improving, which mirrors his on-ice performance. Seguin needed a security guard to keep him in his hotel room during the Stanley Cup Finals. If he were scoring a goal a night, I wouldn't mind if he went out and drank 20 beers then hooked up with an entire Northeastern sorority. He wasn't doing his job in the playoffs yet he still wanted to celebrate.

Before all that there was the lockout. Most NHLers who played in European leagues went there to stay sharp and earn some cash. Seguin went there to binge. He chose the team and league his buddies were playing in. There were reports of him trashing rooms. And I'm sure he had his share of fun.

And I wouldn't have cared about that if he had returned to the Bruins and scored 20 regular season goals then 9 or 10 more in the playoffs. He didn't.

Maybe he's got his act together in Dallas. Maybe being traded was a wakeup call (something he's had trouble with in the past). Maybe the Bruins cut ties too soon. Then again they got decent players in return. Reilly Smith has 15 goals and 18 assists, already more points than Seguin had last year (in about the same number of games), and only needs to score once in the playoffs to match Seguin's total last season.

Seguin seems comfortable in Dallas. His problem up here was that winning requires you to go outside your comfort zone. And instead of being willing to risk discomfort in the pursuit of being a better hockey player, he'd prefer to go drinking with his male-groupie pals and bang some broads.

Good for you, Tyler. And good riddance.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Broncos and Seahawks Trying to Keep Patriots and 49ers Fans Out of Their Stadiums

There's a good chance you've already heard this story. Both the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have gotten cute and decided to try to keep visiting team fans from going to Sunday's Conference Championship games. They're doing this by not selling tickets to people with addresses outside of their region. Only fans with addresses in the Rockies can buy tickets to the AFC Championship, and the NFC Championship is being sold exclusively to those living in the Pacific Northwest.

It's ridiculously childish. And moronic. StubHub and Craigslist don't care where your money comes from. Neither do the countless other legitimate ticket brokers and illicit scalpers.

And who wants a stadium filled exclusively with their own fanbase? That's the remarkably childish aspect of this. That hurts atmosphere and crowd noise, it doesn't help it. Visiting team fans add to the raw emotional intensity of football. Just look at college football and the hordes of Alabama and Texas fans that follow their teams around the country. They come to town, they rile up the opposing fanbase, everyone takes the game personally because their enemy is sitting two rows behind them, and they want to see you feel miserable because your team failed. They cheer when your favorite player fumbles. They cheer when you're pissed. They're against you. I fucking hate them, don't you?!

That got away from me there but that's the kind of intensity visiting fans can bring.

I've been to every home Patriots game since 2007 and some of the most exciting atmospheres I've experienced at Gillette Stadium involve large numbers of visiting fans, especially at playoff games (the Ravens and Jets drew the most). There's tension in the building because of the animosity between the groups. There's a building energy as fan groups verbally react to every play and then emotionally react to each other's reactions. There are raised stakes because you spent an hour talking trash to the punk in the Revis jersey and you'd hate it if he gets to spend an hour talking trash to you. Victory becomes more enjoyable, defeat more painful. All on a personal level.

By the way there were plenty of Denver fans and Tebow fans at Gillette Stadium two years ago when the Broncos played the Patriots in the playoffs. We let you into our house. You can't extend the same courtesy to us?

Denver and Seattle don't want excitement and tension. They want monochromatic, bland, conformist fans at their games. No Brady or Kaepernick jerseys. Just Manning and Wilson. No blue and silver in Denver. No red and gold in Seattle. Everyone dressed the same, everyone cheering for the same team, everyone enjoying themselves the same. How very nice and pleasant. But the words "nice," and "pleasant" have no place in football.

That's just boring, just lame, just stupid. Grow up, Denver. Grow up, Seattle.

Flat Bruins Lie Down for Leafs

For most of this game the Bruins played flat, purposeless hockey. There were some occasional moments of spiked intensity. For the most part, however, the black and gold played a very gray game.

I'm not going to blame Tuukka Rask for the loss or for this slump. It's not his fault most of the team isn't playing well. He hasn't played poorly. Although he also hasn't played well. He isn't helping them get out of this funk. If the B's had a more reliable backup I'd suggest that Rask take a week off to regroup and refresh. You've got three non-conference games coming up, maybe Rask should play in only one of them. Maybe none.

Special teams are killing this team. The power play is 1 for its last 23 (4.3%) and the penalty kill has allowed goals in 10 of its last 27 (37%) shorthanded situations. The Bruins are also committing far too many careless, meaningless penalties. Since the Islanders game on New Year's Eve, they've had to kill 27 penalties and have only been on the power play 16 times. That's a difference of 11 in only 6 games.

The power play has been carried by defensemen all season long. But such production can't be relied on throughout an entire season. You can't depend on Chara (6 PP goals) sneaking in a rebound or Krug (4) driving in a slapshot. The forwards need to pull their weight. Chara and Krug have scored 10 of this team's 24 power play goals.

The return of Shawn Thornton has helped recharge the B's a bit. Brad Marchand put the Bruins up 1-0 a mere 35 seconds after a Thornton fight. Thornton was also on the ice when Gregory Campbell scored in the 3rd.

But each time the Bruins took the lead, they gave it back. They typically play harder after scoring a goal. Last night they downshifted after their first two goals. Very out of character.

They need to get their act together Thursday night in Dallas, because after that it's Chicago on the road and LA at home.

Photo Credit:
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Will Middlebrooks and Good Sports Team Up to Donate Equipment to Dorchester Community Center

Boston Red Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks teamed up with Boston-based nonprofit organization Good Sports to donate $2,000 worth of athletic equipment to the Bird Street Community Center in Dorchester on Thursday January 9. Good Sports' donation of more than $2,000 worth of basketball, baseball, volleyball, and fitness equipment will allow the Bird Street Community Center to continue to support 200 at-risk youth, who otherwise would not have access to sports and fitness programs.

Middlebrooks helped kids who were in attendance test their new equipment, took pictures, signed autographs, and ran a skills demonstration.

Since 2003, Good Sports has provided more than $10 million worth of equipment to 1,150 youth programs, impacting more than 800,000 kids.

Photos courtesy of Elevate Communications.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Patriots Stampede Colts on the Ground

For the 8th time in the Brady-Belichick era, the Patriots are in the NFL's final four. That's 8 times in 12 seasons (2001-2007, 2009-2013). Enjoy these moments, Patriots fans, because times like these are rare.

The game wasn't as lopsided as the 43-22 score suggests. There were periods that the Colts were just a play away from gaining control. They never made that play. All the big plays were made by the Patriots, or went the Pats' way.

Even the safety after a high-snap on a punt was a positive result of a Patriot miscue. Had punter Ryan Allen been tackled inside the 5, the Colts probably would have soon scored a touchdown, if not almost certainly a field goal. Instead Indy was awarded with 2 points, the Patriots got to punt from the 20, and Indy put together a long drive that ended with a turnover. If not for the safety, a 21-10 game probably would have become a 21-17 game.

Here's some earth-shattering analysis: the Patriots won this game on the ground. LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, and Shane Vereen combined for 233 yards on 43 carries (5.4 per carry). They demoralized the Colts defense in the first half. In the second half, they castrated them. This success on the ground set up play-action, which allowed for some big plays in the air. The Colts also brought their safeties close to the line, which allowed Blount to score a 73-yard TD in the 4th, because once he got past the first level there was nothing but green fieldturf ahead of him. A green carpet, if you will, to the end zone. To victory.

There was one drive in the first half that especially reminded me of Corey Dillon and the 2004 Patriots. The Pats ran the ball six straight plays, achieving two first downs. Then they went play action, which the Colts bit on, and Julian Edelman made a 27-yard reception. Eventually Blount finished the drive with a touchdown. His 4 TDs set a new franchise postseason record. Curtis Martin was the previous record holder with 3.

If you look at Brady's numbers (13 of 25, 198 yards, 0 TDs) one might think he had a bad day. I thought he played quite well. He made some plays, especially on 3rd down (Pats converted 11 of 18). He protected the ball. He got rid of it when he had to. He made big plays downfield (e.g. Danny Amendola's 53-yard reception). He wasn't just a "game manager" handing it off and making the occasional safe pass play.

He was also an adequate holder. And Stephen Gostkowski was a good punter. This team does not allow injuries or change to faze them. Shit happens, do your job, even if it's a job you haven't done in years or have never done.

The defense had excellent timing. They gave up a few big plays and a few long drives. However those were all when the Patriots had control of the game. The defense didn't allow Indy to seize control of the game or build any momentum.

And the D made some big plays themselves. Alfonzo Dennard's interception on the opening drive being the most obvious example.

Jamie Collins made some of the biggest plays. When it was 21-12 his 3rd and goal coverage of Coby Fleener in the end zone forced Indy to settle for a field goal. When it was 29-22 he sacked Andrew Luck for a loss of 8 and the Colts eventually went 3 and out. When it was 36-22 his interception effectively ended the game.

Collins' timing was perfect. He made big plays at key times that prevented the Colts from building momentum to mount a comeback. And he made a big play in the 4th quarter that sealed a victory. A sack, 2 tackles for a loss, 3 QB hits, a pass defended, and an interception. It's just one standout game from the rookie but his athleticism is obvious. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does for the team in 2014.

Of course 2013 isn't over yet, not for the Patriots. The Pats have another AFC Championship game to play. This time against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The weather forecast for Sunday's game in Denver is partly cloudy with a high of 55 and a low of 33. This week's forecast for the New England region is partly optimistic with a 100% chance of trivial speculation and excited trash talk.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Friday, January 10, 2014

Let's Give Credit to Bill Belichick the GM

Bill Belichick has been praised for what he's done as a Head Coach in 2013. His team won 12 games, won a division title, and secured a first-round bye despite relentless injuries to key players.

I've even heard this interesting "hot take" (which sounds like a porn term) from sports pundits: Belichick's coaching is even more remarkable and praiseworthy, because Belichick the GM puts Belichick the Coach in tough spots with questionable personnel decisions. Suddenly Belichick is two people. One is a genius coach, the other is a GM that doesn't really know what he's doing.

I disagree. I think Belichick does a great job as the GM.

There was a time when this belief was common in New England. If anything his prowess as GM was arguably overrated and certainly overhyped. Everything he did seemed correct, even if it was counterintuitive. He drafted Brady and won a Super Bowl. He signed Rodney Harrison and won a Super Bowl. He signed Corey Dillon and won a Super Bowl. He traded for Wes Welker and Randy Moss and nearly won a Super Bowl.

However, when the Super Bowl parades stopped and the parade of fan favorites leaving the team began (Seymour, Vinatieri, Samuel, Law, Vrabel, Moss, Welker, Woodhead), fans started to grumble, and question Belichick the GM.

Draft picks were scrutinized. When Belichick traded picks, Pats fans groaned and screamed in agony, like they were passing a jagged kidney stone.

The Patriots continued to make the playoffs, but failed to go all the way. And Belichick the GM was to blame. He was the one who failed to build a defensive backfield, the one who failed to draft an outside receiver, the one who failed to acquire a pass rusher.

Patriots fans let their emotions revise their favorite team's recent history.

After Belichick let Welker go to Denver, people forgot that it was a Welker drop and a Brady safety against the Giants that cost the Pats Super Bowl XLVI. In the new version of history it was the GM's fault, and the cheapness of the team he ran.

And Super Bowl XLII wasn't won by a ruthless Giants pass rush or a freakish catch by David Tyree. The GM simply didn't put together a roster with enough talent to win the Super Bowl. Or at least that's what people criticizing Belichick the GM would be forced to conclude if they took their logic a few steps further.

If Belichick is a bad GM for letting Welker go, isn't he also a good GM for acquiring him in the first place?

And have the Patriots lacked the talent to win Super Bowls since 2004? Has that been the reason? Didn't a Reche Caldwell drop in 2006 potentially cost them a trip to the Super Bowl? Were they not talented in 2007? How about 2011?

Let's return to 2013 and look at the decisions made by Belichick the GM that have put the Pats in position for playoff success:

He drafted Julian Edelman. Belichick the GM is frequently (and quite fairly) criticized for failing with his WR draft picks. Edelman is finally a success story in that department. In 2013, the 7th round pick in 2009 caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards. He also has the highest punt-return average of all time. The Pats also re-signed him this past off-season. How good is that re-signing looking?

He drafted Logan Mankins. Belichick the GM has struggled to draft receivers, DBs, and other positions. But he's been more than solid at drafting offensive linemen. Who, by the way, protect the most important player on the team. Mankins is a 6-time Pro-Bowler at left guard. And now he's playing left tackle due to injuries.

He built the RB corps. The Patriots were 9th in the NFL in rushing yards (2,065) and yards per carry (4.4). They were 2nd in rushing TDs (19). Stevan Ridley (773 yards, 7 TDs) was drafted in the 3rd round in 2011. LeGarrette Blount (772 yards, 7 TDs) was acquired from the Buccaneers for Jeff Demps and a 7th round pick. Solid deal. Brandon Bolden (271 yards, 3 TDs) was an undrafted free agent. Shane Vereen (208 rush yards, 427 receiving yards, 4 total TDs in only 8 games) was drafted in the 2nd round of 2011.

When evaluating the job done by Belichick the GM, I think people get caught up with mistakes, bad moves, and moves that made them angry. I'll get you started: Ochocinco, Adalius Thomas, Ras-I Dowling, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Tate. But trying to weigh the good moves against the bad moves is an inexact science. Do you judge an architect by the individual decisions he makes when designing a building? Or do you judge him by the quality and strength of the building as a whole?

The only fair way to judge a GM is to look at the teams he puts together. Are they strong, talented, cohesive, flexible, balanced? Do the pieces make each other better? And when I look at Belichick's tenure as GM, I see some great teams (2001, 2003, 2004, 2007), I see some very good teams (2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), I see some above average teams (2002, 2005, 2008). So 4 great teams, 5 very good teams, and 3 above average teams. What does that say about the GM?

I see 5 teams that undoubtedly had the players to win a Super Bowl (the GM's job), and 3 of them that did it, 2 of them were a few plays short. I see more teams that had the players to do more damage, but didn't make the big plays in the big games.

The jury is still out on 2013, but I think talent-wise they have enough to win it all. Despite the injuries. And if healthier just imagine how fearsome they'd be to face.

They're a flawed team in a League of flawed teams. However, the team's strengths are stronger than most teams. And that's because it was built by a good GM.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Theo Epstein and Peter Gammons Host 14th Annual Hot Stove Cool Music Benefit Concert this Saturday at Paradise Rock Club

Theo Epstein will return to Boston on Saturday night, along with Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons, to host the 14th Annual Hot Stove Cool Music Benefit Concert. The concert will be held at the Paradise Rock Club at 7:00pm. Doors will open at 6:00pm. The event benefits Epstein's Foundation to Be Named Later.

Foundation To Be Named Later (FTBNL) was launched in Spring of 2005 by Paul Epstein, a social worker in the Brookline public school system, and his twin brother, former Boston Red Sox Executive VP and GM and current Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein. Named after the MLB trade term "player to be named later," the mission of FTBNL is to raise funds and awareness for non-profit agencies, working on the front lines, serving disadvantaged youth and families. FTBNL invests in programs that teach leadership, education, and healthy development of families.

FTBNL has given over $6 million in grants and in-kind donations to over 200 non-profit organizations and has sent approximately 4,000 children, who would not otherwise get the chance to go to a game, to Red Sox, Cubs, and Celtics home games. The Peter Gammons/FTBNL College Scholarship (named in honor of Hall of Famer and FTBNL Champion, Peter Gammons) is the signature program of FTBNL and has sent more than 36 young people with high financial needs and high educational potential to the college of their choice. Each Gammons Scholar gets an adult mentor and a laptop computer to ensure college success.

This year's Hot Stove Cool Music Benefit Concert will feature rock super group The Baseball Project, featuring members of the iconic rock band R.E.M.; rock and soul band Trigger Hippy, featuring Joan Osborne and members of The Black Crowes; indie rocker Howie Day, Boston-born Kay Hanley, and rising stars Kingsley Flood.

Gammons and his Hot Stove All-Stars will feature Paul Barrere from Little Feat, Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, Belly’s Tanya Donelly, Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper, the Upper Crust’s Chris Cote, Seth Justman from the J. Geils Band, Will Dailey, Jed Parish & Lucky Jackson from The Gravel Pit, with actor-comedian Mike O’Malley serving as emcee.

The concert will be followed by the Sports Roundtable on January 21, which will feature a candid forum about "Building and Maintaining a Winning Culture" with Gammons and a number of sports executives, players and journalists participating, including Red Sox pitcher, Craig Breslow.

VIP tickets to the concert and roundtable as well as general admission tickets for $40 are on sale now, and can be purchased at

Just Put Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in the Hall of Fame

I don't like Barry Bonds. I don't like Roger Clemens. I hate both of them and think the tremendous success they had in the late stages of their career was due to their PED usage. I also think they're both jerks. I enjoy seeing bad things happen to them.

However, they belong in the Hall of Fame. And the BBWAA has no right to act as self appointed avengers, bringing baseball "criminals" like Clemens and Bonds to justice for their sins. The BBWAA has no right. Because the BBWAA were silent partners in the PED era dominated by Bonds and Clemens.

Countless players were shooting up and cycling right under the noses of the BBWAA. Arm muscles grew to the sizes of leg muscles. Players recovered from injury at an inhuman pace. And the writers did next to nothing to investigate the real cause. These miracles were attributed to wondrous advances in sports medicine and training technology. The BBWAA made no effort to investigate the effects of PEDs, and then look for those effects being displayed by players. "You still have to hit the ball," was a common dismissal of the theoretical impact PEDs could have.

And even after baseball admitted it had a PED problem, moral indignation and outrage was selective. Writers and fans in Boston, for instance, were quick to attack New York players who were listed as PED users. Myself included. Those same writers and fans were just as quick to forgive and embrace David Ortiz. And we didn't question Manny Ramirez's production in Boston until he wasn't in Boston anymore.

Then there were the San Francisco "journalists" and fans who vehemently defended Barry Bonds to the bitter end. Bonds was portrayed as a victim of being disliked, a victim of reputation, a victim of envy, even a victim of racism.

Most of us wanted asterisks added to records and achievements. In retrospect the entire era deserves an asterisk, not just a few players. And how come there are no movements to add asterisks to known spitball pitchers, or those who stole signs? Red Sox fans who wanted Bonds' records stigmatized with an asterisk don't request that the same be done to the 2004 World Series, or to series MVP Manny Ramirez.

In hindsight, it would be dumb for a player NOT to take PEDs during that era. There were no consequences. The sports media and BBWAA weren't putting any serious effort into questioning the gargantuan numbers and muscles of the era. The League ignored the issue, the Players Association denied it, the teams paid for it, we the fans LOVED it. The writers also gained financially as the game's popularity boomed because of the homerun explosion.

And now we want to punish a few players for what many/most did? Who are we to judge when we loved the product? Who are the BBWAA to determine the right and wrong of something they went out of their way to avoid discovering? The biggest sports story in decades was happening right in front of them and it took years and a Congressional investigation to unearth it? What right do the BBWAA have to judge an era's morality when they were part of it?

The Baseball Hall of Fame isn't a Hall of Morality. Just look at Ty Cobb, or the violent and overindulgent Babe Ruth, or the racist Tom Yawkey. How many other morally repugnant men have been enshrined? How many cheaters? What about admitted spitballer Gaylord Perry? If the BBWAA wants the Hall to be clean, they should start with the garbage inside before focusing on the garbage outside.

Removing morality from the equation, you can only assess players by comparing them to their peers who played in the same era. You can't, for instance, compare Rogers Hornsby's 301 career homeruns to Craig Biggio's 291 and say that they're comparable. But you can compare Biggio to players who played at the same time. So if we're comparing Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds within the context of the era in which they played, they were still the best. Bonds was the best hitter of the PED era. Clemens was one of the best pitchers. There's no arguing that.

The BBWAA wants to clean something that stained the game of baseball. But the BBWAA themselves are also stained. That entire era is. It's over. It happened. The BBWAA did its part to allow it to happen. It can't be reversed or righted. Certainly not by a bunch of holier-than-thou sportswriters who enjoyed the ride and profited from baseball's return to popularity. All that can be done now is to compare the players who played in that time, choose the best ones, and send them to Cooperstown.

The BBWAA failed to do its job back when Bonds and Clemens were playing. In an illogical response to that, they've assumed even more responsibilities. They've made themselves into judge, jury, and executioner of baseball sinners. And they don't have the right or the capability to fulfill that role. They should just vote for the best players.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Grading ESPN's MegaCast

ESPN got bold Monday night with their coverage of the BCS Championship Game. They went all out. They truly went balls to the wall. And some of their efforts worked, some did not.

The Title Talk on ESPN 2 was atrocious. Imagine watching people watch something. And not like a reaction YouTube video, watching people react to Two Girls and a Cup. This was watching 2-4 astute college football fans watching a game with 3-4 moronic people. "Is the guy who snaps the ball called the snapper?" That was a direct quote from ESPN 2's Title Talk.

Jemele Hill was also there. Remember she was the one who compared rooting for the Boston Celtics to rooting for the Nazis in World War II. She's not too smart, and is habitually prone to hyperbole, which means she's one of ESPN's favorite personalities. Why be smart and appreciated when you can be moronic and controversial? Which one results in more internet hits? That's all that matters for ESPN.

I will grade ESPN's Title Talk program with a D-. It's not a complete fail because it did what it tried to do, and have an inane conversation of ignorance. And I think NESN should learn from it and make a ThinkPink simulcast for Red Sox and Bruins playoff games in the future. The Pink Hats would love it. The rest of the real sports fans will watch the actual game.

The BCS Film Room merits an A-. It was great. Truly great. There were some small problems, like keeping pace with the live feed. However, the coaches and experts were interesting, informative, and honest. As a BC fan I gained new appreciation for Steve Addazio. And it was also cool to listen to thoughts from Texas A&aM's Kevin Sumlin, and Pitt's Paul Chryst.

The only critiques I have for the Film Room coverage is that Matt Millen monopolized conversation. Just let other people talk, man. There was so much college football wisdom and knowledge in that room among 6 people, but Millen spoke more than a third of the words. And the show was somewhat disjointed. Which is typical for the first run of shows. But by and large it was great.

The Sounds of the BCS coverage on ESPN Classic was what it was. The TV broadcast without TV broadcasters. I'll give that a B.

The BCS Command Center on ESPN Goal Line gets an Incomplete because I don't get that channel.

All the features on ESPN3 get a B- because they delivered what they promised and nothing more. And for some reason Comcast Xfinity and my computer and phone have a major disagreement. I'll call it a philosophical misunderstanding. Watching ESPN3 feeds was fun while they lasted.

I thought it worked on some levels. Title Talk wasn't for me. Not at all, not one bit. But the BCS Film Room was fan-fucking-tastic. I mean it was awesome to behold how smart football coaches are, how they can read a play with just a few frames of footage, how they viewed the game in such an holistic way. They were schooling, non-stop.

The only drawback was that Matt Millen seemed to think his contract gave him the rights to 40% of the words, even though three respected college football coaches were in the room, along with two other college football analysts. Maybe in 2015 Matt Millen will get his own channel on MegaCast, and he can dominate his own conversations.

I'd love to see stuff like the Film Room for future big games, maybe for the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the Stanley Cup and NBA Finals, and so on.

R.I.P. BCS, Anyone Who Misses You Is Either a Fool, or Someone You Made Rich

The last BCS Championship game was a classic. But let's not give credit for the quality of the game to the system. Give credit to the players on Florida State and Auburn who busted their asses to play a great game. Great games happen with and without the BCS. Auburn/Alabama was a great game and the BCS had no control over that. It was an SEC game.

The BCS system defiled college football for 16 years. It wasn't just imperfect, it was intentionally flawed. It defied logic, common sense, and fair play. And those are three things that you're supposed to be taught when you attend college.

The BCS believed that out of the 100+ programs in Division I-A football, a formula could be created that would determine the top 2. And those 2 teams would play each other for the national title. The BCS actually believed it could devise a system to make this a reality.

That formula worked exactly one time, when Vince Young and Texas beat USC in early 2005. Every other year there were flaws, and arguments against legitimacy. Undefeated teams sometimes didn't make it to the national title game. Oklahoma once made it despite not winning their own conference. Even this year, Auburn's claim seemed just as good as other 1-loss teams.

Every other college sport uses a playoff system. And every other level of college football uses a playoff system. What prevented the top level of college football from using that system was the fact that money went to good old boys (and their friends) who ran bowl games, and also guaranteed money went to conferences that couldn't always guarantee the best teams (BigTen and Pac-12).

The BCS proliferated for so long because it worked for a select few who undeservedly wielded power over all of college football. And they also collected massive sums of money simply because their predecessors had rented a stadium decades ago.

The BCS wasn't just an imperfect system. Its flaws were an intentional byproduct of its design. It was designed to funnel money and TV contracts to a handful of bowl games, and the conference friends of those games. And the prestige of those games was based on who was friends with who. One hand washes the other.

And now that system is no more. It's been replaced by another system that rewards groups of absurdly wealthy men who get together and rent a stadium in early January. And those men receive millions and billions of dollars for their not-so-risky investment in a sure thing. The system is still just as corrupt and money-driven for those involved, but at least it's more exciting for the fans. At least it's a better system for determining the best team in college football.

If people are going to make money in sketchy ways, they might as well put an entertaining product on the field for all of us to enjoy. The Playoff will be more entertaining than just a one-game BCS Championship.

I'd say good riddance to a bad system, but that bad system lives on and influences the new system.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Texas Hires Charlie Strong, Three Quick Thoughts

1. Texas can't wait a day or two? They have to announce this hiring when the college football world is focused on Florida State and Auburn?

2. Mack Brown + Charlie Strong = Charlie Brown. Good grief.

3. Texas seems to like coaches with short, powerful names. Mack Brown leads to Charlie Strong. Another coach with a short, powerful name: Rex Ryan. Is sexy Rexy next in line for the job in Austin? As an Oklahoma fan, I sure hope so. As a Patriots fan, I hope Rex stays with the Jets for life.

Patriots vs. Colts: The Only Word that Matters Is Execution

We have an entire week to look at weather forecasts, analyze statistics, view highlights and game footage, and generally convince ourselves that we have the slightest idea what kind of football game will be played on Saturday night. The Colts will be in town to play the Patriots and I have no clue what will happen. And I'm fine with that.

This season has been like riding a roller coaster blindfolded, across the NFL but especially in Foxborough. It's been an insane season. The way the Patriots-Saints game ended, the way the Broncos game ended, the way the Browns game ended. On the flip side of insanity, there was also the way the road Jets game and the Panthers game ended.

The only thing crazier than this Patriots season would be trying to predict what happens next.

I could drone on about stats, and about Andrew Luck being a good QB, and the Colts doing well against playoff teams, and the Patriots doing well at home, but also struggling in home playoff games lately. None of it matters.

The winner of this game will be the team that executes better. It's easy to say that, not so easy to do it.

Just look at the Colts. They played two different games against Kansas City. They played a good half and a bad half, and they barely won. They executed better than the Chiefs. The Patriots have been doing that all season long. One horrible half, one great half. So which team can find a way to play well for 35 or 40 minutes instead of just 30 could win this game.

Tom Brady needs to make good throws. Period. He's the best player on the team. He doesn't need to be amazing, but these overthrown and underthrown incompletions need to be reduced. He was 21st this season in completion percentage (60.5%), nestled between Alex Smith and Ryan Tannehill. Some of that was due to lack of talented receivers, lots of that was due to bad throws.

But hey, Andrew Luck was 24th at 60.2%.

The Patriots need to be productive on the ground. Especially if it rains. A good ground game allows the passing game to be more dynamic. It lets you control the clock. It gets you first downs. It lets you chew up a defensive line.

The Pats need to hold on to the ball. Stevan Ridley, I'm looking at you.

The Colts defied football logic and lost the turnover battle against KC but won the game. However the Colts had the second best takeaway-giveaway number in the AFC this year (+13). The Pats were third best (+9). Obviously, whoever wins the turnover battle on Saturday will probably win.

Unless they can't execute in the Red Zone. And that's been an issue for the Gronk-less Patriots all year. Either the offense needs to execute better in the Red Zone, or the defense needs to make some Red Zone stops. The Colts had one of the worst Red Zone defenses in the NFL. They allowed TDs on over 60% of Red Zone possessions. I suppose that's good for the Patriots.

Looks like I did mention a few stats and did some regular season analysis. Sue me. All those stats come with an "if" or a "but" or an "unless," which is why they mean nothing. They're in the past. The Colts allowed 3 touchdowns for every 5 Red Zone possessions their opponents had. Big deal. It's still up to the Patriots to execute on Saturday.

I do think this is the Patriots' game to lose. It's at home, against a dome team, against an inconsistent team. But the Patriots have hardly been consistent this year, they're 8-0 at home but that hasn't been easy. The Bengals were also 8-0 at home and lost there to a team that was 4-4 on the road. So who cares?

If I had to make a prediction, I'd say the Patriots should win 24-20. But predicting this season has been harder than predicting the weather. It's been like trying to predict the weather 20 weeks from now. You might have some general ideas based on past experience, but they mean next to nothing. You don't know. I don't know. Just count down the days and enjoy the show.

Boston Should Bid to Host the World Juniors in 2018

Yesterday Finland beat host and tournament favorite Sweden 3-2 in overtime to win the 2014 World Juniors. It was Finland's first medal in the competition since 2006, when a young Tuukka Rask carried the Finns to a bronze medal

If you don't know what the World Juniors are, it's an Olympic/World Cup style hockey tournament with national teams competing against each other. It's held annually in late December and early January, and all the players are under 20. It's sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

The US is going to host the tournament in 2018, and I think the City of Boston should make a serious bid to be the host city.

Boston hosted the World Juniors in 1996 (Jarome Iginla led the competition in scoring and won gold with Canada), and it didn't go well. It was poorly attended. Probably because it was spread out across Massachusetts, not concentrated in Boston. Games were played in Marlborough, Amherst, Springfield, and Worcester. And the finals were played at Boston College, not at the brand new Fleet Center.

Three important things have changed since 1996:

1. The tournament has streamlined its format and now typically only two venues are used (example: Toronto and Montreal will use their NHL rinks when they jointly host the 2015 World Juniors). Boston could use the TD Garden and BU's Agganis Arena. Those are both within the heart of the City, both easily accessible.

2. In the 2000s Boston has once again become a hockey city. Not just with the success of the Bruins, but with the rise in popularity of high school and college hockey. Just look at what we do with Fenway Park this time of year. We turn it into a hockey rink. BC and BU have combined to win 5 NCAA titles in the 2000s. Hockey East, centered in Boston, has become one of the most powerful conferences in college hockey (9 Hockey East players were on Team USA's roster in Sweden).

3. The World Juniors has become a bigger and more well-known event. The US has hosted twice since the 1996 tournament (in Buffalo in 2011 and Grand Forks, ND in 2005) and both were well attended. The tournament being broadcast on TSN in Canada and the NHL Network in the US has contributed to its growth in popularity and prestige. I wouldn't be surprised if by 2018 (or sooner) NBC Sports buys the US broadcast rights.

The tournament would be a good event for Boston to host. No new facilities need to be built, no highways need to be expanded, no dams need to be blown up, no forests need to be torn down. What's required is a hockey rink with lots of seats (TD Garden) and one with a medium number of seats (BU's Agganis Arena is state of the art, holds 6,000, and is right on the Green Line). You also need rinks for teams to practice at (Walter Brown Arena at BU, Matthews Arena at Northeastern, Conte Forum at BC, Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Lawler Arena at Merrimack College). Boston already has the facilities and infrastructure in place to pull off this event.

And Boston is already host to several notable hockey tournaments: the Super 8 high school championship, the Beanpot, and the Hockey East Tournament. The Garden will also host the Frozen Four in 2015.

New England college hockey players have always been a strong part of Team USA in this competition. Team USA had 7 New England college players (and an 8th committed to play at BU) on their roster for the 2014 World Juniors. There were 5 New England natives on the roster.

The event would draw tourists. Thousands of Canadians fly across the world for this tournament. They'll come to Boston, see the City, go out to eat, have a good time. So will friends, family, and fans from Sweden, Russia, Finland, and the rest of the US.

And I'm sure Frozen Fenway would see a boost in attendance. The Canadians that attend the World Juniors are clinically diagnosed hockey addicts. They'll go to Fenway to see some college hockey while they're in town.

The only inconvenience would be to the Bruins and Celtics. They would have to play extended road trips while the tournament occupies the Garden. The 2014 World Juniors started on December 26th and ended on January 5th.

At the same time the Garden, owned by Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, would be able to open its gates to thousands of concessions buying fans, even with its two teams playing elsewhere. And Agganis Arena is always seeking additional events. They just hosted 22 Disney on Ice performances. The secondary rink in Malmö hosted 14 games for the 2014 World Juniors.

In 2011 Buffalo averaged 10,635 fans per game. For 31 games. How many between period Molsons is that? How many hot dogs and sodas? How many lunches and dinners will be consumed at the bars and restaurants off Causeway Street and on Comm Ave? How many additional tours of the Sam Adams Brewery will there be? (On a trip to Toronto, I learned that Sam Adams is one of the few American beers that Canadians respect)

Other US cities that want to host include Pittsburgh and Tampa. I think Boston is a better city than those two places, and a better hockey town. It's certainly a better hockey town than Tampa.

This is a great annual tournament, and I think Boston would be a great place for it to be held.

Friday, January 03, 2014

2013 BBS Awards: Team of the Year

This goes to the best team in Boston sports for the 2013 calendar year. And for the first time since the inception of the Boston Blood Sox Awards in 2006, this team will be honored by being named Team of the Year. The Patriots won this award in 2007. The Celtics won it in 2008. The Bruins in 2011...

And now in 2013, the winner of Team of the Year are the Boston Red Sox.

Expectations were low for the 2013 Red Sox. Simply finishing above .500 would have been considered progress.

The team was the most likable edition of the Sox since 2007. They were entertaining. They got big hits. They stole bases. They worked counts. They didn't like to lose. They hated losing. They didn't slump. They weren't satisfied with being above .500, or making the playoffs, or winning the division, or winning the AL. If there were another series after the World Series, the Red Sox would want to play, and would play to win.

After two of the most embarrassing seasons in recent Boston sports history in 2011 and 2012, the Red Sox redeemed themselves with one of the best years any Boston team has ever had.

2013 BBS Awards: Athlete of the Year

This award typically goes to the athlete that performed the best on the field/court/ice. Previous winners include David Ortiz, Tom Brady, and Wes Welker. This year there were plenty of strong candidates on the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Boston College. Not so much the Celtics. But in the City of Boston we saw other teams and other athletes doing amazing things. Things more impressive and more meaningful than throwing a football or hitting a baseball or shooting a puck. Things like carrying an injured person, things like pulling debris away, things like dodging bullets and explosives, things like running toward a hospital to give blood after running a marathon.

This award goes to all the men and women who responded and reacted to the Marathon Bombing, and all those who were involved in the aftermath, and the pursuit of the suspects.

So many people ran toward the explosions. Cops, paramedics, volunteers, runners, spectators. Their athletic exploits were truly meaningful. They were fast, they were strong, they were clutch. And the same goes for the cops who pursued the suspects. They worked on minimal sleep, when the pressure was on, and they got the job done.

All these people were the Athletes of the Year.

2013 BBS Awards: Lifetime Achievement Award

This award goes to someone who has distinguished themselves for more than a year, for more than a few years. It belongs to those who have built a career of achievement. People who you can't stop talking about what they've done. People you tell stories about. Previous winners include Red Auerbach, Jerry York, and Cam Neeley.

This year, this most coveted of awards goes to Pedro Martinez.

Pedro was the most dominant pitcher of his era, an era that was dominated by juiced balls and juiced hitters.

And speaking of PEDs, I think it's safe to say Pedro didn't use them. His muscle mass was too low, he was slow to recover from injury, and his performance deteriorated with age in a natural way.

In the year 2000, in the American League with DHs, off a 10 inch mound, when the league ERA was 4.91, Pedro challenged Bob Gibson's modern era single-season ERA record of 1.12. Pedro finished with a 1.74 ERA.

Pedro won 3 Cy Youngs, and he probably should have won more. He finished second in the 1998 AL voting to Roger Clemens. This is around the time that Clemens had begun to use PEDs. In 2002 Pedro went 20-4, led the AL with a 2.22 ERA, and 239 strikeouts, yet lost the Cy Young to Barry Zito. Zito had 3 more wins than Pedro.

Pedro was also robbed of an MVP Award in 1999, when he finished second in the voting to Ivan Rodriguez. Pedro actually got one more first place vote than I-Rod. He went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts. But some voters thought a power hitting catcher was more valuable.

Pedro never threw a no-hitter. Technically. On June 3, 1995, pitching for the Expos he threw 9 perfect innings. But it was a 0-0 game after 9 so it went into extra innings. He gave up a hit in the 10th and was relieved. The Expos would win 1-0. He didn't even get credit for the 'W.'

In the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park, Pedro stole the show from the steroid enhanced sluggers. Pedro struck out 5 of the 6 batters he faced: Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell. Those batters have a combined 2,222 career HRs, by the way.

He led his league in ERA 5 times, in complete games once in 1997, in strikeouts 3 times, in WHIP 6 times, in K/9 5 times, in K/BB 4 times. He was an 8-time All-Star, he has the 6th best win percentage of all-time, the 5th best WHIP of all-time, the 3rd best K/9 of all-time, the 13th most strikeouts, the 3rd best K/BB ratio of all-time.

He was a key part of the 2004 World Series winning Red Sox.

He was an idiot before the Red Sox were Idiots.

He threw at batters when he himself had to bat in the NL (yet another reason he's superior to Roger "shrunken attachments" Clemens).

The day he pitched was an event. It had anticipation to it. The ballpark had a buzz. The City had a buzz. Days Pedro pitched were the most coveted of Red Sox tickets. Before the 2004 World Series run, Pedro was the Red Sox.

I would argue that he's the best pitcher in Red Sox history. He's a certain Hall of Famer, and the number 45 should be immortalized on Fenway's right-field facade.

Bruins Show Up Late, Leave with Win

The Bruins are in the middle of two things: a bad rash of injuries, and a relatively easy part of their schedule. So when the last place Nashville Predators come to town, even if half your roster feels more at home in Providence, you still have to take advantage.

Just like last night's snowstorm, the Bruins started slow then poured it on stronger and stronger as the night went on. Johnny Boychuk fired a patented rocket past Mazanec in the 3rd. Then Jarome Iginla drove to the net like Shaq, outmuscling a defender for position on his way to his 13th goal of the season. And in overtime Brad Marchand self-pased the puck between the defensemen's legs to give himself space to score the game-winner.

Niklas Svedberg started in goal for the B's. This was his first career NHL game. He played solidly. Nashville isn't much of a test (5th fewest goals scored coming into last night's game). The Bruins need a backup goalie who can be put into the lineup often enough to keep Tuukka Rask fresh. And the Bruins need to at least have a chance to win those games. Maybe Svedberg can give them that chance in the future. Not right now though, since he's already been sent down to Providence.

The Bruins host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon. That's another bad team that the B's need to collect points against. Then the Bruins go on the road and play the top 3 teams in the Pacific division (Anaheim, LA, San Jose).

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Thursday, January 02, 2014

BBS Awards: Red Auerbach Award for Best Coach/Executive

This award goes to the person off the field whose decisions and influence resulted in the most success on the field.

There were lots of great coaches and GMs in Boston this year. Obviously with a World Series winning team you have to consider Ben Cherington and John Farrell. With the Bruins going deep in the playoffs you must give Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli some thought. With the Patriots doing well despite injuries, Bill Belichick deserves consideration. And Brad Stevens has gotten 110% from the Celtics.

But I think only one person had the most work to do, yet still reached the maximum level of success. He had to rebuild a broken team.

The winner of the Red Auerbach award for 2013 is Ben Cherington, GM of the Boston Red Sox.

The other guys I mentioned have all done great jobs. However none of their jobs were as difficult as Cherington's. Cherington had a blank team. There were no stud free agents available to bring in. As Cherington put together his team of decent, experienced players, I remember talking to my brother about how the Red Sox were "buying second place." I thought the Sox were trying to build an 85 win team, compete for a Wild Card spot, and keep the fans' hunger satisfied with snacks instead of a full course meal.

How wrong I was.

Ben Cherington took a last place team and gave it a chance. He added the right mix of veterans, leaders, followers, and solid ballplayers. And the team won.

BBS Awards: Game of the Year

This award goes to the most memorable, thrilling, important game in Boston sports in 2013. And this year had no shortage of great games. Obviously there was the Red Sox World Series run, and the Bruins went deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs. But one game stands apart for its drama, its impact, its thrill-factor, and its lasting imagery. It's a game that all I have to do is post one picture, and you'll know which game I'm talking about...

Game 2 of the ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers.

Detroit had a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the 8th. There were 2 outs and the bases were loaded for David Ortiz.

He hit a Grand Slam that none of us will ever forget.

And in the 9th Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a single to left to win the game.

The game not only had excitement and memorable imagery, it had impact. The Tigers were 4 outs away from going up 2-0 in the series, sweeping two games in Fenway. Who knows how the series would have gone had the Tigers taken such a commanding lead.

Instead, David Ortiz tied the game and the Sox tied the series. They won 2 of 3 in Detroit, then clinched the series in Fenway.

And the rest is history.

2013 BBS Awards: Bloody Sock Award for Toughness

This award goes to a tough athlete, one who has come back from injury, or played through injury, or some other kind of adversity, and sometimes a life threatening illness. Previous winners include Jon Lester, Wes Welker, and Mark Herzlich.

This year the winner is Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins.

Bergeron played the toughest games in the toughest sport (Stanley Cup Finals) with a broken rib, torn cartilage, and a separated shoulder. That broken rib would eventually puncture a lung. This award and this blog are named after Curt Schilling's bloody red socks from the 2004 playoffs, and Bergeron's injuries were much more severe. Maybe I'll rename the blog to Bergeron's Ribs, or Boston Lung Punctures.

He made you proud to be a Boston sports fan. And even though the B's lost the series, they left everything on the ice.

2013 BBS Awards: Special Award to John Lackey for Being an Athlete We Hated then Becoming One We Liked

This is a special award. This doesn't happen very often. John Lackey won the award for 2011 Goat of the Year. We hated him. He was one of Beckett's fried chicken crew. And in 2013 he completely redeemed himself. He got in shape, he put in the effort, and it showed on the field. So congrats, John Lackey.

2013 BBS Awards: Tom Brady Award for Biggest Surprise Out of Nowhere

This award goes to the athlete who performed in an outstanding fashion in 2013, even though we barely knew who he was, or at least had no idea he could play so well. Previous winners include Brad Marchand, Danny Woodhead, and Hideki Okajima.

The winner this year is Koji Uehara of the Boston Red Sox.

Honorable mention to Torey Krug of the Bruins, Shane Vereen of the Patriots, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and John Lackey.

Uehara came out of nowhere. The Red Sox were in need of a closer, and he took the job. And he did so with style. In 74.1 innings he struck out 101 batters. He only walked 9. He converted 21 saves, 13 holds, and only blew 3 saves. His WHIP was 0.57. He finished 7th in Cy Young voting and won the ALCS MVP.

My favorite stat is that 74% of his pitches were strikes. He faced 265 batters, and only threw 274 balls, or about 1 ball per plate appearance, and only 3.7 balls per inning pitched. He just threw strikes.

Strikes and high fives.